Author Archive

Know More About Flexible Working

January 15th, 2021 | Posted in How To Grow, Uncategorized

Working flexible hours, or flexi-hours as they’re often called, is a practise which has been increasingly used by many companies since the early 1970’s. With the advent of the digital age, home-computers, and the internet, a greater number of companies are looking at ways to increase company profitability, while improving job satisfaction amongst their employees.

Improved Company Employee Relations:

Many companies have turned to flexible working to better relations with their workforce, retain staff, and reduce sick-time. We live in an age where family responsibilities and work commitments have to be prioritised by many employees. These additional concerns can induce greater levels of stress, reduce output, and promote higher levels of sick leave. All of which have a negative financial effect for the company.

For many employees, the chance of working from home, beginning their working day a couple of hours earlier, or later, can make all the difference when juggling work and family commitments.

Even on the shop floor. If staff have to spend an hour or two commuting to work on crowded roads or packed trains, they’re not going to be in the best frame of mind to put in their most productive day’s work. The option of starting earlier or later, and finishing the same, may be all it needs to reduce travelling time, relieve stress, improve morale, and increase output.

Reducing Costs:

Work from home is the ideal situation for a large number of today’s workforce. Given the opportunity to do so, they provide higher levels of commitment and increased output. Working their own flexible hours they are more likely to start earlier or finish later should work load require, while taking thirty minutes off to take the kids to nursery school.

Many couples have found one partner working full-time, and one part-time, is the ideal way to manage family and work commitments. To take full advantage of this, companies are ‘sharing’ many office positions, allowing two members of staff to share the same job, desk, and computer, while splitting the working week between them.

The greater the number of staff able to work from home reduces the need to expand to larger premises with all the additional costs involved. While employees working fewer hours, so as to attend to personal or family needs, will feel greater company loyalty, and provide higher output.

Moving from Normal to Flexible Working:

Changing company practises from the normal 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. hours, to a flexible mode of operation, requires consultation with staff on all levels, including the factory floor. Most company bosses agree that, although the move can be challenging, it is not insurmountable.

Of prime concern to any business is keeping good customer relations. Maintaining continuity of commitments and delivery dates, while endeavouring to satisfy employee flexible working practises, can prove demanding in the early days. With the change in working practises, employees need to be kept up to date on company policy. They need to be aware of customer needs and those of their work colleagues.

While some may be allowed to work from home, others may not, and this could cause resentment between staff. The reasons need to be adequately explained as to why one can and one can’t, to avoid any build up of ill feeling.

Should the move to flexi-hours require certain staff members taking on additional responsibilities, adequate training needs to be put in place to provide a more versatile workforce.

A major change in Working Practises:

Although moving from normal to flexible working practises is a major change within any company, it doesn’t need to happen all at once. Many companies today work a mixture of both, bringing in flexible working where possible, while maintaining a normal working week where it is not.

Good communications are the key to any major change in policy. Discussing all concerns with employees; why the company wishes to move to flexible working, the employees job security after the move, and why some can go flexible and some can’t. Treat the workforce as a team with a ‘we’re all in it together’ attitude, and face concerns using a team approach, will usually resolve these genuine concerns.

The Boss remains The Boss:

From a management point of view, seeing half the workforce going flexible doesn’t mean you only have half the workforce to worry about. Ensure staff, with their new found independence, realise they still have a boss to answer to – company commitments to follow – and a work ethic they are expected to adhere to.

A win-win situation:

Carried out correctly, a move to full or partial flexible working can be a win situation for both company and employees. The company gains from reduced costs, saving money on having to obtain larger premises. With a less stressed, happier workforce, productivity increases, time off sick reduces, and a greater number of skilled staff are able to be retained. Many professionals these days actively seek flexible employment, accepting lower remuneration in return for greater time with family, or to pursue outside interests.

Employees benefit from a better balanced lifestyle. The difficulty of juggling home and family with a need to provide an adequate income is removed. They become happier, more relaxed, and family relationships improve. For all concerned, a win-win situation.

