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Great post: 5 Steps to Improve Productivity January 22, 2009

Posted by Jeremy in Business, Tools.
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Okay, this article is very loosely technology related but I thought that you might find it very helpful.  I think that author discusses some great efficiency/productivity tips.

5 Tips for More Productivity in 2009

In the article the author says the following:

And AVOID the “summary” section of a meeting in these emails. Truth is, very few people read it.

That was amazing to me.  I actually always read it and I like to have an Agenda in that area.  I guess it really depends on the person.

There was also a duh moment in here to me.  When I read it,  I really thought that it was a paradigm shift for many.  It was when he said:

In meetings, too many people focus more on taking notes than on capturing action steps.  We focus more on communication, storage, and organization of information than on the one thing that actually moves us forward: ACTION.

Great quote.  Very good post.

I hope that it helps you!

Make Confetti! 4 Tips to limit paper usage January 13, 2009

Posted by Jeremy in Business, Business Solutions, Efficiency Process, Efficient Technologies, Green Business, Tools, Virtual Office.
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One of the things that I see in most businesses when I work with them is that the use of paper as a medium has not decreased.  In fact, I wonder if to some extent the ease of printing hasn’t actually caused it to increase.  Growing up in a household that was funded by the production of paper (Dad worked at a paper manufacturer) I would say thank you!  Ha Ha.  Seriously, I think that there will always be some demand for paper but through intelligent use I think that you can decrease your use, thus lowering your cost of doing business.

Idea #1: Use your document management system

Store all of your electronic documents in a management repository.  Whether that is a Windows file folder, Sharepoint server, or what ever utilize it.  Make sure that people use it and have access to what they need.   I have seen so many instances where the system existed and things were still printed because the people who needed it didn’t have access.

The type of system that you use will probably really depend on your needs and your budget.  Simple folder based systems will store documents but aren’t designed for easy searching of the documents.  More complicated solutions allow for searching and indexing.  Some systems will also add intelligent routing and document handling so the document will end up on the right screen at the right time.

Idea #2: Invest in a projector

If I had to guess I would say that 50% of all printed documentation is printed to hand out at a meeting.  That is a total guess on my part but I bet that the percentage is pretty high.  How many times have you printed 10 copies of some documentation so people can review them during the meeting?  And… how many times do they get pitched after the meeting?

The better solution: invest in a projector and display the necessary documentation when you need it during the meeting.  This will drastically cut back on your cost of printing and supplies and also the amount of paper in your office and garbage.

Idea #3: Invest in a scanner

Probably the single largest source of paper in many offices is the U.S. Postal Service.  Mail is a huge generator of paper in your office.  I would say invest in a scanner.  If you scan mail as it comes in and then put it in the document management service that you have available you get many benefits.

  • No more mail that gets lost.
  • You have a record of correspondence.
  • Your employees can get mail even if they are out of the office
  • Virtual office employees have access
  • With intelligent routing systems even someone being on vacation doesn’t stop the mail being dealt with

Idea #4: Store your faxes

Instead of printing faxes send them to your document management system.  This will allow you to not have to print documents that don’t need to be printed.  It also gives you all of the benefits listed above for mail.   If you are really looking to take the leap there are services available that could allow you to get rid of the fax machine all together.

Now we can make confetti!

The more that you can keep the paper in electronic format the easier it is to track and find.  Also, it makes your office more easily accessible from the virtual world.  You will decrease the cost of doing business when it comes to office and printer supplies.  Also, you will decrease the amount of products that you sending to the recycler or landfill.

If you have other ideas of how to limit paper usage and expense in your office post a comment.  If you need help with the document management and intelligent routing please let me know!

Thinking Differently Required January 9, 2009

Posted by Jeremy in Business, Efficiency Process, Efficient Technologies, Green Business, Payment.
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Sometimes we wonder why things are done like they are.  Sometimes we just accept things as “that’s just how it’s done”.  Other times it just drives us crazy.  The blog post on the Trust Matters blog yesterday fits one of the those drives us crazy times.  I happen to agree with the author that the same thing is also a pet peeve of mine.

