10 Great Office Tips from TechRepupblic

Recently TechRepublic published Susan Harkins, ‘My 10 favorite Office tips of the year’.  Although TechRepublic is always a great provider of useful technology info, this article is particularly useful to all users of MS Office – which is probably about 95% of people who use PCs. The article contains the following useful tips:

  1. How to edit a MS Word document in Print Preview
  2. A Find and Replace trick for insetting new text
  3. How to add a quick comparison chart to a worksheet
  4. How to remove background coloring from a logo in a MS PowerPoint presentation
  5. How to add a ticker tape readout effect to a MS PowerPoint presentation
  6. How to sum values in a MS Excel filtered list
  7. How to quickly fill blank cells in MS Excel
  8. How to add a watermark to MS Word documents
  9. How to get instant sums using MS Excel’s status bar
  10. How to create an email shortcut on your desktop for quick mailing to people you correspond with frequently

To read the entire article with detailed descriptions on how to implement these tips, go to http://i.techrepublic.com.com/downloads/Gilbert/dl_10_fave_office_tips.pdf

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Process Reengineering Your Business

Process Reengineering does NOT mean, ‘lay people off’ nor is it only appropriate for Fotune 500 size businesses. It is a useful tool for all businesses that want to enhance their competitiveness. 

This article dicusses Process Reengineering strategies and tactics that will facilitate, as well as, increase the probability of success of your Process Rengineering effort.

Process Reengineering Deliverables

Process Reengineering deliverables must be twofold:

1)      Process Improvement

2)      Business Information System Improvement

Process Improvement

Process Improvements must address the following areas:

1)      Eliminate redundant tasks and positions, with an emphasis on eliminating unnecessary costs and reallocating resources to more productive endeavors

2)      Improving current process efficiencies

3)      Creating processes that enhance organizational efficiencies and competitive strength 

4)      Enhancing awareness of the competitive arena

5)      Enhancing strategic focus

6)      Improving organizational maturity

7)      Implementing metrics to track performance

8)      Documenting processes

Business Information System Improvement

Business Information System Improvement must address the following areas:

1)      Evaluate current business reporting and eliminate reports that just provide data

2)      Implement a system of true information reporting

3)      Elimination of redundant reporting

4)      Enhancement of information gathering processes


Process Reengineering Processes

Review – Evaluate – Recommend – Implement

1)      Review of current organization goals

2)      Review of desired future organization goals

3)      Interviewing current management and line employees to determine their perception of organization goals and attitudes toward change

4)      Evaluation of organization culture

5)      Evaluation of organization maturity

6)      Evaluation of current organization processes

7)      Evaluation of organization metrics

8)      Evaluation of organization process documentation

9)      Evaluation of organization competitive strategy and tactics

10)   Recommendations for competitive strategy and tactics improvement

11)   Recommendations for organization maturity progression

12)   Recommendations for specific process changes

13)   Recommendations for improved business information systems

14)   Recommendations for ongoing metrics

15)   Recommendations for initial and ongoing process documentation

16)   Recommendations for culture change process

17)   Plans and timelines for Implementing recommendations


Organization Maturity Model

Organizations go through maturity stages, just as individuals do. It is important to recognize what stage an organization currently occupies before reengineering can occur. Although organizations can be at different levels for specific processes (i.e. marketing maturity Vs production maturity Vs distribution maturity etc) maturity levels cannot be skipped. In other words, an organization cannot progress from a level 1 scenario to a level 4 scenario just because a desire and plan exists to do so. There must be a successful physical and cultural progression from one maturity level to the next before advancement to higher level can be accomplished.

