Is going the cheaper route better? Maybe not when it comes to dentistry or haircuts, but believe it or not, sometimes cheaper can be all-around better.

The Internet has provided business owners a smorgasbord of efficiency-enhancing options. It’s simply a matter of seeking out the solutions, weighing the costs and benefits, and acting accordingly based on the assessment. Often, business owners have found that doing things over the Internet is a cheaper, equally effective alternative to traditional ways of accomplishing business-related tasks.

Take online education. Whether a manager is screening job candidates, gauging sales talent in a current employee or keeping employees current on DOT Shipper’s Training requirements, using today’s online tools to accomplish these things has proven easier than many traditional methods.

Online Offerings
At ISSA/INTERCLEAN-USA 2003 in Chicago, the International Sanitary Supply Association (ISSA) officially threw its hat into the online education ring with the launch of ISSA Online Training by CLASS (Computer Learning for Advanced Skill Sets).

Distributors can purchase any of 50 courses offered for $55 apiece (quantity discounts are available with the purchase of five or more), and complete the training at their own computer at their leisure. Upon successful completion, they receive a certificate — the online training also, in many cases, fulfills mandated training requirements.

ISSA’s online courses relate to regulatory requirements for distributors and their customers. Classes include hazard communication, bloodborne pathogens, forklift operator training, personal protective equipment and many more. So far, DOT Hazmat Shipper’s training has been the most popular — ISSA has sold more of this class than any other.

Online training’s interactivity can make it more interesting to follow than traditional training methods, says Bill Balek, ISSA’s director of legislative affairs.

“Traditional avenues for similar types of training range from classroom style training to ‘canned’ materials used by employers, such as videotapes, instructor’s manuals, etc.,” he says.

Katie Whitman, corporate vice president for Central Janitors Supply, Modesto and Fresno, Calif., has been responsible for ensuring her company’s regulatory compliance for the past 14 or so years. She says ISSA’s online training has made it easier to train new hires, or those employees who happen to miss the regular, company-wide, DOT Hazmat training that’s required every three years.

Whitman, who has been using ISSA’s online training for the past three months, says that the cost is reasonable, and it’s convenient — she doesn’t have to track down seminars in the area when a new employee comes on board, some of which can run in the $200 range, plus travel and time away from work. She also likes that the training is industry-specific.

“It’s convenient, and the flexibility is really key,” she says. E-mail for more information.

Screening Salespeople
Central Janitors Supply recently also began using online tools to screen potential sales candidates. Dan Duman, marketing director for the company, says he began administering online personality assessments in an attempt to make educated hiring decisions. So far, the tests have been helpful in revealing candidates’ — or a current employee’s — true colors, and providing insightful benchmarks based on other salespeople’s answers.

Candidates answer a series of questions about how they would behave in certain situations.

“It shows you your score in ranking with similar people in the industry,” Duman explains. The results give employers parameters — both about an individual’s capabilities and what coaching he or she will respond best to in a sales position.

Duman says eight to 10 people have taken the online assessment so far, and his company will continue to use it; managers have found it to be extremely accurate.

Dr. Larry L. Craft developed the online tools and testing Duman is currently using. There are a lot of quizzes and personality questionnaires floating around on the Internet, he says, but his company’s,, provides accuracy as well as convenience and affordability.

Craft’s company offers a variety of test topics, and has been giving the tests online for about five years. Those that gauge personality and motivation are the top sellers, he says.

One worry Craft had when the tests moved online from the paper-and-pencil version was that the results would be less reliable. In fact, the opposite is true, he says.

“I believe it’s because a lot of people feel the questionnaire is timed when it’s on the Internet,” he says. The don’t take time to ponder their answers.

Craft says the cost of his test has also come down in recent years. Tests run $25 to $35 — more if they’re purchased one at a time.

Once a potential or current salesperson takes the test, results are immediately generated and managers can log on to read thorough assessments of the person’s skills and abilities.

The online testing has been popular. “The customer prefers the online versions; 95 percent of our clients have, over the past six years, made the switch over from paper and pencil and software-based to the Internet,” says Craft. The reasons: they can administer it in the office or remotely, it’s less expensive and there’s no turnaround time in getting the results.

Other Online Offerings
The topics for which people can receive online training are as diverse as the people interested in them. A cursory Web search yields hundreds of online training topics, from “PowerPoint 101” to “sexual harassment awareness.”

The key to finding the most fitting, sensible online training course for an individual company is to research the many courses being offered and the suppliers offering them.

WorldWideLearn, a website billed as the world’s largest directory of online education, is a good place to start. The website lists a number of topics and online education providers, and features an entire section dedicated to sales courses. Suppliers are listed along with their offerings — many companies allow potential buyers to try out their tests prior to purchase.

The U.S. Small Business Administration also lists a menu of online courses on its website. Some listings are simply links to other informational sites, but a few offer brief but informative Web-based educational tools and tutorials.

These online educational offerings are the way of the future. Research firm IDC predicts the market to reach $10.6 billion by 2006. And while online learning, training and screening tools can be affordable and convenient for distributors, it’s crucial that they research the depth, wealth and relevance of any provider’s offering before buying.




Internet Giants Sue Under ‘Can Spam’
In March, the four largest Internet mail providers — Microsoft Corp., AOL, Yahoo! Inc., and Earthlink — sued so-called “spammers” (those who send out mass amounts of junk e-mail) under the CAN-SPAM Act, which took effect January 1. The six suits in California, Georgia, Virginia and Washington are the first to be filed under the Act, according to

Can Spam allows e-mail service providers to sue for $25 to $100 for each piece of spam.
Spam is no small matter: In 2003, U.S. companies spent $785 million to block spam and protect computer networks, according to research firm Gartner, Stamford, Conn.

E-mailers Curb Use; Spam to Blame
A study by Pew Internet & American Life Project recently reported that 29 percent of all e-mail users had reduced their use of e-mail because of spam.

“The impact of the Can Spam legislation is mixed, but not very encouraging so far,” according to a statement from Pew.

IDC Revises Tech Outlook
In March, technology research firm IDC, Framingham, Mass., revised earlier predictions about technology demand after conducting a study of 1,000 U.S. businesses.

“We are now looking at a worldwide IT environment growing at 8 percent this year. That’s up from the 5 percent [predicted] in December,” said Stephen Minton, IDC’s director of worldwide research.

Minton cited strong fourth-quarter sales of PCs, notebooks, network servers, applications and network gearfor the revised foreca