Trust Matters Blog: Keep Your Damn Receipt!

Rant

The fact that I always get a receipt drives me nuts as well.  As Mr. Green points out there are times when it makes sense.  Such as I want to return it or it’s a business lunch etc.  Do I really need a receipt when I buy a fountain drink or a candy bar?  Do I really need a receipt at McDonald’s?  No.

I will throw out one other pet peeve with receipts.  Do I really need 45 pieces of paper every time that I eat out?  It amazes me in a computerized world that I seriously get 7 feet of receipt paper to pay the bill at Applebee’s or Chili’s.  I really don’t need all of that.  I can understand that the credit card companies still want a signature but other than that why all the paper.

Options

I appreciate it when someone/gas pump/ATM asks if I want it.  I usually say no but it’s nice to have the option.  I think that it makes no sense for me to get a receipt.  Do I actually balance them up against my card statement?  Or worse, what if I paid cash?  I typically end up just throwing away/shredding all of those little pieces of paper.

I would really like to see another set of options added.  They are all electronic options.  My post a few months ago about the Apple Store outlined what my vision would be like.  Here would be some of the potential options:

1. Sign the receipt electronically

2. RF Based CC payment at location (table, gas pump, grocery store)

3. Pay with cell phone

4. Question asked: How would you like your receipt?  (E-Mail, SMS, etc., or via tree)

I think that the time has come to expect the ability to have these options.  The systems already exist.  This is not sci-fi type technology.  Applebee’s already has the PDA that I can sign on for Car Side To Go.  Why not at the table?  Not only are these more green options, NO ONE wants the paper receipts.  AND… if they do give them the option.

Thinking Differently is Required.  No more because that’s how we’ve always done it!

Christmas Present December 31, 2008

Posted by Jeremy in Business, Business Solutions, Efficient Technologies, Tools.
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Before I start I will have to warn you that this post is an idea ramble.  I decided to write down the thoughts that were stumbling through my head.  Enter at your own risk!

Christmas is a great time of year.  Everyone is festive (at least before Christmas) and for most the spirit of the season is in the air.  Also, you get to give/get presents.

My big gift this year was a Garmin GPS unit.  It is one that has traffic update technology built in.  Guess what else is built in to it?  Advertisements.  Very smart move on Garmin/the advertisers part.  Every so often a lit ad pops up on the screen (not too intrusive).

It got me thinking about a couple of things.  First, how long until companies will be able to broadcast coupons/ads when you near their stores?  Imagine your favorite restaurant being able to let you know what today’s special is as you near the corner.  Great advertisement.

The second thought I had was how many ways companies could use this type of technology to make them more efficient.

  • Couriers can use this technology to route their trucks.  That’s a simple one.
  • What about planning a stop at that client you haven’t seen for a while after your lunch meeting because you notice the icon on the GPS.
  • Maybe the tech support company who can know where all of their resources are at any time so when that client calls with a huge issue they can send the nearest technician.
  • Shipping companies who are able to see where loads exist and where they are headed and can give discounts so they don’t have to run half empty.

I think that there are probably a hundred different things that specifically tie to the GPS systems alone.  Think about integrating your phone with Internet access with the GPS in the phone to provide data.  This technology exists today.  You can get the lowest gas prices near you.  You can compare grocery prices on your phone.  These are the first wave of applications of the technologies.  What is coming for this?

How can you utilize the new phone, GPS, PDA, smartphone, etc technology to make your business better?  Can you provide your staff more accurate data?  Can you make your customer’s experience easier?  Give it a try!

Efficient Payments December 17, 2008

Posted by Jeremy in Business, Business Solutions, Efficiency Process, Efficient Technologies, Green Business, Payment.
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Getting Paid Quickly.  This is something that every company dreams of.  Like it or not getting paid for services is one of the most important things that companies have to deal with.  Even though it’s important, it is very difficult to most businesses.

An article that I recently ran across called “5 Ways to Get Paid Faster” discusses some excellent ways to get paid faster and more consistently.  He brings up a couple of points that I want to key on.