Digg it Stumble it Add to del.icio.us No Comment

New MindManager for Windows offers valuable ease-of-use enhancements

January 13th, 2021 | Posted in Reviews, Software, Uncategorized

MindManager 15 for Windows offers some practical new features and enhancements that will help you to be more productive and well organized than ever before.

The most significant new features of MindManager 15 include a vastly expanded selection of map parts, project management improvements, a new set of hand-drawn icons and a reorganized and simplified template view. The developer’s objective for this new version was to make it easier for new users to get started with the program, while also responding to customer requests for enhancements to existing features.

Here’s what’s new in MindManager 15, and the significance of these new features and enhancements to business users of the program:

Expanded map parts

I’ve always been a fan of this feature of MindManager, because it makes it easy to build common types of mind maps using drag-and-drop functionality. My biggest complaint with it was that there weren’t enough map parts and they didn’t address enough key business uses of mind maps. In addition, the thumbnail images were so small that it was hard to see what each map part looked like.

Mindjet has remedied these past shortcomings in MindManager 15, which includes 50 new map parts. These “plus and play” map components are divided into categories, including brainstorming, project planning, business analysis and meeting planning. In addition, you can select any topic in one of your maps and save it and all of its child topics into a new map part. This could potentially save you many hours of work if you repeatedly create the same types of mind maps.

Improved templates view

In previous versions of MindManager, the templates view required a lot of scrolling. In version 15, Mindjet has regrouped them into six topic-focused folders – management, meetings and events, personal productivity, problem solving, project management and strategic planning. This gives you a concise, high-level view of the types of templates that are available. You can then open a folder to view all of the templates it contains.

In addition, it displays blank templates for creating radial, right, tree and org chart maps, and continues to give you access to Mindjet’s online MapsForThat gallery. Any templates you have created are stored in a new My Templates folder. This new compact layout makes MindManager’s templates view much easier to use.

Hand drawn icon set

In addition to the standard set of icons that ships with previous versions of MindManager, version 15 now includes a set of over 600 hand-drawn icons. They are available in four colors. Mindjet VP of Products Michael Deutch says he was inspired by a post on this blog about the Vector Doodlekit, a third-party collection of hand-drawn icons and symbols, to include a similar set of resources in MindManager 15. The goal is to enable users to create mind maps with a more organic, hand-drawn look.

Project management enhancements

In previous versions of MindManager, if you had a project that was going to start significantly earlier or later than you planned, you had to manually change the start and end dates of each task. In version 15, a new “move project” command simplifies this process. By changing the start date of the overall project, MindManager 15 automatically adjusts all of the task date ranges. You can also use a new command to eliminate slack time in the GANTT view of your project. This can help you to ensure that your project gets done at the earliest possible date.

New topic “quick add” buttons

As part of Mindjet’s goal to improve the usability of MindManager for new users, version 15 now includes small nodes, each containing a plus sign (+), that stick out of the top, bottom and side of each topic. Clicking on one creates a new linked topic in that direction. Deutch said that new users sometimes get stuck trying to figure out how to add new topics to their mind maps. These quick add buttons make it easy to see what to do next. In addition, they enable any users of MindManager 15 to quickly add topics without having to mouse back up to the program’s ribbon toolbar each time – nice!

These new buttons each require a small amount of extra vertical space, however, which can potentially cause printing and page fit problems for some users. If you don’t want them to be visible, you can turn them off in the program’s options. Very smart!

Auto-creation of slides

A new command in MindManager 15 enables users to have the program auto-create slides. If you need to quickly present a mind map to your colleagues, this can be a big time-saver. A new map theme included in this version contains font sizes and settings that are optimized for display on a screen, too.

Whither MindManager 15 for Mac?

Deutch said a Mac version is now under development; Mindjet hopes to release it by year-end. He said the company is driving toward a new development platform that will make it easier to develop one set of code and deploy it to all platforms (Windows, Mac, mobile and web). That sounds like an ambitious goal, but Deutch believes it’s achievable in the next year or two.

MindManager + SpigitEngage?

During Mindjet’s briefing for MindManager 15, I asked for an update on the company’s acquisition of Spigit, a developer of enterprise idea management solutions. Can we expect to see some connections between MindManager and SpigitEngage? Deutch said the Mindjet team has done some research to figure out where the two applications could potentially connect. Clearly there are steps in the innovation process where visual thinking could have a significant impact. The next step is to determine where such integration will offer the greatest benefit to Mindjet and Spigit customers.

