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Call Now FEATUREGoing Online on the Roadby Jan Davis Tudor When I'm outside my own country, combining work with pleasure is not a problem—when I do that, I am able to stay longer! While trying initially to run my independent information business while on the road, I found that having access to a cyber café wasn't enough. In order to communicate with my clients in a cost-effective way, perform projects successfully from beginning to end, stay in touch with my bookkeeper and administrative assistant, and do my banking, I needed to find and implement a few good electronic tools and programs. Luckily I've found some good solutions. ONLINE FOR WORK AND PLAY I have accounts with two Internet service providers (ISPs): AT&T Broadband for use while I'm at home in Portland, Oregon, and Earthlink for dial-up access while on the road. I selected Earthlink because it has hundreds of local access numbers in cities and countries worldwide. Whether I'm dialing up from a friend's home or a hotel, it is nice to not have to pay extra for 1-800 Internet access or a toll call to nearby city. And while many of the higher-end hotels in the U.S. Now have DSL or cable modem access, the majority of the places I stay do not. Before logging on, it is always good to find out what constitutes a "local" call from the place where I am staying. The first time I spent an afternoon online at my dad's house in Idaho, I racked up a significant phone bill because I assumed that Coeur d'Alene, the closest town with an Earthlink number, was a cheaper call. But, in fact, the Spokane Washington, Earthlink number is the cheaper way to go. Calling Coeur d'Alene is considered an intrastate call, with fees up to 14-15 cents a minute, while calling Spokane is a long-distance call, with a rate of 7 cents a minute. KNOW LOCAL PHONE CHARGE CONVENTIONS A world of caution while using an ISP in another country: While in Madrid, Spain, I had a local Earthlink access number to use, but could find no one at the hotel who could tell me if I would be charged a per-minute fee for the local call, as is the custom in many hotels. I found that out in Buenos Aires, Argentina. From the hotel I used the same local access number of the ISP I was using at the local office where I was working. Yet, when I checked out, I was confronted with a $90 phone bill because of per-minute charges! However, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, I was able to use a local access number from my hotel room without worrying because each local call was only 60 cents with no additional hotel charges. Yet what I didn't know was that Earthlink charges $0.15 per minute for international roaming. Because I had spent a total of 4 hours online, this seemingly insignificant charge added $24 to my monthly Earthlink bill. But I certainly didn't mind paying for the convenience of logging on from the comfort of my hotel room. In the U.K., the Earthlink access number is toll free. However, more and more hotels are adding the charge to your hotel bill. While on the road I use the AT&T Broadband Web site [www.Attbi.Com] to send and retrieve my e-mail. FAXES FOR FUN AND PROFIT I got a chuckle and some affirmation about still using faxes when I read a recent article by Monte Enbysk titled "Fax Machines: Endangered? Yes. Extinct? No." [www.Bcentral.Com/articles/enbysk/165.Asp]. Several of my clients prefer to send me a fax with their project requests, rather than the telephone or e-mail. This really isn't surprising, given the fact that about 90 percent of businesses in the U.S. Still have fax machines, according to Enbysk. In order to retrieve my faxes while on the road, I use eFax [www.EFax.Com], a free Internet faxing service from J2Global Communications Inc. Before leaving town, I set up the "call forwarding" feature with my local phone carrier by simply forwarding my fax number to my dedicated eFax number. Any fax sent to my regular JT Research fax number is automatically forwarded to my free dedicated eFax number. EFax.Com then processes the fax and e-mails it to me as an attached file. Granted, this isn't exactly free. I pay Qwest, my local telephone company, $2.50/month for the ability to forward calls. And because my free eFax number happens to reside in California, I am charged a long-distance call for each forwarded call. But I have such a good long-distance rate through MCI that each call is just a few cents, depending on the length of the fax. If I received a lot of faxes, however, I would consider paying $9.95 a month for an eFax Plus account, which would provide me with a local fax number. In order to open the attachments, I had to download the free eFax Messenger software. When I'm in a cyber café and a fax arrives in my mailbox, I have two options. I can download the attachment onto a floppy and open it up on my laptop back in my room. Or, I can ask the café manager if I can download the eFax Messenger software onto the PC I am using. I did this in Morocco. Since I had been visiting the same cyber café for several weeks, the manager didn't have a problem with me downloading the software on a designated machine. You may not encounter such a trusting person in your travels. RETURNING FAXES Now sending faxes is another story. A couple of times I have had to fill out forms e-mailed to me in PDF format and fax them. If I had the Adobe Acrobat software, I could use it to fill in the form, resave it, and e-mail it back. But it is not all that easy—this is not like filling in a Word form. Adobe is a graphics program. Another time I had to fax a document when my client needed a signature. In my opinion, faxing is still the easiest way to send and receive signed documents. I know that the ability to send a digital signature exists, but I haven't approached it yet. Still, while there are a lot