For years I’ve used Google Voice in conjunction with Skype and my land line to keep the number of minutes I use on my cell phone to a minimum. I’m not saying you have to do this, I just want to outline how I have my office configured.
What you need:
- Google Voice Account (free): https://www.google.com/voice
- Skype Account
- Get the $2.95/month unlimited United States and Canada option
- Get a Skype to Go Number which is discounted if you have the unlimited US and Canada plan. You rent the number in 3 month blocks for $12.05 (it’s $15 if you buy the number first and then sign up for the US/Canada plan.
- Remember you need a microphone and speakers to make calls using Skype. I have a Jawbone headset that connects to both my computer and cell phone so you can use one device for both.
- Land Line. I get basic service from Cox for around $20.
The set up:
- Connect the Google Voice number to your land line, Skype, and cell phone
- Provide the Google Voice number to everyone.
- When you are near your land line (e.g. home office) use the web interface at https://www.google.com/voice to call a contact. Make sure to select your land line in the dropdown box so it rings that phone and not the others.
- This will allow you to call long distance number using your landline phone without incurring long distance charges
- You can also use your Skype number instead of the land-line but I prefer to use a landline because the sound quality is better and far more reliable.
When someone calls your Google Voice number all your phones will ring: Home, cell, and Skype. When this happens pick up the phone that costs you the least per minute. In order of priority:
- Land line
- Cell phone
WARNIG: Even if you use Google Voice you will still get charged minutes on your cell phone. Read that line again. Google Voice just connects a call to multiple devices it does NOT replace minutes you use on your cell phone. So ,if you use Google Voice and your cell phone, you’ll still get dinged for the minutes.
- Using this system you can avoid having to use your cell phone minutes when you have access to lower cost communication methods
- You can send and receive text messages from your Google Voice number and have them appear on your cell phone and get an email of the text.
- You can create rules so only some phones ring at certain times of the day and or week. For example your home office line will only ring between regular business hours.
- You can have different voice mail messages for different groups of people. This is helpful if you use Google voice for your personal and work number. The voice mail I have for my friends is very different than my professional greeting.
- The Google Voice transcripts of voice mails are hilariously bad so those are at least worth a laugh.
- You can block people. For example if a telemarketer keeps calling from the same number you can block them and whenever they call a message will be played that says “this number has been disconnected”. I’ve used this several times on crazy ex’s. It works like a charm.
- Some phone numbers you can’t call using Google Voice because it costs Google too much money. This is often the case with free conference call numbers. I’ve had this happen a couple of times when calling FreeConferencCall.com numbers. In this case I just use my Skype number.
No matter how good your spam filter is some is going to get through and land right in your inbox. While no one can completely eliminate SPAM there are some things you can do to keep it to a minimum. First I’ll start off by telling you how the spammers work then I’ll get into some practical ways to combat this electronic refuse.
How the heck do they get my address in the first place?
That’s an excellent question here are several ways they do it:
- Off of your personal web page
- Off your company’s contact information
- Off your MySpace or other publicly available social networking site
- They have a dictionary program that systematically generates all possible combinations of email address.
- You sign up for a mailing list from a company you trust and the cheeky bastards sell your address
- and the list goes on….
Mostly, these Spammers will harvest names using programs that crawl the web. As soon as their spider finds an address it adds you to their list. Pretty nasty eh? So once they have your address they will send you an e-mail asking you to buy anything from Iphones to Viagra. Now these guys/gals are pretty crafty. Remember, they got past all those smart people who made the SPAM filter. Not every name that is on their list is going to be valid and being a busy spammer they only want to send their e-mails to valid address. These impolite marketers have devised a way to find out if an address is good or bad and I hate to say it, but more than likely, you’ve fallen for their trick and not even known it.
Usually at the bottom of their e-mail will be a link that reads something like: “If you no longer wish to received e-mails from us, click this link to be removed”. That is the trap! By clicking that link you have told them that a real person actually got this mail so it’s time to blast them with more junk. The link isn’t the only way they verify your address. Sometimes you’ll get SPAM that is written in HTML. Essentially these e-mails are made the same way people make web pages. When you open the e-mail, that mail will download a little image from the internet and BAM now you have let them know your address is valid. I told you they were crafty.
So what can you do to reduce SPAM?
1. Get your e-mail address off of publicly available web pages.
Use a contact form instead of a direct link to your e-mail address.If you can’t use a contact form at least write out your address out long hand i.e. MyEmailAddress A-T MyDomain D-O-T com .
2. Never open e-mail from an address that you suspect is SPAM
This can be tough especially if you get mail from a lot of different people. What you can do is turn off your internet connection before you open a suspicious e-mail. I use my firewall to turn off all internet traffic. You can download a free firewall from Zone Labs Here.
3. Never Ever click an “Unsubscribe Link” from an untested sender
If you had signed up for a newsletter or mailing from a reputable company then by all means use the unsubscribe link. An honest company will be more than happy to honor your request since they have a reputation to uphold.
4. Use free e-mail accounts from places like Hotmail, Gmail, and Yahoo when you sign up for newsletters, coupons, or any site that may try to send you junk in the future.
It’s better to have the spammer sending junk to your Hotmail account that you can dump then your real one that all your friends, family, and coworkers know.
5. ADVANCED Tip: Use e-mail forwards to identify compromised e-mails
If you have your own web site you probably have the ability to set up an e-mail forwarder. Essentially, you create a fake address. All the mail sent to the fake address gets forwarded to your real address. Make the address easy to identify like: CompanyName@YourDomain.com. That way when you get a SPAM message you can see who sent it to you and all you have to do is delete the forwarder. Now, there is no way that spamming company can send you any more stuff since the forwarder is gone and they never knew your real e-mail.
