Category Archives: Technology

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.

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.

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.

Leveraging Technology

So many people spend a great deal of their time behind their desktop computers working to manipulate information. Whether this is accounting, marketing, website research or simply reading, their workday completely depends on technology. Technology that if leveraged correctly can make a big difference in how much work they complete and how easy it was to do. For example, a typical work day consists of many tasks that I must do in order to prospect out new customers. Simple tasks like responding to requests for information and follow ups that I have scheduled, invoicing and other tasks could potentially bog me down. I however have put into place a few processes that help me complete these tasks effortlessly. First thing I did was I sat down and came up with Outlook and Word templates for responding to clients and prospects. Taking each course I teach and all the services I provide I created information request sheets. Since I always add prospects to a prospecting group within my ACT database (this happens at first contact) I merge the contact information into a merge letter in either Word or Outlook and the information is sent effortlessly to as many contacts that I need to.

Over the years I have dug behind the scenes and learned to leverage the advanced features of Outlook and Word in order to automate much of the email responses I send. I use an ACT database as a data source and I have a solid and efficient process of recording information, scheduling activities, responding to information requests and recording the outcomes of my efforts. Using ACT to track the activities and outcomes shows me week to week how successful I am at my various marketing efforts. I can decide which campaigns are working and which ones need work. I can do month-to-month and year-to-year comparisons. This has shown me where my strengths are and where my weaknesses lie. I know where I should be concentrating my efforts and where not to. This type of business intelligence is priceless. Think of the missed opportunities you can capitalize on by redirecting you efforts into more profitable channels. Since doing this I have improved my customer response time and increased my revenues by more than 50%.

Using the software you have on your computer effectively will allow you to create your own systems. Have a goal in mind and work towards it. This is why many of my clients decided to upgrade their skills. They want to better leverage the software’s advanced features and get more work done effortlessly. The payoff is always worth the time spent. Even just a refresher course can sometimes be enough to remind of features or methods that you may have forgotten or never learned to begin with.

Until next time
Gus Chouli