Dec 18th, 2008 3 Comments

REDFLY Smartphone Terminal – Review 1

We received a REDFLY Smartphone Terminal for testing today and started writing this review while unpacking so we wouldn’t forget anything important. This installment will only cover the basics and first impressions. We’ll post more comments after living with it for a week or so.



For anyone that doesn’t know, the REDFLY is basically a dumb terminal for your Windows Mobile phone – a screen and keyboard with no ability to run software on its own. The manufacturer’s Web site ( ) says “no OS, no CPU, and no storage” but I don’t believe that. There’s clearly some logic in this thing, and the documentation says that I might have to download firmware to match the drivers being installed on the phone. So there’s some OS and some processor, we’ll just have to figure out what it is on our own.
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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.

Oct 5th, 2008 No Comments

Send e-mail, set reminders, make appointments by phone

Some of my most productive time, that is, when I can really think undisturbed by phones or other people, is when I’m riding my bicycle or driving alone.  Unfortunately, those are also about the only times that I’m unable to capture my half-baked ideas on my business planning napkin, or compose that new blog entry on my computer.  Some people read and send text messages while driving, but that isn’t very healthy.

A new company called Jott ( ) has come up with an easy and clever solution for using the phone to create e-mail, text messages and calendar appointments.  Or as they put it "Turn your words into action."

The Jott service recently came out of beta and the service works as advertised.  In fact, it’s uncanny in its ability to accurately transcribe your messages.  They say they use a combination of computerized text-to-speach, and human operators.  My guess is that computers handle the easy stuff like dates and times, and that real people transcribe the actual messages.
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Aug 25th, 2008 1 Comment

Utilities for getting the most out of Google Apps

Last week I wrote about Google Apps and what a great tool it can be for small to mid-size companies.  Today I’ll give you a list of add-ons to help integrate your Google calendar and contacts with your computer and phone.

It’s really ridiculous that these utilities are even necessary, but the fact is that two of the most common applications of computers and cell phones, that is the humble calendar and address book, are the most difficult applications to share between different devices.  Every device and application has its own calendar and rarely do applications want to share.

Fortunately, Google provides a convenient way to connect from a variety of devices.  So using Google as the "hub" or main repository finally gives us some nice flexibility.
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Aug 18th, 2008 2 Comments

Google Apps is a great deal for small business

Managing e-mail, contacts and calendars are some of the most fundamental tasks in any business.  Yet even today it’s surprisingly difficult to set up an integrated system for a typical small business.  E-mail is probably the easiest, but there are competing standards for calendar information and contacts, and several different ways to handle security.  And if your company has a mix of Windows and Apple computers, and different phone models it’s very time consuming and training/support-intensive to get everyone working together.

Microsoft’s Exchange Server, combined with Microsoft Outlook is the most common way to integrate contacts, calendars and e-mail, but it’s a very expensive solution and requires a fair bit of technical skill to set up and maintain.  Very good, and less expensive, replacements for Exchange have appeared (the best is probably Zimbra , which was acquired by Yahoo! recently) but these still require hardware and technical support.

The new trend, which goes by such catchy names as "cloud computing" or "SaaS" offers a very appealing solution, particularly for small to mid-size companies.  Cloud computing, or Software as a Service (SaaS) refers to the concept of having programs out in the "cloud" of the Internet as opposed to having the software on your personal computer (or your company’s servers).  For example, your calendar would be stored in the cloud, on somebody else’s servers where you can reach it from any computer and easily share it with other people.  Turning over your calendar to "the cloud" might sound dangerous, but it’s no different from the way e-mail works, and everyone has come to accept those risks.
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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.

Jul 10th, 2008 No Comments

Refreshing, and Easy, Marketing Program Perfect for Summer

Summer is typically a slow time in business.  Customers are either frying at the beach, daydreaming about their trip to Paris, or thinking about their next barbecue.  Either way their mind isn’t really focused on buying whatever you’re selling.  So you can either write off the next couple of months, or have some fun with summer-themed marketing campaigns.

One of our clients came up with a perfect summer promotion – easy to implement, low cost, and most important, a quick response.  They are giving away gift cards for slushy drinks.  Here’s how it works:

  1. Assemble a mailing list of new prospects and/or existing customers that you don’t expect to see during the summer.
  2. Print postcards with a unique "secret code" on each one.
  3. Set up a Web page containing a survey, or just some product information, depending on your business.

You can see the current survey page we set up for this particular mailing here:

They control their cost because a "secret code" is required to claim the gift.  This also lets them control the geographic reach of the campaign – in this case they are targeting a corner of northern New Jersey.  And they only buy as many gift cards as they need, when they need them.

We can easily try different value gift cards, different mailing lists, and other options to stay in front of people all summer long.  For more flexibility the sales people can give out secret codes whenever they think it might help during a sales call.  And any prospects calling in on the phone can also be given codes if appropriate.

The secret code is also designed to help in tracking different approaches.  So each mailing/offer has a unique set of codes, and each sales person has their own set.

All the leads coming in from the Web site are automatically posted to a Zoho CRM system to track effectiveness, to help automate future mailings, and for easy follow up and tracking by sales people.

Our client in this case is the AlphaGraphics print shop in Montclair, NJ .  Call them at the number on the Web site above to ask about these summer promotions.  If you’re lucky they might even give you a secret code of your own.

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.