Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Oct 23rd, 2008 1 Comment

Annual Employee Review Stress

I was having lunch with a friend the other day when he started complaining about the upcoming employee review process at his company.  He was already spending hours filling out the review forms for his direct reports, and this year was going to be more stressful than usual.  Business is down, and expected to remain slow for quite a while, so he’s going to have to lay off several people that actually did a good job this past year.  Needless to say, his own performance is suffering right now and his staff is probably spending too much time, at work and at home, stressing about this situation.

Only an HR person could love the annual performance review ritual.  Everyone else hates it.  Why should good work go unrewarded for up to a year?  And why on earth would anyone put off a reprimand, remedial training suggestions, or regular mentoring until some artificial date in the future?  If there’s a genuine, healthy dialog between boss and worker, as there should be, then issues are addressed as they come up and there’s nothing left to discuss at the "annual review."  If problems are left festering the boss isn’t doing his or her job.  Hard/good work that isn’t rewarded promptly with bonuses or salary adjustments just fosters resentment and causes higher employee turnover.

Anyway, yesterday’s Wall Street Journal has an article written by Dr. Samual Culbert, a consultant, author and professor of management at the UCLA Anderson School of Management in LA.  He says "It destroys morale, kills teamwork and hurts the bottom line. And that’s just for starters. "  The article is entitled "Get rid of the performance review! " and you should read it before subjecting your team to another round of reviews.

Jul 16th, 2008 No Comments

Save a tree and some money

It seems like every time I print a Web page or e-mail message the last page off the printer is mostly blank. Sometimes it just has an ad that I don’t need, or the last part of a privacy notice from an e-mail, or even just a page number. These extra pages get thrown away by the millions every day, wasting paper, toner, ink, time and money.

A company called GreenPrint Technologies has come up with a clever solution, at least for Windows computers. They have created a simple print driver that can be installed on any Windows machine. After that, whenever you print something you will first see a preview of the document, and the Green Print software has automatically highlighted those pages that it believes to be junk. It takes just a click to block one or more pages before it ever hits your printer.

The software is really easy to use. It lets you configure the type of pages it should block, for example blocking pages that only contain a single graphic, or blocking pages that only have a footer. It even keeps track of your savings over time. And there is a PDF feature so you can decide to create a PDF file instead of sending the document to your printer.

There are free (for home use) as well as paid (for business/commercial use) versions of Green Print. Install the software today and start doing your share to eliminate this micro-waste.

Jun 9th, 2008 2 Comments

Manage your projects with the right tools

We’ve been using Microsoft Project for years to organize resources and create time lines for our projects.  It’s a good tool, but for $1000 (only $600 for the non-professional version) I could never recommend it for small companies, or small project teams.  Now there are a couple of really good tools for managing projects that fit even the smallest budget.

One desktop program that we recently started using is called OpenProj .  As the name implies, it’s an open source application and seems to have a fair amount of support.  They ask for donations, but basically it is completely free.  (Please consider making a donation if you end up using the program.  We should do whatever we can to encourage the open source community.)  You can find the program here:

The Web site has versions for Windows, Apple OS X, and Linux.

The other option we recommend is Zoho Projects .  Unlike OpenProj, this is a hosted application, meaning there’s nothing to download or install.  Just go to the Zoho Web site, make a free account and start your project.  Besides being easier to set up (nothing to install) the big advantage of Zoho Projects is that your project files are available on any computer with an Internet connection.  So you can start working at the office, bring it up on your notebook at Starbucks, then use your home computer on the weekend without missing any files.  You can also share files and collaborate with other team members using the built-in forum feature.

The first project is free, with an unlimited number of users.  Try it out for yourself here:

With these low cost, easy-to-use tools your project schedules and resources shoud be much better organized.

