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NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Innovation is too often limited to the products and technology we deliver to customers and ignored when it comes to how we run our businesses.


For instance, many businesses still spend countless hours traveling to touch base with customers and prospects, deliver a presentation or acquire information. The personal touch is great and, yes, often needed. But with the state of the economy and travel's time demands and rising costs, it may be more efficient to use technology as an alternative. To borrow a phrase from commercials past, "the next best thing to being there" is connecting the modern way.

With online tools such as

Cisco Systems'

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WebEx and


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GoTo products (GoToMeeting and GoToWebinar among them), it is possible to share screens, make presentations and interact with clients, prospects and team members scattered across multiple locations. Meetings and conferences that required hours of travel and hundreds of dollars in expenses can often be effectively executed from the comfort of your office, hotel room or home.

If you must travel, there are a host of technology products to ensure optimal prices. Companies such as






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provide the everyday traveler with as many options as corporate-sized clients.


In the past we designed newsletters, postcards and other direct-mail materials from sales fliers to product announcements to be sent via "snail" mail; now we can use social media outlets including Twitter and Facebook; email marketing from iContact and

Constant Contact


; and technology platforms from Blackboard and others.

Every dollar saved can be reinvested in the business, improving customer service and products, expanding services or even extending innovative methods to back-office functions such as accounting (for example,


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QuickBooks and Sage's Peachtree) to improve cash flow and profitability by improving visibility to invoices and account balances.


When finances get tight, we look for "unnecessary" costs to cut. The first casualties tend to be back-office and marketing, but we also often cut back on training -- why spend money and time learning to use software and technology we've already invested in?

It's a reckless choice. You've surely noticed the lost time resulting from software upgrades, whether an upgrade comes by choice or because the manufacturer stops supporting a product, yet we seem unwilling to consider investing in software training (or even open a "ReadMe" file). Taking time to get at least one person well trained on software will pay off many times over.

When times get tough financially or competitively, it's time to harness entrepreneurial perspectives and embrace innovation to improve how we do business. Successful companies don't leave innovation in the lab or product-development department. They allow budget crunches and economic downturns to inspire efficiencies.

The way we do business is not how we did it even 10 years ago. Who will be standing 10 years from now will be in part determined by who can deliver innovative products, services and operations that keep pace with the times.

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Lea Strickland, M.B.A., is the founder of

Technovation Entrepreneur

, a program that helps entrepreneurs turn their ideas into businesses. Strickland is the author of "Out of the Cubicle and Into Business" and "One Great Idea!" She has more than 20 years of experience in operational leadership in Fortune 500 and Global 100 companies, including Ford, Solectron and Newell.