How to set up a toll free number for your website

When it comes to technology – the answer to “Can you do this…?” is always yes – it’s simply a case of how long or how much.

It’s only Tuesday and I’ve had an amazing week when it comes to technology research. I will save some of my research for another day – but today I’ve cracked something I’m extremely proud of – and I appear to have come full circle.

Back in 1996, I worked for the UK’s largest telco – BT. It’s even possible some of you reading this will have worked with me back then! One of my roles was as an International voice networking specialist – working with our global division to provide sales support to the likes of Hertz (memories of Oklahoma City) and advising on the latest and greatest call centre technology to distribute calls around the world to different call centres.

100’s if not 1000’s of engineers were involved in running our global network and switching voice calls around the world back then, according to time of day or menu options was hard and complicated and BT charged a lot of money for it.

Reason #1278 to love the Internet: Yesterday, I set up the equivalent network in about an hour for $20/month.

I have two businesses and until recently, our web application, Customer Thermometer has email support only. We’ve had a number of ‘complaints’ we aren’t easy to get hold of – many of our US customers like to pick up the phone and talk to a real person (even if they’re British!) and one of our US colleagues decided it was time to implement a toll free ‘1800’ type number.

It’s not something I’d ever researched – yet I knew what I wanted – a number in the UK and a number in the US which would arrive at the same place – press ‘1’ for sales and ‘2’ for tech support… depending on which of the team were awake and on duty – the system should then route the call seamlessly… if no one was able to take a call – voicemail kicks in. I of course wanted to control all of that from some kind of web control panel and have complete flexibility.

Too much to ask?

What I wanted is wanted by hundreds of businesses around the world every day I would imagine – and I guess it sounds simple on paper – however when you stop to think about it – have you any idea how complicated that set up is!

It was time to Google: how to set up a toll free number.

Approximately an hour of research later, I hit the jackpot and want to recommend this company to you.

www.Tollfreeforwarding.com provide an online virtual control panel for setting up your toll free numbers.

You select a US toll free number and start your 1 month free trial. Inbound calls are then routed to your cell/mobile or chosen landline depending on how you set them up. You can then add in a UK toll free (or any other number for that matter).

Once set up, there are then multiple options available:

You can switch in a voice menu (which I recorded in my best voiceover voice – available on request) to distribute those calls, depending on the expertise around and available:

toll-free-interactive-voice-menu

Voicemail is amazing – if someone leaves a message – you can hit play in your control panel to hear it … PLUS it emails you the voicemail as a wav file.

Calls are fully itemised:

toll-free-call-itemisation

Calls can be routed, depending on time of day / day of week:

time-of-day-toll-free-routing

Pricing

You pay a line rental every month for the service and each toll free number of $20 (starter) and then pay for routed calls separately. To route a call from a US toll free to a UK mobile is just 10c/minute… very reasonable. All features etc are fully inclusive.

You should know – I’m not on commission – this isn’t an affiliate sale – I just like to promote what works, is great value and could well answer many consultant’s questions…

Main image credit.

How I earned £300 cashback in 6 months (without trying)

[For UK readers only.]

I buy a lot of ‘stuff’ online, mainly because it’s a) cheaper and b) saves me time and c) why leave the house when I don’t have to?! I have huge sympathy for the UK High St, however, as I’m often told, business is business.

About a year ago I was told about the TopCashback site by a friend of mine. He runs his own IT business, buys IT equipment on behalf of his clients regularly, and had made thousands just by buying the ‘stuff’ via a cashback site.

Before you take a look – let me describe it.

1) You need to buy something online and either already know which website to buy from OR you’d like some help in finding somewhere.

2) You visit the TopCashback site.

3) Type in the name of the retailer or item you’re looking for. (Examples include Apple, Insurance, ISAs, Sky, Vodafone, Ebuyer, Dell, PC World…) It’s brilliant when you’re looking to change car / house insurance for example.

TopCashback search

4) It’ll list the retailer (they have 100’s) and make some recommendations too.

5) Next to each one, they’ll then list the amount of cashback you’ll receive if you click their link. PC World is currently at 7%, Vodafone currently offering £151 cashback on a 12 month contract. Legal and General – £60 cashback on home insurance.

TopCashback - Apple cashback

6) You’ll then be taken to that retailer to search and buy what you’re after

7) Days, weeks or sometimes months later – you will receive that %age back in cold, hard cash or topped up Amazon vouchers.

Hotels.com cashback

There are no catches, it truly is that simple and frankly, if you don’t use it when you buy online, you are losing money.

