By Scott Hastings
By now, you’ve heard of the Internet, and you’ve probably figured out that its not a fad. It was originally designed as a way for military institutions to communicate, even in the event of a nuclear attack. It “languished” for many years as a haven for academics and scientists at government agencies, educational, and large corporate institutions. But, in the last three years, it has blossomed. It is growing (doubling in size every year), showing no sign of slowing, and has become a part of the business landscape. Just as pagers, cellular telephones, and fax machines, the Internet has become a pervasive business communication tool. Having an Internet connection will become as common (and as necessary) as a fax machine.
The Internet already has relevance for a telemessaging company, and there are several ways you can take advantage of the Internet today.
Probably the easiest and quickest way for a telemessaging firm to jump on the Internet train is simply getting an electronic mail (email) address. An email account will allow you to access a great deal of information on the ‘net (you can even browse Web pages by email). But, what is more important, an email address is the primary way for your prospects and clients to reach you on the Internet. Like a fax machine, an email address allows prospects to respond to your advertisements, and clients to send you “on-call” information, or any other kind of information
Another way to create a presence on the Internet is to create a “page” or “site” on the much-hyped World Wide Web. A Web “page” is like an electronic bill board, where you can post information about your company, including text and pictures. People with an Internet connection and Web browser software can look at your page. By creating “hyperlinks,” or pointers to other Web pages, you can create a set of Web pages all linked together as a Web “site.” A well-designed website will allow visitors to move freely around your site, viewing information relevant to their interests.
There are millions of Internet users, and you can send them “junk” email for pennies. Don’t. It is considered poor Internet etiquette (“netiquette”) to send unsolicited marketing material (website or email address) across the Internet. That means you have to include your email address and/or your website location in your current marketing materials. Put it on your business cards, brochures, T-shirts. Put your email address in your Web page, and your Web location in email you send. Make it easy for anyone to respond to you, or to get information from you.
Delivering messages to your clients via the Internet is probably the most logical extension of your service. If you currently deliver messages via fax or alpha pagers, for instance, you could deliver the same message as an email message. Your client would pick up the message when they checked their email “box.” While most TAS equipment vendors don’t yet support Internet email message delivery, I expect them to offer this feature by this time next year.
If you allow your clients to pick up messages by dialing up your computer (a bulletin board system, or BBS), you may have another option: You may be able to use something called “File Transfer Protocol,” or “FTP.” Some BBS’s that integrate with your TAS equipment for message delivery can also provide FTP service on the Internet. It allows your clients to pick up their messages at their convenience through the Internet.
If you’re savvy, though, and have the technical expertise, you might consider providing Internet services to others, by becoming an Internet Service Provider. If you already have a Web page, an email address, and FTP site, becoming an Internet Service Provider, or ISP, may not seem like that big of a step. But it is an entirely new and different business from answering service. Once you become an ISP, you become something like a publisher, a telephone company (including directory assistance), and the yellow pages, plus a technical and marketing consultant, all rolled into one. You will have different competitors, and will most likely fall under government scrutiny. In other words, its not for the faint of heart. But it is for those who think of themselves as full-service messaging companies.
The Internet may be considered the fastest growing messaging technology today. It’s easy to become a part of what is already an integral part of the communications landscape. If you’ve never “surfed the net,” call a local ISP or an on-line service provider. They can get you on the Internet for about $10-$30 per month (depending on the provider), with an email address, FTP, Web access, and a number of other services. Explore for yourself, and then decide how much farther you want to take your business into the Internet.
Scott Hastings in one of the owners of Hastings Communication Services in Austin, Texas, which has been serving the public since 1948. Mr. Hastings can be reached at 512-472-1122 or send email to Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[From Connection Magazine, March 1996]