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Why File Management for Startups?

If you are like me, you absolutely HATE filing.  My former bosses would attest that I was terrible at filing, putting it off until there was so much that I’d have to hire a temp to help me get it all sorted.  To this day, I still abhor the task, whether it is electronic filing or filing paper items. What has changed though, is that I have come to 100% believe in a solid file management plan, regular and consistent follow through on that plan, and above all, businesses MAKING the time to place importance on getting file management right for their business.

Consider these scenarios – you are switching laptops, you are sharing files, you have privacy legislation you have to adhere to, you have hired new staff, you are involved in a litigation or an audit… The list can go on.

There are many resources on the web that can help you. For medium to larger companies, or companies working in specialist fields, you might want to consider looking for some records and document control best practices.  The International Standards Organization (ISO) has a lot of resources, starting with the ISO9000 Quality Management.  While you might not want to get an ISO registration, at the very least you can learn from them, or those who use that standard.

For solopreneurs, start-ups and small businesses, you don’t need to go all out like the ISO, unless that is a requirement for you to win client business.  You do need to consider starting with a good framework though, as you never know when you are going to need to scale up quickly.  Having some solid day to day practices will help you in the long run.

So what makes a good framework for electronic filing?

  1. Understanding of what documents that you will regularly be sending to your clients and receiving from your clients, as well as what documents you will regularly be using to run your business. This list will obviously expand and contract as time goes on, however, as you know, it is quicker, easier and cheaper to alter what you already have than to start fresh every time. So, what templates could you create, or copy/adapt from a free repository such as Microsoft’s, that would make your life easier as you take on your new clients? For example,
    1. Proposal template
    2. Contract template
    3. Pre-service template
    4. Invoice template
    5. Email templates
  2. A folder structure you can replicate for each client and which will allow you to quickly find files when you need them. Here’s an example from my own file system:
    • 0-ClientName_Proposals
    • 1-ClientName_Agreements
    • 2-ClientName_Received_Materials
    • 3-ClientName_Correspondence
    • 4-ClientName_Invoicing
    • 5-ClientName_Design_Ideas
    • 6-ClientName_WebUploads
    • 7-ClientName_WebBackups
    • 8-ClientName_Final
    • 9-ClientName_Misc.
  3. A file naming protocol that makes sense for your business and that again, will help you find files when you need them. Every time you save a file, you should have a formula as to how you name it. I strongly advise against using a spacebar in an electronic file name! Use an underscore (_) or a hyphen (-).
    • For example: ClientName_What-it-is_Date.file type.  So, a proposal I send to a client would end up with the file name of “client_1stproposal_2018jan15.pdf”
    • A great article is here: Probably the best file naming convention ever
  4. Version control.  There are many ways to approach version control and in smaller companies this may not be necessary when there is only one person working on a file.  If you have several people contributing to your files, I strongly recommend that you seriously consider using a consistent version control practice. You can use the date, or a number, or a letter.

So, bottom line, I know it can seem boring and annoying to take the extra few minutes to name files and save them in particular folders. Trust me, you will be glad you did when you have any technical challenges with your equipment, or when you start scaling your business.  Start early, be consistent, and keep taking care of your business.

Company Culture and the Customer Experience

Culture is the ‘personality’ that defines the atmosphere in which employees work, and produce. There are many areas to consider when determining culture, including mission, goals, ethics, value, and of course, expectations ( of both employees, and customers ).

What is always prevalent in every organization with regards to culture, is the provocative question – “ Customers first, or Employees first…..”?

When looking at the service industry, it comes down to one simple sentence; Your customers will only be happy if the people providing them their service are happy. And here is where culture is paramount, because while great employee engagement will not ensure great customer engagement, poor employee engagement most certainly guarantees poor customer engagement. Each customer is crucial to the success of a business, without them, there isnt a need for employees. Both have to be in balance to one another. All employees in any organization must be committed to customer satisfaction, and take ownership to it, or at least a piece of the overall experience.

When an employee is considered as a kind of ‘internal customer’ by management, the answer becomes very clear – they both matter equally. They are part of an inseparable, interdependent loop of reinforcement.

