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Quick Tips

Quick tips on issues relevant today — from keeping good records to staying safe online.

Got an Infection?

Viruses are running rampant across the Internet.  We are constantly getting customers’ computers infected with viruses, malware, adware, spyware and rogue “antivirus” programs that have been downloaded accidentally from otherwise safe websites.  Sometimes, these rouge programs even download and installed themselves onto the computer without prompt or warning.  These programs tell the users that their computer is “infected” by hundreds of dangerous viruses and offer to remove these viruses for them once a credit number had been entered.  On several occasions customers have even entered personal credit card and banking information into these programs thinking the protection offered is legitimate.  These rouge antivirus programs will slow your computer down and can even prevent you from connecting to the internet or running programs.  Cyber criminals are making fortunes off of credit card and banking information stolen through these programs.  No antivirus program is going to protect you from 100% of infections, but you can take steps to stay safe while browsing the internet.

Here are some tips on staying safe on the internet:

  • Keep your virus protection updated, and run thorough scans at least once a month.
  • Don’t open or download email with attachments from people you don’t know.
  • NEVER enter personal information into a program you didn’t purposefully download and install.
  • For back-up protection, run adware, spyware and malware scans at least once a month.
  • Keep important files backed up so in case of an infection you don’t have to worry.
  • Don’t download programs that promise to fix driver or registry errors, unless you know they are safe.
  • Don’t use Limewire or other free file sharing programs to download stuff.  Not only can you get virus infections, you may also join a growing list of “pirates” facing fines and jail time worldwide.
  • Don’t install a bunch of toolbars on your internet browser, often these toolbars contain backdoors for viruses, or they are spy ware in themselves.
  • Use Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome as your web browser; Internet Explorer is generally a less secure browser.

Useful links:

Malwarebytes — Excellent for removing viruses, malware, and spyware!

Adaware — A great program for checking for adware infections.

**New Product** avast! Professional Antivirus! — Complete virus protection for your computer that won’t slow it down! A free limited version for home use is available here.

Mozy Online Backup — Keeping your important files, such as business documents and family pictures, backed up is critically important, inexpensive, and completely secure.  Give the one month free trial a shot!

Computer Problems?

Then upgrade!

The Lenovo G560 notebook helps you take on multiple, mega-sized tasks and complete them quickly and efficiently, giving you more free time. The Lenovo G560 comes with technologies and features designed to make things easier. The new and improved Lenovo Energy Management provides not only extended battery life and long-term durability, but also keeps noise to a minimum with intelligent fan control, so you can concentrate on your work. And when it’s time to play, the numeric keypad doubles up as ideal gaming controls, whilst the high-definition 16:9 widescreen display, integrated webcam and DVD reader/writer mean the Lenovo G560 is also equipped for entertainment.

All for $549.99!

For more information Click Here.

I’ll Take “Spinning My Wheels” for $5 Million, Alex

A little while ago I ran across decade-old board minutes from a quasi-governmental organization on whose board I serve.  In my roughly two year tenure, I have noticed that three issues seem to dominate our time and attention: health insurance issues, personnel issues, and complaints by one of the groups benefiting from our services.  Lo and behold, to my stunned bewilderment, the minutes from ten years ago covered the exact same issues.  Different Board of Directors.  Different executives.  Yet the issues of the day were health insurance, changing policies in the personnel handbook, and discussion of a complaint lodged by a beneficiary of the services this board renders.  In ten years nothing has changed.

The problem is this phenomenon of organizations — businesses, not-for-profits, government, families — spinning wheels and never gaining traction permeates society.  Many organizations are so bogged down in bureaucracy that the real structural problems cannot be identified because even those are buried in the proverbial red tape.  The specific organization to which I am referring has spent over $5 million in the decade that has passed since those issues appeared at that meeting, and yet the issues are still unresolved.  Clearly the money was not spent on those issues specifically, but it frightens me some days to recognize that worldwide millions of lives and billions of dollars are impacted by the decisions of groups that cannot move past single issues in ten years time.

In your own organizations of any size, from the family unit to the world’s largest corporations and nations, be mindful that someone takes responsibility for actually solving problems instead of punting when the going gets tough.  As we are seeing in the current state of our economy, in our educational system, and in our government, no matter how much money is spent or how much time passes, an unsolved problem lingers and haunts like a restless spirit until it is finally solved.  Too bad that most solutions cost less and are most effective on day one, are a little more unwieldy days and weeks after that first day, and after some decades become practically intractable.

If you feel that your organization is not living up to its potential, contact our office for a consultation.  An outside look often has the ability to provide the insight necessary to turn things around.

