Cutting Costs on Cell Phone Coverage

(This is for Tim…)

Here’s the deal: the Big Four cell phone companies no longer are the only game in town. There are many new companies offering cell phone service at a half to a third of the cost, with plans that are better tailored to how you use your phone. And, they don’t require contracts!

Here’s a quick list of some good ones: Virgin Mobile, Consumer Cellular, Boost Mobile, and the ultimate in low-cost smartphone cellular access, Republic Wireless. (That $19 a month price for unlimited access is not a typo!)

Here’s what you do: get some copies of your wireless phone bill so that you know what your usage is. Go to the web sites of each of these companies and see which of their plans might suit you best. Check to see if their coverage map includes your area. Then see how much you will save.

The best time to change your cell phone company is once you are no longer under a contract and you’ve found that it is time to buy a new phone. Most of these companies will want you to purchase a phone that is compatible with their system. Even if that costs a bit upfront, you’ll be saving so much over the course of the next two years, it will be entirely worth it. Your cell phone number is portable, which means that you can keep your number no matter what company you choose.

Currently, I’m using Virgin Mobile and I have an HTC EVO 3D smartphone. The phone cost me $239 to purchase and I pay $35 a month for unlimited text, data (web), and 300 minutes of talk time. This fits me to a tee. I am also quite impressed with the level of customer service at VM. It’s SO much better than I’ve experienced with any of the big companies.

Now, go save yourself some money!

Tech Focus on Farming

Nine years ago, the first Focus on Farming in Snohomish County was held in a cold building on the county fairgrounds. I believe there were 10 people in attendance. This year, on November 15th, it was held in the Comcast Arena Conference Center and there were over 600 attendees. In less than a decade, small farming has become an important force in this county, and both politicians and businesses have taken notice.

For the first time since World War II, small farms are growing in number. The growth in farmers markets and organic grocers reflects this trend. More businesses are serving the needs of farmers, including those in the high-tech sector. I’ve previously talked about companies such as Farmigo, whose program manages CSA business models end-to-end, but there is now so much more out there.

AgSquared demonstrated their new farm management software, showing some really innovative tools. They incorporate Google Maps in order to measure the square footage of your cultivatable land and to give you a ton of information about it. They add crop management and forecasting tools, in addition to comprehensive reporting options. All this is priced very reasonably, at $60 per year, with the first year at only $36. Their future components will include livestock management and a CSA planner.

There are now so many ways for small farmers to reach their customers online. In addition to Facebook and Twitter, there are a number of low-cost, easily configurable web site options, including Intuit, Go Daddy, Word Press, and many others. Many incorporate blog options and ways to connect to social media.

There are online financial management software packages, from Mint (which is free) to Quickbooks Online (which requires a monthly charge). None of these options require that you install software on your system, so they can be used by a number of devices, including computers, tablets, and smart phones.

How do you decide what to use? You consult your two planning tools: your business plan and your marketing plan. The information you glean from going through the process of developing these plans will really guide you to the proper tools you can use to grow your business and connect with your customers. You’ll want to put your efforts towards the tools that your customers access most.

In my next few postings, I’m going to talk about cutting costs for access to broadband and wireless systems. There are now new ways to access the internet in most places and you don’t have to go through the big, expensive companies. (Unfortunately, a full third of the country still doesn’t have access to wired broadband. That’s slowly changing…very slowly.)