The following is an Organizational Maturity Model:

  • Level 1 – The organization succeeds or fails based on individual heroics
  • Level 2 – The organization has documented processes, but no one believes they need to follow the processes to be successful in the organization
  • Level 3 – The organization has documented processes, and individuals follow the processes unless there is an emergency, then they do what they have to do to be successful
  • Level 4 – The organization employees are ranked and receive promotions and merit raises based on their willingness to follow documented processes that yield consistent successes
  • Level 5 – The organization enjoys consistent successes through proven processes and continuous improvement


Implications of an Organization’s Maturity on Process Reengineering


Maturity Level Re-Engineering Challenges Re-Engineering Expectations
Level 1 Cultural bias against documenting processes; fear of recriminations if metrics are established; expectation is higher costs with no benefits At this level there is much ‘low hanging fruit’, the strategy is to attack a limited number of processes where largest return to bottom line can be obtained from process and metrics implementation.A successful implementation of a limited number of deliverables in a short timeframe will energize the organization to move up the maturity curve.
Level 2 Cynicism with documented processes and metrics. Culture is one of ‘been there, done that and it hasn’t worked.’Reactions to Reengineering range from polite cynicism to explicit hostility. Key at this level is upper management support of program with an emphasis on the past is over. Going forward allegiance to these documented procedures and metrics will have a explicit impact on future advancement within the organization.Documented processes and metrics must be evaluated and changed as needed to reflect competitive and organizational realities.

Overcoming cynicism through realistic processes that clearly address day to day organizational needs will have a positive impact on culture and increase employee acceptance of the need to move up the maturity curve.


Implications of an Organization’s Maturity on Process Reengineering


Level 3 Overcoming the bias toward ‘making the mission at all costs’ is the main challenge at this level.An organization at level 3 has an appreciation of the benefits of documented process and metrics, but the culture is convinced that the most important issue is making dates, and employees truly believe that this is their job, even if processes are temporarily abandoned.

‘The end justifies the Means’ in a level 3 organization.

Again, the key at this level is upper management support for movement up the maturity curve. The message from above must be that from now on the organization is going to value consistent success over meeting published dates for task/project completion.There must be an explicit commitment to the idea that by following agreed to processes, over time, the dates will be met while complying with established processes, and if they are not met, a post-mortem analysis of the project/task will lead to an improved process.

Once this culture is established there will be a desire for improving process over going around bad processes.

Level 4 At this level the biggest challenge is getting people to accept that they may not have the best processes already.They are committed to doing projects and tasks by established processes that they believe work well.

The issue to overcome is complacency, with a process that works.

An organization at this level is already convinced of the need for processes. The key is to change the culture from process driven to improvement driven.This is accomplished through an aggressive evaluation of current processes and metrics.

As employees see that they can improve upon good processes and metrics, they strive to be ‘best of the best’

Level 5 Organizations at this level are focused on Process Improvement. There are no challenges per se, just a need for reengineering facilitation For organizations at this level the Process Reengineering consultant simply provides an objective set of eyes to facilitate an already accepted process


Of course the bottom line to all Process Reengineering is upper management support of the process and a willingness on the part of the organization as a whole to change to be better!

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Taking Your Business to the Clouds

There’s been a lot of talk about Cloud Computing – putting your organization’s data, and/or applications on the internet.  To some the cloud presents an opportunity to finally use ‘distributed computing’ in an efficient manner, to others it seems like a great way to put control of all your data in the hands of a vendor at best and hackers at worst. On thing for sure, the cloud presents organizations with potential benefits and risks. Regardless of an organization’s size, the appropriateness of using the cloud as part of your technology infrastructure should be carefully analyzed before action is taken.

Using the Cloud can provide the following benefits to organizations

  • Ability to access data from anyplace that has an internet connection – Using the Cloud can facilitate both telecommuting and support of traveling employees, as well as being a real convenience to people in emergency situations during non-business hours.
  • Cost effective off site data storage – There are numerous vendors who will house your data at very competitive prices in state of the art facilities that employ robust back-up and recovery technology. Consequently there are support savings as well as data integrity benefits to be realized.
  • Cost effective Disaster Recovery Procedures – When your data is stored off site in a robust storage environment that is both off site and employs Disaster Recovery technologies and processes, an emergency at your business location, or damage to your employees hardware presents minimal risk to your operations.
  • One Touch Application Upgrades – Any applications that are housed in the Cloud enjoy the benefit of Client Server and Dumb Terminal applications. To the extent that the processing and data warehousing is done at the server level, any necessary changes only need to occur at the server and the end user is immediately updated.
  • One Touch Data Correction/Update – All data files that are stored in the Cloud are corrected when the file on the server is corrected or updated.
  • Reduced LAN/WAN Support Cost – As noted above, moving your organization data and applications to the Cloud either means that your networking needs are reduced to ensuring an internet connection, thereby transferring most of your server, router, and switch support to a vendor, or moving most of these services to one facility that will enable your organization to take advantage of support economies of scale that are realized when a number of servers, switches, routers, etc exist in one location
  • Seamless Integration of Organization Web Site and Internal Network Infrastructure – As more of your operations move to the Cloud your IT infrastructure becomes more Internet-centric, as such the integration of your organization website and back office operations is facilitated enabling a systemic ‘look and feel’ to all organization interfaces