How does it work?

When things sound too good to be true, they often are – so let me explain their business model.

I’m sure you’re aware of the concept of affiliate marketing. If you click on a banner or link which eventually leads you to make a purchase from that advertiser, the person hosting that banner or link gets a %age payment. This cashback site is an affiliate and has affiliate relationships with 100’s of retailers. Here’s the clever bit. Rather than collecting the affiliate revenue themselves, they pass it back to the ‘clicker’ – ie you. They make their money through the advertising on their site. They are currently Alexa ranked 9,166 and so get thousands of visitors/day – making their business model viable.

So – it’s a no brainer isn’t it?

Go take a look. It has genuinely made me £300 in Amazon vouchers in the last few months – simply by remembering to click their bookmark first AND it’s also given me some great retailers I wouldn’t have visited without their help.

It’s good to be transparent – and so if you do visit the site, sign up and make your first purchase through them – I will be ‘thanked’ by them and £10 will be added to my account. It’s called viral marketing – and you could do the same with your friends.

Hopefully if you like what I’ve been up to on this site over the last few years – you’ll be happy to see me earning 3.21 tall,skinny, decaf mochaccinos.

 

How to create product screenshots without Photoshop

The product screenshot you see in this post has been generated without Photoshop or any other form of image manipulation software. It was also produced in approximately 15 seconds!

In the video below, I show you how to do it, including how to take a screenshot from your iPhone or iPad, if you’ve always wondered how.

I honestly believe it’s one of the coolest shortcut techniques I’ve ever discovered.

The perfect consultant’s office setup

Everything becomes so much easier when you’re organised.

I’ve always loved my office – because, well… it’s mine. I can have it set up however I want – no one can tell me what I can and cannot do and like all the best things in life, it’s evolved over time.

Part of the evolution I have to attribute to an episode from Freedom Ocean – the excellent podcast with Timbo Reid and James Schramko. Thank you guys.

So – in the video below, I talk through what I think is the perfect office set up.

Details of some of the kit I mention:
USB mic http://amzn.to/vOT7vS
Boom: http://amzn.to/uC6h7F
Webcam: http://amzn.to/owLB0W

(FREE) Software – two pcs, one keyboard and mouse: http://synergy-foss.org/

How to sync Outlook with iCloud

Making your life easier…

So much about being a lone consultant is about having your life made easier by technology. More often than not, it transpires against you to make life harder.

With iOS5 launching yesterday, I’ve been keen to find out how iCloud is going to help sync our lives – how helpful would it be to have all contacts and appointments etc on all devices? In addition – I wanted to see how iCloud interact would with Outlook and PC users.

It turns out it’s pretty darn good… oh and it’s all completely free for the first 5GB anyway.

There’s a short demo below – what it actually is… how to set it up… and watch it in action.

A review of Putler – the best Paypal app ever

If you use Paypal for your online transactions, and chances are you do, then you’re going to thank yourself for reading this review.

For years people selling services online have used Paypal, but have struggled with their website. It’s slow, it’s clunky and it’s NOT intuitive at all. Processing refunds and analysing data are a nightmare and it should be a dream.

It now is.

With this revolutionary new Adobe Air desktop app for Mac or PC, the Putler team have created an interface into your Paypal account. It has dashboards, it is fast, it provides automatic analysis on how your business is doing.

In short, it is totally awesome and life changing if you deal with Paypal every day.

You can download Putler right here for FREE to get you going.

Enjoy.

Did you know the Outlook 2010 screenshot tool existed?!

A handy hint for you today – and something I’ve only just discovered which I wanted to share.

If you use Outlook 2010, it’s easy to assume everything is just the same as Outlook 2007 and before. It’s human nature not to dig too deep and find out what’s new.

Well this feature is new and it’s a real timesaver if you’re always scratching around looking for a screenshot tool.

It turns out that Outlook 2010 has it’s own embedded screenshot tool and it’s pretty darn good.

Take a look at the very short video below to save yourself plenty of time in the future.

I found out the hard way – how to avoid a costly WordPress hack

Whilst away on my mini-retirement over the summer, one of my business websites got hacked and hacked in a bad way. The site is a web based application which has hundreds of customers and is becoming business critical for some of them.

Fortunately while I was away, I have an amazing business partner and developer who battled for pretty much most the day to get the problem fixed. Believe it or not, our customers weren’t too happy about being shown a Russian hack site when they visited their homepage.