If an organization’s culture puts the customer at the heart of business, this will drive employee behaviour.

Leadership strategy and clear vision, along with employee engagement, will give you the best opportunity for a winning customer experience. There is a need to create connections, along with visibility, across the board so that everyone sees how the work of one will impact the other, and how they ultimately impact the customers take – away

The “Psychology of the plate”

My son today used an interesting turn of phrase – he referred to the process of a sales up-sell that I was explaining to him as the “psychology of the plate”.

I thought he made a great point but I wanted to hear his perspective, so I asked him to tell me about this insight of his.  He pointed out that when I was growing up, supper plates were about 2/3 the size of the supper plates we use now. He reminded me that I had told him that when I was growing up, if I didn’t eat everything on my plate,  my parents used to tell me “There are people starving in the world”.   That drive still exists -fill up my plate and eat everything on it.  If I’m at a friend’s, it seems rude to my hosts if I only half fill my plate with food – even if I don’t need a lot of food or am not hungry.

(Of course we also discussed the implications on people’s health with the advent of these increased plate sizes and the drive to fill them up.)

Does any of this ring true for you?  When you grab that big supper plate, aren’t you subconsciously less satisfied if you don’t fill it up and aren’t you left with a feeling of wanting more if it isn’t filled?

My son rightly pointed out that by providing a bigger supper plate, people add more food to their plate as they are uncomfortable with the plate not being filled – thus the “psychology of the plate”.

Likewise, if you provide exceptional client service and give more to your clients than they paid for, you are increasing the ‘plate’ you provide and your client will buy more from you. There’s a balance of course as you absolutely deserve to be paid what you are worth.   One example from the way I approach my business is that I always do grammar and English edits for free when I’m helping someone with a web content issue.  If their content is unusable because of language issues, I tell them and suggest some new approaches.  If a tweak to a sentence or two will improve their sales conversion, I suggest it.  It’s always in the client’s rights to say no thanks, but mainly I’ve found that people are receptive to constructive suggestions.

The proof is in the pudding though right? Yes, I have been able to retain clients , get referral business, and have clients come back to me because they appreciated those little extras that I build in.

So, what about you? How can you increase the size of the plate you  are serving to your clients so that they want more from you?

 

What’s your exit strategy?

Call me strange but I firmly believe that we all need to have an exit strategy for a variety of situations in our lives.

Got a job or run a small business??  You need an exit strategy.  Thinking about retiring? You need an exit strategy. In a relationship that isn’t working and you aren’t willing to fix things – you definitely need an exit strategy.

Ok, so what do I mean by an “exit strategy”?  I mean simply that you need to know what would it take for you to make the decision to move on to something else. And to pre-plan at least some of the things that you will want to or need to do to move on (or worse, extricate yourself) from the situation.

We hear all over the place that many people are unhappy in their work and that many slog on for years, slowly crushing their souls and their potential by putting in time in workplaces that are toxic, or abusive, or boring, or etc.  But does it have to be that way?

What would it to for me to move on from this job I hate? For me to close my business and travel the world? For me to move to that other city?

I’ll give you an example from my own life.  When my son was around seven he expressed to me that he didn’t want me to do event planning anymore.  He didn’t like the long hours I would work, or how I would be away from him for days on end running the events.  Obviously I was (and still am) pretty darn proud of him for being that assertive and expressing himself to me at such a young age.  As I was already very clear that he was (and still is) the most important priority in my life, I realized that I needed an exit strategy from doing event planning.  I couldn’t stop immediately as I was a single mother and the money from that work was paying to support us. So, I kept my contracts and started to identify what I needed to be able to move on.

