Posts Tagged ‘Productivity’


Mondays with Mike: 5 Changes The Cloud Will Force Your Business To Make

5-25 cloud changes smallWhether we like it or not, change is inevitable.  Even though we know a change will ultimately be for the good, some of us have to be pulled kicking and screaming into the light of new technology and new practices.  So maybe you’re one of those folks who’s put off transitioning your business to the cloud.  Knowing what’s ahead can help you be best equipped to handle what’s ahead.

  1. The transition is inevitable.  Seriously, you’re going to have to do it sooner or later, if for no other reason than you’ll have to if you want to retain good employees.  9-5 office jobs have gone the way of cocktail hours in the office.  It’s going to be harder and harder to find staff who don’t demand flexibility in terms of hours and even working locations.  Moving to the cloud lets you enable staff to work at hours and locations that suit their needs.  It’s a good thing.  You can either become flexible or lose your great staff to employers who are.
  2. Consumers demand convenience.  Okay, we’re spoiled.  We expect to be able to Google anything and have answers at our fingertips within seconds.  If your business doesn’t provide mobile apps or instant access, you’re less desirable to consumers who want it all now.  Having your business running on the cloud means you’re able to work wherever and whenever, offering your clients speedy and high quality service.
  3. You’ll need to train your staff.  Just like any new piece of office equipment, you’ll need to set aside time to make sure your employees are up to speed on the new cloud functions.  You may need to schedule time in the future to deal with inevitable upgrades, so you can be sure your staff is equipped to give great service throughout the transition.  You may also need some new hardware – think touch screens, dual monitors – in order to maximize the results from your move to the cloud.
  4. Sharing and securing information are the new priorities.  The biggest benefit of the cloud is that you and every member of your team can access information from all over the world.  The biggest liability is that you’ll need to make sure your data is secure.  You’ll have to protect what’s confidential and make sure only authorized users have access to confidential materials.  The good news is you’ll find lots of resources to make securing and sharing your information as safe and easy as possible.
  5. Bandwidth is everything.  Once you’re up and running on the cloud, you’ll have to make sure you have consistent, reliable access for all the members of your team.  You’ll also need to develop contingency plans for how you’ll handle power outages, Internet service problems, or the host of other problems that can disrupt the way you conduct business. 

While you may not initially be enthusiastic about transitioning to the cloud, you’ll be better positioned to capitalize on its enormous benefits if you’re prepared to manage the changes. 


Mondays with Mike: The Secret To Being More Productive

To Do ListWe’re positively obsessed with productivity.  We all want to do more in less time with better results.  We look for ways to be more efficient, more effective, and more profitable, all while trying to preserve some time for our lives outside work.  Should you doubt that we’re obsessed with effeciency, simply enter “productivity” on Amazon, and you’ll be inundated with a slew of books, tools, and products designed to make you more productive.

The problem is that much of the productivity stuff out there is really just a sales pitch.  An author is trying to sell you a book.  A calendar company is trying to sell you a new planner, or a business guru is trying to get you to subscribe to his videos teaching you how to manage your time better.

I’ve spent a lot of time and energy working out my own system for boosting my productivity, and I’m about to give it away to you.  Why?  Because it’s so damn simple and so damn effective.  My two-part technique will help you do more work in less time, and it doesn’t cost you a cent, nor does it require any fancy gadgets.

First of all, you must unplug.  Now, calm down.  I don’t mean from everything forever.  What I mean is you must eliminate those things that are the chief, proven culprits of time suckage.  Facebook.  Twitter.  Instagram.  YouTube.  While all of these social media giants can genuinely be legitimate business tools, when you’re sitting down to work through your to-do list, they’re your enemies.

Turn.  Them.  Off.

Even your email can be a distraction if you’re constantly checking it and finding yourself derailed every time you send off a quick reply.  Checking email periodically, rather than constantly can permit you the time to focus and work more efficiently, rather than stopping, dealing with email, then finding your place and remembering what you were working on before getting back down to it.  Reduce your distractions, and you’re more productive.

The second part of my technique deals with prioritizing your daily tasks.  The only tools you need are paper, pen, and highlighter.  Sit down with your piece of paper, draw a line creating two columns, one narrow and one wide.  In the wide column, list all the tasks you need to accomplish, in whatever order they occur to you.