Toot Your Own Horn

Dilbert.comSomething that I believe many small businesses (and individuals) struggle with is self-promotion.  Small businesses either fail to promote at all, assuming that people already know what the business can do or that what it does is not unique / valuable / interesting, or the copywriter makes some silly comment about being “the best” at whatever.  Something I tend to look for when hiring a business or an individual is experience: Does this firm/individual have what it takes to get the job done?  Whether you are promoting a business, or simply updating your resume to promote yourself, here are three points to remember to make yourself stand out from the crowd.

  • Use Numbers.  (Quantify your results.)  There is a huge difference between managing a project that “cut costs” and managing a project that “reduced ongoing maintenance expenses by 30% per year, saving an estimated $60,000 over the course of the contract.”  Sometimes it may seem like your contributions are not large enough to be worth mentioning, but diligence in handling smaller affairs may demonstrate that you are ready to handle larger affairs.
  • Be Specific.  There is a huge difference between someone who has 20 years of experience as an iron worker and someone who learned to weld in shop class.  There is also a huge difference between the manager of a fast food franchise and the manager of a division of a Fortune 500 company.  Don’t sell yourself short by leaving out the details of what you have demonstrated you can handle.  Many small businesses are prepared to provide a greater value than larger rivals, but fail to let the public know that it has the capacity to tackle the work.
  • Be Bold.  Some of the best hires I have ever made have been individuals who were barely qualified or slightly under-qualified for a position, but who have a passion for the work that needs to be done, and demonstrated they would do whatever it takes to earn the right to have the position they wanted.  If you want your business to start operating in another arena, try it out.  Nobody will hire your firm?  Find a not-for-profit that is willing to risk accepting your services — even if the services are provided for free. 

My Business Is New / I Don’t Have Any Experience

Everybody loves to create a good excuse — that is why the Internet is full of excuse jokes!  Seriously.  If you or your business does not have the experience to be able to detail to a (potential) employer or client the points outlined above, you need to get to work — on yourself or your business.  You can obtain a certification, take a course, volunteer, or become an apprentice.  Your business can hire outside talent, partner with another firm, or even experiment with doing other work.

I got my start in business consulting helping a not-for-profit job skills training program for the developmentally challenged launch a business for their clients to work, earn, and (hopefully) gain the skills and confidence necessary to obtain a job in the private sector.  Not only was it a successful program, one which had the added benefit of helping a great many people, I received numerous awards and recognition for my efforts and the efforts our launch team.  I had a lot of fun, became more confident in my abilities, and I got a good education at the school of hard knocks, too. 

I also gained a story of successfully facilitating a business startup, and started pursuing the sort of work I now enjoy.  Now I have plenty of (true) stories about my firm and its work.  Success stories sell.

Get FREE from Strongholds in your Business

Some days I amaze even myself with my own stubbornness.  I latch on to some idea, some concept, or some framework for understanding a problem, situation, or relationship, and get so caught up “my” solution that I fail to address the underlying issue.  These sorts of mental constructs range from making simple tasks harder, like spending time and energy trying to repair a component attached to a machine when the piece in question can be easily removed and taken to the workbench, to believing that the composition of my staff is perfect, and if there is any change, if anyone leaves, things will just fall apart.  Whether a stronghold just wastes a bit of time and makes things harder or fuels irrational and intractable fears, it does not serve any good purpose, and needs to be examined and conquered.

Brian Tome, pastor of Crossroads in Cincinnati, recently released Free Book and companion workbook, Free Guide, to assist you and I with breaking free of strongholds in our lives.  Now I know that for a lot of people, faith and business do not necessarily mix.  Some people reading this may not be Christian, others may be atheists or agnostics.  Irrespective of your belief system, there is a great deal of truth and much to consider in the text.

A common theme amongst small business owners I see is bitterness toward employees.  There is almost always at least one person who is regarded as lazy, stupid, irresponsible, senseless, or useless by the owners or managers.  Stop and think for a moment about just how much that mental construct is costing you as a manager, owner, or even coworker.  For starters, you are wasting mental energy feeling bitter about the situation.  This takes time and energy from more productive pursuits.  Then, whether or not your are aware of it, your actions toward the person in question are going to engender more of the behavior you abhor because bad thoughts about the person have been on your mind. The simple, yet difficult, solution is to either accept the person as they are and get over it, or fire them.  To do anything else is sapping your strength.

