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Unusual Business Ideas That Work

Uncommon Business is a blog about people who make money online selling unusual, strange and sometimes bizarre things or provide curious services. This isn’t “One Hundred And One Ideas For Your Homebased Business” – only real, working businesses wi

Last Build Date: Tue, 06 Mar 2018 01:09:37 +0000


Are Your Company Departments At War With Each Other?

Mon, 27 Feb 2017 14:43:00 +0000

Company is a mechanism - even if separate parts work well, it doesn’t guarantee the organization as a whole functions efficiently. Today we will discuss one of the most common issues that can be potentially holding your business back. As soon as any company has more than 2 employees, cross-department or cross-functional conflicts are inevitable. The bigger the company, the more strained cross-department relations hamper its growth.In this article we prepared the most common causes of interdepartmental conflicts and strategies to prevent them.Break system barriers As if human communication is not complicated enough, business operating systems might create barriers that don’t let the team collaborate efficiently. Competing goals, vague roles or broken business processes are typical examples of possible system barriers.A business process refers to a wide range of structured activities that are implemented to accomplish an organizational goal. As business processes can be manual or automated, involve several people or even departments, challenges are pretty predictable. For example, your designer didn’t make the graphics on time and the whole team failed to meet deadlines, your development team didn’t release necessary updates and your sales dropped or you lost a big contract as a result of a silly logistic mistake. Sounds familiar, right? According to the article in such bottlenecks in your business processes cause low morale of your team (59,5%), missed deadlines (53,7%), angry customers (42,6%), and lost revenue (36,3%).Solution Broken business processes usually stem from inefficient labor or scarce resources. But it’s not so easy to see where exactly your business process slows down and the root causes of these issues. A proper Business Process Management (BPM) software can help you make your business processes transparent, you will be able to see the bottlenecks and eliminate them.Fight tunnel vision When you work in a startup with 2-3 colleagues, you are well-aware of their roles and functions in the company. But the more people you work with, the vaguer is your understanding of what your colleagues are actually responsible for. Too many departments, too many people… Employees fail to see the big picture, management becomes more and more formal. All in all, it creates a silo mentality – each department knows only their own role in the company, but they are reluctant to share information with other departments or not really willing to listen to their suggestions on how to improve. As a result, the whole company suffers from poor communication, employees have no idea what their colleagues in other departments do and how much time one or another task might take.SolutionCross-department boundaries are difficult to breach. Besides general strategies to keep your team motivated and engaged, there are new HR practices, such as cross-training, job-shadowing and job rotation. Cross-training provides employees with possibilities to learn new skills outside their usual duties. Alongside improved morale, increased employee flexibility and productivity, cross-training enables your team see the aspects of work their colleagues do. Job-shadowing is not only a career-exploration activity, it is a popular on-the-job learning technique. Your employees see the challenges their colleagues have to deal with every day. Job rotation is a method used in some companies to keep their employees motivated, make them learn new skills and see the bigger picture. All in all, these techniques help employees breach cross-department boundaries and improve the collaboration in the company.Improve interpersonal relationshipsNo matter how good your business processes are, you can forget about efficient collaboration if your employees don’t like each other. You might say that it is difficult to control interpersonal relationships in a team. However, you can do a lot to facilitate the communications and make your employees “more likeable”.SolutionApart from system barriers, there a[...]

How Gantt Chart Software Can Make Your Business More Efficient

Fri, 17 Feb 2017 07:40:00 +0000

Are you looking for free online Gantt chart software? Something that's available online, on premise with open source access, on your mobile app, on your Mac, on your PC, and supports all four dependency types? Meet Bitrix24. Our Gantt task manager comes with all the bells and whistles. First, the timeline view is zoomable, so you can work with tasks that last hour as well as those that last months. Second, you get time tracking inside tasks/projects. You can easily compare how much time was actually spent on a task or a project vs. what was planned. Third, you can easily move your tasks around and all dependent tasks will move with the parent task. Fourth, you can view workload for each of your team members in order to manage their time effectively. Finally, Bitrix24 is the only free Gantt task system that comes with client management tools, so you can easily provide quotes and invoices for your projects.Free Gantt chart softwareGantt chart with dependenciesFree Gantt chart makerFree Gantt OnlineFree Project Management And Time Tracking SoftwareFree Project Management Timeline SoftwareProject Management For AgenciesProject Management Collaboration SoftwareFree Unlimited Project Management SoftwareTask Based Project ManagementFree task management for teams[...]

New Free Website Forms In Bitrix24 CRM

Fri, 08 Jul 2016 12:50:00 +0000

Long-awaited lead capture forms for your Bitrix24 CRM are finally there. Everyone knows what a web form is, but sometimes working with forms may require additional efforts: - need of a website where the form will be placed; - web form creation may be complicated for a sales agent when additional programming skills are demanded; - difficulties with filled form results processing; - results transfer to the CRM; - form results analytics where e.g. Google Analytics connection can be really handy. The purpose of any web form is to get a new lead or contact, or add more information to the existing client records in your CRM. We have tried to minimize your efforts with a new smart web forms in Bitrix24. Discover the advantages of Bitrix24 CRM web forms: 1. Easy web form designer: 2. Public page for your web forms with your Bitrix24 domain name (your company name) on it: Custom background image, different tabs background & text colors, 3 types of form theme, etc. 3. Integration with Bitrix24 CRM: 4. Queue of several responsible persons for web forms results distribution (coming soon) 5. Web forms results can be connected to Google Analytics (you will be able to add your Google Analytic ID inside the form designer) 6. Five pre-designed forms (coming soon) 7. Three scenarios for web forms: - simple forms; - forms with field rules; - forms with online payment option (e.g. client will be forwarded to Paypal payment page after form is completed): Products from the catalog can be selected and added to the form, so that a client will be able to choose: After the form is completed, the client will see the final invoice with online payment options and be redirected to the chosen provider (e.g. Paypal) payment page: 8. Embedded forms – copy & paste the code into your web page: Use Bitrix24 CRM forms to boost productivity. All form data will be saved to the CRM system; managers will only have to process the collected information inside the CRM system. Use forms in the chat, on your site's pages or send a link to a public page so that your clients can complete the form whenever they choose.Free web form builderFree contact form builderFree JavaScript FormsFree online order formsFree online quote request formsFree Online Registration FormsFree Website Form BuilderFree Online Feedback FormFree Hosted FormsFree Web Form GeneratorCreate Online Forms Free[...]

Bitrix24 Helps Endeleza International Provide Affordable And Quality Education In Kenya

Wed, 25 May 2016 09:22:00 +0000

Endeleza is a nonprofit organization that provides affordable and quality education and encourages community empowerment and sustainable development in Buri, Kenya. Why Endeleza Matters By law primary education in Kenya is free, but in practice it does not happen: teachers don’t get paid in schools and families have to compensate their salaries. Children who do not have financial means to pay their school fees are deprived of access to education. As about half of the population lives below the poverty line in Kenya, a significant portion of citizens has no access to basic sanitation, medical treatment, regular food and live in precarious conditions, which further impairs the quality of education and perpetuates the cycle of poverty across generations. At the moment Endeleza provides education and meals for 300 local children in Kenya. This association is growing, attracting new members who believe that much more can be done for local children. How Bitrix24 Helps CRM, Calendars, Tasks and Projects are the most necessary tools for the association. The team believes that Bitrix24 improved their productivity, as their tasks are getting more organized and on time. Bitrix24 CRM helps Endeleza attract new members and grow as association. By the end of the year Endeleza plans to double the number of people who collaborate via Bitrix24. “Previously the NGO used Asana but when we needed a CRM with multiple users, I ran behind several systems and performed tests on them. Bitrix24 was the one which gave us greater user flexibility and more utilities. Moreover, our concern was to pass on the money to African children. As Bitrix24 is a free solution, it was the first option of choice,” says Felipe Gerais, a representative of Endeleza. Learn more about how you can use Bitrix24 as free non-profit management software.Free Sales Enablement SoftwareTop CRM FreewareFree Lead Capture SoftwareWhite Label CRMFree CRM For GmailFree Excel CRM ReplacementFree CRM Software No DownloadFree Unlimited CRMBest Cheap CRM Software[...]