Once you have your tasks listed, use the narrow column to mark each task with a symbol.  Tasks that will generate revenue within the next thirty days get a dollar sign in the column.  Tasks that will serve the needs of an existing client get smiley faces.  Tasks that both generate revenue and satisfy a client get both a dollar sign and a smiley face.  Tasks that accomplish neither of these goals are left blank.

You start working through your list with the projects that have both dollar signs and smiley faces.  As you start each task, highlight it (so you know where you were in case of interruptions,) and when it’s finished you cross that item off the list.  Yay, you!  Next you move on to smiley face tasks, then you tackle the dollar signs.  Only when you’ve satisfied existing customers and generated revenue, do you move on to the other tasks on your list.  You’re working through your day in the most productive way possible.

Real productivity doesn’t require gadgets or how-to books.  Becoming more efficient means filtering out the distractions and working on your real priorities.


Ten Phrases Successful People Use Daily

Man Holding a Sign with an Optimist Message"We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world."- Buddha

The hit book, "The Secret" had one central message; we become what we think about. This same thing was said by Earl Nightingale years earlier in his classic "The Strangest Secret".

I am not suggesting to only think positive thoughts and block out any negativity. I am not talking about surrounding yourself with daily positive aphorisms. The key is what you focus your daily thoughts on. A golfer that thinks they will hit the ball in the sand trap inevitably will most of the time. A team playing not to lose will ultimately lose.

People who are successful say the following phrases that spur them to take action: 

1. I can do this.

It all starts with believing in yourself. People are successful because they are confident in their own abilities. This confidence comes from inside out. When faced with something scary or challenging, this is what they say. This gets them to start which is typically the most difficult part.

2. Ill do it!

People stand out by taking on a challenge no one else is willing to do. It can be small and simple like staying late or taking out the company trash. It can be volunteering on the weekend. While everyone else is asking “why?”, ask “why not?”  Be open to always saying "yes" rather than immediately "no".

3. Thats an awesome job.

Make others feel admired and appreciated by recognizing their success. People will enjoy being around you and that will make you feel good about yourself.

4. I can take at least one small step forward today

Running a small business is overwhelming and achieving goals can be a long term journey. Uncertainty on this path stops many people from even trying. All great success is a series of small steps. Learn the result of your single action and then take an additional step; and then take another.

5. “I’m really listening.”

Successful people know when to say these words. Stephen R. Covey, author of "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People'', writes “most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Successful people listen to understand and in that moment, do not worry about how they will sound when they reply.

6. “I was wrong.”

Successful people always admit this. When they are wrong, they say so. Surprisingly in this process, you will not lose respect or credibility, but gain it.

7. “Done is better than perfect.”

Tech giants Google and Microsoft release beta versions of their products to consumers knowing the products aren’t perfect, and that’s ok. What matters to them is getting the products out in the world so they can learn what needs to be improved.

9. “Can you show me?”

Successful people know that they don’t know everything. That’s why they surround themselves with people who are smarter than them. Successful people can be a follower and a leader in the business world.

10. “I don’t have to be the smartest; I just need to work the hardest.”

Successful people know that if they work hard, they increase their chances of success. They realize that the key to being successful is not just skill, but the willingness to do whatever is necessary to be the best.

Which ones do you use to keep you on the path of success?


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 6 Ways to Cut Customer Wait Times

busy manLooking for new ways to eliminate customers’ stress while they wait for customer service? Try reducing the wait—or at least giving the impression you’re reducing it, a new study of customer psychology suggests.

A study written by three marketing professors and reported in MediaPost found that people often feel more time-pressed than they really are when they are facing multiple goals that conflict with each other. For instance, a working mother who’s also taking care of an aging parent is more likely to feel stressed at work even on a day when juggling children, parent and work is all going well, just because in the back of her mind she has conflicting roles to play.

How does this affect customer service? Well, any customer facing multiple goals or feeling conflict is going to be more sensitive to wait times. For instance, a customer calling customer service on her 15-minute break feels stressed about getting back to work on time. A customer who’s already had bad experiences with customer service about an unresolved issue will be extra-sensitive to wait times as he tries (again) to resolve it.

