Leveraging Technology Part 2

All business tends to have a level or complexity that is eased by the use of technology. For some businesses, it is not about complexity but production; workers are expected to get a certain amount of work done each and everyday. Good examples are automated processes in databases that simplify the sending of marketing literature based on user input or accounting software simplifies the entry of accounting transactions. Once a system is setup and running, the daily workflow is simplified to a certain extent and the flow of production can be greatly enhanced.

To a large extent my role as a business advisor, mentor and trainer is to help find solutions for these problems; often using the existing tools on hand. Usually a few hours for training on specific tools or features does the trick and end user learns to better leverage the software tools they have.

What my clients seek is solution to some issue and what I hope to do is migrate any of these business bottlenecks into smooth flowing processes. Ultimately, I want to save my clients both time and money. Sometimes the solution is remarkably simple. I want to focus on one such solution. Creating Templates is a very effective way of fast tracking the creation of often repeated tasks, such as presentations, email messages, marketing literature, spreadsheets, financial statements, common letters and so much more. In almost every software application that I train in there is a template feature. Outlook for example you can create a library of responses for almost anything marketing related. I now have an extensive library of responses so when I get a requests for information the process is very simple and consumes so very little time. In Excel most users including myself will create the same or similar spreadsheets all of the time. I now have a series of templates for things like financial statements for clients, tracking information, payroll slips and much more. Each of these templates not only saves me time but gives me the flexibility of only having to make minor changes to adapt them for some other purpose.

Microsoft Word comes bundled with many templates that you can easily adapt for your own purposes and re-save as a template. Of course, you can also create your own easy enough. When creating your own template in any Office program, you should save the template to the proper directory so that the program will find it when you browse for the file. Word for example will list your template in the new browse window when you want to browse for a template to base your new document on. If you don’t save it to the proper Microsoft template folder, you can still open it, but you will have to browse your PC for it.

One program that is often forgotten is PowerPoint. For those that have to use this program day in day out, it can be a lot of work to create a new presentation. There is content that needs to be organized into a flowing presentation. Then there is creating the slides that will tell that story; formatting the slides, including graphics, charts, videos, audio, recording narrations, setting up slide timings if automated and much more. For those get into the more advanced stuff, there is creating and controlling animations, transition effects, creating interactive flow and more. You can count on spending a good part of a day or two creating a new presentation. With a saved templates that has the style and layouts you need already configured, you can spend more time on the substance of the presentation knowing the frills are already taken care of. While in this article I mainly talked about MS-Office, that application of template goes behind that. I have templates in Adobe programs, audio creating/editing applications and anywhere where I am likely to be doing the same repetitive task frequently.

If you like me do many of the same tasks over again, look into templates and see how they can help you with your daily work flow.

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The Better Way to Stay Organized

Every generation has its impact on the next. The technical development in recent years have given rise to new and exciting technologies that are changing the way the humans are coping with life. Look around and you will see that users have a treasure trove of tools that can be used to organize your day to day life quickly and efficiently and generally without much of a learning curve. Although, there are many tools to choose from both hardware and software based, I am focusing one software tool that many of us probably already have installed on our computers. That program is actually bundled as part of the Microsoft Office Pro suite that regularly comes pre-installed on many new laptops and PCs out there.

That software is Microsoft One Note. I have been aware of this software for a number of years but never even launched it. To be honest I did not even know what it was about nor did I care. Then one day I was bored and I decided to clean up my computer. As I was going through my PC I started to uninstall unused applications. When I came across Office I was looking at the titles and said to myself, what exactly is One Note?

I launched it and when the application opens up the user is presented with a sample workbook that they can observe what One Note can be used for. In many ways this program is a digital file organizer with tabs that can by labeled. Within each tab you can have as many pages or subsections you need. The tools within the application are typical for MSO so if you use Office, the tools are already familiar to you. Also you can embed anything, spreadsheets, Outlook items, Word documents, insert tables and format like you would any MSO document. It is similar to an application that was years back, introduced as part of Office 95. Microsoft used to bundle a program called Microsoft Binder which looking back seems like a primitive version of this software. The software was dropped by the release of Office 2000 and reappeared in Office 2003 in the form of One Note.