On the other hand the Cloud presents the following Security and Support challenges to organizations

  • Loss of Control of Data – If you outsource your data housing to an outside vendor you are abdicating your control of that data from the standpoints of data integrity, back-ups, security, and disaster recovery. This can be a liberating experience but ultimately these responsibilities always reside with the organization. The organization must ensure that the hosting organization has been vetted carefully to ensure that the issues above will be addressed in a manner that is at least as robust as what would have occurred in-house and hopefully better. If the decision is made to handle the Cloud infrastructure internally, this is an excellent opportunity to re-evaluate all processes regarding data integrity, back-ups, security, and disaster recovery with an eye to incorporating state of the art equipment and processes in the implementation.
  • Loss of Control over LAN/WAN Infrastructure – See above!
  • Increased Data Security Risks – Moving data to the internet is by its nature, entering an unsheltered environment where literally anything goes. Serious evaluation must be given to data encryption, and Virtual Private Network implementation to ensure that organization proprietary information integrity is maintained. This is not an impossible task, but a task that must be taken very seriously.
  • Increased ‘Blowback’ from Incorrect Data Updates/Corrections – The good news is that data updates and corrections only need to be made once and everyone sees them real time. This is also the bad news. When moving data to a Cloud environment, all updates and corrections must be tested rigorously or the creditability of the organization will be severely tested.
  • Increased ‘Blowback’ from Incorrect Application Upgrades – See above!
  • Increased Risk of Data Corruption due to Viruses, Trojans, or Malware – As your organization employees’ dependence on the internet for business purposes increases, so does the potential for internet malfeasance. To combat these risks organizations must ensure that their computer hardware has outstanding virus protection, with automatic update processes in place.

Moving to the Cloud is becoming a competitive necessity because of potential cost savings and increased organizational efficiency, but implementing a Cloud migration without significant risk analysis and mitigation of identified risk can result in significant if not fatal damage to the organization.  The bottom line is by all means move to the Cloud but migrate incrementally and with due prudence to ensure your organization gets the benefits without being severely wounded by the potential hazards inherent in the medium.

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Where Did I Put That @^%*#%! File?!

nofilesmThere are few things in life more frustrating that trying to find a file you created a while back for an immediate need. At times like that you really wish you had an organized filing strategy. In this article I will discuss file organization strategies for customer data although the strategies can be applied to any type of file organization. The most common strategies for customer file organization are:

  1. Anything Goes
  2. Descriptive File names
  3. Customer Defined Folders
  4. Function Defined Folders
  5. Single Folder with Intelligent File names

Anything Goes

This strategy is usually employed by people who do not believe in putting data in defined formats. Usually this is the type of person who has a very cluttered desk but can find things quickly when asked for them. Basically all files are named based on the whim of the moment and everything is put in a single folder such as ‘My Documents’. Finding files becomes a function of the person’s cleverness and PC savvy. The person’s main strategy for finding files is to start sorting the folder by date, name, file size, or some other characteristic, or do a search of file names, and/or content based on a character string or word that is in the file. This methodology works well for some people but is very confusing and cumbersome for those not familiar with the creator’s naming and filing logic.

Descriptive File Names

This strategy is the next step up from ‘Anything Goes’ on the ‘file organization ladder’. In this strategy, files are given descriptive names so they can be identified at a later date. Typically there is no defined file structure; all files are in one folder. When a person is searching for a file they will usually sort the folder by file name and look for the file description they are after. Aside from being somewhat cumbersome to navigate, the other problem with this system is that the file names will often be truncated by Windows Explorer and the Name column will have to be manually extended to read the entire file name.

