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Episode 15: Business Services on the Web

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Outsource like the pros!

 

On previous episodes, IBM's Tom Vassos has shown the folks at the Toronto Fashion Incubator how they can find information and assistance on creating business plans, finding start-up capital, and exporting goods for their small businesses. However, these services are a mere fraction of the plethora of web-based business services available, as Executive Director Susan Langdon learns during Tom's weekly visit. Among the business services that the small business can tap into on the Internet are: credit checking and collection services, online banking, and consulting services.

 

Credit Checking and Collection Services

Equifax Canada logo

With the resident designers at the TFI dealing with various buyers across the country, they need a quick method of assessing creditworthiness of their potential customers, as well as access to collection services when all other means of securing payment on outstanding debts have failed. This is where Equifax Canada (http://www.equifax.ca/Home/Docs/commercl.htm) and Dunn & Bradstreet (http://www.dnb.com/sbs/hmenu.htm), two of the biggest names in the Canadian credit checking business, come in. Both companies offer web-based services that allow you to evaluate a sales prospect's creditworthiness, analyze the payment habits of your existing clients, and predict the likelihood of a client becoming delinquent in its payments over the next year, which will ultimately reduce your level of bad debts and collection costs. Furthermore, to maximize on speed and convenience, both companies accept credit cards for payment of this valuable service.

 

Online Banking

Online banking has grown tremendously over the past two years, driven by its popularity with both the banks and banking customers. Customers like being able to conduct the majority of banking transactions from the comfort of their home or office twenty-four hours a day, any day of the week. For the banks, Internet banking represents a low-cost alternative to traditional forms of retail banking, according to a survey conducted by Booz Allen of the major banks in the United States. The survey found that more than two-thirds of the Booz Allen respondents spent less than $25,000 US to establish a banking web site and 84 percent were spending less than $25,000 US a year to maintain it. These figures are a significant difference from the typical $2 million US required to open a traditional branch and the annual $500,000 US required to kieep it running.

TD Access logo

With many of the online banking services available, such as TD Access PC Banking (http://www.tdbank.ca/tdaccess) offered by Toronto Dominion Bank, you can get instant access to all your account information, make bill payments, transfer money between accounts, integrate your banking information with your financial software packages (such as Microsoft Money 98 or Quicken), monitor the spending activity on your credit cards, and even purchase mutual funds (http://www.tdbank.ca/greenline). And this timesaving service does not come at a premium-- many of the financial institutions offering this service are giving the software away for free, and will waive the service fees if a minimum balance is maintained in the account.

Of course, security is a main concern for those about to take the plunge into Internet banking. Though the information is transmitted across telephone lines and the Internet, the banks provide secure web servers for carrying out the banking transactions. Furthermore, all sensitive information is encrypted between your computer and the bank's server (this security feature is illustrated on your browser with either a 'key' or a 'lock' icon).

 

Consulting Services

Ernie logo

Small businesses can even hire a consulting firm to assist them with the issues that they face. For example, Ernie (http://207.87.15.37/About/fr_about.htm) is the online consulting service from the prestigious consulting firm Ernst & Young. Ernie is a subscription-based, password-protected, private website that provides business with access to the professional services of Ernst & Young over the Internet. After entering the question, with the relevant details, the answer is passed on to one of the many Ernst & Young consultants who know the industry, topic, or issue at hand. All questions are fair game, whether they are related to information technology, human resources, corporate finance, strategic business planning, accounting, personal finance, real estate or federal income tax issues, just to name a few. After submitting the question to Ernie, it is automatically routed to the appropriate professional who receives an e-mail saying he or she has a question from Ernie. Ernst & Young then follows up with a personalized, online consultation and further discussion to ensure that the question has been completely answered. The total turnaround time for this service is typically two business days. And Ernie is not as expensive as you think: for a few thousand dollars, you can have up to ten questions answered per year.

 

As you can see, there are many excellent business services that the home office can tap into via the Internet, which will help you save both money and time. And of course, the enterprising small business can turn this around, and offer their services to prospective clients over the Internet, such as Susan's idea of offering Internet fashion consulting services over the TFI's web site.

 

Hot Links

 

Want to learn more about the topics covered this week? Then check out these great web sites and resources:

 

Dunn & Bradstreet

http://www.dnb.com/sbs/hmenu.htm

Offers credit checking and collection services over the Internet

Equifax Canada

http://www.equifax.ca/Home/Docs/commercl.htm

Another Internet-based service for credit checking and collections

TD Access PC Banking

http://www.tdbank.ca/tdaccess

Do your banking from your home or office

TD Greenline Discount Brokerage

http://www.tdbank.ca/greenline

Buy and sell investments with TD's brokerage services

Ernie

http://207.87.15.37/About/fr_about.htm

Online consulting service from Ernst & Young

HumanSearch

http://www.humansearch.com

A free service that has an undergraduate student volunteer surf the web and private databases to find the answer to your question

Canadian Legal Directory

http://www.carswell.com/LawDir/

Find a lawyer online

Foxall

http://foxall.com/cgi-foxall/start.cgi/gateways/shope.htm

Foxall offers Intertax, an online tax return utility, and Interbooks, an online bookkeeping utility

Toronto Taxtronic Systems

http://www.interlog.com/~taxtron/

Online tax advice

Computer Technical Support

http://www.nowonder.com

Get free technical support for your computer-related problems, often within twenty-four hours.

Air Canada's Cyber Ticket Office

https://w3.aircanada.ca/res/logonE.html#menu

Make travel arrangements, for business or pleasure, online

CCH Business Owner's Toolkit

http://www.toolkit.cch.com/tools/tools.stm

Why buy business forms when you can download them for free? You'll find balance sheets, long distance call logs, customer surveys, and more.

Mainstay Marketing

http://www.mainstaymktg.com/freebies/index.html

Free press release editing service

 

Cast

 

Mark Schneider		CTV - Host of "Digital Desktop"
Tom Vassos		IBM e-business Advisor and Host of "This New SoHo"
Susan Langdon		Executive Director, Toronto Fashion Incubator

  

Production Credits

 

Al Stevens		Camera
Anthony Leong		Senior Web Editor


All episode summaries and supplemental information written by Anthony Leong, with material and assistance from Tom Vassos, his book Strategic Internet Marketing, and Mark Schneider.


Click here for IBM e-business solutions

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