So how can you lessen wait times, or at least make them less onerous? Here are some tactics businesses are using successfully.

  • Provide as many self-serve options as you can. Your website can feature FAQs, clear directions, community forums and other information to guide customers without having to talk to an agent.  
  • Identify peak call times and staff appropriately. The more agents available, the more manageable wait times will be.
  • Offer to call customers back. Providing an option to call customers back at a time and number they specify is a less stressful alternative to waiting on hold.
  • Don’t leave them in a vacuum. Stress increases when customers have no idea how long they’ll be on hold. Have your hold message identify projected wait times (pad them a bit so customers will be pleased when they get helped “early”).
  • Give customer service agents access to a detailed and updated knowledge base so they can quickly get answers without having to find a supervisor or other agent to help.
  • Measure your call metrics. Set goals and benchmarks such as average time on hold, average time to resolve an issue, how many calls one agent can handle at a time before service starts to suffer, average numbers of transfers during one call and average number of times customers are put on hold during one call. By measuring these numbers, you’ll be able to identify bottlenecks slowing service and resolve them.  

How to Win Against the Biggest Time Wasters In Your Business

3-13 stop wasting time smallMany small business owners confuse being busy with being productive. You are busy, but are you always productive? Are you getting done what you want to complete every day? Wasting time is a luxury small business owners literally can’t afford. Interruptions typically dominate the workday and it becomes difficult to get anything done.

Here are the biggest time wasters in every small business and how to defeat them:

1. Meetings

Meetings are a huge drain on small business efficiency. It’s easy to fall into the habit of holding meetings on every subject and getting stuck in them back-to-back until the end of the working day. What is actually being gained in a particular meeting? What can only be accomplished by getting people together face to face or by phone?

Stop wasting time in meetings:

  • Have an agenda and stick to it. Begin and end on time. Make sure there are stated objectives and review follow ups before the meeting adjourns.
  • Stand up. For quick updates, don’t even give your team the chance to sit down and get comfortable. Hold a stand up meeting for a maximum of fifteen minutes.
  • Leave the phones outside (or turned off). Don’t allow distractions of these rings, buzzes and beeps.
  • Keep it lean. Carefully consider how many people really need to be involved. Too many people drain time and productivity, but a lack of key decision makers at the meeting will ensure that nothing gets accomplished.

2. Social Media

Business owners frequently spend little time on the marketing side of their business. Social media can be a huge time waster reading feeds, crafting tweets, Facebook updates, and writing content for their company blog.

Stop wasting time on social media:

  • Schedule with care. Invest in tools that will allow you to schedule what’s going out weeks in advance and keep track of your company’s entire social media presence in one spot.
  • Narrow your focus. It’s better to be really strong on one platform (hopefully the one where your customers spend the most time) than average across all platforms.

3. Email

Emails are never ending; your inbox seems to go from 0 to 60 unread messages in 3.5 seconds. New email notifications pop up or you check it a hundred times a day.

Stop wasting time with emails:

  • Just turn it off. Automatic email notifications are an interruption and absolutely kill productivity. You really don’t need to reply to every email that hits your inbox within five minutes. It sets the wrong expectation with clients and can mean tasks take twice as long. Only check your email intermittently throughout the day (e.g. first thing in the morning, lunch, before you leave).
  • Set expectations. Let your clients know you only check email certain times throughout the day and direct them to call or text you if they need a quick response.
  • Handle each email once. When reading an email, immediately reply, delete, file or set a follow up time to deal with it more fully. Distribute your emails into folders as soon as you read them. Save documents to your computer with appropriate names and file folders.
  • Unsubscribe. Most emails are subscription-based and now is the time to unsubscribe. Be honest with yourself about which ones you never ever read.

4. Administrative Tasks

Too often, small-business owners waste time on tasks they don't like or stink at. A lot of these tasks are accounting related—invoicing, payroll, and chasing down bad debt. If you’re spent three hours reconciling a bank statement, you’re making poor use of your time.