more steps required to send a fax via the Internet, it can be very expensive to send a fax through the traditional machine. In Morocco I was charged anywhere from $5-7 a page! VOICE MAIL In the past, I hired someone to check my voice mail, follow up on calls, and e-mail me the outcome. The next time I'm out of the U.S., I am going to use J2 Global Communications' voice-mail service, jConnect. I heard about this service (literally) by listening to a gentleman listen to his voice mail messages while in a cyber café in Mexico. Because he told me he loves the service, I gave it a try. The free service works just the same as the eFax service, which isn't surprising since both are owned by the same company. I obtained a free jConnect voice mail number, to which I forward my JT Research calls while I am away. When a call comes in, jConnect saves the message and e-mails it to me as an attachment, which I open with the same software I downloaded to open my eFax documents. I can then listen to the message over my computer speakers and store them in my e-mail. Since my jConnect voice mail number is a local Portland number, I am not charged any toll other than the $2.50/month fee that Qwest charges for the forwarding service. With this free service I can then listen to my client's messages and e-mail my assistant with instructions or e-mail my clients directly. JConnect also provides the ability to for me to record and e-mail voice mail messages for $4.95 a month, but I haven't tried this yet because my clients would need to have the Messenger software downloaded on their computers. KEEPING TRACK OF CASH FLOW No need for my cash flow to suffer while on the road. QuickBooks, the program I use for bookkeeping, has a built-in online billing feature that allows me to e-mail invoices, statements, and estimates directly to my clients. In fact, I found that I was paid a lot quicker when I e-mailed invoices rather than sending them with the final hard copy of the report because the client often left the invoice in their in-box, or worse, filed it away with the supporting documentation I sent. I can also have QuickBooks track outstanding invoices and send custom reminders for $14.95/month, but at this point I have my bookkeeper do that. A new QuickBooks feature that I haven't looked into yet is the merchant account service that is integrated with the software program. I currently accept Visa and MasterCard with Key Bank Merchant Services, but my assistant has to process the transactions while I'm on the road. If I used QuickBooks' Merchant Account Service, I could accept payments online by having my clients enter their credit card information directly into QuickBooks' secure payment system. BANKING ONLINE I love online banking. I bank with Key Bank, a community-focused bank located in 13 U.S. States. Its online banking feature is excellent and allows me to access my account and/or pay bills from anywhere I have an Internet connection. Though I now have a bookkeeper to pay my bills, in the past I successfully paid my bills while in another country. My assistant faxed me my bills, (which came as eFax attachments!) and I paid them with Key Bank Online Banking. Here is one problem I encountered once with online banking: In Morocco, I couldn't access my account for some unknown reason. The number provided to use for help was a 1-800 number, which is useless from Morocco. I then went on the bank's Web site to find a number to use outside of the country and didn't find one. I sent e-mail but never heard back. So, I simply couldn't use my account unless I called someone in the States to call customer service for me. When I returned to the States I called the bank to regain access and I was informed that I had entered the wrong password. When using keyboards designed for non-English language users, it is much too easy to hit the wrong key. The bank has a default cut-off of one misspelling and you're out of luck! I better be careful next time! IBACKUP.COM I back up all of my files regularly onto an Internet-based hard drive called Ibackup.Com [www.Ibackup.Com]. The service is great because it allows me to store files from my home computer, access them from anywhere, and share them with other people if necessary. I can't count how many times I've accessed my files on Ibackup while on the road. Plus, once I finish a project in a remote location, I immediately upload it to Ibackup.Com. Subscription plans are based on storage space needed, for example, 500 MB for $108/year. The price is well worth it. In the past I've used the free Internet-based hard drives, but these were tedious to use and one of them virtually disappeared after I spent hours uploading my files one by one. With Ibackup.Com's Idrive, my account becomes a local drive on my computer. This saves me a lot of time because it allows me to drag-'n'-drop, open, edit, and save entire folders of files in my Ibackup account as though they were on my local computer. And, with Ibackup.Com I haven't found it necessary to use a program that allows me remote access to my office PC, such as GoToMyPc [www.Gotomypc.Com]. THE FUTURE I haven't begun to tap into wireless networks that may allow me to access my e-mails, voice mails, and faxes, while also letting me do my banking and bookkeeping. And I imagine there is a lot more I could be doing with my Palm Pilot. Maybe during my next trip I'll observe a traveler running an online search via a wireless device and I'll learn from her. In the meantime, I'm happy with my collection of useful, affordable, reliable, and easy-to-use tools that allows me to convert my at-home business to an away-from-home business. Jan Davis Tudor [jan@jtresearch.Com] is a world traveling independent information professional specializing in business and company valuation research and principal of JT Research. Comments? E-mail