Customer Defined Folders

A more organized strategy for filing customer data is to use Customer Defined Folders. The benefit of this methodology is that it is easy to determine where a particular customer’s information is, but navigating through the individual folders will be more or less cumbersome based on the file naming conventions employed by the file creator. If there is no logic to file naming, this methodology can be marginally more useful than Anything Goes, especially as the number of files for a customer becomes large. Another issue with this methodology is that you will have as many folders as you have customers, consequently saving files can be very cumbersome and prone to errors of file placement. This strategy can also be modified for use with vendors, etc.

Function Defined Folders

Function Defined Folders is a strategy similar to Customer Defined Folders. The benefit of this methodology is that it is easy to determine where specific activities (Invoicing, Estimating, etc.) are for customers, but navigating through the individual folders will be more or less cumbersome based on the file naming conventions employed by the file creator. If there is no logic to file naming, this methodology can be marginally more useful than Anything Goes, especially as the number of files for an activity becomes large. Another issue with this methodology is that you will have as many folders as you have activities you track, consequently saving files can be very cumbersome and prone to errors of file placement. As with Customer Defined Folders, this strategy can also be employed for vendors, etc.

Single Folder with Intelligent File names

This strategy combines ease of filing to a single folder with quick file identification. With this methodology you have a single folder for large groups, i.e. Customer, Vendors, etc. Within these folders you store all files that are relevant, but you give the files intelligent names so that you can quickly find files after they are created.

Example of an intelligent file name: AAABBBMM_YY111.xxx

Where: AAA – Group designation, it can be as many characters as you need to delineate among your customers, vendors, etc. – Al Johnson Auto – AJA; Bill James Carpet – BJC; Carol Webber CPA – CWC; Debbie Wellness Catering – DWC etc.

BBB – Activity designation, it can be as many characters as you need to delineate among your activities – INV – Invoices, EST – Estimates, SPC – Specifications, etc.

MMM – Month Abbreviation – Jan; Feb, etc.

 _ – underscore between month and year

YY – Last two digits of year 111 – to designate multiple iterations of the same file type in the same month, use only if needed

xxx – file suffix – xls – Excel; doc – Word etc.

You could have the same file name with multiple file types. Example: AJAINV01_10.xls – spreadsheet detailing invoice costing calculations AJAINV01_10.doc – Word document sent to customer AJAINV01_10.pdf – Image of invoice signed by customer With this strategy a name sort of the folder should enable file identification Of course, these various strategies can be ‘mixed and matched’ to meet your organizational needs.

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UPS?!… No, I’m not talking about shipping!

badpcWhen you mention UPS to non-technical people you often get a quizzical look followed by, “what has shipping got to do with my PC performance?” The answer is nothing what-so-ever, but Uninterrupted Power Supply has a lot to do with it. In this article I will discuss UPS needs, and what requirements should be considered when planning a UPS installation.

When considering whether or not your organization should consider a UPS infrastructure you should consider the following:

  • Business requirements
  • Electrical infrastructure, and
  • Weather

Business requirements – if your staff is working on files that are relatively small and can be redone with minimum disruption, and most workstations are stand-alone, UPS is probably not worth the expense. On the other hand, if people work on files that are large and rebuilding the file could mean significant lost productivity. Also, if the workstations are linked together in a LAN/WAN or internet network, having at least a marginal UPS strategy can save you huge difficulties.

Electrical infrastructure – if you facilities have a solid electrical infrastructure with good grounding and line conditioning, power outages and surges will be minimized, and so will the need for UPS protection. If the electrical infrastructure is just meeting building codes, you may want to consider protection.

Weather – if you physical location has calm weather most of the time, the need for UPS is minimized, on the other hand if you live in a climate that has many thunderstorms, or other inclement weather occurrences, power outages can pose serious problems to your operations.

The bottom line is that the need for UPS protection is a function of business operations and environment, and consideration of these variables determines whether the investment is required.

Once you decide that you do need protection, the following questions arise:

  • Does everyone need protection or just certain job functions?
  • How long should the protection last?
  • How much budget do I have to spend on this solution?