Electronic Transmission

First, he says “Forget regular mail”.  I think that this is an excellent point for two reasons. He outlines the a reason of loss of control.  I am not quite a sure about that because you can’t completely verify that an email is delivered any more than you can a letter.  I would outline a few of reasons of my own.

  1. Speed.  Email is delivered virtually instantaneously.  It’s a lot easier to verify that the email was received later in the day than to remember to verify that a letter was received a few days later.  Also, makes due on receipt mean more when they get it the same day the invoice is generated.
  2. Convenience.  You don’t have to run the letter to the mail box.  How often do you forget to grab the outgoing mail and just do it tomorrow?  This allows for delays in sending the invoices.  If they are electronically generated and sent it will be easier to do more often.
  3. Green.  It’s much more energy and resource efficient (thus green).    There is no paper used, no need for transportation, no need for gasoline, etc.  By utilizing, electronic means you have decreased the need for use of resources.  It is simple but if enough people use this method, it can make a difference.

Automated Follow-up

The second point to highlight is “Have a system to follow up”.  This is an excellent point.  As I described in the email point, how easy is it to forget to verify payments when you are busy with everything else.  Your day gets hectic and you forget to run the report of outstanding payments.  Before long, it’s been 30, 60, or 90 days.  On the other side, how easy would it be to forget sending the check.  You can probably multiply the ease by at least 5 compared to your ease of forgetting.  Also, most people don’t like to follow up so they don’t.  If you put the three problems together you can see the benefits to automation.

  1. Convenience.  You don’t have to remember, it happens automatically.
  2. Consistent.  Because it happens on schedule the reminders always go out on time.  This will also act as a prod to your customers.  They may have forgotten but when the reminder comes in they will have to remember.
  3. You don’t have to do it.  The system does the dirty work.  It is set on specific rules.  The reminder will go out.  You don’t want to follow up, it will.

I would extend on his idea.  You should really consider utilizing automated systems to send invoices and follow ups.  This allows all of your payment systems to be consistent.  This will reap benefits.  Many of the times, consistency in billing will lead to consistency in payments.  If the systems are automated, it will not require that you intervene.  So if you are busy, the roads are bad, you’re on vacation, etc the invoices and reminders will still go out.

Electronic Payment

I would add one other bullet point to his list.  Allow electronic payment.  This allows your customers to deal with the payment conveniently.  Here are some ideas:

  1. Allow payment via your website (credit card and check)
  2. Setup recurring payment options for recurring billing arrangements
  3. Accept credit cards or ACH via telephone
  4. Consider utilizing E-Check options to speed check processing

Grand Total

You provide a service to the customer.  You want to be paid for your services.  Your employees want to be paid.  If you can make your billing fast and consistent and the payment very convienent you will see faster and more consistent payments.

Being More Productive December 16, 2008

Posted by Jeremy in Business, Efficiency Process.
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Great article about being more productive. It discusses simplifying your life. Good read.

http://blogs.openforum.com/2008/12/16/double-your-productivity-tough-economic-times

Outsourcing of resources December 16, 2008

Posted by Jeremy in Business, Business Focus, Business Solutions, Efficiency Process, Green Business, Resourcing.
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Many people really have problems with the outsourcing of resources.  That is especially prevalent in the IT arena.  Many people feel that they can hire some IT resources and get a project done faster and cheaper.  Yet, in many places we don’t even consider that as an option.

First, I have to give a clarification that many people make a mistake about. Outsourcing and offshoring are NOT the same thing.  I am discussing outsourcing in this article Here is my general definition of the two terms:

Outsourcing – Hiring a external specialist to complete a task

Offshoring – Outsourcing that occurs overseas

Ran across an article that discusses this concept on ZDNet called “Why are you managing your own power plant?“.  In this article Mr. Frome discusses how many businesses automatically think about managing their own IT resources and in many cases it might have been a better decision to outsource the work.  He asks five questions that I think are very important to consider:

1. Does it give me a competitive advantage?
2. Are there companies out there who have already created what I need?
3. Are there vendors who have more expertise in this area and stronger alliances with retail partners than me?
4. Does it take up much of my internal resources?
5. Could I benefit from the economies of scale of a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model?