What Makes Taylor Swift World's Best Negotiator

Sat, 20 Feb 2016 13:22:00 +0000

Christine K. Clifford, CSP is the author of nine books including Let’s Close a Deal! Turn Contacts Into Paying Customers for Your Company, Product, Service or Cause and  YOU, Inc. The Art of Selling Yourself. She is CEO/President of Christine Clifford Enterprises and The Cancer Club, helping companies and individuals craft their story and designs “knock your socks off” Media Kits for companies, individuals and entertainers. Let’s start with a basic question – what are the biggest negotiation mistakes that novices make? The biggest mistake made by most sales people—both new and old—is thinking of a sale in terms of “What’s in it for you, and what’s in it for me?” I call this the typical “Win-Win” situation. Rather, a sale always has a third party beneficiary: your company, your family, a charitable organizations, etc. So instead, look at the sale as, “What’s in it for three?” I call this the Win-Win-Win. If you keep in mind all parties involved, you have a much greater chance of success. What is the quickest way to improve your negotiation skills within a short time period, say, six weeks? Ask everyone you know (your boss; colleagues; friends; family) what you are doing right, but more importantly, what are you doing wrong? This information can be gathered fairly quickly and you can start acting on it immediately. Face to face meetings and personal interactions are becoming increasingly rare. How do you negotiate in the age of Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp? Getting your face—and body—in front of a potential client is still the best way to close a deal. But if you can’t accomplish that, send a short video, Skype, or Facetime so you can actually interact with the other party. Many newer companies, especially startups, take pride in the fact that they don’t have a sales department single sales person, even in the niches that are still dominated by direct sales, like enterprise software. What’s your view on this trend – is salesmanship a skill that’s going to be always in demand or are technological advances, especially Big Data, leaving less and less room for ‘old school’ sales tactics? We are all salespeople… in every aspect of our lives. So the question is not, “Is there a need for a sales person?” But rather, “How can I be more effective?” Every person in every organization is a “face of the company.” And because of that, they are selling the company/product/service/ or cause. But this becomes even more reason to be as effective as you can be given the small amount of time or exposure you may have to a potential client. Could you please give a few specific tips for negotiating over the Internet – email, LinkedIn, Skype, etc. I sold a $2500 sponsorship to PORSCHE by simply sending a cold/call query email. Why did it work? Because it captured their attention, explained briefly what the benefit would be to them to participate, provided a history of the success of the organization I was soliciting for, and asked them for their business. Tips for negotiating over the internet are these: be brief, brilliant, bold and brave. If you were to pick one person to be world’s best negotiator of all times, who would that be and why? Taylor Swift has become one of the world’s best negotiators because she has clout; she asks for what she wants/needs in a way that is not offensive; and she is liked—no loved—by all. Positioning yourself in a place where you cannot fail is what Taylor has accomplished in a culture-changing way. What books, blogs, podcasts and other resources would you recommend to our users who want to learn more about negotiating successfully? I would recommend my two books: Let’s Close a Deal: Turn Contacts into Paying Customers for Your Company Product, Service or Cause, and YOU, Inc. The Art of Selling Yourself. Thank y[...]

5 Bootstrapping Strategies Every Startup Should Be Using

Wed, 30 Dec 2015 07:46:00 +0000

Money is frequently the biggest issue for startups. You have to spend money to make money, but there isn’t much to begin with. Don’t despair with a little bit of common sense and a bootstrapping mindset, you can stretch your hard earned dollar a long way. Here are five tips to get you started.1. Take advantage of the SaaS wars.Software as a service is a multibillion dollar industry with new companies trying to get a piece of the pie every month. In order to gain market share, some companies provide free plans which could easily compete with competitors’ paid versions. For example, Bitrix24 offers a free CRM that’s better than 95% of paid CRMs. Asana (of ex-Facebook fame) is a terrific project management service that’s free for any company with 20 employees or fewer. Wave Accounting has an extremely generous free plan that can save you thousands. Any business tool you can think of (invoicing, conference calling, benefit management, time sheets) is offered for free by some SaaS that’s backed up by millions in venture financing with aggressive growth strategy.Hint – follow KillerStartups’ Twitter account and you’ll be the first to know when a new one is launched.2. Smart-sourcingI am sure you know can you save a lot of money by outsourcing work to people with lower wage expectations and that crowdsourcing lets you choose among dozens of qualified workers. However, to get your black belt in crowdsourcing, stay away from do-it-all crowdsourcing sites (eLance,,, etc.) and learn about niche crowdsourcing sites. The difference is this:  at an unspecialized site, you have to explain the task in tedious detail to the hired hand, at a specialist site, you may find that you’ve working with someone who understands the task better than you do.Need a domain name for your project? You’ll get hundreds of suggestions for unregistered domains at, it costs $50 and you pay only if you decide to use one of the suggestions. is widely regarded as the best place for logos, where the ready-made versions cost only $99. Need to shoot a commercial for a local TV advertisement? That’s what is for. As with SaaS, there are dozens of amazing niche crowdsourcing sites for virtually every aspect of your business, from cold calling to legal services. All you have to do is dig a little deeper and ask around.3. Start accepting ‘exotic’ digital currencies.You accept credit cards, PayPal and bank transfers, thinking that’s plenty enough. WRONG!  First of all, almost every country has a digital currency that’s in wide use. For example, WebMoney in Eastern Europe is more popular than PayPal. MoneyBookers (now known as Skrill) is extremely popular in India. It’s hard to sell things in China without accepting AliPay or TenPay.Offering key regional digital currencies immediately increases your appeal in local markets. Second, some global digital currencies, like BitCoin, for example, form a large community around them. Once a few people from that community start buying from your startup, the news spreads like a wild fire.  Joining one of many online barter networks also helps.4. DIY public relations with LinkedIn InMailIf you are a tech startup, hiring a PR firm with enough expertise and weight to get you published in tech publications well set you back at least $5000 a month. Needless to say, the results aren’t guaranteed. You’d be better off (at least in the beginning) investing $100 a month in upgrading your LinkedIn account, so you can send InMails.Essentially, InMail option lets you send messages to any LinkedIn member, even the ones you aren’t connected to. LinkedIn makes contacting editors-in-chief or journalists very easy. Also, you are charged only for InMails that were actually read b[...]

Five Questions To Ask To Get More Sales

Fri, 20 Nov 2015 12:31:00 +0000

Being ready with a few prepared questions can make the sales process easier for you and more comfortable for your customers. Review these questions and have them ready so you can move those conversations forward to closing ground. Question 1: Name Your Problem What’s your biggest project right now? What’s the biggest problem you face right now? What’s causing you the most stress right now? Phrasing your question in an open-ended way–one which doesn’t allow for Yes or No answers–helps your customers to share what’s really on their minds. And that’s exactly what you want. Honest conversations build rapport and trust. They also help you to understand what your customers really need and which obstacles keep them up at night. When you can pinpoint their projects and their problems, you can start introducing the best solutions. Question 2: Name Your Change If you could change one thing in your life, what would it be? If you could change one area of your business, what would it be? What’s one change that would really help you? This question helps your customers to break out of a limited mindset, bound by time and budget constraints, and dream a little. What would really improve their lives and businesses? As an objective listener, you can help them see that the change they want isn’t that far out of reach. Then you can help them build a realistic plan. Or, as you listen, you might see that the changes they name aren’t real improvements or the smartest investments. Introduce other ideas that might be doable and offer the help you can to accomplish those goals. Question 3: Name Your Obstacle What’s holding you back from making this change? What’s keeping you from deciding on this purchase? What’s the best reason you have to walk away from this opportunity? Every customer has a list of reasons why it’s easier to say no. Sometimes staying stuck in a rut is more appealing than working up the energy to move forward. Of course, your customers won’t say that; they’ll just list their reasons: “It’s too expensive,” or “It takes too long,” or “It’s not the right fit,” or “We’ve tried that before.” Instead of putting your customer on the defensive, go ahead and invite their best reasons to say no to your offer. When you remove the conflict from the conversation, your customer is more likely to be open and see that their best reasons are, maybe, not that great. And, with that clear list of obstacles, you can answer each one of them specifically. Question 4: Name Your Need How can I help you right now? What can I do to help you most with this problem? What kind of help do you need the most? This is the kind of question that customers try to brush off; don’t let them. If their first response is negative, rephrase the question and ask again. We all have needs, but we’re not all used to asking for, or accepting, help. There’s just one caveat here: be ready to provide, to the best of your ability, what your customer needs. That might be time to think, more information, further meetings, or some other resource you can provide. Do what you can to show your customer that your priority is to help them however you can. Question 5: Name Your Benefit What will you miss by not taking this opportunity? What do you think you’ll miss if you don’t move forward now? What do you risk if you choose to walk away? Discussing problems, obstacles, and needs will provide plenty of opportunities for you to share the benefits of your product or service. What’s left is to let your customers convince themselves. That’s what this question does: you’re helping your customers tell themselves what they could gain, and what they risk losing, by saying no to the sale. Don’t be afraid to repeat [...]

