A WEBSITE IS the easiest way to show off your company to prospective clients and communicate up-to-date information about your business. If you don't already have a vibrant company Website, a new online Microsoft solution effectively takes away any excuse not to have a good one.
Microsoft Office Live (www.officelive.com) is a combination of well-structured Internet-based software and services designed to help small businesses develop a Web presence that a contractor can use free or for minimal cost if additional capabilities are added.
Easy to learn and navigate, the solution-enables users to easily obtain a domain name, create a professional looking Website, and set up company branded e-mail and instant messaging accounts.
Three levels of Office Live are available. All the versions provide domain name registration, browser-based site-design tools, site reports, e-mail accounts,-instant messaging and access to e-mail with Windows Mobile-powered phones, through the Windows Live Mail interface.
Office Live has a good, solid, concise set of tools that enable users to put together a professional looking Website easily and make changes without any fuss. (It does not have the capabilities of Microsoft Front Page, a dedicated Web design program, but most small contractors don't need that and don't have the time to build or maintain a Website with Front Page.)
Site Designer is a time-saving set of template-driven design tools for setting up the Website and making site-level changes — changes on elements common to all pages in the site, such as the header, font, type size, color scheme and style. Users can customize the site with uploaded photos, brochures, price lists and other documents.
The Page Editor tool allows users to customize any single page within the Website. Supporting drag-and-drop content and images, it facilitates easy page-level changes, such as adding or deleting text from a particular page, such as About Our Company or Contact Us.
The free version provides 500 MB of storage for company information.
The free version, Office Live Basics, provides 500 MB of storage for company information. Office Live Essentials ($19.99 per month) doubles that and adds custom Website uploading, access and synchronization of e-mail with Outlook and the ability to have up to 10 business applications/ workspaces users.
The most feature-rich version is Office Live Premium ($39.95 per month), which provides 2 GB of Website storage; allows 20 users; has increased bandwidth or data transfer up to 20 GB monthly; supports 50 company branded e-mail, calendar and instant messaging accounts; and adds a slew of business management applications.
Essentials and Premium include a Business Contact Manager for managing and sharing customer information (including accounts, contacts and opportunities) from any browser and Workspaces for sharing information and documents with a specified set of customers, employees or suppliers.
Office Live Premium sports a Project Manager that enables contractors to plan, track and update projects' progress in a central shared online location. Other Premium business management applications include Time Manager, for personal and company scheduling information; a Document Manager, for storing and sharing company documents and photos; and a Sales application, for storing information about business competition, customer support and estimates.
With all three versions, the user gets access to Microsoft Office Live adManager, a new tool designed to allow businesses to easily set up and begin purchasing keywords and to optimize their search advertising budget.
A Website solution this easy and user friendly makes communicating and collaborating and managing a business online a slam-dunk for any company with an online connection.
Duct estimating software
Designed for industrial and commercial sheet metal contractors, FastDUCT (www.fastEST-inc.com, 800/828-7108) is ready-to-go estimating software that has the capability to calculate takeoffs of rectangular, round and oval ductwork, sheet metal and HVAC equipment. Specs can be customized to match a company's standards for duct construction or can be set up for purchased duct.
The integrated catalog has more than 150,000 items — rectangular, round and oval duct and fittings, accessories, hangers and specialties, including those from every major manufacturer. The catalog provides up-to-date pricing and industry-standard SMACNA labor rates for each of the items.
The program comes preloaded with specs that allow for sheet metal raw materials, duct liner, joints, stiffeners, tie rods, duct accessories and hangers to be automatically generated during the take-off process. Take-off is straightforward point-and-click. Click on the selected item in the desired size and then enter the quantity. Users can toggle between rectangular, round and oval menus. The software works with many commercial digitizers, enabling users to add their own material items.
The program calculates pounds, square feet, material costs, and shop and field labor hours with a single click. Material adjustments and job factors can be applied directly to the report.
FastDUCT's standard spreadsheet, which is customizable, includes equipment, fixtures, labor rates, rentals, taxes and other job-related costs. Estimators can download labor and material takeoff to a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet for the final bid summary.
Bill and Patti Feldman are freelance writers for magazines, building product manufacturers and other companies on a broad range of topics. They can be reached at [email protected].