The questions are key to consider.  Unless businesses have a huge IT shop with a bunch of resources who are just waiting for the next initiative it will be extremely hard to justify in house development of many of the systems.

One of the main reasons is question #3.  In most cases, there are businesses out there who have more expertise in creating solutions than most business’s IT shops will have.  When that is all that development shops do they have a significant skillset in that realm.  In addition, many times they will have utilized that skillset to create a team that can handle most requests that they receive with ease.  This is very difficult for other businesses to acheive.

Another huge point that the article discusses is question #5.  It is pretty hard to answer no to that question unless you are the only customer in the world who uses your specific software.  Because the vendor can share the cost of the system over many clients the cost will be lower than if you build it yourself or even have it developed specifically for you.  This also means that you benefit from the ideas that other customers come up with.  As features are requested and added by all businesses you benefit.

As Mr. Frome points out in his article it is technically feasible for each of us to generate our own power but we don’t because of the expense and hassle.  Many companies do the same thing with legal, marketing, accounting, printing, and many other resources.  IT is something that needs to be considered in a similar fashion to those specialties because in many cases IT outsourcing makes a lot of sense.

Minneapolis Airport to Use Paperless Boarding Passes December 11, 2008

Posted by Jeremy in Business, Efficient Technologies, Green Business.
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This seems like a great idea as long as it’s implemented well. Travelers can download boarding passes to cell phones or PDAs. Will be interesting to watch.

http://www.bizjournals.com/twincities/stories/2008/12/08/daily43.html

Some thoughts about Social Media December 11, 2008

Posted by Jeremy in Business, Efficiency Process, Efficient Technologies, Green Business, Social Networking, Virtual Office.
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Recently, I signed up for a Twitter account.  It was a research project for me.  It was hard for me to understand the concept of micro-blogging but I thought I would try it and see.  It is kind of a neat tool that gives you the ability to think “out loud”.  Really I have a long way to go in order to understand the benefits and uses of it but I at least have a little better appreciation.

So, last night I was bouncing around some ideas of how you can use these types of communication tools to bridge the communications gap in business and also in the virtual office world.  The ideas were very high level and formative so I jotted them down and figured I would think through them a little more.

While reading through some of my reader feeds this morning I noticed a post by John Jantsch about how businesses should view these products as tools instead of religions.  What a great point.  From a social perspective many people do view the tools as a sort of religion.  John makes a comment in that article that got me thinking:

Use them in smart ways, not necessarily the ways you see other using them.

What a simple yet effective point.  Utilize the tools to fit your needs.  Be creative in employing the tools.  If you see great ideas incorporate them but be willing to be innovative as well.  When reading this post it made me start thinking through some of the ideas I was working on.   Here is a very high level description of some of the ideas and I will probably explore some further in the future.

Potential Twitter Virtual Office Solutions

From a virtual office perspective these tools may be great ideas to help with the communication gap.  In my earlier post about virtual office, I made the statement that “Virtual offices require communication”.  This is so important to the success of that type of structure.  What do social media networks provide?  Communication.

Here’s the dilemma: how do you allow for collaboration/brainstorming of ideas when your team is virtual and works at different times in diverse locations?  Voice or text chat/conference might work but you have to coordinate time between all the players.  Email could be a solution but there is some level of overhead and headache to utilizing this tool.  One potential solution may be a Twitter or Twitter-type tool.

Twitter or a Twitter-type tool allows project teams to think out loud in a collaborative fashion.  The teams would have the ability to brainstorm ideas, work through problems, provide statuses, and help one another by utilizing a medium like this.  A tool like this would allow a resource to throw out an issue or idea and then have the rest of the team to provide simple feedback to the thought.  Once the idea has been thrown out there it can spur thought and allow it to grow.  One big advantage is that it is stored in a persisted manner.  This means that whenever the other teams members are available they would see it.  They could then provide feedback.  This allows for disconnected brainstorming sessions.