8 Most Effective Apps For Internal Communications

Thu, 24 Sep 2015 14:51:00 +0000

PickyDomains - World’s first risk free naming service No one needs to be yelling from office to office, or sending unnecessary emails. It's simply a waste of time. That's why we asked 9 entrepreneurs from the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) what they rely on most for communication among team members. Their best answers are below.1. Bitrix24I have tried many different apps for internal team communication and Bitrix24 is the best by far. Bitrix24 has group chat and video, document management, its own cloud, a calendar for planning, email, a CRM system, human resource capabilities and much, much more. There isn't anything that I wish Bitrix24 could do but doesn't. The best part is that you can pick and choose which parts you use (and it's totally free). – Robert De Los Santos, Sky High Party Rentals2. SlackOur team switched from Hipchat to Slack in less than a day, and everyone loves it. It's really easy to learn, the integrations are fantastic, links and file uploads show up inline and all the conversations are searchable for later. Also, the ability to create a Google Hangout from inside a chat room is one of the coolest and most useful features I've ever seen. – Mattan Griffel, One Month3. CampfireWe use Campfire and it's awesome. It's great to have password-protected group chats, and since it's network agnostic, our team members can use it no matter what other chat network they're on. It's also got a great suite of add-ons and extras, many of which are free, so we can really customize what we get out of it for customer service, development and design. – Dave Nevogt, Hubstaff.com4. BasecampAt Ajax Union, we use Basecamp both for internal team communication and for bridging the gap between staff members and our clientele. Basecamp makes it easy for people in different positions at the company, especially those who wear many hats, to easily share files and stay in the loop on projects and client information. It's easy to use and a go-to for getting team communication up and running. – Joe Apfelbaum, Ajax Union5. RedboothWhile technically a task tracking application, Redbooth has implemented a fantastic built-in chat software. This combines being able to assign tasks and using the same window to communicate with members about those tasks. It helps keep chat oriented to business communication, which maximizes productivity among the entire team. – Cody McLain, WireFuseMedia LLC6. WrikeWe use Skype and chats within Google Docs to communicate. However, we find that it's very important to tie discussions to particular tasks and projects. We useWrike as our task and project management tool. With the ability to easily “@” message a team member through tasks and the activity stream, Wrike lets us message each other while bringing context to the conversation. – Miles Jennings, Recruiter.com7. Kato.imWe're huge fans of for internal communications. It has seamless integration with GitHub and other services that allow us to provide context and data behind the conversations we're having. We use it religiously in our office. – Brewster Stanislaw, Inside Social8. Microsoft LyncFor our internal team, we use Microsoft Lync as it allows us to have a truly unified communications platform, blending video, phone, instant messaging and collaborative work environments into one space. It greatly increases the productivity of our firm. – Michael Spinosa, Unleashed TechnologiesYoung Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program.Adopted from[...]

Six Totally Free CRM For Your Business

Wed, 23 Sep 2015 08:20:00 +0000

There’s no such thing as a free lunch. It’s one of the saddest facts in my life, right up there with my insane student debt and the realization that Taylor Swift will probably never talk to me.But there’s good news! I just saved a bunch of money by switching to… no, I’m kidding.The real good news is that, while lunch may not be free, Customer Relationship Management software can be!Free stuff is exciting!Free CRM comes in two categories – free, but limited (also known as freemium), and open source.So the free, but limited versions offset caps on the amount of free users, contacts, storage, extra features, or some combination thereof.Open source, on the other hand, offers an unlimited, fully functional CRM to users. The caveat is that your company needs a person (or team) who can install and configure the CRM. Of course, because of this, open source CRM is extremely customizable, which is nice. Most open source CRM companies also offer a preconfigured version and/or installation and support for a price.Where can you find these magical free CRMs? Well, I put together a list for you! Check out the comparison chart below and read the details about the CRM systems that interest you.Please note that I have not placed these in any particular order. Each system is different and each one will serve some companies better than others.1. Bitrix24I like Bitrix a lot because it offers really flexible price options. I like flexibility. For a completely free account you get 12 users, five GB of storage and the ability to do anything you want with that storage, which is already a pretty sweet deal.This is how it gets better. The upgrade fee to get unlimited users and 50 gigs of storage is $99, but if you’re not feeling that cause really all you needed was a few more users, or maybe just more storage… Bitrix totally hears you! They offer an additional 12 users to the same program for $25/user/month. And/or if you want more storage they offer a tiered pricing plan on that up to one TB.So that’s the pricing.Overall, reviewers find Bitrix to be a very easy-to-use system. In addition, itsdocument management feature is well integrated and extremely useful.The drawback that reviewers all point out is that Bitrix’ aesthetics are a little rough at points. One reviewer mentioned that they use a flashing clock in the corner to remind users to timestamp all activities, which I could easily imagine is quite obnoxious.2. CapsuleCRMCapsule is free for up to two users with 10 MB of storage, and 250 contacts. To upgrade, it’s $12/user/month. With the upgrade comes two gigabytes of storage, 50,000 contacts, and integration with such applications as Mailchimp andFreshbooks.Capsule’s best feature, according to its many glowing reviews, is its ability to integrate with at least 33 other software programs, including Mailchimp, Freshbooks, and Gmail.In fact, according to the reviews, the only place Capsule is really lacking as a system is its customer support. While they have a FAQs section as well as helpful articles posted on their page, if you need any help after hours, you’re sunk. In addition, they offer no direct phone service. Rather, you must submit a form, though they do claim to call you back within a single business day.3. InsightlyInsightly claims on its homepage to be the “#1 online small business CRM.” I have no evidence to corroborate this particular claim, but I can tell you that they offer a great free program and a very friendly website.Insightly offers their system free for three users, 2,500 records (which they define as any stored item from contact to note), 200 megabytes of storage and ten custom fields. Perhaps most importantly, Insightly offers free users full product support! The upgrade fee is $7/user/month and includes 100,000 records, unli[...]