In most cases you will just provide key staff members with UPS protection, of course if you are in a business critical environment such as a call center, medical center, and sales floor everyone is a key staff member. You also need to consider how long you will need protection. In many cases, just providing 10 minutes of protection in a power outage will allow everyone to gracefully save their work and shut down their PC. However, in an environment where the business cannot be transferred to another location, a generator or a room of UPS batteries may be needed.

Often it comes down to ‘how much budget do I have’, since once a person is convinced of the need for UPS, they can never have too much back-up power.

A couple rules of thumb:

Non business critical staff can save what their working on with about 10 minutes worth of UPS

Business critical staff will need either a UPS large enough to get them through ‘routine outages’ – outages that happen often enough to be planned for. This can be addressed either through a UPS that can provide 10 minutes back-up while a backup generator is starting up, or a large UPS – i.e. battery farm on site.

OK, so now I put my UPS solution in place so I’m good to go, right? Well not exactly, batteries will usually need to be replaced every 2 – 3 years and generators will need routine maintenance and testing. If that sounds kind of expensive, it is, but your alternative may be going out of business.

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Tracking Projects in MS EXCEL

homepic6There are a number of good Project Management applications. MS Project is probably the most well known application, but there are other applications that will help you plan, schedule, and control projects. The real question one faces when choosing a tool is which tool will best serve the project manager based on the organization’s IT infrastructure, Project Management culture, and the size of the project.


An important question that is not usually addressed is how aggressively the project manager needs to, or wants to control the project. Often a project manager will use MS Project or some other application without taking advantage of the product’s functionality. This is usually done because the project is small, aggressive control is not required by the organization, or the project manager doesn’t know how to use the application’s features. In effect, the PM uses the application like a spreadsheet to track the project. This can be a costly alternative if the organization has purchased copies of MS Project or some other tool and the projects managed by the software do not require such a robust tool.


In these situations, it makes sense to use MS Excel, or some other spreadsheet to manage projects. Having said that, just because a PM is using MS Excel, doesn’t mean that planning, scheduling, and controlling projects can’t support a solid project management methodology. MS Excel and other robust spreadsheets can by modified to automate many tracking and reporting tasks required by a PM methodology.


Converting a spreadsheet into an effective project management information system can be accomplished through:


  • Menu Pages
  • Macros
  • Validation Lists
  • Linked Multiple Worksheets


A summary Menu Page can be created to direct users to appropriate worksheets in the workbook. This navigational aid will not only enable quick navigation to the correct worksheet but also augment the professional appearance of the workbook.


Macros can be built to perform calculations that:


  • Develop budgets
  • Analyze risks
  • Facilitate Change Control
  • Manage schedule tracking
  • Manage budget performance
  • Provide real time reporting
  • Sort information for quicker analysis of project performance


The obvious use of validation lists is that they facilitate data entry. These lists can also improve analysis by ensuring that everyone uses the same vocabulary to describe actions and that data items are all spelled correctly for sorting analysis.


Linking multiple worksheets will allow the project manager to keep each worksheet to a manageable size, as well as providing opportunities for specialization of worksheets to provide the information needs of specific departments, and stakeholders. The links can ensure that all worksheets receive real time updates when a component of one worksheet is modified.


A person does not have to be a spreadsheet expert to create workbooks that will accomplish this effort, but one would need to be an intermediate level user who is comfortable enough with MS Excel, or whatever spreadsheet application is used, to figure out the macros, validation lists, sorting needs, etc with the use of the application help system. Of more importance is an understanding of project management methodology requirements. If there is no-one in house with the skills to produce the workbooks, templates can be purchased on-line starting at $25 to get a list of some sites you can google ‘project management templates’ or you can go to http://project-mgt-tools.com/page2.html for an example of a MS Excel Project Management template. http://techknowledgysolutions.com/wordpress/

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Help MS Windows Restore Function Save You When Catastrophe Strikes

helpYou’re minding your own business, twittering away, and reading E-Mails, or maybe surfing the net checking out some really cool freeware, then you notice your PC is running a little slower. A couple days later it is downright crawling, and/or you are getting a bunch of scary pop-ups telling you a virus has been detected, but you wonder why your trusty virus protection program never stopped the virus in the first place.