Conclusion

MindManager 15 for Windows represents a well thought-out evolution of the program’s comprehensive feature set. The usability enhancements – such as the new templates view, quick-add buttons and the expanded map parts gallery – will be especially appreciated by new users. Experienced users of MindManager will appreciate some of its more powerful new features, like move project and remove slack time for projects.

For more information about and pricing for MindManager 15 for Windows, please visit Mindjet’s product page.

Watch this blog for a review of MindManager 15 in the next month or so, where I will take a deeper look at the new and enhanced features of this excellent program.

Digg it Stumble it Add to del.icio.us Comments Off on New MindManager for Windows offers valuable ease-of-use enhancements

15 Tips for Your Start-Up

January 11th, 2021 | Posted in How To Start, Uncategorized

A lot of people walked into new year with a big dream– to start a company doing what they love.

I’m here to tell you it’s absolutely possible. And I’m here to tell you it’s not scary. In fact, I only wish I’d started sooner.

In 2005, I got together with some friends, put $72 on my debit card, and started up my first company. We had no idea what we were doing. But we learned quick, grew quick, and in 2008 we sold that first company.

Flash forward to 2011. I joined up with another friend to jump in as a partner on another start-up. And while we always wish we were doing a little bit better– what entrepreneur doesn’t– we’re doing great.

I don’t have a business degree. I don’t really want one.

As I learned in Good Will Hunting:

See, the sad thing about a guy like you is, in 50 years you’re gonna start doin’ some thinkin’ on your own and you’re going to come up with the fact that there are two certainties in life: one, don’t do that, and two, you dropped 150 grand on a f***in’ education you could have got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library!

With that in mind, I wanted to share some tips for those thinking of taking the plunge, I’ll save you the buck fifty at the public library.