Best 6 Free and Open Source Project Management Software for Your Small Business

Wed, 23 Sep 2015 08:16:00 +0000

Trying to manage a project without project management software can turn into a Godzilla-like apocalypse quickly.Even with the best intentions and strategy, a wrong turn can quickly demolish months of work, and a misstep can mean the small-business equivalent of losing San Francisco. Taming this project gone bad can be a horrific task—especially when you have to pay a lot of money to do it.Fear not.Small businesses have a variety of possibilities for organizing their projects from the deep. And the best part? All of these options are free.8. Bitrix24Bitrix24 is a project management system entirely free for up to 12 users, with an option to upgrade to more for $99 per month. The features rival those of PM’s current go-to software: BaseCamp.ProsUsers can choose whether to use Bitrix24 in the cloud or self-host on the company’s own server. The PM features are outstanding: Bitrix24 offers Gantt charts, layered task options, time tracking and management, and even employee workload planning.Bitrix24 also makes real-time communication a breeze with group chat, videoconferencing, and instant messenger. It also acts as a DropBox alternative—the free version offers 5GB of cloud storage for easy document sharing—and, for just 25¢ a month, businesses can add an additional gigabyte.In addition, recent updates include:An Employee Workload Planning tool that lets managers plan certain number of hours for a task and then compare it with the number of actual hours spent by those who the task were assigned to.The ability to make task templates that contain subtasks and checklists.ConsSmall businesses may struggle with the free version of Bitrix24 solely because of its limitation on user profiles—and the jump to $99 per month may be a non-starter if you’re cash-strapped. Right now, Bitrix24 does not allow task dependencies or an automated way to create invoices, but these features are slated to be released in Fall 2015.7. TrelloTrello uses a method called Kanban, a project management system developed by a former Toyota vice president, Taiichi Ohno, which allows users to move cards—representative of tasks—to create a visual representation of where a project is in development.Trello offers unlimited users and projects, but only offers 10MB of storage on their free version. Luckily, it’s easy to get Trello Gold–just share and get a new user on board, and you’ll jump up to 250MB for a year. Looking to pay for it? It’s only $5 a month, or $45 for a year.ProsIf a more intuitive project management software option exists than Trello, I’ll dress up as a burrito and beg for free Chipotle.A quick peek at the alignment of the cards lets users know how far along a project is—and what to work on next. While the front of the card has little more than a task label, the back can be filled with all kinds of information—like who’s working on the task, when it’s due, and what parts of the task have already been completed with a simple checklist. Trello also now offers a calendar function so everyone can collaborate on their projects transparently.ConsBecause of Trello’s emphasis on simplicity, it’s missing a few key features. There isn’t a good way to look at a project with high detail—for example, it does not offer an option to see task lists broken down by user or due date.6. 2-Plan Project Management SoftwareFrom the glut of open-source software, 2-Plan stands out. The system has three symbiotic programs—all free:2-Plan Desktop, a project-management system.2-Plan Team, a web-based project management tool with multiple hosting options.Work 2-gether, a Scrum-based task management board for one-team projects.All of these options are free, but you may choose to pay for additi[...]

Keep Your Team From Slow Death Due to Endless Projects

Tue, 25 Aug 2015 06:51:00 +0000

PickyDomains - World’s first risk free naming service Complex, creative work can be some of the most challenging and rewarding work to do. Unfortunately, it can also be the most frustrating. When you're the team lead, it's your job to protect your team's creativity and energy by keeping projects from endlessly expanding, consuming all the resources, or turning into endless, recurring tasks instead of defined projects. There are three different ways that a team can be held hostage to an unending project. Creative Scope Creep Creative projects are notorious for inevitable scope creep: you start with a defined scope of work, and base your estimates of needed resources and time on that scope. As you tackle the project, however, the defined edges get fuzzy. More work is needed, and the scope of the project creeps out, maybe just a little bit here and a little bit there. That extra work, however, can completely skew all plans and timelines, leading to frustration and a project that becomes much more time-consuming and labor-intensive than predicted. Consuming Complexity Complex projects, whether they're defined as "creative" or not, come with plenty of room for expansion. The more complex a project is, the more difficult to accurately predict the needed resources, timelines, and dependencies. Complex projects often become clear as you finish one stage and move to another; the way you'll complete the last 50% of a complex project may not be clear, for example, until you've done the first 50% of the work. Complex projects can become all-consuming, because your team is not only busy doing the actual work, they're also continually adjusting expectations and deadlines, communicating new information, and reworking plans to accommodate that information. Tasks as Projects Sometimes a project just isn't a project. This is especially common with teams whose work covers a particular area of a business, rather than working on a project-specific basis. An IT support team, for example, will have big projects like switching to new servers, and they'll also have regular maintenance tasks like updating software. When ongoing or recurring tasks are treated as projects instead tasks, frustration results. Projects should have a defined scope, a definite goal, and a timeline for completion. Recurring tasks may have a goal, but the task simply resets itself when the goal is reached. Fighting Back for Your Team As the team lead, it's your job to corral the scope creep and complexity, to define projects and tasks, and to protect your team's creativity and motivation. Your first means of defense is prevention. Be sure that each new project has a well-defined scope and goal. For larger projects, set goals within goals. Help your team construct phases for complex projects, so that they can complete a phase, regroup and plan for the next phase, and not try to do all the work and all the planning simultaneously. Intervention is the next way to protect your team. Notice and deal with scope creep and expanding complexity when it happens. Communication within the team is vital; use regular check-ins, meetings, and easy communication portals like instant messaging to see if your team is drowning in new demands and urgencies. Find the source of the stress: a client, an internal source, or simply an unforeseen situation. Is it controllable or not? If the solution isn't obvious, call in your team and work out a plan together. Adjust timelines and resource needs as needed, so no one feels like they have to meet the old goals with a pile of new, unforeseen work added on. Your final tool is transformation: when you realize that your team is working on a project that is actually a recurring task, name it as such and change the approach. Recurring tasks can be just as creatively demandi[...]

How To Manage Telecommuters Effectively

Fri, 08 May 2015 08:22:00 +0000

PickyDomains - World’s first risk free naming service Lori Kleiman is a Chicago based business expert and author with more than 25 years of experience advising companies on HR issues. Lori has a master’s degree in human resources, has been certified as Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) by the HR Certification Institute and is a member of the National Speakers Association. Telecommuting and remote work remains a hotly debated topic with high profile supported and defectors alike. How do you personally see this trend develop? Have we hit peak ‘telecommuting’ or will the remote workforce keep growing significantly for the foreseeable future? LK: I believe that flexible work schedules are essential, but full scale telecommuting can be difficult to maintain. There is no doubt that there is a loss of camaraderie and teamwork with workforces that do not interact on a regular basis. I recommend organizations use telecommuting for those that have earned the trust on an occasional basis as employee needs warrant. Do you have a simple rule of thumb that determines when telecommuting is a good idea and when it’s likely to negatively affect the company? LK: Telecommuting can be used in situations where a top performer is called out of town due to family obligations and the talent would be difficult to replace. There are also many cases where clients are located globally, and a robust telecommuting program would allow staff to be located closer to the clients. I find the best solution is a flexible schedule that would require all employees to be in the office during core work hours, but allowed to tele-commute or flex office hours as needed. What are some legal or regulatory aspects of telecommuting that employers tend to overlook when first letting their employees work from home? LK: The first issue is with hourly employees. Because it is difficult to track when they are actually working, there could be issues with wage and hour if they claim to have worked longer at home then they are being paid for. We are starting to see some issue with workers compensation when employees work from home. There have actually be cases reported of employees on exercise equipment during a meeting or looking at email, getting hurt and having it approved for a work comp claim. Recruiting is a key HR aspect for many companies. What recruiting mistakes do you see companies make most often and what are some simple/inexpensive tactics that work best for attracting top talent? LK: In terms of mistakes made most often, it would be overselling a job or work environment that is not realistic. Paint the picture with candidates of what your organization is really like, and you will attract the top talent for your organization. Two simple recuruitng tactics I like are utilizing my social media network to advise of the opening, and having a robust employee referral program to get their best and brightest contacts Can you recommend a few HR resources (blogs, books, podcast, etc.) to our readers? LK: Of course mine! and my new book is coming out mid-June….Taking a SEAT at the table; being a Strategic Executive who is Action oriented and Technologically savvy. Others that I like to watch especially is the work coming out of the University of Michigan by David Ulrich’s team. I also am fascinated with the Harvard Business Review - it’s much more approachable then I ever thought and they consistently feature HR topics. Final resource I love - Executive Book Summaries - there are a few companies now that do them but its a great way to stay on top of what leadership is working on. Thank you for the interview. Bitrix24 can be used as a Human Resources Information System (HRIS). Use promocode TIP10 when registering your free[...]

How to Run Business From Home Without Losing Your Sanity

Sun, 15 Mar 2015 16:38:00 +0000

The main problem of conducting business from home is isolation, broken daily routine and lack of motivation. Here are some tips you can use to conduct your business efficiently.

1. Choose tools for work. It’s the first and foremost thing you have to do. Everything will do – from Excel sheets to complex CRM systems – just make sure you have all the information at hand and don’t forget to update it.