May 19th, 2008 No Comments

Guy’s 10/20/30 rule of PowerPoint presentations

Guy Kawasaki came up with this excellent idea several years ago.  It’s very simple and easy to follow, but not many people get it, so I continue sitting through long presentations, with unreadable fine print on the screen, that the presenter reads to the audience.  If it’s a sales presentation I’ve been very tempted to throw him out.  Unfortunately, in many business situations that’s not a practical option so I’ll just do what I can to spread the word.

Here is the basic rule:

"A PowerPoint presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points."

Think of it as the "elevator pitch" applied to a larger audience.

Here’s the link to the full description:

For the sake of your audience, please follow these rules.  You never know, it might make you a better sales person.

Send in your comments if you have tried this in real life.  I’d love to get your positive, and negative feedback.

May 12th, 2008 No Comments

Enterprise-scale software for one

Small businesses, especially entrepreneurs flying solo, are at a significant disadvantage compared to their larger competitors. Big company sales people are supported by IT and marketing departments that provide sales leads and tools to effectively manage the sales process. Fortunately, for us there are some new options available to help level the playing field a bit.

CRM (customer relationship management) software is one of those applications that cost millions of dollars not so very long ago, but now you can have it completely free. And these new systems are relatively easy to set up and begin using with little training, learning to use the more complex features only as the need arises. Traditionally, CRM systems have been used for a variety of sales and marketing functions, such as:

  • managing marketing campaigns
  • tracking the source of sales leads
  • scheduling sales calls and follow up activities
  • organizing quotes and other sales documents
  • sending e-mails to groups of customers and prospects
  • documenting contacts with your customers and prospects
  • documenting and tracking problems reported by customers

Some of the new systems extend the basic sales and marketing support and also provide project management, point of sale functions, inventory management, and more operational tools. Integrating all these features into a single application will give you the so-called 360-degree view of your customer – the ability to see all important information about your customer from one vantage point.

Why is all this important to a small company?

Let’s assume you have have customers. Now you need a way to keep track of information about those customers. The typical small business has a system that looks somewhat like this:

  • Leads coming in from the Web site are in a Google e-mail account
  • Customer names, addresses, phone numbers are in Microsoft Outlook
  • Letters, quotes, other documents are in Word and Excel
  • Sales orders and invoices are in Quickbooks
  • Telephone calls are documented on Post-it notes
  • Appointments are in a planner

Sound familiar? With information scattered all around like that you’re bound to forget things – it’s hard to provide exceptional customer service in that environment. No matter how you try to organize that mess, it’s just too easy to lose an important Post-it note, or delete an e-mail by mistake. The problems multiply quickly if there’s more than one person in the company because there’s no easy way to know whether someone else already followed up on a particular issue. And what happens if you go on a business trip or vacation? How can you possibly bring all the spreadsheets, Post-it notes, and other documents?

One solution to these problems comes from a company called Zoho. They offer a full-blown CRM system for up to three users at no cost. The Zoho software is provided as an online service – there’s nothing to download or install. (The technical term for this method of providing software is SaaS, or Software as a Service.) A computer with an Internet connection is all it takes, so your customer information follows you wherever you go, even if you only carry your iPhone around.

Here’s a real-life user example. One of my clients is a very low tech printing company that seemed like they managed their whole office on index cards when I first met them. One box of cards was leads for the two sales people. Another box held current customer records for the office manager – each customer’s cards were rubber-banded together. After two months we had everything online and they couldn’t believe the change. The owner can see at a glance exactly what everyone is doing today, and when someone is free for a new sales call next week. He knows exactly when they last had contact with each of their customers, and why that contact happened. He also has a “dashboard” view of the number of leads coming in from their Web site; which ad generated the most leads on any given day; and which ad is converting the most leads to customers. As a bonus all their data is backed up, off site, automatically.

For the startups and sole proprietors out there, my advice is that it’s never too early to start using a CRM system, especially at today’s price. Keeping most of your sales and customer information in one place will definitely make your life easier. And the procedures you establish early on will serve you well as you grow and have more people and information to organize.