15 Tips for Start-Ups

  1. Follow your passion– the money will follow. A lot of people are passionate about making money. But the simple reality is that money will follow what you’re passionate about. You don’t stay up late dreaming about working for the man, do you? If this is a dream worth chasing, it better come from a place of passion.
  2. Don’t worry about having the biggest or best idea, worry about delivering quality. Over and over again people have beat me to the market with their better financed ideas, bigger brand name, or deeper marketing budget. But I win out in the long run for two primary reasons: quality of productand quality of business model.
  3. Google Everything. Really, everything you could ever need to know about starting a business is available online for free. “How do I…” is something I Google a lot. Read a few articles, follow a few links, there’s tons of free and fantastic advice out there already.
  4. Ask the government for help. In both Michigan and California, where I’ve been involved in start-ups, I’ve found people working at the city and state levels to be extraordinarily helpful with questions If I can’t find the answers to by Googling stuff, I ask an expert. Think about it like this… it’s in the best interest of your state for you to start a business so they really want to help you. Politicians LOVE to talk about job growth and business start-ups– so you aren’t bothering them to ask your questions. In fact, most states have an Economic Development department just for this purpose. Ask them lots and lots of questions. They will help you! And even if you’re doing it wrong I’ve found that they’ll help you get it straightened out before you’ve got a big problem.
  5. Don’t hire a lawyer. There are things down the road which you might need a lawyer for. But most start-ups really don’t need to go through the hassle. In a lot of states, you can file all the necessary paperwork yourself. I’ve found LegalZoom to be a great resource for things that do require an attorney. When we started up and eventually sold our first business in Michigan I never hired a lawyer. (Though I did ask advice of a friend who was an attorney.)
  6. Pick a business structure as soon as possible. Sole proprietorship, LLC, corporation, non-profit… the list goes on and on. It all starts with a simple question: “Who owns this thing?” I don’t care which one you pick, just pick one.
  7. Get right with the state and federal government right away. Get an EIN. And don’t you dare pay someone to do this for you. You can do it online. It’s free and takes 5 minutes. You’ll need that EIN for about 100 other things… get it.
  8. Separate your money. Don’t ever use your personal accounts for business. Even if you’re a sole proprietorship and all the money is ultimately yours anyway, it’ll help you to not get emotionally attached to or get tempted to start using that money for personal business.
  9. Don’t quit your job. I’m of the opinion that you should keep your “side business” on the side of your main job for as long as possible. Heck, if you could keep doing whatever you’re doing right now and make 50% more money on the side forever… do it.
  10. Don’t pay yourself until you absolutely have to. This is so simple but so many people mess it up. The more you can re-invest in your business out of your profits before you have to pay yourself, the better. Buy equipment, buy more product to sell, invest in marketing, invest in employees, or just stock pile profits for a rainy day. Everything but that last option is good for your taxes while helping you build your business. Always take free money.
  11. Jump when you get to about 200% of your monthly income needs. The scariest part in starting up is needing to make money to feed your family. My advice? Put off jumping, if you can, until you have the first 2 months of income in your business bank account. (On top of your personal savings.) I’ve found that if you don’t jump off when you have the money… your little start-up will sputter along but never take off. But if you do jump off the cliff and need it to work… you’ll put in that much more effort. Just give yourself a couple months buffer if you can. (I keep at least 2 months reserve income in a business savings account at all times. Took me a while to get there, but it’s a HUGE confidence boost and allows us to take some risks without worrying about going homeless.)
  12. Take accounting seriously from day one. I kind of suck at my own personal finances. For instance, I balance my checkbook annually when I do my tax return. But I’ve learned the hard way that you can’t do that with your business. I’d suggest setting up basic accounting from day one using a Google Spreadsheet (super basic) or something like Freshbooks. (a little more complex) I actually track one of my business accounts with a personal edition of Mint. I’d highly suggest doing it all online.
  13. Anywhere you can automate, do it. I eliminate tons and tons of paperwork (read, busywork) simply by picking stuff that automates. For instance, when someone buys something from our online store, the store software automatically puts that transaction into our accounting software, our payment processor automatically deposits that money in our bank account, the transaction is automatically logged and our system automatically tracks their purchase, sending them a follow-up email a few weeks later to make sure they’re happy. The same is true with our payroll system. I login to process payroll, but that system handles everything at the bank, with our accounting, the state, and IRS all automatically.
  14. Don’t do a business plan. People get hung up on this because it’s a ton of work. You only need a business plan if you plan on borrowing money from a bank or the Small Business Administration. I’ve never done one. To me, it’s kind of like a resume… I don’t have one of those either. I feel like if I do things right I don’t need either. While I do think the exercise of a business plan is ultimately necessary (and useful) I just don’t think you should start with one because you really don’t know what your plan is when you’re just starting out. I think it’s way more important to get whatever your product is to market first, start the money flowing, then worry about formalizing who you are and how you do business later on.
  15. If at all possible, bootstrap. Every business idea can’t get started for $72 and sweat equity, I get that. But I think most of the time you can figure out ways to get things going, generate some cashflow, without taking on a bunch of start-up debt. That won’t work if your big dream is to open a bar. But it will absolutely work if you want to start selling at the local farmers market. I think it’d be way better to seek a personal loan from family or a friend than to take on a start-up debt from your bank or the SBA. (Which would put you in a hole financially, plus all the effort of getting the business plan done, etc.) Basically, you don’t want to be owned by debts when you’re just getting going. Further down the line debts or a line of credit will be useful. You just don’t want to start-up being owned by the bank.

So those are my tips for those taking the plunge in 2015. I’d love to hear what you are planning to start-up.

Digg it Stumble it Add to del.icio.us Comments Off on 15 Tips for Your Start-Up

When Client Communications Become Crisis Communications

January 9th, 2021 | Posted in How To Grow, Uncategorized

Any situation that is threatening or could threaten to harm people or property, seriously interrupt business, significantly damage reputation and/or negatively impact the bottom line.

Developing a Strategy for the Unexpected

Businesses spend thousands on everything from research and development to sales strategies and marketing plans.  While cultivating clients, managing social media and buying advertising is necessary, there is one equally important area many companies seem to forget – crisis communications.   Whether this is because management just does not want to deal with a crisis until it happens, or because they do not foresee any public relations issues with their business/brand, failing to develop a crisis communications plan can be a company’s greatest threat.