At that point you realize you have stepped in a virtual blob of bubble gum and just like the real thing can make walking very difficult, the virtual one makes computing very uncomfortable. So what do you do?!  Well you can call your PC savvy friend who usually helps you out when you PC acts funny, but you may be wondering when she is going to start charging you because it seems like every two months you are at her door asking for help. Besides the smug look on her face is really starting to eat at your male ego, or you could take advantage of one of the better features that comes with your Windows operating system – what’s that? You have a MAC, well then you will obviously never have these problems because the word is they never break… or maybe that’s just a topic for another article.  ;>)


Anyway, the feature I am referring to is Windows Restore. It is an application that comes with Windows that restores all the system files to a previously saved date. Since many of the problems that occur with Windows based PCs are a result of system files that have been corrupted, or infected, performing a system restore can eliminate many problems that are hurting your system. Obviously, this is not a thorough as a good system back-up, but most people I know just don’t find the time to apply a rigorous back-up plan, so this is probably the best alternative you have.


In order to perform a System Restore click on the following:




Wait a while for Windows to analyze your system – this is Windows so you know you’ll have to wait a bit – You will them be prompted to pick a restore date. Windows will suggest the most recent restoration point, but you may want to go back further to ensure that you restore from a date prior to your problem beginning. To do this, check the CHOOSE DIFFERENT RESTORE POINT button and you will get a calendar of recent restore points to choose from. The problem is that left to its own devices, Windows will only create a restore point when you make a major update, such as adding a new application. If you rely on this schedule you will have to spend a lot of time downloading, Windows updates, Virus Updates, and application updates.  This may be better than rebuilding your PC from the original image it came with but it can be time consuming none-the-less.


A better alternative would be to create your own restore points every week, this is accomplished by clicking on the link after ‘To create a restore point’ on the Restore Files page. If you do this you will have a multiple restore  points to choose from and you can choose any one periods listed without having too much catch up to do. One caveat, only create restore points when you are pleased with the performance of your PC. If you believe it is not running at top efficiency, restore from a good date, download the updates you have missed and create another good restore point.


This may seem like a lot of work but it is much easier than rebuilding your PC and having to reload every application and update that has been added since you purchased your PC.

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E-Mail as a Filing System, and Other Bad E-Mail Behaviors

email15In the late 1980s many companies were trying to induce their workforces to become more techno-savvy. As part of this effort there was a real push to get people to use E-Mail more aggressively. One of the arguments that was used at that time was that E-Mail folders could be used to easily segregate data into ‘electronic file cabinets’ that could be easily accessed, sorted, and searched. All of this was true and in a relatively short time people truly embraced E-Mail as the main method of corporate communication.

E-Mail is now so popular that people will often E-Mail a co-worker who literally sits 10 feet away from them. As a matter and fact many people consider E-Mail to be their main filing system for all business and much non-business communication.

That’s the good news… The bad news is that:

  • The workplace has become a lot less socially interactive than it was in the past. You can argue that this is ‘social evolution’ as illustrated by the popularity of FaceBook, Twitter, YouTube, and many other social networking forums, but the reality is that business is enhanced by face to face communication. <<Truth in advertising moment.. I am way too guilty of this>>
  • Too many personal issues get documented and stored in E-Mail –talk about making Big Brother’s job easier!
  • Considerable server space and associated maintenance activities such as back-up and E-Mail data management is expended on keeping these systems up and running.
  • Unfortunately, E-Mail data files are not a conglomeration of individual files, but rather a database where each E-Mail is in effect a record. So why should you care, courtesy of the E-Mail client interface, it looks and acts like a filing system, so where’s the problem?
    The problem is if a particular E-Mail gets corrupted, the entire database – all your E-Mail – gets corrupted. I can assure you there is nothing more pitiful for an IT professional to watch than someone literally begging her to ‘just resurrect a couple really important E-Mails’ from the corrupted data file. Unfortunately, often this is not possible, even with excellent recovery tools.