It makes you feel sick to your stomach when you see it with you own eyes and you realise that’s what your customers are looking at.

So – why did it happen, and what was the lesson learned, and what can YOU do to protect your businesses?

The TimThumb vulnerability

Back in July, it was announced that the piece of code contained on many sites for automatically resizing images had a flaw in it. It was possible to FTP into it and then manipulate the visible files within the public_html folder.

You hear about these sorts of things all the time, and I don’t know about you – but I’ve become complacent towards them – “It’ll never happen to me” etc etc.

Turns out it did happen to me.

While I was on holiday, it became big news in the WordPress security community. It also turns out there were a lot of people being hacked. Even Yoast – who is one of the prominent developers in the WordPress community was hacked as late as three days ago. So the threat is very much still out there as of 8th September 2011.

If you’ve not got rid of this problem – you will get hacked eventually. It cost us £300 in developer time and we lost customers and new business that day. Dozens of files had malicious code inserted and it took quite some time to unravel the mess. Don’t let it happen to you.

How to fix the problem

If you are running an awesome WooTheme – update the framework and you’ll find an automatic script will update and remove the TimThumb problem for that specific site. Big credit to WooThemes for providing a fix early in the day.

For other themes, install this TimThumb Vulnerability Scanner from the WordPress repository immediately to scan and remove the threat.

How to ensure it doesn’t happen again

I’m about to show you a piece of magic, you’ll thank me for and wonder how on earth you managed without it.

The reason most people get hacked is because (like me) they don’t upgrade their core, themes and plugins regularly. If you have one site, it’s a pain. If you have dozens, it’s a massive chore.

Are you ready for this?

ManageWP. Remember that site…

Imagine if you had 100 sites and you could access them on one screen – and update them like this:

ManageWP review

ManageWP in action

You’d say that’s magic wouldn’t you?

Well it is – but it’s also real.

Take a look at managewp.com – it’s the place where you can manage multiple blogs at the same time. For free (as of 8 Sept 2011). I’m writing this post on the Being Smarter site from within it at the moment. You set your sites up once and then all you then need forever, is one password to access them all, post to them all and UPDATE them all. With one click.

Awesome.

Do it. Do it today – and don’t make the mistake I made. It can happen to you.

Why you need to get disciplined with RSS – a case study

I discovered RSS about 3 years ago. 2 years ago I started to get disciplined with it.

For most people it’s a hidden part of the Internet. Pretty much all of my friends’ eyes glaze over when I mention the word. Maybe there should be a sexier acronym for it, maybe we should collectively think of a new name. Then again, maybe we shouldn’t – because if everyone used it, where would your competitive advantage be? Because that’s exactly what it gives you if you use it correctly.

If you don’t know what it is, my definition is

RSS is where information is pushed to you in a simple, convenient format, rather than you having to go and seek it out.

I now rarely read my RSS feeds during the day – it’s too distracting and time consuming. Instead, I tend to go to bed earlier these days and prop myself up with my iPad to go through the day’s feeds. I then do a couple of things:

  • I read the stuff I’m immediately interested in.
  • I ‘star’ the stuff I’m interested in that’s too indepth to read and that I think might be interesting to others.

The next day, the ‘starred’ stuff, I Tweet over the course of the day and shock, horror I tend to use timed Tweets using Tweetdeck, so that my followers aren’t bombarded all at once – dripfed makes sense in my book.

This disciplined approach means you’re constantly feeding (and hopefully impressing) your audience plus you’re staying uptodate with the things you need to know, whether that be Linkedin connections, Google alerts on key words or news from the sites I follow, including local news.

Which brings me on to my main point.

One of the RSS channels I follow is my local newspaper. 95% of articles are not of interest to me – a cat being stuck on a garage roof doesn’t rock my world so much, however it takes seconds to skim past those. The 5% which are interesting however can lead to great things. A couple of weeks ago (on the same day the article came out – hence the discipline point) I was reading this local newspaper feed, and spotted this headline:

The Waterside Inn celebrates its 25 anniversary with 1985 prices

[quote]The Waterside Inn is one of three 3 star Michelin restaurants in the UK and it’s about 100m from our house. I got on the phone immediately to friends and booked a table around 10pm that night. It was the last table. We eat there today. Can’t wait.[/quote]

Since then, I must have had a dozen friends say to me – “how did you find out? I’d have loved to have gone…”

I then talked to them all about RSS until their eyes glazed over…

If you need more explanation on what RSS is and how to use it, take a look at this great explanation.