While I usually deal with the business uses for such an application, this time around I thought it might be interesting to talk about how One Note can be used for personal reasons. My initial reaction was to dismiss this software as being somewhat unnecessary. Then when I got thinking about how I have so many website passwords, email passwords, goals to track, to do lists, recipes, reminder lists for shopping, people I intend call etc. I began to realize that although I have a good memory, I am relying way too much on remembering what I need to do. On any given day try as I may; I sometimes forget things. I found this frustrating so I started to write everything down in a note pad. Now I end up with all these notes that I have to manage. One Note for me was a life saver. I thought about what I wanted to organize and came up with Category headings for each. Then within each when applicable I created subheadings to further organize. When I was done I had my framework in place so that during my day I could keep One Note open and minimized and ready to use. When I had some fragment of information that I needed to file and keep on hand I had a place to put it. Another thing you can easily set reminders in Outlook or whatever you use for managing the scheduling of tasks, appointments etc. Now, the information I need such as notes, figures, password, etc., they are stored conveniently in One Note. This was a god send, I am even better organized now by having information stored in the proper places. I am glad that I found One Note.

My workbook keeps me on top of all my passwords, banking info (this section is password protected) and more. I keep recipes, snippets of code for websites, reminders such shopping lists, goal tracking lists, movie and book recommendations, topics that I intend to look up and so much more. If you have One Note installed, try it out and you will see for yourself just how useful it can be.

Education & Employment

A rather hot educational topic of late is Accounting and bookkeeping. I theorize that part of this trend is due in part to the fact that there are many more people going into business for themselves than ever before. These SOHO operations are popping up everywhere and they really need skilled accounting and bookkeeping professionals to help them grow and manage their business. Businesses that are growing need to have skilled workers like bookkeepers to keep the up to date and fiscally responsible. Often the employees that inherit these responsibilities are expected to learn as they work. Personally as a tutor, I receive a large percentage of business from such a scenario. They tend to have little to no accounting knowledge and need to learn a software program like QuickBooks or Simply Accounting.

As a result, I adjusted the way I teach these types of courses. The curriculum was deepened in terms of the features taught and the participants performed a series of tasks designed to promote experience with the software. This was a radical shift from teaching based on levels 1-3 or Beginner, intermediate, Advanced. The shift was about giving the student a deep experience in the shortest amount of time possible. Business owners don’t want to an employee committing to a course that takes weeks even months to finish.

Our Office Training courses which include MS Office, Accounting Basics, and MS Project cover the essential concepts needed to be successful in the workplace. participants are provided with a broad range of exercises that promote both experience and confidants. Beyond the software, skills such as critical thinking give the participant an opportunity to apply the knowledge they just learned. Applying what you learn means they develop the essential building blocks of problem solving.

There are optional assessments and projects that businesses can choose to use to gauge how well the their employees have picked up on the concepts.

If interested in our training courses, call us today at 416-550-2487 and ask for Gus.

Good luck everyone

Gus Chouli
http://www.softwarelearning.net

Training Seminars vs. One on One Coaching

Being a trainer, tutor and mentor for over 15 years I have learned a lot about the human condition. So many times I came across people that were virtually un-trainable simply because they were too busy fighting the process of learning; instead of using that energy to learn. The type that you have to drag there kicking and screaming. More often than not they are sales people that are being asked to adhere to a new set of compliance rules or in some cases their employer wants them to better leverage the software they use. Training sales people is always challenging at best and in some cases downright impossible. I have had quite a different experience with the administrative and financial employees as they tend to believe in concise methodology and don’t really need to be convinced that there are better ways to do things.

One other factor in determining whether training or tutoring would be the better option is knowing the audience that you are dealing with. In a scenario with a group of sales people it is rare that you arrive to setup and find that the class is waiting and ready. Sales people are notoriously late and their lack of focus proves disruptive as many tend to have attention deficit disorder (ADD); makes it very difficult for the instructor to follow a pre-defined agenda. They tend to be very independent in their thinking and cannot adjust to formal methods that force them to redefine their natural tendencies.