letters to the editor to marydee@xmission.Com.A solid CRM platform helps you store data on all of your prospects and clients in one unified system, making that data easily accessible. Look for a CRM software provider with tools that help you save time, improve customer service and increase sales. We reviewed five of the industry's top CRM providers and selected Keap as the best CRM software for ease of use. This review is for business owners who are shopping for an all-in-one CRM software solution to save time and grow sales with simple automation. Keap CRM (formerly Infusionsoft) is an intuitive customer relationship management (CRM) tool that makes it easy to collect more leads and convert more clients. Although there is a one-time setup fee, it includes expert product coaching, so you'll be up and running quickly from there. The platform offers everything a growing small business needs to manage sales and customers – including customer relationship management, sales automation, marketing automation and payments – all in a mobile-friendly platform. Of all the CRM platforms we reviewed, Keap was the easiest to use, making it our choice for the best CRM for ease of use. Pricing Pricing for Keap is based on the number of contacts you have, ranging from 500 to 25,000. The company's dynamic pricing guide will help you see how your rate changes based on the number of contacts in your system, with pricing for the Lite plan moving from $79 per month for 500 contacts to $379 for 25,000 contacts. Because the price can vary quite a bit based on the number of contacts, we recommend playing around with the pricing tool. All prices include one user, and each additional user is $30 per month. If you need more than 25,000 contacts, you'll have to reach out to a sales rep to explore pricing options. Keap also charges a one-time fee of $499 for "expert coaching" with all of its plans. However, you can try the Lite and Pro plans through a 14-day free trial, with no credit card required, to determine how this CRM can benefit your organization. However, the demo does not include sample account data, so you must import what you need to test the software. Here is a breakdown of the plans and pricing: Lite Pricing: Starts at $79 per month for the first three months; includes 500 contacts and one user Key features: Easy automation, unlimited emails, invoices, appointments, mobile app, SMS messaging, business line, quotes, reminders, reports, limited API, invoices, one-time payments and contact management Pro (most popular) Pricing: Starts at $149 per month for the first three months; includes 500 contacts and one user Additional features: Advanced automation, internal forms, landing pages, sales pipeline, A/B email testing, pipeline automation and recurring payments Max Pricing: Starts at $199 per month for the first three months; includes 500 contacts and one user. Additional features: Checkout forms, lead scoring, subscription management and analytics Usability Keap is the most user-friendly CRM platform we reviewed. Although it's not as robust as some enterprise-level tools, such as Salesforce, it's a great fit for smaller businesses that want simpler software. Even without participating in the "expert coaching" that's included with the initial setup fee, we found it very easy to optimize our demo account and accomplish tasks such as building automated workflows and sales pipelines, thanks to the guided instructions and preconfigured fields. The home dashboard keeps your team focused on sales efforts, with items such as leads, quotes, invoices and email activity at the top of the screen. You are also provided quick access to recent activity, tasks, appointments and reviews. You can easily reorganize the home dashboard by grabbing a widget and moving it. You can also remove or add different widgets with just a couple of clicks to create the perfect dashboard, regardless of your role within the organization or experience with the software. Keap has an intuitive, customizable dashboard. Source: Keap Features Easy Automation Grow sales and spend more time connecting with customers through easy automation tools. Broadcasts Unlimited emails can help increase open rates and ensure deliverability. Payments Features include quotes, invoices and recurring payments. Sales Pipeline A Kanban-style process manager lets users track every opportunity within the sales process. Easy Automation Keap makes it easy to configure automations by using simple "when" and "then" parameters. For example, you might say that when any public form is submitted, then you need to send an email and add a tag. Keap's automation wizard uses easy prompts to help you build simple and time-saving processes that keep your customers engaged and team members on task. Did you know? You can connect to over 2,000 third-party apps and trigger effective automations for all of your continuous sales tasks and marketing initiatives. Keap makes it easy to build automations using simple "when" and "then" parameters. Source: Keap Broadcasts Keap includes a robust set of email marketing tools, including quick access to useful templates, segmentation, and suggestions to improve engagement and open rates. Keap also has delivery features, including A/B testing, auto-spam tools and intelligent email sends based on reliable algorithms and emerging trends to improve your email performance. You can even let Keap decide when to send your emails for the best possible performance. Keap lets you target your messages to specific groups and schedule them for optimal times. Source: Keap Payments Keap allows you to easily build and send personalized quotes with preconfigured services and costs. You'll get real-time activity updates when a lead views your quote and accepts. Once a deal has been accepted, you can easily convert your quote to an invoice, apply