Easy Ways to Green Your Small-Business Communications

When economic times are good, the spirit of altruism seems to come to the fore. Individuals and organizations look for ways they can make a positive impact on other people and their surroundings – even if it costs them a little more. Making sure the business is environmentally-friendly is one of those activities.

In times like we’re experiencing now, however, the instincts run more toward survival: Large and small businesses place their focus on keeping the doors open until the crisis passes. It’s not that they don’t care about the broader issues – they still do – but they often feel they have to place those initiatives on hold until things improve.

While it’s true that some environmentally-friendly approaches to business can cost a little more, there are many others that can actually help you save money as well as the planet. Here are a few ways you can make your business communications greener while reducing your costs and increasing your efficiency.

Move from Direct Mail to Email

Keeping in touch with customers and contacts is vital to the success of a business under any circumstances. But when there are fewer customers and prospects out there, it’s critical.

It’s obvious that you can reduce paper waste (and save money) by using email instead of direct mail. The trouble has always been how to manage an email campaign effectively. After all, you don’t want to become known as a spammer – you want your emails to be opened and read. In addition, prospects and customers seem to be a lot more forgiving of junk mail they receive in their mailboxes than unwanted emails that appear in their in-boxes.

The barrier to entry for a lot of small businesses has been the campaign management technology. A sophisticated CRM system is great for major retailers or large multi-nationals with thousands or millions of names on their customer/prospect list. They have the professional staff, not to mention the network bandwidth, to cost-effectively develop attractive promotional pieces, create and update lists, track campaign success, and run reports that help them refine the entire process.

But what about the five-person real estate office, or the local specialty retailer with an owner and a few part-time employees, or the charmingly rustic, family-run bed and breakfast on the coast of Maine? How do you create not just a random email message here or there, but a powerful, cohesive campaign that helps drive business?

The answer lies in new Web-based applications designed specifically for the needs of small businesses. These tools help non-experts build and manage professional-looking email campaigns, and even run a variety of reports that show the ROI on each. Most services allow you to send an unlimited number of emails for a single monthly fee.

One of the most important benefits of these applications is they make it easy to build and update opt-in email mailing lists, assuring you are only sending information to people who want it, and that you’re complying with current CAN-SPAM laws. They also make it easy to segment and build multiple lists to be sure the right people are receiving the right type of information.

Their tools let you continuously refine your lists, helping you target more of the right people. And any recipients who aren’t interested in this particular offer (but want to remain on the list) can just hit the “delete” key without adding to the waste stream. It’s the ideal solution for small businesses that want to market greener – and more effectively – while keeping their budgets under control.

Switch from Fax Machines to an Internet Fax Service

Faxing remains a common form of communication in many industries. And most faxes are still sent and received on fax machines – one of the least-green technologies in any office.

Let’s start with the obvious – paper usage. Every fax that comes into a fax machine requires at least one piece of paper to convey the message. Many take a whole lot more. Often times outbound faxes are printed specifically for the purpose of sending them on the fax machine as well. If something goes wrong on either end, that much more paper is consumed until the entire fax is transmitted correctly.

Then there’s the toner and its packaging. Plus the electricity to keep the machine running 24 x 7, just in case someone on either end wants to send a fax. And when the machine is at the end of its life, there are all the disposal issues you face with any office equipment. It’s a concerned citizen’s nightmare.

The solution here is to move to an Internet fax service – a service that allows you to send and receive faxes via your email account or a secure online server. Because the documents are delivered electronically, you can choose which pages (if any) require printing, helping save a few trees. How many? It’s been estimated that if just one percent of all paper faxes sent in America each year were transmitted electronically instead, 73.5 million trees would be saved. If two or more people need the same document it saves even more paper since you can just forward it electronically instead of making paper copies.

An Internet fax service helps you reduce your energy consumption as well, since you send and receive faxes on a PC, laptop or mobile device you’re already using for something else instead of a separate machine. And, of course, it eliminates the use of toner and the need to dispose of a separate piece of office equipment when its useful life is over.

An Internet fax service also adds convenience. Unlike a fax machine, which is tied to a specific location, you can send and receive Internet faxes anywhere you can get an Internet connection. So if you’re on the road and need to send or receive a fax, you can head to a Wi-Fi hot spot, plug in an Internet access card or use your mobile device.

Less paper, less electricity, less cost, more convenience. Tough to beat a combination like that.

Make More of Your Meetings Online

There’s a lot to be said for meeting face-to-face instead of exchanging messages via email or a document repository. Mere words on a page (or screen) don’t begin to convey the nuances and hidden meanings that can become rather obvious when you can hear the tone of someone’s voice or read their body language or facial expressions.

Yet unless everyone attending the meeting is driving an electric car to get there, it’s not the most environmentally-conscious way to go. Of course, sometimes it’s important to meet face-to-face since certain tasks can only be accomplished that way. If everyone being there in-person isn’t critical to the success of the business, however, consider making meetings online instead.

For a small investment in camera equipment and a small monthly fee for an outside service provider you can realize many of the same benefits you would by being together in-person. You can see and read facial expressions. You can hear the tone of voice and the nuances in speech. You can share presentations, desktop applications and Web sites. You can white board ideas. You can even use the camera to do a little show and tell.

Not only do online meetings save the transportation costs and impact on the environment, they can help you reduce other expenses as well – from housing for out-of-town participants to the purchase of the ubiquitous doughnuts that always seem to go to waste. Not to mention the time spent traveling to and from the meeting itself.

Many laptops these days come with a camera, so it’s really a good time to move more meetings online.

Go Green, Save Green

Becoming more environmentally-friendly doesn’t have to cost you more. In fact, with the right technology choices it can cost you less.

By taking advantage of various Web-based technologies, you can improve your business operations and your bottom line, all while helping reduce your business’ impact on the planet. It’s the ultimate trifecta for the environmentally-conscious.

Steve Adams is Vice President of Marketing for Protus (www.protus.com), provider of the highest quality Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) communication tools for small-to-medium businesses (SMB) and enterprise organizations, including my1voice, the cost-effective, feature-rich virtual PBX phone service that travels with the user from phone to web, award-winning MyFax, the fastest growing Internet fax service and Campaigner, an email marketing solution with advanced automation features. Steve can be reached at sadams@protus.com.

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