  • Outsource. It may seem counterintuitive, but hiring out these tasks can actually be less expensive. How do you value your time? Put a price on it and compare it to the price of paying someone else.
  • Use an online tool. If you’re not quite ready to entirely outsource, make sure you are using online tools to ease your burdens. Accounting tools, for example, generate invoices, follow up with overdue invoices automatically, and give you fast overview of debits and credits so you always know what’s happening in your bank account.
  • Use one system. Use a unified communication solution (voice, video, mobile) like Nextiva so you never miss a customer interaction wherever your staff is located. Get all your messages coming to one place.

Most importantly, the evening before, pick your two “must completes” for the next day. Do those tasks in the morning before anything else and you can call the day a success!

Did your biggest time waster make the list?


7 Ways To Make Money In Your Sleep

3-2 Make Money While you Sleep smallIf you think about the way your business works – you find clients, pitch your goods, land the sale, deliver the product, build repeat business, and work for referrals – there are loads of challenges entailed in every step.  If you want to generate more income with less effort at every stage, the key is automation.  Finding ways to implement systems and maximize efficiencies helps your business earn an income even when you’re not actively working.

  1. Turn yourself into the product.  Once you’ve established yourself as a credible authority in your field, the logical move is to develop a way to market your expertise.  Whether you sell a book or instructional videos, once you’ve created your product and implemented a marketing plan, the hard work is over.  You collect your money while you’re moving on to the next challenge.
  2. Do fewer things.  The surest recipe for failure is trying to do everything under the sun that could possibly be relevant in your venture.  If you settle on a few key services or products, then you can perfect the systems for producing and delivering your offerings.  Always remember that the riches are often in the niches;  if you can offer customers something unique – and do it efficiently – then you’re a standout.  You don’t have to be everything to everyone.
  3. Create continuity.  If you can find a way to build a recurring service plan for clients, you’re maximizing efficiency in two main ways:  you’re creating predictable expenses for your clients, and you’re ensuring continued revenue for your company.  Recurring billing – the subscription model – capitalizes on efficiency both for the client and the service provider.
  4. Sell the system cheap and make money on the refills.  One word:  Keurig.  The dominant entry in the single-cup coffee industry doesn’t actually make that much money on its high quality brewers.  The real bucks are in the coffee refills.  Millions of dollars in revenue are derived from individual sized coffee pods.  Proprietary design is the key to recurring purchases.
  5. Become the middleman.  There’s a reason middlemen exist, and it’s the economy of scale you can find when you consolidate the transportation, sales, and delivery of goods.  Look at Amazon:  they don’t produce the stuff they sell.  They simply attract vendors and find a way to sell, collect money, and deliver products – faster than nearly anyone else in the world.
  6. Become a teacher.  Much like turning yourself into a product, becoming a teacher lets you market your expertise.  Whether you become a part time consultant for other entrepreneurs in your field, or you write a how-to guide for starting your kind of small business, you’ll reap dual benefits from becoming an educational resource:  income from the time you spend consulting or writing, as well as increased visibility for your brand.
  7. Become an investor.  When you started your business, you did it to fill a need you saw in your market.  My advice to entrepreneurs who want to invest is to look at needs (other than the ones you supply) that your existing clients have.  By partnering with other companies who service the same clients, you can find efficiencies and provide an overall better level of service.  It’s a win-win for both entrepreneurs and their clients.

There’s no avoiding the hard work it takes to get a fledgling business off the ground, but once you’ve achieved a measure of success, your most profitable moves will be those that maximize efficiency and generate revenue – even when you’re not actively working.


Mondays with Mike: 15 Email Mistakes To Eliminate

Man Writing an E-Mail on a LaptopGiven that many of us can conduct business without ever touching a piece of paper, email has become the single most important method of business communication.  Appointments, negotiations, confirmations, even billing can be handled via email, which means it’s more important than ever to ensure you’re communicating carefully and professionally.  Here are 15 mistakes you should never make in your business emails:

  1. Irrelevant (or missing) signature lines.  Your signature line should contain your contact information and nothing else.  That inspirational quote from your favorite author is just clutter in business communications.
  2. Cutesy emoticons.  Just don’t. 
  3. Using “Reply All” for every message.  Think about whether your reply really needs to go to everyone on the list.  Send information only to those recipients who really need it.
  4. Speling and gramer erors.  Nothing makes professional correspondence look sloppier than misspelled words and careless grammar errors.  If your email program doesn’t have spellcheck, take the time to copy and paste your messages into a word processing program to clean up any mistakes.  Put your best foot forward.
  5. Including long previous conversations.  Forwarding irrelevant portions of earlier conversations just means folks have to wade through more noise.  Strive to keep your emails clutter-free.
  6. Being too long-winded.  Email is supposed to make us more efficient.  Get to the point and wrap it up.  Don’t get bogged down in unnecessary information.
  7. Altering previous conversations.  Never, ever, ever should you edit earlier conversations to alter their meaning.  Not only is it completely unethical, but you’re likely to be called out for pulling an underhanded stunt.
  8.  Revealing you’ve been BCCed.  If you’re blind copied, it’s for a reason.  If you hit “Reply All,” you’re outing the sender of the original email.  Make sure you’re careful if there’s under-the-radar communication occurring.
  9. Irrelevant or vague subject lines.  If you’re sending an email, it’s because you have important information to share.  Using specific subject lines helps your colleagues wade through their inboxes and identify the emails which need their attention first.  A subject line like “Oh, by the way” is far less effective than “Change in meeting time.”  Be clear.
  10. Burying your point.  In the cases in which you do need to send a lengthy email, make sure your main point is covered early on.  You want to avoid the TL;DR effect – Too Long; Didn’t Read – by getting to the point right away.  Don’t make folks wade through a bunch of fluff to figure out what’s important.
  11. Babysitting your email.  It works just fine, even if you’re not watching it.  Email is supposed to enhance efficiency, but it doesn’t work that way if you’re interrupting your day every time you hear a “ding.”  Similarly, I see people pretending to be busy with their inboxes when they really could be doing something far more productive.  It’s a tool.  Use it at your convenience.
  12. Ignoring critical emails.  Don’t be a lousy correspondent.  So often we read an email and intend to come back to it later.  What ends up happening, though, is we forget, or when we do get back to it, we have to reread it to refresh our memories.  It’s far more efficient to handle important emails right away, or if you can’t, flag them so you don’t miss them when you’re reviewing your inbox.
  13. Replying too quickly.  We often get sucked into the trap of replying in a less than professional manner, simply because email is so quick.  Just because you’ve read a message doesn’t mean you have to answer it right that minute, though.  If you’re upset or confused, sometimes all you need is to take a little time and handle the email when you’re better equipped to do it calmly.
  14. Using a gushy closing.  These are business communications, and there’s really no place for flowery sign-offs.  Keep in mind that if your sig line has your name and contact information, you may not even need to sign off at all.
  15. Attaching enormous files.  Bear in mind that email has limits.  If you absolutely must send a large, critical file, compress or zip it so it doesn’t fill up the recipient’s inbox.

In short: be concise, be professional, and be clear. 


6 Steps to Systemizing Your Business

2-13 business systems smallWhether you recognize it or not, your business already has a system. But when tasks take too long, cost too much or create substandard results, your system needs anything from a little Botox to a full face lift. Here are six-steps to help you see what you’ve got, identify where it’s going wrong and fix your system to get your business humming.

Step 1: Document Your Current System

Without documentation, you can’t get a clear picture of what you’re doing now, much less how to make it better. Don’t assume that you know what each employee does. Talk to them before you write down every step, identifying who is responsible for performing each task and the flow of work from one employee to the next.

Many employees will have opinions regarding what tasks need to change (or go away entirely). Encourage them to voice their thoughts so that you can note down that information, too. You are now armed with a playbook that you can review before moving to the next step.

Step 2: Eliminate Unnecessary Tasks

Scan your documentation for clearly unnecessary or redundant tasks (including those exposed during employee feedback), and get rid of them. If your employees are performing ten steps when five steps would do the job without loss of quality, they are wasting valuable time. And the extra steps may even make their work less accurate.

This is not a do-it-yourself process. Before eliminating tasks, talk again to the people who perform them, as well as everyone connected with the process. If Joe recommends eliminating two quality checks in his process, but Mary says she spends too much time correcting Joe’s errors, you need to figure out why Joe is so error-prone, and then fix it.