a discount, request a deposit and set up payments through major credit card providers and processors, including PayPal. Keap also syncs with tools such as QuickBooks to avoid duplicating work across systems and save time. Sales Pipeline This Kanban-style pipeline lets you track every opportunity throughout the sales process in a single view. Managers can create new deals, attach them to leads and then assign them to team members who will benefit from a complete understanding of the potential sale value. It's easy to add automation to your pipelines to create tasks, send an email and apply or remove tags based on a lead's activity. Key takeaway: Keap includes a comprehensive set of email marketing and sales-focused tools, including easy automation, segmentation, intelligent email sending and a Kanban-style sales pipeline. Keap uses Kanban-style boards to track all sales activities in a single view. Source: Keap Setup All Keap plans require a one-time fee of $499 for "expert coaching" as a part of the onboarding process. This service provides new customers with personalized, one-on-one support to get your CRM operational quickly with a clear plan to collect more leads and convert more sales. Although the setup fee is higher than those of some of the other providers we reviewed, investing the time and resources from the start will provide the best results over the long run. There's also a helpful setup wizard to walk you through each aspect of your new account. Keap guides you through each step of the setup process. Source: Keap Customer Service Keap offers 24/7 chat support. Toll-free phone support is available to customers in the U.S. And Canada on weekdays from 9 a.M. To 9 p.M. ET, the UK Freephone is available Monday through Saturday from 1 p.M. To 2 a.M. (GMT+1). The Australia customer support center is available Tuesday through Saturday from 12 a.M. To 1 p.M. (GMT+10). Keap also has a community center with resources and a robust self-help center with articles, videos and step-by-step instructions to assist users with every aspect of the platform. Drawbacks Most CRM software providers charge based on headcount and subscription level. Because Keap's subscription structure is based heavily on the size of your contact list, Keap may not be the best option for companies that collect or purchase massive email lists with a strategy of casting the biggest net possible. If you do go with Keap, you'll want to scrub and segment your email list before signing up. Another drawback is that the entry-level limit of 500 contacts is rather small for any business. Once you cross that mark, your monthly expense will jump fairly quickly. For the Lite plan, your base cost will jump from $79 to $109 at 501 contacts. Add another 1,000 contacts, and you're looking at a base price of $209 per month. Compared with other email marketing tools with very similar features, Keap is more expensive and includes only a fraction of the contacts. Summary We recommend Keap for: Small businesses that want to take their email marketing efforts to new heights with intelligent tools and tips to increase delivery and open rates Small to midsize businesses that want to take advantage of modern automation tools without the complexity typically found with larger software providers Home-based businesses that are looking to implement their first CRM system with many of the tools and technologies utilized by the biggest businesses in the world We DON'T recommend Keap for: Large companies that do not prioritize email marketing and may find the billing structure cost-prohibitive Small businesses without tech support staff, as they may find some of the third-party integrations difficult to deployThe Social Security Administration (SSA) oversees a number of programs that provide financial help to eligible Americans, including Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and Social Security retirement benefits. To increase access to these and other programs during the COVID-19 pandemic, the SSA recently launched an expanded outreach initiative aimed at vulnerable populations. These efforts are designed to make accessing Social Security benefits easier, specifically for those who are eligible for SSI or SSDI benefits. Key Takeaways Social Security programs, including Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, can provide financial relief for individuals who qualify to receive them. The COVID-19 pandemic has made accessing those programs and benefits more difficult for some Americans. The Social Security Administration (SSA) is taking steps to improve outreach so that those who qualify for the SSI and SSDI programs can receive the help they need. Outreach efforts include the launch of several new websites that can make it easier for friends and family members to assist others in accessing Social Security programs. Social Security Outreach and COVID-19 In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the SSA closed all offices to the public beginning in March 2020. Individuals already receiving benefits through Social Security and those interested in applying have been directed to use the SSA’s online services portal or to call their local Social Security office in lieu of in-person visits. While these measures were implemented to protect the health of SSA employees and the individuals whom they serve, the SSA has recognized the need for greater outreach during the pandemic. Specifically, the outreach targets vulnerable populations, including individuals with low income, limited English proficiency, and mental illness, and those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. To connect with people who need assistance from SSI or SSDI, the SSA announced several measures to further that goal. Those include: Launching the People Helping Others website, which is designed to make it easier