So there you have it 5 ways to help reduce the amount of junk email floating around your inbox.
There are a lot of companies out there looking to sell you all sorts of programs to protect your computer. I’m a tin-foil-hat wearing paranoid so it should come as no surprise that I’m a big fan of computer security. Keep in mind that computer security does more than keep nasty hackers out, it can help improve the performance of your computer as well. By running a firewall, a virus scanner, and a spyware scanner you put up a pretty good line of defense on your personal PC. If you are like me you’re cost conscious (most people call me cheap) so I found three great programs that you can download and use for free! Just the sound of that makes my cheapskate heart sing. So with out further ado here are three downloads to keep your computer safe as well as a little explanation on what they do.
When you’re on a network information goes in and out of your computer. A firewall is like a bouncer at a club. So when your VIP information like the latest Diamondback score comes cruising up to the velvet rope of your I/O port it gets let in right away. But, when some grungy program comes up and says “Hey man let me in” the firewall bounces them, keeping them out of your super exclusive club that we’ll call your PC.
You can download a free firewall from ZoneLabs: http://www.zonealarm.com/store/content/company/products/znalm/freeDownload.jsp . Look for the button that says “I only want basic ZoneAlarm protection”. Or just click here to get the program.
Viruses are little programs that people write to do all sorts of things to your computer. They range from annoying to down right nasty. An anti-virus program will help keep your computer from getting infected in the first place and remove anything that should happen to slip by. Please remember that you should run a scan regularly. And when I say regularly, I mean a full scan at least once a week
You can get an excellent free Anti Virus program from AVG: http://free.grisoft.com/
Spyware is kind of like a virus but more annoying than anything else. This is probably on your computer already and you don’t even know it. Often it gets installed when you install another program. Spyware watches what you do hence the name. It will see where you go online and then pop up an ad. What makes this even naughtier is that it is running in the background using your computer’s resources. That means your computer runs slower. How rude!
To exorcize these annoying programs grab a copy of Spybot http://www.spybot.com/ . Just make sure to update it regularly and like the virus scanner, run it regularly.
So there you go, 3 handy programs that will keep your computer safe and clean and all for free. Most places like GeekSquad charge over $100 for this service plus the cost of software. Now you can use that $100 for something else like buying me a beer, or several.
P.S. I actually have the utmost respect for hackers. They are the smart people who figure out the flaws with software and make it better. Think of it like getting sick. Yes it’s a miserable experience but afterwards your body has a stronger immune system.
Have you ever had the dreaded moment when you meet someone interesting and were completely out of business cards? This normally happens to me when I’m at a party. I don’t know about you, but when I’m headed to a back yard bar-b-q or raging house party, bringing my business cards is the last thing I worry about. Last weekend I ran into some people that were interested in doing some business so I had to do the perfunctory slap your pocket where the business card would have been like you were going to grab one and apologize for coming back empty handed. Well fellow networking professionals, you can send and receive contact info by sending text messages with your cell phone. So far, I’ve found 3 services that do just that with out typing out an epic text.
Drop Card is one of the first services I checked out. All you have to do is text “drop TheirEmail@Whatever.com” to 77950 and a neat html based e-mail will be sent to the address you specified in the text message. You can have 2 different profiles which is pretty cool if you want to keep your business and personal contacts separate.
You get 25 free drops a month but if you need more than that you have to upgrade to the premium service. Aside from more monthly drops, premium service allows you to customize the e-mail that gets sent with a company logo. Overall, it works as advertised but, most users will need more than 25 drops a month.
This free service is handy if you have a phone that can send text messages to an e-mail addresses. All you do is have the recipient text “YourUserName” to email@example.com then TxtMs will reply with your contact info. Unlike the other services, you are afforded more control over your information since you have the ability to authorize each requests for your info. There is also an automatic approval setting so you don’t have to micro manage it if you choose not to.
One thing to note is that I’ve got an iPhone and have yet to figure out how to send text messages to e-mail address. I’ve been able to use the Txt Ms system but only by sending the text messages through Google Voice’s web site.
This one is my favorite so far. It’s still in Alpha so a lot could change in the coming months but, it’s got two things on its side: simple and free. All you do is have someone text your user name to 50500. They will receive a text message back with all your contact info. You can also directly send your contact info to another person by texting the recipients phone number to 50500.
So, next time you are out and about with out your business cards, at least one of these services will have you covered.
As a final note, when I was researching ways to get Txt Ms to work with my iPhone I came across this cool little tutorial that will show you how to text some pretty cool special characters like music symbols, stars, hearts etc….
“If I could have my wasted days back,
Would I use them to get back on track?”
Frantic. That’s the name of the song where I pulled that quote and, besides being a damn good song (yes, I was one of a handful of people that liked St. Anger), there is a pretty important message in those lyrics. Whether you are a business owner like me or work for someone else, the idea of doing more with less isn’t just a catch phrase, it’s a reality. There are only 24 hours in a day and the To Do list grows every week. If you want to get a hold of a schedule spiraling out of control, I propose you do an audit. That’s right: those five letters that cause so much fear when uttered by the IRS may in fact be a time saver when you do one yourself.
No matter what you do or what industry you are in there will always be someone out there that has more money, more education, and more resources. The only equal playing field is time. Yes that’s right time. We all start the day with 24 hours and cram as much stuff into as possible. How efficiently you work that time separates you from your competitors. This is the reason why I’ve become and efficiency junky. As the word implies, the more efficient you are the more you get done in the same amount of time. More work equals more money, which gives you the ability to chase bigger and better opportunities.