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| SMALL TALK / Advice From Small-Business Experts

Electronic Tools May Simplify Scheduling

September 20, 2000|KAREN E. KLEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Q. I am the owner and only employee of a Spanish interpreting business, with about a dozen clients. I take work assignments by telephone, write them on my calendar and copy them into my computer for invoicing. This method is time-consuming and inefficient, but I'm not sure how to improve it. Should I buy an electronic planner? Or could I publish my calendar on the Web and have clients book my time interactively?

--Tess Flores, Lakewood

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A There are a couple of options for you to consider, depending on how much you want your clients to know about your business.

If you want to go with a Web-based calendar and booking system, a Web site at http://www.intranets.com lets you set up an electronic calendar and administer it yourself for free. You could establish user names and passwords for your clients and control their access to it so they can view your calendar and book appointments with you.

You would need to check the calendar at least daily and confirm the appointments. There may be an option to have the system notify you by e-mail when a booking has been made.

One downside to this process is that it enables your clients to see how busy you are--or are not. Are you worried that clients might check your calendar, decide you're overbooked and go elsewhere? Or, conversely, that they will see you have few appointments and wonder if you are the right person for the job? You must decide if the Web schedule is right for you and your company.

Setting up the system is fairly easy using the tools and instructions on the site, especially if you're comfortable with computer software. If you're not, I'd advise hiring a consultant to spend a couple of hours helping you understand the system, setting it up and installing security features.

The other option you mentioned, purchasing a Palm or similar hand-held device, could be done instead of or in addition to the Web calendar option. Rather than writing down appointments by hand, you'd enter your schedule in the Palm and download it to your PC and vice versa.

That way, if you're at a client's office and want to check your appointments, you would call up the updated calendar and have the information in front of you. Again, if you're fairly comfortable learning easy software, you can teach yourself how to make the most of this method.

--Asher Dahan, systems engineer, Certified Network Professionals, Los Angeles

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Recent Small Talk columns are at http://www.latimes.com/smtalk.

If you have a question about how to start or operate a small business, mail it to Karen E. Klein, Los Angeles Times, 1333 S. Mayflower Ave., Suite 100, Monrovia, CA 91016, or e-mail it to kklein6349@aol.com. Include your name, address and telephone number. This column is designed to answer questions of general interest. It should not be construed as legal advice.

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