So how should you manage your E-Mail?

  •  Start by saving any E-Mail that is particularly important to your business in a real filing system – a folder on your hard drive or network drive. Initially this may be very difficult and you may want to just start doing it on a going forward basis. That way if one file gets corrupted, only one file is affected.
  • Immediately delete any personal E-Mail, if you must store it someplace, forward it to your personal E-Mail account and store it there, then delete it off your business E-Mail. This is not only safer for your personal security but indicates to your employer that you respect their right to have you use their E-Mail system for business not personal use.
  • If you don’t really need something for business purposes, delete it. There is no point in having to explain E-Mails that are subpoenaed for a law suit against you and/or your employer if you were just discussing theoreticals that were never acted upon.
  • Don’t send anyone an E-Mail you wouldn’t want your mother to read, once you hit the Send button it belongs to the world – as does anything you put on the Internet.  ;>)
  • Get off your butt and actually talk to the person two cubes down about mutual interest subject matter, it will not only enhance your personal and business relationship, but also provide a little exercise.

In closing, E-Mail is a great business and personal communication tool, but don’t use it in a manner that sets you up for a disaster.

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Let’s Have a Meeting… NOT!

groupThere’s an old corporate story about how a major manufacturer of computers used to have a device in their conference rooms that kept track of meeting costs. When the meeting attendees entered the room, they would swipe their employee badges and the device would note their salary, then as the meeting was progressing it would display the cost of the meeting by multiplying the aggregate wages of the attendees per minute by the minutes expended in the meeting. The point was to make everyone in the meeting aware of how much the company was investing in the meeting with the hope of motivating them to use the time wisely.

I guess a more effective device would not only track the costs of the meeting, but also the benefits derived from it, then either provide the attendees a bonus or deduct from their wages based on the results of the meeting.

This may sound harsh, but frankly anyone who has spent any time in a major corporation, heck even a not so major corporation, has been subjected to numerous meeting that not only didn’t contribute to the organization’s success but actually detracted from it by wasting valuable resources that could have been effectively deployed elsewhere. Maybe I’m just a cynic, well quite possibly, but I get the distinct impression there are ‘professional meeting attendees’ out there who view their job as going to meetings and don’t really care if anything is accomplished – as long as they are in a meeting they believe they are being productive.

So am I saying there should never be a meeting? No, I am saying that the need for a meeting should be scrutinized, and that if a meeting is called it should be designed to accomplish something.

When is a Meeting Necessary?

Some legitimate reasons for meetings are:

1) No one person has enough of the facts needed to make a reasonable business decision

2) A diverse group is needed to provide various perspectives to a problem solution

3) A team needs to be briefed so that all are on the same page

4) Buy in is needed from a number of separate organizational entities for a project to be successful

5) A major change in an organization is to be announced

6) The members of an organization/team need the status of a project

There are more but the point is that before a meeting is called, there should be some thought given as to whether or not a memo, E-Mail, blog update, or some other form of communication would be just as effective for communicating the message.

OK, so We Have to Meet, How Can We Make the Most of the Meeting?

If you must meet there are structures that enhance the possibility of the meeting being productive. Using the following conventions can have a positive effect on meeting outcomes:

1 ) Send an agenda out in advance of the meeting

2 ) Let attendees know if there are any readings required prior to the meeting so that everyone arrives prepared to be productive

3 ) Let attendees know if they are expected to present a report to the meeting prior to the meeting, or better still ask them to send you a copy of the report prior to the meeting

4 ) Ensure that people have actually fulfilled the commitments noted in 2 and 3

5 ) Ensure that the meeting starts and ends on time, do not wait for late arrivals

6 ) Let attendees know how much time they will be given to express their opinions and have a time keeper enforce the speaking limits

7 ) Assign a facilitator to ensure the meeting stays on track

8 ) Assign deliverable to individuals, not to the group, and follow-up on deliverable progress

9 ) Send out minutes within 3 business days of the meeting so that all know what was agreed to

10 ) Ask attendees to write down any criticisms or suggestions for improving future meetings as the last item on the agenda

In closing, when in doubt, don’t have the meeting, however if you need a meeting make it productive!