The latest trend is all-in-one collaboration workspaces - Bitrix24 is free and particular popular. Besides Bitrix24, there are, for example, MangoApps, Freedcamp and some other. They substitute multiple tools like Trello or Asana for project management, Slack or Yammer for inner social communication, Dropbox for sharing files, Skype for making calls and provide CRM for maintaining client database.

2. Choose a special workplace at home. You should draw clear line between work and home so that to be able to focus on business. It’ll be good also to change into work clothes.

3. Make more calls. Seriously, you won’t even notice how you become less and less social, especially if you live alone. If you have an alternative: to call or to write a letter, it’s better to make a call (with a written follow-up, of course).

4. Write a plan and always stick to it. Better print it out and have before your eyes. You can use the method of Mark Foster from his book “Do It Tomorrow”: plan all your doings and the approximate required time for them the previous day. If something unplanned turns up, put it off till the next day. Thus, by the end of the day you’ll already have a plan for tomorrow. This will help you to keep yourself together.

5. Track the time you devote to work. You can use Pomodoro timer technique (there are plenty of apps for each smartphone platform) when work process is split into short 25-minute pieces. Or just use your kitchen timer. Always start working the same time and stop working by the end of the day.

How to Pull Your Team Together After a Crisis

Tue, 10 Mar 2015 13:12:00 +0000

PickyDomains - World's first risk free naming service It might be a merger, a buy-out, company-wide restructuring, a round of layoffs, or an industry-wide economic plummet that’s left your team reeling. Or perhaps it’s something on a smaller scale: an unexpected firing or resignation, the loss of a key client, or a project that exploded in everyone’s faces. Whatever the crisis, you’ve survived it, but now you’ve got a team of war-weary, discouraged team members looking to you. Here’s how you can help your team pull together again. Don’t Ignore the Crisis One of the worst things you could do as team leader is simply act as if nothing has happened. Unfortunately, team leaders who are uncomfortable with conflict or unsure of how to talk about a crisis may take this route. What happens, however, is that your team members feel betrayed and abandoned. By ignoring the effects of the crisis or acting as if nothing has happened, you’re sending a clear message: Deal with this yourself. You’re on your own. That’s not the message you want to send, of course. Instead, talk through what happened. You do need to exercise leadership: don’t allow a negativity fest, a big round of poor-me stories, a finger-pointing session, or any sort of personal attack. Honestly recap what happened. Acknowledge the crisis and how it has affected the team: “We’ve just endured a round of layoffs that were extremely stressful for everyone, and we’ve lost three team members. We’re feeling skittish and sad, we miss our team members, we don’t know how we’re going to do our job without them, and we’re wary of how things will work going forward.” Get Input from Your Team Give your team time to offer their own insights and opinions. Perhaps you’re most worried about how your smaller team will handle a workload, while your team members are paralyzed with fear over losing their own positions. Talking about the crisis will help you to deal with unnecessary fears or anxieties and note which major issues need fresh solutions. Ask for insight, if appropriate, into why the crisis occurred in the first place. If your team missed an important deadline that jeopardized the entire company’s operations, now is the time to talk about why it happened and how you, as a team, can prevent it from happening in the future. As the team leader, don’t shy away from responsibility, even if much of the situation was out of your control. Own the responsibility, and don’t tolerate blaming and attacking from team members. Develop a Plan of Action Move your team’s attention to how you will move forward from this point. Start with encouragement. You don’t have to have the answers, but you can assure your team that you’ll work together to figure things out. Avoid the temptation to hand the responsibility off to the team and expect them to come up with all the ideas. Have some practical ideas of your own to offer. Share a few legitimate steps forward. Let them give input as well. From the combined ideas, work with your team to form a plan of action that make the most sense for everyone involved. Keep Your Team Informed People feel insecure after a crisis, so keep communication flowing even more than usual. Knowledge will help your team members to feel informed and aware, which contributes to feeling secure. Send regular team emails apprising team members of changes, updates, and new information. Be available for phone conversations and casual chats in the hallway or on social media. Be present, visible, and available. Offer open times for one-on-one meetings to help individuals tackle new roles and responsibilities. Revisit the Core of the Team To reestablish unity and team identity,[...]

5 Essential Changes to Make for a More Productive 2015

Wed, 04 Feb 2015 13:49:00 +0000

The beginning of a new year is a great time for resolutions. Better than resolutions, however, are simple but specific changes you can make right now that will help you make this a more productive year. 1. Think small, not big. We like to talk about big goals and big dreams. That's not a bad thing, but when we only look at the big picture, we can miss out on the small actions that we need to take on a daily basis. You can work up your energy and motivation, and make a few great big leaps forward. However, it's far more effective to cultivate the habit of small but consistent progress. Think of making regular bits of progress rather than huge surges toward your goal. You can't maintain the focus and energy required for those all-out effort. You can, however, maintain a tiny, daily habit or a weekly step forward. Break big goals into smaller goals, and then into tiny actions that you build into your daily routine. 2. Limit your to-do list. An overgrown to-do list requires you to spend your valuable time sorting, prioritizing, and shuffling tasks instead of getting important work done. It's okay to admit your limits. The sooner you do, the sooner you can start completing tasks instead of simply moving and managing tasks. Limit your daily list to one to three important tasks that you must complete. You will gain immediate clarity. You know what you're supposed to do, and you can focus on it and let other things fade out. There will always be unplanned tasks and questions that come up in your day. You will have to handle those, but then you can go right back to the important tasks on your list without any hesitation. 3. Use your calendar, planner, and/or task management system daily. Your system can only help you if you use it regularly. All those task lists, scheduled events, meetings, ongoing team projects, work communications and updates should stay in your system, not in your head. Multiple daily check-ins allow you to see, review, and upd ate what you need to without giving yourself those mental burdens. Make it a ritual for morning, noon, and night. Let your system do to remembering, organizing and reminding, and free your brain to do the work. 4. Set up a system for your recurring tasks. Whether it's planning out work schedules or assigning project responsibilities or creating content, every time you complete a recurring task you go through the same steps, and usually in the same order. A simple system enables you to get through the task faster and ensures that you don't miss any important steps. Your system might be as simple as a checklist, or it might be more complex and involve supplies, a schedule, or written steps that remind you what to do and how to do it. Bonus: once you systematize a task or event, you can easily train someone else to take it on. 5. Choose your interruptions. We think of interruptions as things we can't control: invasive people, important phone calls, unavoidable requests. It's the daily deluge of the urgent, and most of us just handle it as best we can and try to get our work done at the same time. Change that, this year, by spending 15 minutes thinking about which interruptions are valid and worthwhile. An important phone call from your boss or client might be a priority no matter what else you have going on; but a schedule change, a product review, or a client email might not. You have to decide, and once you do, put those valid interruptions on a list and keep it in plain sight. When the interruptions come, and they will, check them with the list. If an interruption is not on the list, remember that you have opted out o[...]