 Experience has taught me that training sales people, executives and business owners in an instructor lead class in liable to be an exercise in frustration. Other office staff like accounting professionals, office administrators and other logistics workers tend to logically accept methodology that has been tried and proven to be effective. The term I use is “methodical workers”. The can see the benefit of using and practicing pre-defined business processes. The other type I refer to as the “nonconformist.” Sometimes referred to as “Mavericks” they are non-conformists and they like to do things their way and they relish in their independence. 

What you will find is that methodical worker types are usually perfect for instructor lead seminars; you must train mavericks in one-on-one coaching sessions that can be tailored specifically to their needs. The most crucial part is that you consult the client first and make sure that their needs are met during the session. Tutoring as a teaching method is also great for those that might not learn as quickly in a group situation and might fall behind. Since coaching is focused specifically on the student, the speed of which the training takes place and the topics is guaranteed to be ideal and relevant. 

Another aspect of training that tends to be true but is often overlooked is that some adults have trouble sitting and learning for more than 2 hours without taking a break. I usually run my one on one sessions so that we take a 15 minute break once every two hours. We take a half an hour lunch and a follow it up with an mid afternoon break before ending the session. These sessions are usually cost a flat fee for a set amount of hours. However some adults cannot absorb more than a couple of hours of training a day. I bill those sessions by the hour as opposed to a flat rate for a certain amount of hours. Often the determination is budget. Since most adults tend to be task oriented they tend to want to be doing something that achieves a result. This is where I have learned to modify my teaching to include far more interactive exercises that allows the participant to experience the learning first hand. The more that participants do, regardless of which method you use, the more they tend to retain.

 So what about cost considerations? I am asked that question all the time. The cost effectiveness of one on one training versus instructor lead training can very hard to quantify depending on the precise circumstances. However, in most cases people tend to be looking at the situation from the cost of the class or instructor/coach. The flipside is there is a cost to the student as well. Anyone that is employed and is taken away from their daily responsibility is getting paid but not working. If the participant is a sales person or business owner that usually makes money during normal business hours, then tying them up in an all day training session has an opportunity cost associated with it. It could be argued that once you take into consideration the greater value received from one on one training as opposed to more generic instructor lead training, the cost advantage shifts dramatically.

Building a valuable skill set

One of the hardest objectives in business can be to get everyone on the same page. The changing landscape can be an intimidating thing for some employees that fear that with change their position with the organization will diminish or disappear all together. Team mangers often find themselves with the task of building a team work ethic that also promotes self-improvement.  Many of these skills like interpersonal skills, confidence, initiative etc revolve around how you interact with your team. However many of the individual skills are measured in what you bring to the table as far as useful skills. In other words, what you know. This is why keeping your technology skills relevant is important. Technology as we all know is very important these days and organizations are always looking for some edge over their competitors. Having skilled workers that can lead the way, is one way that today’s thriving business can achieve their business goals. Companies should have initiatives for their employees to learn and adapt. The problem is that, not all organizations make this their mandate. In reaction to this, you can help protect yourself in today’s world by making it your mandate. Look at where you are and where you want to be. Discover the skills you are missing and on your own time acquire them. By keeping your skills current and by preparing yourself for the future, you will be much more prepared to adapt to the changes around you.

This is very important for all employees within your organization. In almost every case when the change happens those that are not ready to adapt are left behind. Sometimes businesses merges and the whole organization is restructured. Those with relevant skills are found to be useful and are absorbed. Those that were not willing to change are disregarded. The people who are most often dropped are the front line workers. These are the first level managers, administrative and bookkeeping staff. This list can sometimes include sales and marketing staff as well. In a lot of cases they would not have been looked over if they would have learned to do more than what is necessary.

