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21st Century Business - Hand Your Tasks Over to the Web with Web Services

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Want to know how to put more of your revenue in your pocket AND free up time to do the important things for your business? All business owners can save time and money if they properly leverage the Web through Web services. What I am referring to is replacing recurring tasks that take employee time to accomplish with web-based services that do it automatically.

If you are a small business owner, you probably do many day-to-day tasks that take up a lot of your valuable time. Your time is better spent doing the things you’re in business for than regularly completing every little business administration chore. A common complaint I hear among small business owners is that they spend too much of their time on “business” issues like accounting or mailings instead of the “fun stuff” that their expertise is in.

Now you can have it both ways, thanks to the Web and the strength of Web services. The idea is that if you shift your time or employee time away from tasks that can be accomplished via the Web, the newly saved time can be spent in more productive and lucrative ways.

I can give numerous examples of Web services for any industry, but for the sake of brevity, I will offer a few that will hopefully stimulate your own creativity.

1) Pricing

Do you have prices on your Web site that need to get updated regularly? If you have many products, and a price list that changes sometimes, it may save employee time by putting all the prices in a database (if they aren’t already) and making your Web site dynamically database driven to pull the pricing out of the database in real-time so the pricing on your site is always current.

This saves time in a number of ways. First, if a particular price is listed in a number of areas on your site, than you have to pay someone to make the update in each place every time the price is changed, or spend your time doing this. Maybe your pricing stays the same most of the time, but what about when you run specials and discounts?

Another way this helps is that your entire company can now refer to the Web to get the most updated pricing. Let’s say you run a special and decrease the price of a product. Do you contact all your sales people and tell them about the discount? Do you print out a copy of the updated price list and send it to everyone who deals with customers? By making this a Web service, you would simply change one entry in your database and refer everyone to the Web to get the current price. Any company information that regularly changes and you spend time disseminating ought to be automated using the Web.

2) Sales & Marketing Web Services

Let’s say a typical sale, whether it’s done by you or your salespeople, takes fifteen minutes to close (when speaking to an interested or ‘hot’ lead). Let’s also say that half of the fifteen minutes is spent explaining what your product or service is or how it can help improve their lives. You find that you repeat the same basic selling points over and over again. What if you could create a Flash presentation that does this for you? The presentation could be loaded on your Web site and linked on your home page. You could refer people to this presentation and cut your sales pitch in half.

You don’t even necessarily need to be so sophisticated. Simple html, images, and good writing could do this job as well. Software companies can really benefit from this tactic. Screen shots of their software, with descriptions of how their product benefits the customer, put together in an attractive presentation can act like a sales person who never sleeps or takes a break.

3) Required Customer Information

Do you or your employees spend time asking each new client their particular specifications for a job? Is there a set of questions you ask every customer in order to fulfill their request and complete the project? Consider creating an html form that asks these questions, have the answers emailed directly to your inbox, and place the form on your Web site. A catering company may have a standard set of questions they ask a bride and groom that could be automated and put on the caterer’s Web site. This could save the caterers valuable time, freeing them up to party plan and cook, which is probably why they got in the business in the first place.

4) Partnering

Do you have business partners? Do you waste a lot of time sending out mail to each partner when you have something to communicate? Do you want to entice other businesses to partner with you but don’t have a good incentive? Creating a simple password protected area of your Web site that only current partners can access may be the answer.

If you share information with partners on a regular basis, this is particularly useful. It is much easier for an advertising or creative agency to post work they’re doing for their client to review than it is to snail mail it or actually meet with the client for each new draft. A more sophisticated application of this concept involves hooking your inventory system up to the partner Web site section where every partner can see what is in stock in real-time.

5) Web Services for Product or Service Information / Catalogs

If you spend an inordinate amount of time, money and energy snail mailing catalogs out to potential customers, you may want to consider recreating your traditional print catalog online and making it easily accessible on your Web site. This may sound like a simple idea, and it is, but there are still many companies that haven’t done this yet. However, taking this mindset a step further could truly allow you to break away from the pack and free up a lot of you and your employees’ time.

This is actually a lot simpler than it sounds. One of the hardest parts is coming up with possible web service opportunities. Often we are so entrenched in the old way of doing things that we don’t even see the possibilities. It is important that you stretch your creativity when thinking of possible solutions. If you think something could be done automatically but aren’t sure if it’s possible, ask around or speak to an expert.

The possibilities are endless. In the future, many of the tasks of today will be done by the computer, (this could have been a line in an article written in the 80’s, and it certainly came true), but now it will be the networked computer that accomplishes the tasks, in other words, the Web. I challenge you to get creative and think of ways to save you and your employees’ time and money by utilizing the power of the Web and Web services.

Web Services Article by Jason O'Connor
© 2003


Jason O'Connor is President of Oak Web Works - The synthesis of Web design, technology and marketing

Jason is an expert at Web design and programming, e-strategy, and e-marketing

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