By Paul Lima
PAUL LANTINGA WAS on vacation in 1999,
swimming in the Arabian Sea, when he lost
his glasses. The local optometrist who made
new glasses for him suggested that Lantinga
wear prescription goggles when swimming.
The goggles let Lantinga see clearly underwater. When he returned home to Toronto,
Lantinga was surprised he could not find
prescription goggles anywhere in North
America, so he launched See Worthy Inc.
www.seeworthyinc.com), an import and distribution business.
By 2003 Lantinga, a Costco member, had
put in place financing, warehouse space, marketing materials, sales representatives and
retailers. He even obtained an endorsement
from Gary Hall Sr., a former U.S. Olympic
swimmer who practices as an ophthalmologist. Lantinga says that none of this could
have taken place were it not for today’s technology, specifically technology that is connected to the Web.
Spreading the wealth
Lantinga lives in Toronto. His vice president of sales lives in Iowa. His sales force is scattered across the United States, Canada and the
Caribbean. His goggles supplier is in Taiwan.
Lantinga uses technology to communicate,
monitor sales and inventory, and keep the
company’s Web site and books up to date—all
while traveling to various trade shows.
See Worthy’s customized inventory-man-agement application includes a Web interface
so Lantinga can review data from anywhere,
as long as he has Web access. He uses the Web
to track his eight sales representatives and 50
subdistributors. Using Salesforce.com, an
online customer-relationship management
application, he can see when calls or visits
have been made, when sales have closed and
what products have been shipped. In addition, Salesforce data can be integrated with
QuickBooks, minimizing the time it takes to
create accounting reports.
Lantinga keeps his long-distance bills
down by using Skype to make long-distance
phone calls over the Internet. To communicate with his supplier, who speaks only
Mandarin, Lantinga “Skypes” his translator in
Lethbridge, Alberta. She then Skypes the supplier and coordinates a three-way conversation in real time—at a fraction of the cost of
a long-distance conference call.
“The tools are there to make this happen
for almost any business,” Lantinga says.
The tools are out there
Costco member Diane Coville concurs.
The sole proprietor of Alternative Office
Assistance in Barrie, Ontario, offers administrative, desktop-publishing and marketing
help to companies across North America. She
says it does not take a great deal of technical
expertise to master online tools or to find
help in doing so.
When she launched her business in 2004,
Coville expected to do overflow work for local
companies. However, e-mail enables her to do
for any company what she does for local businesses, and her Web site attracts clients from
across Canada and the U.S. After five years in
business, she says 5 percent of her clients are
local, 75 percent are located elsewhere in
The Costco Connection
Costco offers business services to help
entrepreneurs conduct global business,
including Web hosting and VoIP phone service from AccessLine. For more information,
visit costco.com and select “Services.”
Canada and 20 percent are in the U.S.
“I haven’t met most of my clients,” she
says. The phone, e-mail and instant messaging make it seem as if she is sitting in the
next cubicle. However, because her business
is virtual, her company and the companies
she works with save on the cost of office
space, computer equipment and software.
Testing the waters
Anyone looking to use technology to
enhance a business should test the tools first
or talk to others who are using them to ensure
that the technology delivers as required. For
instance, Coville heard that Skype voice quality might not be up to par, but she chatted
with other virtual assistants who used it and
discovered they liked what they heard. Now
she uses her Skype account to make unlimited long-distance calls in Canada and the
She also uses several Web sites, such as
LinkedIn, a business-oriented social networking site, to network online. She has
found a number of clients this way and has
also connected with other virtual assistants
who have passed overflow work and special
projects to her.
Business owners who want to expand
their geographic footprint should spend
some time reviewing their technology, communication and collaboration options,
Lantinga agrees, but cautions, “You don’t
want to use technology for technology’s sake.
You want to use it to enhance and broaden
your business.” C
Paul Lima is a Toronto-based freelance writer
and Costco member. You can reach him online