Tome likens fixating on perceived wrongs  to chowing down on rat poison.  He n0tes, “you’ll spiritually die if you continue to munch on the bitterness of your perceived wrongs.”  Even for those of us who are not quite sure about this whole “spiritual realm” thing, there is no denying that your beliefs are reflected in your everyday life.  Here are some other common beliefs that might be keeping your business from flourishing:

  • I don’t have enough customers. No, you have all the customers you are equipped to support.  Focus on making it easier to do business with your company.  Maybe your hours need to be adjusted, your product mix reevaluated, or your business relocated.  A lack of customers is a symptom, not a problem.
  • Advertising does not work for us. Are you saying anything your (potential) customers want to hear?  Although you may have the wrong media (newspaper/twitter/email/direct mail/magazine/etc), it is even more likely that you have the wrong message.
  • I would do ___ if only ___. Do it anyway.  There is tangible truth in the Biblical story of the Talents:
  • The Story About Investment

    14-18“It’s also like a man going off on an extended trip. He called his servants together and delegated responsibilities. To one he gave five thousand dollars, to another two thousand, to a third one thousand, depending on their abilities. Then he left. Right off, the first servant went to work and doubled his master’s investment. The second did the same. But the man with the single thousand dug a hole and carefully buried his master’s money.
    19-21“After a long absence, the master of those three servants came back and settled up with them. The one given five thousand dollars showed him how he had doubled his investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’
    22-23“The servant with the two thousand showed how he also had doubled his master’s investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’
    24-25“The servant given one thousand said, ‘Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways, that you demand the best and make no allowances for error. I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent.’
    26-27“The master was furious. ‘That’s a terrible way to live! It’s criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least? The least you could have done would have been to invest the sum with the bankers, where at least I would have gotten a little interest.
    28-30“‘Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this “play-it-safe” who won’t go out on a limb. Throw him out into utter darkness.’ (Matthew 25:14-30, The Message)

    The moral of the story is that you have to make the best of what you have in order to get more.  Just like a worker who dreams of retirement yet spends more than he or she earns on frivolous purchases, a businessperson who waits until everything is perfect to get started on something important goes nowhere.

If any of the above applies to you, your bondage to those belief(s) is holding you back.  These beliefs are costing you sales.  They are costing mental energy.  They are costing relationships.  They may even be costing health.  Do something today to free yourself.

3 Steps to Get Back On Track This Spring

Over the holidays I saw an old friend of mine at a Christmas party.  Or more specifically, I saw 2/3 of him, since in the last year he dropped from over 300 pounds to under 200.  So I asked him what the secret was to his amazing dieting success.  I was expecting maybe some sort of surgery, or a pill, or an all liquid diet – something crazy or extreme, or possibly straight out of science fiction.  All he said to me, rather matter-of-factly, was, “You know all that stuff doctors say about diet and exercise – it really works.  And they have been giving that advice away for free!”  A simple goal, losing weight, a simple action plan, cutting food portions and walking daily, and a relatively short period of time, about one year, resulted in an astounding loss of over 100 pounds.

As a nasty winter and nastier consumer sentiment figures translate into weak sales and dim prospects, I am seeing more and more small business owners flitter about in a panic as to how to stay afloat.  Some take on the persona of “Camping Carl” from Scott Adams’ Dilbert, wasting time telling everyone who can’t get away from them just how bad off they are.  Others lose sleep tossing and turning as visions of failure and embarrassment plague their existence.  Still others just hang it up and go home.

Dilbert Camping Carl

Then there are the ones who survive and thrive.

These are the folks that see the mess before them, and they get to work!

It turns out that there are three deceptively simple things any owner or manager can do to pick up business in any economy – up, down, or sideways.

1)  Pick your top five customers and ask them why they buy from you. To any MBAs in the room, this is a simplified form of market research.  Listen to the responses and note recurring keywords – these are the areas you need to showcase in your marketing efforts to attract and cultivate more customers.

2)  Write about your business successes. The act of writing about things that your business has done well, such as a developing a product for a customer or refining a manufacturing process, provides you with two invaluable resources.  First of all, it focuses your mind on what you do well instead of worrying about things outside of your control.  Second, and most importantly, it provides you with a catalog of material for generating web site content, ad copy, sales letters – you name it.  Use the material you generate to promote your business.

3)  Put your research to work. Create a newspaper ad that reflects the expertise of your business as it relates to why your existing customers buy from you.  Update your brochures and website to showcase the features and benefits that sold your product or service to your existing top customers.  DO NOT FOLLOW STEPS 1 & 2 AND THEN SKIP THIS PART!  Knowledge and insight without action is useless.

Then, of course, repeat.  This is an iterative process, not a one shot wonder.  When you build awareness about your business using the (positive) terms your existing (good) customers use to describe you now, you stand to attract even more good customers.