How to Help Your Team Use Social Media Productively

Mon, 08 Dec 2014 18:49:00 +0000

PickyDomains - Risk free domain naming service Social media is all about connection and networking, but it's also distraction and procrastination in their finest, pixelated forms. Help your team use social media productively with these tips. Define the End Goals for Social Media Use Who's doing what, and why? Social media professionals know that without clear goals, social media use becomes a chaotic mess of button-clicking and key-tapping. You have to know what you're attempting in order to know if you're getting close. What are the end goals for social media in your business and for your team? Define these and you are giving your team members a way to quickly determine if their use of social media is helping to reach those goals. Discuss Limits for Social Media Use Defining goals and assigning roles will help your team members know how to use social media in a productive way... that is, in a way that is helping them to reach those goals. For some, social media use is great for a few minutes in the morning and in the afternoon, for a couple of status updates a day, for a distraction on break time or for those five-minute intervals in between meetings. For others, social media may require more intensive time and input: a few hours crafting updates, researching analytics, finding or creating great content to share. Discuss how the over-arching goals - and each person's role in helping reach those goals - necessitate different limits on social media for each person. Then ask your team members to set their own limits, as appropriate. Encourage Real Breaks Taking regular breaks is actually great for productivity. But a ten-minute break of browsing Facebook doesn't come with the same mental and physical payback of a ten-minute brisk walk outside, or chat and cup of tea with a coworker. However, our social norms and work environments often surreptitiously encourage the wrong kind of break: the social media, mind-numbing kind. It's easy to pull up a new tab and idle away five minutes, and no one looks unproductive because they're still staring at their computers. But leaving the office to go for a ten-minute walk? Asking a coworker to step down to the lobby for a cuppa and quick chat? That's not easy to "get away with." You can't disguise that sort of behavior as real work, the way you can with social media binging. The answer is to encourage real breaks instead of making your people feel like they need to pull them off on the sly. Education over Enforcement You can make all sorts of rules about social media, and some of them might be really great rules. Really effective. Knowledge is the real power, though, and educating people works a lot better than enforcing rules. You don't want to waste time having endless round-table discussions about social media and its effect on our productivity. You do want to help your team understand how social media can be either a powerful tool or a deadly distraction, based on their use. To help educate your team, you can share articles, studies, and data ask for their own insight and experience talk about apps and extensions that streamline social media set up reminders of social media goals continue to encourage real breaks call in a professional to teach techniques for social media use find the expert on your team and ask for help. The Habit of Asking One small but powerful habit can help your team more than anything else. It's a simple question that each person asks and then answers: "What am I doing right now?" It's the question to ask anytime someone wakes up mindlessly surfing the Internet, scrolling through Facebook, lost in Reddit or Twitter. It's the question to ask when one pro[...]

How to Save Your People from Drowning in Email

Wed, 26 Nov 2014 19:14:00 +0000

PickyDomains - Risk free domain naming service Email has become one of the biggest detriments to productivity. Your team members are spending 28% of their workweek dealing with email: reading it, responding to it, processing it. In other words, an entire day of a five-day workweek is spent on email. Is email really that important? Of course, email provides convenience. We can communicate across the globe instantly. When email becomes an overload of unnecessary communication, however, the burden outweighs the benefit.   Check Yourself First Start by making sure you're part of the solution, not the problem. If you like to communicate by email about everything...If you like to use group emails to discuss projects, tasks, clients, and the company holiday party...If you keep multiple email threads going with multiple employees every day...If you expect immediate replies to your emails... ...then you might be part of the problem. If you have trained your employees that they must be immediately responsive to every email you send, guess what? You've trained them that they have to be immediately responsive to every email that everyone sends. That sort of email obsessiveness will keep your people fr om doing the real work. Start by changing your own email usage. Lim it the emails you send. Do email in batches instead of in a continual stream all day long. And include a timeline for responses: "Please respond by end of day," or "Please let me know by next week," or "Please respond within the hour." Your attitude toward email will help your people to feel free to use their own time wisely as well, instead of hopping and twitching every time their email notification dings. Try Email-Free Times Let your team members know that they are free to ignore email most of the time. Our digital inboxes reduce productivity by dinging us with distractions. We get focused, head-down, on a project, and the beep or buzz or ding rips us away from it. No matter how unimportant the email itself is, the energy and focus lost to dealing with that incoming buzz can totally derail productivity. Encourage your employees to have email-free times to work: they can turn off notifications, shut down the email tab, and focus without any worries about what is appearing in their inboxes. Instead of responding to email whenever that ding happens, they can focus fully on the task at hand, knowing that they are free to respond to email in their own time. Batch Process for Email Batch processing is the simple practice of doing a batch of similar tasks together, and it allows us to do those tasks in a more streamlined method and with more efficient results. Email works really well in a batch processing method. Encourage everyone to choose a couple of times each day - perhaps once in the morning and once later in the afternoon - to read, answer, and otherwise process emails. This practice enables them to tackle an inbox with a batch processing approach, and work through a stack of emails in an efficient way. Back Your Team Up Let your team know that you will back them up with demanding clients. If your team is working with clients who expect instant responses to email, let your people know that you stand with them in a saner approach to the inbox. Remind them that they can stick to their productive email practices, such as email-free times and batch processing. Take a proactive approach: many times demanding clients will be much more understanding if they know what to expect and why. Email Effectively Use targeted subject lines, especially for in-house communication, so that no one has to dig through a paragraph of email body to fi[...]

Top Calendar Management Tips

Thu, 06 Nov 2014 19:03:00 +0000

PickyDomains - Risk free domain naming serviceTired of your calendar causing more confusion than clarity? Use these pro tips to handle your crowded calendar and get back in charge of your time. Build Trust with Your Calendar If you don't use your calendar well, and check it regularly, you can't trust it. And if you don't trust your calendar - and really, yourself to use it well - then you won't be helped by having a calendar. Mentally you won't be able to get the relief you should from dumping all time-bound information into your calendar. You will suspect your calendar, and depend on your brain to remember and remind you. The problem is that your brain isn't very reliable.A calendar, used well and regularly, is reliable. But you have to use it well in order to trust it, and you have to trust it in order to benefit from it. Check Your Calendar Often At a minimum, you should check your calendar every morning to see what's on the schedule for the day. What events await you? What does your timeline for the day look like? You should also check your calendar every night. What's ahead on the next day? Go ahead and prepare, get out clothes, and otherwise make the next day easier on yourself. Enter All Recurring Events A digital calendar will give you the ability to add events at designated recurring times. Anything that happens on a recurring basis - such as meetings, a class, or a time-bound task (weekly grocery shopping, for instance) should go on your calendar. You shouldn't have to remember to keep putting it back on there. If you use a paper calendar, work ahead and enter recurring events into the future. Schedule in Prep Time A mistake many people make is to pop any and all deadlines onto the calendar. That's great, but it's only the first step. You have work to do before the deadline. When should that work be done? There's a meeting on Tuesday; but you need to prepare for it before Tuesday, right? Block out time on your Monday afternoon: "Meeting prep, 2pm to 3pm." The same principle applies to any deadline you enter into your calendar. Putting a deadline does nothing unless you also schedule in time to do the prep work needed so that you can be ready for that deadline. Build Buffer Time into Your Schedule Transitions are inevitable. Even the most efficient systems require time for transitions. Humans, capable as we might be, are not the most efficient systems, and when you have other humans around, transitions get even longer. You need physical transition times, and you also need mental time to decompress and refocus. Requiring yourself to jump immediately from one task or area to another can leave you stressed and confused. Building in buffer time relieves the feeling of urgency which can be debilitating. Knowing that you have a little wiggle room in your schedule can help you to relax and be more productive; the feeling that you're scheduled so tightly you can't waste even a minute will make you feel nervous and make more mistakes. Use Your Schedule for Your Priorities The most regular item on your calendar shouldn't be meetings, events, or appointments, but the time you choose to block out for your highest priorities. What are your main focus areas, your highest priority tasks? Block out a period of time to work on each focus area or priority task regularly. Daily may be too often, but weekly may not be often enough. It depends on the nature of your work and life. Try out several intervals and see what works. You must make the decision to use your time for what matters most to you. No one else will make or enforce that decision for you. And they shouldn't have [...]