Do you remember the Tylenol drug tampering crisis?  Those of you old enough to remember it probably had forgotten about it until now.  And, those of you who are younger may not realize that back in the 1982, this popular brand of over-the-counter medication was the subject of a horrible event dubbed the “Chicago Tylenol Murders”. A number of poisoning deaths in Chicago were attributed to the victims taking Tylenol, which had been laced with potassium cyanide by an outside source.  This crisis not only took Chicago by storm, but also shocked the world.  The fact that this atrocity did not destroy the Tylenol brand and has now become a distant memory is likely related to how the company handled the crisis.

Johnson & Johnson, the makers of Tylenol, faced the crisis head on by immediately alerting the public to stop using their product until the extent and source of the tampering could be identified. They took further steps to remove the product from store shelves and cease production. Although the company experienced a temporary set-back in sales, they scored big in the area of consumer confidence.  Thus, the brand is still thriving today, while the incident has become a model for corporate crisis communications planning.  In a nutshell, what restored consumer’s faith in the product was the fact that Johnson & Johnson did not immediately place “blame” on the culprits and portray themselves as victims; instead, they worked with authorities to help ensure public safety.  The Department of Defense has prepared an interesting analysis and case study of the crisis if you are interested in learning more.

There is much to be learned about how Johnson & Johnson handled this tragic event.  Having a plan to address the unexpected is vital to the longevity of your brand.  Even “squeaky-clean” companies can fall victim to unforeseen public relations nightmares. Situations which can occur in any company include:

  • Disgruntled employee spreading false rumors
  • Social media attack campaign
  • Sexual harassment claims
  • Accident involving and employee or customer
  • Hacking or stealing of customer information
  • Workplace violence
  • Wrongful termination lawsuit
  • Frivolous lawsuits

If your business is located in an earthquake or hurricane zone, you would have a disaster plan, correct?Having a crisis communications plan is equally important to protect your company and ensure its survival.

If you do not have a crisis communications plan, you are in luck as we are going to discuss some basic plan elements.  And, if your business has a plan, kudos to you! Feel free to use the following section to review your crisis communications plan elements and make adjustments if necessary.

Establish a Core Crisis Communications Team

A crisis communications team should be identified.  This core team can be comprised of various staff from throughout your company or organization.  Your company president, public relations director, legal advisor and human resources director should all be part of this team.  Other members may include department directors, supervisors and employee relations managers.  Try to identify staff from a cross section of employees.  Depending on the size of your company, an ideal core team is usually made up of 5-10 employees.  This team must be willing to drop everything on a moment’s notice and jump into action. Prompt response, investigation, and action are critical in any crisis.  If someone is not willing to work 24/7, then they are not good candidates for this assignment.

Identify a Spokesperson

All information concerning the crisis should be communicated through one official spokesperson.  This person should be confident and trained in how to handle media as he or she will likely be in front of cameras and answering questions at press conferences. The spokesperson should also be someone who appears reliable and trustworthy.He or she should be the only person providing information to the media and public about the event. All calls and inquiries should be directed to the spokesperson, and he or she must be accessible to media 24/7.

Develop Strategy for Internal Communications

Key messaging about the situation is imperative to help decrease rumors and misconceptions.  The crisis communications team needs to communicate – sooner than later – important information to the employees and board members as soon as possible.  Depending on the situation, this could be very sensitive, so the expertise of human relations, public relations and legal staff will most certainly come in handy. Who, what and how information is disseminated to staff needs to be determined.  Staff and board members should also be instructed not to discuss the situation with the public or media and to direct any inquires to the spokesperson.

Develop Strategy for External / Stakeholder / Customer / Client Communications

Your customers and stakeholders will need to be kept in the loop as well.  You will need to identify readily available means to communicate with them, whether it be through e-mail, e-newsletter or personal contact.  The crisis communications team will need to develop an official statement as well as possible questions from customers so responses can be thought through and prepared.

Practice Your Plan!