As a trainer I run knowledge assessments all the time. You would be surprised to see how many front line workers have not learned beyond the basics of work processing, creating spreadsheets, formatting different type of documents, posting accounting transactions, updating databases, keeping calendars and schedules etc. They function at a basic to intermediate level and muddle through tasks that require an advanced level of knowledge. That is why taking the time to learn, or relearn these technologies is a very clear path to success. You must learn to function at a higher level. Learning is a clear path to success and your path to proving that your skills are relevant.

The Difference Between Working Hard & Working Smart

Over the years what has become abundantly clear to me is that there is a distinction between working hard and working smart. It is not simply a play on words. One of the indicators of working too hard is when a certain task in your day take up so much of the day that you are scrambling to get other important tasks done.  By the end of your work day you are over tired and drained. 

Without doubt there is always a better way; the question where to find the answer. Now you can research online there are plenty of online communities out there. There are “Ask an Expert” networks where you can submit your problems and for a negotiable price someone will take on the problem for you. You might decided to do a Google search and see if the problem has been solved by others; which usually takes time. First you research the problem then as you find the answer you usually will find difference as no two problems are the same. Now you will need to add to the discussion thread and wait around for more answers. Which sometimes leads nowhere. 

Depending on the scenario, you might in fact find an answer in some cases. However, that is only half the battle. What you really need is to learn how to leverage your skills better so that you can solve your own problems. Like so many these days, if you work for yourself and your time is limited; you are probably concerned about managing your expenses. You need a solution that you can implment yourself. One that will pay off beyond the initial cost. This is where I make the argument for training and consulting services. You want someone that will do more than just solve the issue. You need to know how to solve the issue yourself. The next time you have an issue that needs resolving; think about finding a trainer that also has consulting skills to help you learn to think on your own feet. There are some basic skills that a trainer/consultant can help you master. Then future bottlenecks can be dealt with without calling in someone outside your organization for help; unless the scope of the problem is outside your knowlege. In which case calling someone in would be both cost effective and necessary. 

In conclusion the difference between working hard and working smart is knowing how to solve your own bottlenecks, identifying which situations require you to call in an expert for help. You must be ready to constantly adapt to the changing technology picture and have the courage to make changes when needed.

Change Management

Developing smart business practices these days consists of looking objectively at what you do and making changes to suit your objectives. Most businesses especially SMB (Small Market Businesses) tend to feel that the benefits of change management are outweighed by the time and cost spent to implement. Change doesn’t have to be disruptive on your business practice. The trick to managing change is discovering opportunities that would be beneficial to develop. The method that is used is the road map of steps needed to reach those goals. This is the crucial part the outlines how and at what cost. However, the focus of this article is not project management but the benefits of discovering opportunities within your organization that can be exploited for increased revenue.

The trick is to know where to look and what to look for. Much of what you do as a business tends to center around what you offer and how much it costs to offer it. This is referred to as the cost of doing business. This is why having an accounting system tailored to your business in order properly track your financial transactions is vital. For many of my SMB clients, I need not look anyplace else. Implementing an accounting system like Simply Accounting or QuickBooks allows any organization to really see where they are financially. After a few months the data can then be analyzed revealing all kinds exploitable revenue and cost saving opportunities. For more information on our Accounting Training programs go to http://www.softwarelearning.net/courses.html.

Besides accounting systems, databases are another really great place to find hidden revenue. Lots of companies have databases but don’t employ defined processes for using them correctly. By leveraging the software’s features using a precise methodology, data can be entered and organized to specific criteria which allow for easier retrieval. The true power comes from knowing what you want and designing a process to record information is such a manner that retrieving, analyzing and ultimately making key business decisions becomes part of the normal everyday routine. The real beauty also lies in the fact that these processes can always be revised as the business needs grow and change.

This is just the beginning. Change is a vital and healthy part of everyday life. Psychologists will tell you that change in your life can be very stimulating and can lead to feeling refreshed even inspired. Never fear change, by taking the time to design systems that foster growth you can make decisions confidently. The opportunities for improvement will always outweigh the growing pains in the long term.