How To Deal With Creativity Slump

Sun, 07 Sep 2014 17:41:00 +0000

PickyDomains - Risk free domain naming serviceYour team works well together, solves problems, and comes up with innovative, unique ideas. Except when they don't. If your team is in a creative slump, here are five ways you can end it. 1. Identify the Blocks Denial is your enemy. Awareness is your friend. If everybody is sitting around, pretending like everything is going just fine, you need to step in. Open the discussion so that they can be open about their difficulties. Ask questions and listen to their answers. Chances are, they already know a few issues - or, perhaps, many - that are causing blocks. Set up a team meeting and talk about what is blocking the normal creative flow you have come to expect from them. The goal of the meeting should not be to destroy all creative blocks, but to figure out what they are. Sometimes, talking through the issue will prove to the solution. If communication problems, personality conflicts, or internal stress is the source of reduced creativity, an open and supportive discussion can do a lot to resolve it. If, however, the issues are different, you will know how to start addressing them once you know what they are. 2. Take an Enforced Break Walking stimulates creativity. Sleeping stimulates creativity. Most likely, neither of those things is happening when your team is actively working on a creative project. If the pressure is on and the deadline is looming, your team members are focused and stressed. And that stance is kind of the opposite of what creativity needs. Enforce a break, of a few hours, a half day, or more if you can afford it. Require no work during the break: team members should take personal time, take a walk, take a nap. After the break, your team will be able to get back to work with refreshed minds and new creative energy. 3. Work on a Different Project The magic of creativity is in the diverse connections made. Inventiveness doesn't usually happen from stumbling across brand-new knowledge, but in combining well-known facts in new ways. In order to do that, though, the brain needs input from a variety of sources. Stimulation is important. If your team has been hunkered down, working on a single task or on very similar projects, their brains are starved for new input, different input, a variety of sources. Move the team to something completely different for a while, then come back later with fodder for fresh connections. 4. Take the Pressure Off There's another thing creativity doesn't like very much: pressure. People might feel like they are being creative when they come up with solutions under stress, but research shows that both the quality and creativity of work plummets when stress is high. Remove or extend deadlines. Give your team some breathing space. Bring in more team members so that tasks and responsibilities can be spread out. Add more resources. Creativity is a function of growth, not survival. If the brain interprets the environment as a threatening one, it will not be searching for new and novel ways to respond. It will be coming up with quick, defensive measure to end the threat (or stress) as quickly as possible. 5. Impose Limits Generality does not heighten creativity. There's a reason that Hallmark cards don't go down in the annals of great poetry: generalities do not make powerful images. Generalities do not produce powerful creativity, either. Creativity responds to challenges (not pressure) when there is a particular need to be met. If you've asked your team to "be creative" about a broad area or request, try tightening the scope. Define the lines. Set boundaries[...]

Effective Idea Management In Small Groups

Sat, 09 Aug 2014 11:54:00 +0000

Ideas are worthless unless implemented. To make the most of those creative brains on your small team, you can’t have a brainstorming session and leave it at that. You need to have a system in place to manage ideas fr om the initial burst of insight to complete execution. The Three Stages of Idea Management There are three essential stages in idea management: Stage 1: Capture/Input Stage 2: Feedback/Analysis Stage 3: Decision/Action All three stages are necessary. With a smaller team, you can move more quickly fr om one to another, but you still need to work in the right order to manage ideas effectively. Stage 1: Effective Collection The best ideas are often the ones that sound a little crazy. Sadly, those are the ideas we are most likely to reject because they sound, well, a little crazy. It’s important to create a truly open space where all of the ideas can come out and introduce themselves. Welcome all ideas equally in order to keep getting a lot of ideas. Quantity produces quality; let your team members know that all of their ideas are welcome. The more the better. It’s a lot like panning for gold: you have to sift through a good bit of silt to find that nugget. Takeaway: Make Stage 1 a friendly, open, any-idea-welcome environment. This shouldn’t be the place or time where you analyze weaknesses or discuss budgets. It should be a place where you capture all the ideas, sort them out according to the problem or project they address, and get them lined up for feedback in Stage 2. Stage 2: Effective Discussion It’s important to look at ideas with an eye for reality. An objective discussion, with insight from various team members, is how you determine if an idea goes forward or goes away. Most people will respond with initial negativity to ideas that are new or foreign to them. This is the curse of unfamiliarity, and every innovator has faced it. Establish a few rules for the feedback cycle to keep a balance. You don’t want unnecessary negativity, but you do want smart analysis and objective thinking. Rules might include limiting discussion to those directly involved in the problem/project which the idea addresses.outlawing personal criticism. Smaller teams cultivate familiarity, which can bring closeness but can also bring conflict.requiring specific and evidence-based feedback. Instead of saying, “I don’t think this will work…,” team members learn to say, “I don’t think X part of this idea will work because of Y experience and Z data.” Takeaway: Stage 2 is a forum which allows the necessary people to camp out around a few ideas and talk them over. Putting guidelines in place keeps it productive, rather than personal, and moves the ideas forward faster into the realm of action. Stage 3: Effective Execution For each idea, set a time lim it on discussion. While some ideas might require a little more research, do the minimum necessary to make an informed decision. Every moment spent in discussion is a moment taken away from the stage wh ere results happen: execution. Keep discussions from lingering on an idea that just isn’t ready for reality yet. Lower the hammer, quickly and finally. For the ideas that pass, remember these two truths: 1. Everybody likes getting credit.2. Execution matters more than ideation. A mediocre idea carried out excellently will accomplish more for your business than an excellent idea carried out halfway. Give credit for the idea by tagging the idea generator as t[...]

10 Tips To Increase Your PR Tenfold

Sat, 02 Aug 2014 06:51:00 +0000

Note - this article has been originally written for TheNextWeb. PR is hard. And expensive. Most of the time, you get nothing out of it. And when your company finally is mentioned in an article, even in a big publication, the results can be disappointing. Like that time when we got a whooping 169 visitors after getting intoZDNet. Over the past two years, I’ve made a lot of PR mistakes. I’ve also got Bitrix24 into Forbes, VentureBeat, ReadWrite, PCWorld, PCMag, TechRepublic, CIO, ITWorld and 200+ other tech publications. I’ve learned that what you do with the article AFTER it’s published is frequently a lot more important than what do you before. And I am happy to share my insights with you. 1. Pay for LinkedIn Inmail. LinkedIn Inmail is the cheapest and most effective way to pitch journalists. My account cost me $100 a month and at least 50% of all mentions of Bitrix24 in the press are results of LinkedIn pitches. The most amazing thing about LinkedIn is that once you find one or two journalists, their network will actually show you who else to contact –editors in the same or other publications. It saves you a lot of time. Also with Inmail the results are guaranteed, you pay only for those messages that got read by their recipients. 2. Contributors are better than editors. Publishing industry is about pageviews – that’s how advertising is sold. To get pageviews, you need content. To get content, you need to pay journalists. That’s exactly why a lot of publications now - we are talking about Forbes, Entreperneur or Inc here – have blogger/contributor sections. Free content. Your competition and traditional PR agencies are pitching editors, who receive dozens, if not hundreds of proposals every day. My personal experience suggests that contributors and experts are actually much better ‘targets’. 3. Twitter stalking After you get to know most editors who cover your niche, you should start following their Twitter accounts. When you see a tweet that you can meaningfully respond to or comment on, do so. If you consistently comment and retweet someone’s account for 2-3 months, they’ll start noticing. Now you can pitch. Hint – the best way to do this is with a question. 4. Pitch in multiple formats. The same data can be presented in multiple formats – report, infographics, slideshare presentation, webinar, video and so on. Last Christmas we did a report about social intranet use. We first pitched it as a study that got picked up by major tech publications, like ReadWrite. We then released infographics based on the same data and got a score of mentions again. I now know that I should also include podcast and videocast friendly materials in my pitches (you can’t easily show infographics in a podcast, and podcasters are almost universally overlooked). 5. Content amplification (free). We’ve got mentioned in Forbes twice, both times by contributors. One article had 50,000+ views within the first week. Another one got less than 2500 views in the same period of time. Why the difference? Reddit and StumbleUpon. Your corporate Twitter and Facebook are a given. Make sure you submit articles that mention your product or service to Digg, Reddit, Delicious and other free content amplification tools to drive more traffic to them. You won’t always have 100% success rate, but when your articles get picked up by Reddit or StumbleUpon, the results are a[...]