No company can anticipate every crisis.  However, you can examine your business unit and others like yours to determine issues most likely to occur. Conducting a “mock” situation with your crisis communications team can help you be better prepared in the event of an emergency. Where will the team meet to discuss and strategize?  How will each team member address his or her assigned duties?  Will the assigned team be able to work well together? Think of this is a sort of “fire drill”.  Understanding and practicing what to do in the event of a crisis is critical to helping ensure proper handling of the situation.

Having a crisis communications plan is the first step in being prepared for a sensitive situation. Remember, honesty tends to win out in the end. If you try to cover something up or are not truthful, it will show.  In most cases, a consumer can forgive a company who makes a mistake and owns up to it.  The public tends to have a more difficult time when they feel deceived.

If you do not have full time human resources, public relations and legal staff, consider outsourcing these individuals during a crisis.  Identifying and retaining experts in the event of a crisis can also be helpful.  And, since Social Media has evolved into a a major form of communication, consider having an expert help with the management and monitoring of social channels. As with any disaster, preparedness is key to ensuring the survival and sustainability of your company.  Good luck!

Digg it Stumble it Add to del.icio.us Comments Off on When Client Communications Become Crisis Communications

Startup, SME: 7 tips to boost your business

January 7th, 2021 | Posted in How To Grow, Uncategorized

How to establish the reputation of your business, build credibility with your commercial and institutional partners or attract the attention of new customers? Summer is the perfect time to rethink your brand, develop your strategy and bring some novelty to it all. Here are 7 tips that will help you boost your activity for September …

Refresh your brand

It is always difficult to grasp the summer for a contractor. The activity is minimized, it is perhaps time to get into the changes that you have always postponed. If you have not already done so, you can create a new logo for your company to be easily recognizable and evolve your visual identity to respond to a demand that may have evolved. This will allow at the same time state your logo on new media to reach new customers.

Call to novelty

Challenge your working methods by seeking a more effective and faster to accomplish your goals. Is there a new tool that will allow me to do better in less time? Are there new materials that would allow me to convey my best brand? It’s outside the box found what we need. Why not use Evernote to quickly manage your note-taking by integrating photos or voice recordings; create an account on Hootsuite to animate and synchronize all your social networks; or install Slack to facilitate communication within your company … yourself updated on new technologies and new Web services that will boost your productivity.

Take care of your community

“Ah! When I speak of myself, I’m talking about you. How do you feel it? “Victor Hugo said. Your users do not always make this shortcut. Vary your messages on social networks and do not speak (that) you. Share information that will inspire your community, make them want to know more. Ask her questions, ask his opinion, reveal stories or achievements of your customers, so that she feels involved and loved. Create a unique and useful content for your community – through a blog , or in a newsletter – to increase its commitment to your brand.

Be where your target is

Be present on social media that can be useful for your business and also think of those used by your customers. Consider how your target behaves on the internet and what sites they frequent. This is where you need to be. For a company that is immersed in a creative medium, for example, it is essential to be present on social platforms centered on the visual as Instagram or Pinterest. This is the best way of showing the success of its services.

Put yourself in your customers value through

A customer praised your service or your product? Do not be shy, do run the compliment in the rooftops: social networks, blogs, communication media, word-of-mouth … Make these easy to share customer testimonials. They represent a significant vote of confidence for consumers. You can also create a page on your site bringing together the positive testimonials you’ve recovered from your customers or include them in a relevant area. For example you can create a button to allow customers satisfied to send a tweet from their profile.

Remember retention

Your customers are valuable, do not underestimate. They can leave and never come back … Remember that retain a customer is 5-10 times cheaper than to acquire a new one. Invite them to reuse your service using all the tools available to you: offer them a sponsorship offers, loyalty points, point reductions. Customer loyalty should be part of your strategy: a very satisfied customer speaks to 3 people on average while an unhappy customer informed the other 12.

A little audacity

When preparing new content (article, video, computer graphics), do not be afraid to go out of the ordinary. Without being extravagant, you have the ability to innovate in your messages by combining business with pleasure to make your viral content possible. Consider the change as a real opportunity!

These tips should keep you busy this summer and help you best prepare the return with a new look, new jobs and a marketing approach that uses the power of community.

Digg it Stumble it Add to del.icio.us Comments Off on Startup, SME: 7 tips to boost your business