It’s still a very high level idea and would need to be solidified and structure provided (maybe I’ll twitter the idea) but I think that it could work to allow idea collaboration.

Marketing uses

Another great article that I read this morning about social media caught my attention as well.  Ivana Taylor wrote a post on the OPEN forum called “Getting Customers on the Cheap Using Social Media“.  Her main focus is utilizing social networks/media to generate buzz for your company.  This is an extremely powerful use for the tools.  She gives the example of  “On the go with Amy”:

Best Western’s “On the Go with Amy” Blog: Best Western hired Amy, an avid traveler who started a blog that discusses her travel experiences.

This type of concept is fantastic because people are interested in reading about the person’s experiences so they subscribe and then they tell others.  This generates buzz and word of mouth advertising.  You must utilize the tools correctly and not simply spam people as that will have the opposite effect but if utilized correctly it can be powerful.

Take a look at some of Ivana’s other examples as well.  She outlines how people have utilized many of the social tools on the Internet to create buzz.  Great ideas.

Post Game Summary

While I am learning how some of the tools work, I do think that they can be utilized to really make your business more efficient and effective.  Whether you are going to utilize them to help your marketing efforts, streamline your teams, educate your virtual resources, inform customers, or whatever else you come up with you should consider them as an option.  My recommendation would be to learn how the tools work and their benefits and then weigh the value of using them.  Don’t simply create a Facebook site because everyone else has one.  In this media you have to find a way to be authentic and potentially unique if you want to succeed.  Also, you have to find ways to use the tools so it benefits you not just so it copies someone else.

Be creative and be aggressive in building efficiency!

If you are interested my Twitter is: http://www.twitter.com/jeremylattimore

Outsourcing/Flexible Office Space December 9, 2008

Posted by Jeremy in Business, Efficiency Process, Green Business, Virtual Office.
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Virtual offices are going to rewrite the way business is done.  One of the things that is going to occur is a significant switch to use outsourced resources (such as virtual assistants, developers, designers, etc.) and also to move to flexible office space arrangements.

I found a great post by John Jantsch (author of Duct Tape Marketing) on the American Express OPEN network discussing the topics.  In this article John discusses the ideas and the benefits for utilizing them.  It is really a giant efficiency gain if you can find the right resources to fit your needs.

The concepts are going to really run against the traditional thinking though.  Virtual resourcing is a very difficult things for many managers and business owners to accept.  This is because they are putting certain aspects of their business in the hands of outside resources.  This can definitely be a scary prospect at first.  As long as you are able to find the right person it can be an excellent arrangement.

I was recently discussing this topic with a long-term client of mine.  We discussed the benefits of an outsourced arrangement over hiring a full time resource.  The main points that I brought up were the fact that many companies don’t have enough work to support someone full-time year round in the capacity.  Also, many times it is too cost prohibitive to find someone with the experience and skillset desired if you are going to hire a full time resource.   Unfortunately, in many cases, if the company decides that they want to hire a full time employee they end up having to settle for someone who may not be able to complete the tasks as efficiently as they wish.  So, basically they end up having to settle on skillset to meet budget requirements due to salary + benefits scenario.

My point to her was if they had work they needed to get completed outsourcing probably made more sense.  That way they could budget the expense to fit their needs and the resource wouldn’t be there billing when they weren’t needed.  They also would be able to afford a higher priced resource because they wouldn’t paying for the resource over the entire year.  Lastly, if they didn’t have things to do they wouldn’t have to find busy work for the resource.

To me, this arrangement makes a lot more sense in a scenario where you need an expert to do a job.  You don’t have the pay the higher costs all year long.  Also, many experts really aren’t interested in doing busy work.  They want to do what they are experts at.

I think that future is going to bring much more flexible work arrangements for many fields.  Because of expense reductions and a keen focus on profitability efficient processing will be required.

Can you make your business more efficient through efficient arranagements?  Let me know if I can help you.