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Taking your Business to the Internet – Your Business’ First Website

Plugging into the world netExecutive Summary

While a business website does not, in most cases, create substantial profits in and of itself (the exception to the rule being firms that are primarily E-Commerce based), a website can be a cost effective way to augment an organization’s Marketing Plan. Specifically, a website tailored to an organization’s needs can:

* Provide the organization a portal to worldwide E-Commerce.

* Act as electronic signage for the firm.

* Enable an organization to present itself to potential customers in any manner it wants to (a small organization can present itself as a large established firm, and a large organization can present itself as a ‘mom and pop’ store.) The target market, not reality determines your on-line persona!

* Provide the organization with an inexpensive and effective 7×24 contact point for customers.

* Act as an E-Library for service literature that is easily accessible to customers and the organization’s staff on a 7×24 basis.

* Be an E-Billboard for marketing campaigns.

* Provide pro-active marketing and service information to customers on a 7×24 basis.

* Serve as an ‘evergreen’ products and services brochure and business card for the organization.

* Enhance the professionalism of the organization by enabling E-Mail addresses with the firm’s website in the address (i.e. president@website.com)

Should I have a website for my Organization?

There’s an old business slogan that says, “A business without a sign, is a sign of no business!” In today’s business environment a website is your E-Sign. Your firm will suffer from a professionalism standpoint if you don’t have a website. Not only will your organization appear ‘behind to times’ to perspective clients, but business cards for your staff will either have no E-Mail address or a generic E-Mail address (i.e. Jones1234@aol.com). This is akin to renting a business location with the building manager’s logo and name on your door!

The real question is what kind of web presence is most relevant to my organization’s Marketing Plan. If the website is coordinated to provide maximum value to the firm’s Marketing Plan, this medium will be a competitive advantage, not just a status symbol or a monthly expense.

So how should I start?

It is best to start with a manageable site. A good beginning website will consist of:

* A home page with the firm’s logo, address, list of product categories and services offered, and a mission statement

* A separate page for each product category and service giving details about how the product category or service can help the customer. A contact form to enable the customer to easily get in touch with the organization regarding the product category or service will also be on these pages.

* A catalogue of specific products available for sale can be linked to the pages noted above to provide an in-depth look at your organizations offerings.

* A page with information regarding your firm’s strengths, accreditations, and awards can also be included.

* The key is to start with a site that meets your current requirements, then add to its sophistication as you become more comfortable with the internet as a business tool and get a better idea of how it can serve your organization’s unique needs.

What about E-Commerce?

E-Commerce can be as simple or as sophisticated as you need it to be.

Forms can be put on your site where potential customers can indicate products and services they are interested in, and contact information. Your sales staff can then contact the customers to complete the sale.

A sophisticated E-Commerce application including shopping carts and credit card confirmation can be set up to provide mechanized sales to on-line customers.

Bottom Line

The Bottom Line is that you can start with an inexpensive form of E-Commerce and add more sophistication as sales volume warrants it!

So what does it cost?!

A business website can costs as little as $300 to getup and running with a monthly maintenance expense of $25, or $100,000+ to get up and running with monthly maintenance fees in the $10,000+ range. The key is start with the minimum investment your Marketing Plan requires, then as the internet presence starts to pay dividends to your organization, increase your investment.

Again, unless you are an E-Commerce based business, an internet presence should be an ancillary part of your Marketing Plan, not a major investment.

In closing… Website Caveats

Creating a website for your firm can be a real asset to the organization and a lot of fun as well, just remember the following tips:

* Make sure the website compliments your Marketing Plan

* Provide forms so potential customers can contact you, and set the forms up to auto-reply. Internet consumers demand instant responses!

* Change your site often, internet consumers have a short attention span and will not return unless they believe they will see something different.

* Provide a timely follow-up response to inquiries, the auto-reply is a ‘table stake’, to create and maintain a relationship with internet customers you must give them a meaningful response within two to three business days. Relationships still matter!

* Design you website in a manner that ensures that pages load quickly, internet shoppers will not wait more than about 35 seconds for a page to load.

* Have fun with the site, internet shoppers want to be entertained as well as be informed!

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