for anyone to help another person in accessing Social Security programs and services Creating a separate outreach website that encourages the sharing of materials and information about Social Security programs with vulnerable populations Launching an outreach website for faith-based and community groups to help promote Social Security programs to those in need Supporting a national advertising campaign via TV, radio, and social media to direct parents of children with disabilities to the SSI website Updating training procedures for community-based caseworkers to enable them to better assist people with applying for SSI benefits Each of these initiatives is meant to help educate people about what benefits they may qualify for through SSI and/or SSDI and how to go about applying for them. Note You can apply for SSI over the phone by calling 1-800-772-1213 or the SSA’s TTY number, 1-800-325-0778, if you’re deaf or hard of hearing. SSI and SSDI Benefits Explained If you’re not familiar with Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance, then you may not be aware of the benefits that are available. But it’s important to understand that Social Security isn’t just for retirement. Social Security benefits are paid out to you in retirement, and what you receive is based on your lifetime earnings. SSI benefits, however, are not based on your work history. Instead, they’re designed for people who are age 65 or older and have low income or are blind or disabled. In terms of what you can receive through SSI, benefits include: Tip People who qualify for SSI benefits may also qualify for Social Security retirement benefits. You can apply for both using the same application. The SSDI program provides income assistance to people with disabilities. This program pays benefits to you based on your and your family members’ work history. You must be able to provide proof of an ongoing disability to qualify for benefits through the program. Important If you have a disability but are still working, then you may not qualify for SSDI benefits if your earnings exceed a certain amount. How to Apply for Social Security Benefits During COVID-19 The SSA’s outreach efforts are meant to make it easier to learn about and apply for SSI and SSDI benefits during the pandemic, particularly for those who may have limited access to Internet or phone service. If you believe that you may be eligible for SSI benefits, SSDI benefits, or Social Security retirement benefits, then you can apply for any or all of them by phone or online. Here’s more on what you’ll need to apply for SSI and SSDI benefits. Applying for SSI Benefits Before applying for SSI, the SSA advises reviewing the eligibility requirements first. Again, you’ll need to be blind, disabled, or at least age 65 and have a low income to qualify. If you meet any of those requirements, then you can apply for benefits online, call the SSA’s toll-free number, or call your local SSA office. Note that someone can help you with completing your application by appointing them as a third-party representative. To complete your application, you’ll need to provide: Your name Your date and place of birth and Social Security number Name, Social Security number, and date of birth of your current or former spouse Names and dates of birth for your minor children Bank account information, including your account number and routing number for direct deposit of benefits Names and contact information for your medical care providers Details about the nature of your disability Names of medications you’re taking and who prescribed them Names and dates of any medical tests you’ve completed Information about your prior year’s earnings Name and contact information for your employer Beginning and ending dates for military service, if applicable Information about any workers’ compensation or government benefits that you already receive Once you fill out the application with that information, you also need to provide supporting documentation. That includes: Your birth certificate or other proof of birth Proof of U.S. Citizenship or lawful alien status U.S. Military discharge papers, if applicable W-2 forms and tax returns Medical documentation of your disability Proof of workers’ compensation or other government benefits that you receive Note When submitting a birth certificate and other documents (excluding W-2s, tax returns, or medical forms), the SSA requires originals, not photocopies. Applying for SSDI Benefits You can apply for SSDI benefits online after you complete the application checklist. This checklist tells you what type of information you’ll need to apply, including: Your name Date and place of birth Name and date of birth for your current or former spouse Names and dates of birth for minor children U.S. Military service beginning and ending dates Employment and income details, including information related to self-employment Bank account information Information about the nature of your disability Contact information for each of your healthcare providers Job history Information about your education and training You’ll also need to complete a medical release form so that the SSA can review your medical history. Once you submit your application for SSI benefits or SSDI benefits, the SSA will review everything to determine what you qualify for and what benefit amount you’re eligible to receive. Keep in mind that during this review period, you may be asked to provide additional information or documentation. Delaying or failing to do so could slow down the processing of your application or cause it to be denied. Warning The SSA advises people to be aware of coronavirus-related scams, including those that may attempt to trick you out of receiving Social Security benefits and/or economic impact payment benefits.
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