Intranet check list

Sun, 27 Jul 2014 08:25:00 +0000

So you are planning to launch a company intranet or want to replace your fossilized SharePoint portal. There are more than 30 intranet vendors to choose fr om and you are lost. After all, intranets aren't cheap and you don't want to make a mistake. Don’t worry, this intranet evaluation checklist will help narrow down your intranet choices to only the best solutions: 1. Cloud AND self-hosted. You ONLY want solution that gives you these two choices and most vendors do. Cloud-based intranet services are usually very inexpensive and require no involvement fr om intranet developers who charge a pretty penny. That’s a plus. However, cloud intranets have few customization options and some, like Yammer, are known to have regular and prolonged outages. You want to have an option to migrate to cloud (if your intranet budget is slashed) or go from cloud to server (if you need customization or for compliance in your industry) any time you want to. Stay away from vendors wh ere you have only one choice. 2. Classic AND social. Classic intranets are boring. True. Social intranets are hip, and younger workers love them. This is true, as is the fact that in many companies, social intranets devolve into an internal Facebook with mindless chatter. This is what a classic intranet looks like. This is EXACTLY the same intranet with a social interface. Let your workers chose which one they prefer. Again, stay away from vendors who force you to pick sides. 3. Email inside the intranet Perhaps not a requirement but a GREAT idea and here is why: people use email daily. They probably use other communication tools as well – telephone, group chat, mobile messaging, and videoconferencing. When you add communication tools inside intranets, you kill two birds with one stone. First, you draw people into daily intranet use, solving the ‘zombie intranet’ issue that plagues so many companies. Second, you keep all conversations in one place, making them very easy to find. 4. Employee self-service Employee self-service is probably the easiest way to boost intranet deployment ROI. A self-service portal can greatly reducethe load on your HR and IT departments, eliminating hours and hours of repetitive and low-value work. Things like vacation time approvals, business trip requests, meeting room booking, and IT service requests can be handled optimally by utilizing employee self-service (ESS) features in your intranet. 5. e-Learning and knowledge management Intranets are perfect for accumulating knowledge, both formal and informal. Wikis, knowledge base, idea management, skill tags, employee workbooks, sales manuals, online testing - these can be easily integrated into your intranet and there are intranets that already come with these included ‘out of the box’. 6. Project and planning You’ve probably noticed that companies that don’t have intranets rely on project management solutions to coordinate work. Many project management vendors add features like activity stream, file sharing and shared calendars to their solutions, making them very intranet-like. That’s because intranets and project management are made for each other. 7. Search Intranet search is one of the most overlooked, but incredibly important features. Intranet search must be fast, thorough and smart. The first one is obvious. Thorough means ability to search EVERYWHERE, including inside documents, calendars, wikis an[...]

Free Slack Alternative

Sat, 28 Jun 2014 09:32:00 +0000

Slack is all the rage these days. Twitter is full of excited slackers. VentureBeat says Slack will change the workplace. TechCrunch praises Slack. So does pretty much every other media outlet. HipChat and Flowdock must be losing customers left and right, I imagine. Is there anything out there, that’s better than Slack? I think so. To me, the best Slack alternative is Bitrix24. Not because it’s free for small teams and has affordable unlimited user plans, but because it offers tools that Slack should be offering. These are:1.     Solo and group videocalls Chat is fine and dandy, but sometimes you want to talk to a person. WebRTC makes video and audio calls from/to PCs and smartphones fairly easy to integrate into your collaboration platform and this is exactly what Bitrix24 did but Slack did not (yet). 2.     True file management File sharing is fine. But I expect Dropbox-like file sharing. I want files to be available in the cloud, on my PC and mobile devices. I want them to sync and update automatically when someone from my team edited shared file. I want to be able to edit documents directly inside the discussion. Again, not that hard to do and something that Bitrix24 makes available even in the free plan. Strike two, Slack (and HipChat, and Flowdock, and Campfire).3.     Group tasks and projects I can write a message “Mike, can you please do …” and get a reply “Sure”, but chances are, everyone will forget, myself included. Project management needs instant messaging (I am looking at you, Asana) and team chat absolutely needs tasks and todos. And shared calendars for easy coordination.4.     Self-hosted version I love cloud, you love cloud, everyone loves cloud. It’s cheap and requires no setup. But then paranoia creeps onto you. What if Slack goes bankrupt? What if NSA is reading all my messages with funny gifs? If only I could can my hands on the source code and put the damn thing on my server, it would do everything I want. Another major Bitrix24 advantage in my view.5.     Extranet Collaboration is addictive. Team chats are for teams, but very soon you’ll want to use it for talking to clients, freelancers and others who are not employees at your company. This poses serious challenge. You DO want to collaborate with these people, but you DON’T want them to have access to sensitive data and have the same access rights as employees. The solutions? Extranet.Do you know of other good Slack alternatives? Let me know.Other freebies:Free CRM with telephony and phone callsFree team task managerFree shared calendarsFree lead management[...]

What is best free online project management software?

Thu, 22 May 2014 19:45:00 +0000

1.     Bitrix24 This is my favorite free online project management software at the moment, way ahead of the competition. The best way to describe Bitrix24 is this. Imagine if Basecamp bought Dropbox, Skype, Salesforce and SharePoint – that’s Bitrix24. Ability to have team chat, videoconferencing, shared calendars and group document management inside your project management platform is brilliant. Gantt charts are a big plus. Also, I like the fact that you have two options with Bitrix24 - cloud based or self hosted project management software that you can host on your server. If you choose the latter option, you can source code to play with as well. The free version gets you 12 users, unlimited projects/tasks/subtasks and 5GB worth of cloud document storage. 2.     Freedcamp As the name suggests, Freedcamp is a free Basecamp alternative. I am not a big Basecamp fan, I think that their approach to online project management is outdated, and you see this immediately in Freedcamp’s design. If you do, however, like Basecamp, do give Freedcamp a close look. Do take note of the fact that backups in Freedcamp are paid.3.     Asana Asana’s popularity has exploded recently and deservedly so. It’s a slick, no frills alternative to Basecamp that sticks to tasks only (no group chat, no video, no proper document management as in Bitrix24).  The original free Asana plan included 30 free users, but it was cut in half shortly (i.e. 15 users). Each extra 15 users will set you back $50/mo. One thing that I don’t like about Asana is that they do not offer a self-hosted version of their project management software and explicitly stated that they don’t ever plan to, so you become their cloud hostage for life. Not that I think Asana is going bankrupt any time soon, given their Facebook heritage. 4.     Trello Trello is a good choice if you use Kanban for managing tasks and projects. Trello is very simple, which is its strongest point and its weakest one. On the plus side, people pick up Trello very fast and it spreads like wild fire. However, as soon as you start working on a project with even minimal level of complexity where you need Gantt charts, resource management, Trello becomes immediately inadequate.5.     GanttProject GanttProject is project management software from the 90s. That may sound bad, but there are people who are used to PC only software (which is what GanttProject is) and aren’t comfortable with cloud, smartphones and the entire consumerization trend. It features Gantt, PERT and Resource load charts. The latest news are from 2012, so it may no longer be developed/supported.Did I miss any good tools? Send me your favorite FREE project management software.[...]

HR Tools - Social Document Collaboration

Sun, 11 May 2014 05:56:00 +0000

#5 - Social Document Collaboration Document collaboration tools are among the most widely used in the modern social HR software arsenal. Gone are the days when the only choice you had was ugly (and expensive) SharePoint. Most modern document collaboration solutions work in a cloud, are as easy to use as Dropbox and are free or very inexpensive. The following document collaboration features are available in Bitrix24 Multiuser online document editingOnline editor in Bitrix24Online multiuser document editing is one of the popular ways to collaborate in real time. Not only all changes are instantly visible to all participants of the process, you don’t have to have pricey MS Office installed on your PC in order to work with documents online. Group file sharing and synchronizationBitrix24.DriveBitrix24 lets you share files with people inside and outside your company in Dropbox-like manner, including password-protected and time-restricted file sharing. Bitrix24.Drive allows managing and synchronization of workgroup and company files between the local PC and Bitrix24 cloud account, meaning as soon as you add a new file or edit an existing one, it becomes available both in cloud and on PC of every group member who has Bitrix24.Drive enabled and is authorized to access the document. iOS and Android mobile devices are supported as well. Document approval workflowsVisual document workflow designerGetting documents approved or revised or rejected is part of most collaboration routines. Bitrix24 allows creating custom document approval workflows including but not limited to simple approval, majority vote, expert opinion, two or multi stage approval, mandatory reading and mandatory mutual approval. Free document collaboration is available in Bitrix24 for groups of up to 12 people. The free account includes 5 GB worth of online storage. Social HR Explained - Social Intranet Social HR Explained - Employee Self Service Social HR Explained - United Communications Social HR Explained - Mobile HRMS Social HR Explained - Social Task ManagementSocial HR Explained - Social Document Collaboration[...]