Mary Shaw has a shameful, shameful secret.
No, it has nothing to do with personal hygiene. Or her marriage. Or her kids. She doesn't smoke pot, drink excessively or pop pills. True, she enjoys Sean Hannity's show, which is shameful. But she admits this freely, so it's no secret.
Her secret is way more shameful than that. Especially in these technology-hyped days.
Mary Shaw owns and operates The Every Day Group - a 20-person health benefits consulting firm. I've been asked not to use her real name or the name of her company because if Mary's shameful secret were to be known by some people she could never show her face in town again.
Are you ready for the secret to be revealed? Well here it is: She sends letters. And faxes. And makes phones calls to her customers and to her prospects.
How could she? Has she never heard of this newfangled thing called the Internet? Isn't she listening to the media? Doesn't she talk to all those younger folks with greasy hair and black-rimmed rectangular glasses who, between puffs on their hookahs, lecture us all on the new age of electronic communication and social networking tools that are available for penny-pinchers and small-business owners to launch themselves into the new millennium?
"Whatever," she recently told me. "I still send letters. And faxes. And make calls."
But Mary's poking fun at us.
Her secret isn't as shameful as you think. Sure, she still listens to cassette tapes and reads a newspaper. Sure, she still refers to the Rolodex on her desk. She admits that she does a lot of her business the old-fashioned way. But she's doing old-fashioned things in a new manner. And she's doing these things better than her competition. And contrary to what those younger folks with greasy hair and black-rimmed rectangular glasses think about her, she's using that newfangled thing called the Internet. Only she's using it to send letters. And faxes. And make calls. It's fast. It's inexpensive. It's the kind of thing a smart penny-pincher does.
For letters, Mary uses two Web-based mailing services - Snailmailr (www.snailmailr.com) and The MailMonster (www.themailmonster.com). No, these are not mass-mailing marketing services. These companies send out individual letters. She logs in, uploads a graphic of her letterhead, types in the address of the recipient, copies and pastes in her message and pays. Both services then print out the letter, stuff and mail it. Snailmailr costs 99 cents for each letter, including postage. The Mailmonster is free. Both services advertise themselves on their envelopes. The MailMonster includes other ads too, which is why they're free.
For faxes, Mary uses three Web-based faxing services - efax (www.efax.com), FaxZero (www.faxzero.com) and TPC Fax (www.tpc.int/faxbyemail.html). They're different. eFax lets Mary upload a Word document and then sends it as a fax to her recipient's fax machine. It costs $14 per month, which allows 30 pages to be faxed. After that it's 10 cents per page. And faxes can be received too. FaxZero is a free service where she can send up to two faxes a day (maximum three pages) at no charge or pay $1.99 for each additional fax (maximum 15 pages). TPC converts an e-mail into a fax. No uploading. No attachments. Using this service is a bit trickier, as you use a special format for the "Send" line of the e-mail. And not all fax machines can receive from their service. But for those that do, it's a simple and effective way to fax, according to Mary.
Mary uses Voiceshot (www.voiceshot.com) and DialMyCalls (www.dialmycalls.com). These services let her record a message ("Your health insurance benefits are expiring next month - call us!") and then blasts out the message to a pre-defined list of people. Voiceshot charges 12 cents per successful call. DialMyCalls uses a credit system where each credit can be as low as .045 cents per call. But the catch is that you get charged for the call whether it's successful or not. Of course, both companies promise to hunt down and kill any users who misuse their service for telemarketing purposes.
Mary understands something that seems to get lost in today's world of technology hype. Many people don't spend a lot of time reading e-mails. Many people don't spend a lot of time on Facebook, Twitter or other social media Web sites. Yet studies have shown that these same people are well-adjusted, friendly and good human beings. Shocking. Shameful. But true.
So Mary wants to make sure that these well-adjusted, friendly and good human beings, who are also customers and prospective customers, hear from her. She understands that people get their information from all sorts of different places. Some actually read their mail. Others still (gasp!) have a fax machine. And there are some walking the earth who actually get phone calls, instead of sending text messages. Wow. No one under the age of 25 would believe that one. But it's true. It's true!
Shameful, isn't it? Mary sending letters and faxes and making phone calls. It's a terrible secret she keeps. Let's hope we never find out who the "real" Mary is. And let's hope that we all learn a few things from this smart penny-pincher.
Gene Marks, CPA, runs a 10-person technology consulting firm in Bala Cynwyd, Pa. His latest book is In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash: Simple Lessons From Smart Business People.
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