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4 Tech Tips to Keep Ahead of the Game for New Entrepreneurs

4 Tech Tips to Keep Ahead of the Game for New Entrepreneurs

    Thinking about starting a business or trying to make some cash out of the web? Technology can enable people and it can just as easily distract. We’ve got a few tips for you to consider to cut down on those distractions and costs and get more done, more efficiently and more effectively.

    These tips all center on one thing: technology, whether it involves a specific device or just the way you use tech, computers and the internet in general. Enjoy.

    Save time with Skype

    It’s becoming increasingly common advice: swap an expensive phone plan for a cheap – or free, if you do things right – Skype solution. And it’s true. You can save a whole heck of a lot of money thanks to Skype and solutions like it.

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    But while most people are talking about the money you can save, I think there’s something better for entrepreneurs to get out of Skype. The combination of instant messaging and VoIP allows you to control your communication methods better than any old phone line. Can’t or don’t want to take a call? It’s certainly not worth breaking your concentration if you’re on a roll.

    With Skype you can divert incoming calls to instant messaging and deal with requests and questions at a time of your own choosing. Corresponding via text allows you to focus on a main task while you take their message. But for those who prefer to talk by voice, deferring the call is still a good idea.

    Most calls take a while to get to the point; time that, even if minute from a perspective of quantification, is taking your mind further from the tasks and issues that you need to deal with. Shifting the mental gears is a time-expensive task. Filtering calls through instant messaging means the pretext for the call has been set and you can get right to the point and back to work.

    I personally prefer to communicate via text because it’s swift and doesn’t use as much attention quota.

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    Install a GPS Unit

    Install a GPS unit in your car or grab a PDA phone that has this handy technology built in. If you go the PDA route, make sure you get a mount for it installed in the car you’re most likely to use for business purposes. When you’re starting a business, you want – need – to deliver the best impression for potential, more established business partners. While being punctual is just something that all people need to do no matter what their level of experience or degree of establishment is, you don’t have a reputation to precede you and need to go the extra mile to develop one.

    By using GPS you guarantee that you won’t get lost, late and end up irking the other party, or even having the meeting canceled. Any technology that enables you to respect the time of others as fiercely as you defend your own is a good one.

    Get a Virtual Assistant

    So hiring a VA isn’t really tech, but it has the word “virtual” in it, right? The topic of virtual assistants has crawled its way into this article because you can free up hours of your time that would’ve been spent at the computer beforehand.

    Depending on who you talk to, virtual assistants can be hired from as little as $5 an hour and you can have them take care of a whole range of things:

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    • Monitor your emails and only send you those that need personal attention. You should set up another email account such as assistant@yourname.com and direct correspondence there, rather than giving anyone access to your own account.
    • Send standard form emails for you – fielding the same questions from customers, despite having a FAQ that covers them? You don’t need to cut and paste your standard “Have you checked our FAQ?” letter to them all when there’s a virtual assistant assigned to the task.
    • Research topics you need to be informed on, write or speak about.
    • Manage your calendar appointments and contacts, so that you don’t lose upwards of an hour each day just planning it.

    And there are about half a million other things you can delegate if you sit down and brainstorm the topic. This is the best investment you can make in technology – freeing up the time you have to spend with it (even if that just gives you more time to spend with it in less menial ways).

    Create a News Filter

    Keeping informed takes up huge chunks of time for some people. The most popular methods of dealing with information are the least efficient.

    The first thing you can do is see how much of the information you consume truly is important. For instance, let’s say that you’re the typical web-worker or online entrepreneur and you’ve subscribed to a whole bunch of feeds relevant to your field. You keep up with these feeds because if you don’t, you’ll miss something really important, but in between those occasional high-priority stories, how many are you consuming that aren’t important ‘just in case’ or ‘just because’ they’re there?

    Usually, the feeds you find necessary to subscribe to are simply those that are most popular and, via social proof, considered most important in your field. They may not be news-based at all. Or, they’re entirely news-based and thus conform to the 24-hour news cycle and deliver too much “news” that isn’t important and you don’t need to read about.

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    After you come to this realization it’s easier to cut down on subscriptions to only those that are strongly relevant, don’t publish with great frequency and don’t miss important news. This may mean gathering a few that sometimes overlap, but that’s better than a total overdose.

    The more technically involved way of creating a news filter via feeds is to use Yahoo! Pipes or a similar service to craft conditional feeds that only deliver entries based on a certain set of conditions. The most basic use would be to take a popular news site that covers only the most important news in a variety of fields and filter by certain keywords to extract just one field, or even better, by author where you know that he or she specifically covers one topic’s big news.

    The way you filter news is up to, and limited by your imagination (okay, and the technology), but as long as you’ve got a system in place to weed out most of the filler, you’ve used technology to reclaim a whole bunch of time.

    And a bonus tip: make liberal use of off switches. When it’s not essential that you keep your phone or computer on, do it – keep the work-life boundaries clear. This is where so many entrepreneurs go wrong; they can’t see the forest for the trees and decimate their home and personal life in pursuit of riches.

    Good luck!

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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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