Make sure that you enter these and other changes into your documentation. You’re going to need it later (and forever).

Step 3: Automate

Your employees can become more effective when you judiciously introduce some automation to the process. With technology costs coming down and becoming easily accessible through the cloud, this is now more viable than ever.  Sometimes, you can also automate with a simple tweak. A tool as simple as setting up an auto-responder provides amazing value by buying extra time for responding to email requests.

Step 4: Monitor Results

Until you try out your new system, you cannot be sure of its success. After implementation, keep a sharp eye on the results. Are operations moving along more efficiently in the hands of happier employees? Or is the process hitting bottlenecks while your employees have become numb with boredom? If the latter, work may slow down, leaving you with a system that looks good on paper, but requires further adjustment.

Step 5: Make Tweaks

If you expect to get everything right the first time, think again. This is typically an iterative process involving testing, tweaking and documenting. You probably will see improvements on your first attempt, but no system is perfect. A tweak made to one task may create issues in a later step.

After tweaking problem areas, change the documentation so that your employees will know the steps that they need to perform, and monitor the results again. Rinse and repeat until the system works well.

Step 6: Update Documentation

Once you are satisfied with your new system, it’s time to formalize the documentation. Your employees will need to follow a procedures manual until they know all of the steps. And, when you hire new employees, you can reduce training time while increasing accuracy when they have a step-by-step manual at their fingertips.

Of course, no system is forever. As your business changes, additional changes to the process are almost inevitable. And, let’s face it: busy business owners don’t have the free time to change documentation on the fly — or even think about it, so put a periodic review on your calendar.

Your review may uncover missing information or, more importantly, the need for system enhancements. A semi-annual or annual review requires only a small effort (sort of like regularly straightening your closets, rather than waiting for a major mess). This effort ensures that your information is accurate, while alerting you if it’s time to go back to Step 2.

A Good System Does Not Stifle Creativity

Remember: a great system for your business does not equate to a mindless factory assembly line. Remove unnecessary, confusing or redundant tasks, and you free minds to develop new ideas. Everyone, from yourself on down, can add meaningful contributions to your business.


7 Things Successful People Never Ever Do

happiness & freedomIn a business person’s day, there is always more tasks than hours. The key to being successful is not to do more multitasking in an effort to cram more into each day. It’s not to work harder with longer hours to get everything done. What separates very successful people from the rest of the pack is not what they do, but actually what they never ever do. For example:

  1. Never hold on to the past. Successful people don’t let the future get shaped by what happened in the past. They don’t hold a grudge. They evaluate results of their success or failure, let go of it and move on within 24 hours of any event. Successful people realize that there is more opportunity in the future than the past.
  2. Never make big decisions. They never bet the company all on one action. They prevent this by making small incremental choices. Successful people test every result and then make another small decision to get to where the business needs to go.
  3. Never focus on perfection. It costs too much to achieve and there is that constant nagging feeling of failure. They would rather be done than have the job be perfect so they can learn from the results. This doesn’t mean successful people ever do a bad job, but rather, they do 100% and then move on to the next opportunity.
  4. Never do it all themselves. Successful people know that small business is truly a team sport. They know how to leverage each opportunity using other people and outside resources to accomplish their goal. Successful people realize that this is the key to building a company that is not just about them.
  5. Never say yes to every customer request. They know what their company is good at and carefully choose the problems they solve for their customers that will show the most value. As a result, they are able to honor existing commitments. In addition, successful people do not work with every interested customer and fire the ones that don’t match their culture.
  6. Never multi-task. Successful people know that multitasking only gets more things done poorly. They focus on the tactic at hand and then move on to the next one. They know how to block out common distractions like email and social media notifications.  Successful people can intensely focus for short periods of time.
  7. Never hang out with “Negative Nellies”. Successful people don’t keep company with other folks that are constantly telling them why something can’t get done. They don’t feed the neurosis of complainers who always want to say that the sky is always failing. Instead, successful people work with a team that has a can-do attitude where anything is possible.

As a successful person, what do you never ever do?




 
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