Some of this ‘getting clarity’ was going on in my subconscious, some of my personal work was talking to my friends, family and mentors about their perspectives on my possibilities, some of it was research, and some of it was goal setting.  Bottom line though, it came down to a list of principles, values, and material requirements that were the bare necessities of what I would need to have in any new situation.  Things like:

  • being available for my son first and foremost
  • work close to my home and my son’s school
  • at least as much salary as I was then making
  • regular hours, or at least very little overtime
  • work in an organization that takes serving people seriously
  • working with like-minded people
  • interesting work that challenged me in some way
  • learning opportunities

It took me almost a year to get everything clear in my head and then to plan and execute a search for a “job” instead of being self employed.   It worked.  I found a job that met my needs and that made it easy to make that decision to move on.  Then, a year into that “job”, I realized I was getting bored, so I started working on my exit strategy….but that’s a story for another day. I’ve used this same strategy now in a variety of aspects of my life, and it means that I can keep doing what I need to do in my current commitments, while also being open to the positive possibilities that exist around me.

There are three parts to this methodology

  1. Identify what you don’t want, what you want instead, and what you absolutely need to do to get started
  2. Make a commitment to yourself that you will keep working towards that exit and keep taking action
  3. Review your actions and adjust your activities and behaviours so that you keep tweaking towards what you want

Obviously you can approach these steps in different ways, but in general, I have found these to be the common requirements of implementing change in your life. I’d also like to add that I love helping people work through this kind of stuff, so if you want someone to help you keep focused and bringing you back to getting clarity, let me know.

 

 

Thoughts on Exploring internet security

A few things going on in my life and those of my clients – and no doubt others….. I’m not an expert but here’s what I’ve learned thus far

  • how to protect oneself on the internet….
  • how to remember all those passwords…..
  • how to recover from one’s digital life being compromised….
  • and for those of us in Canada, how to do business online without worrying about the USA’s legislation about data held there…

A – How to protect oneself on the internet:

  • only fill in forms with websites that you are sure you want to do business with.
  • only give information that you absolutely have to.
  • where possible, use a prepaid visa or mastercard for purchases rather than the credit card that is attached to your credit rating
  • have a primary email account that you use for your bona-fide transactions and a second email account that you use for your various info/exploring/newsletter signups
  • use an anti-virus/security software – something is better than nothing!!!!
  • use REALLY HARD passwords – combinations of capital letters, numbers and symbols
  • IF you own/run a website, please, please start using an SSL certificate on your website if you are collecting people’s contact information.  An online store MUST have an SSL certificate.  A website with and SSL shows as “https://” instead of “http://”

B- How to remember all those passwords:

  • do some research about the various options – there are desktop software options, cloud options, external usb drive options, combination options. here’s a list on wikipedia which may or may not be up-to-date.
  • use post-it notes ???? (you should see my home office wall!!!! – kidding)
  • keep a small notebook ????
  • use an excel spreadsheet that has a password and then keep it on an encrypted usb drive ???
  • sorry – i’m not so good at this one…I’ll update it when i learn some more 🙂

**Update – I have tried Keypass, Norton, Dashlane and 1Password. I’m very, very happy with 1Password and love that it’s a Canadian company. I am not affiliated with them and am not compensated for writing this statement.

C – How to recover from one’s digital life being compromised:

  • This is a hard one and there’s lots written on it so you can quickly find lots of advice on the internet
  • Let your financial institutions know that your accounts may have been compromised
  • Change your passwords at all of your financial institutions
  • Change your passwords for all of your email accounts
  • Start using 2 factor authentication for any service that offers it
  • Start using a strong password manager system so you can use hard passwords that you may not be able to remember but the password manager system will help you.
  • Every social media software has its own steps – yep you have to follow thru on each separately
  • Do a search for yourself using all of the search engines – ok, yes time consuming, and yes if you are a highly visible person this would be time consuming.
  • Hardware should also be addressed – you might even want to back up your data to a secure storage and then reset to factory settings and start fresh.
  • Look into and apply good anti-virus programs – or even use 2-3 online scans from reputable companies to see if one picks up something the other doesn’t

D – How to do business online in Canada without worrying about USA’s legislation about data held there

  • Thus far, I have found one service for secure cloud data storage in Canada – Sync.com – I’m trialing it now and so far so good (trial started December 2016).  I really like that they encrypt my data so they can’t read it.  By the way, I’m not being paid to write this and they don’t know that I have.
  • Ask your service providers if their servers are in Canada. There are alot of great companies in Canada that recognize that people want their data kept in Canada. Many are starting to use this as a selling point.
  • I’ll write more on this as I go along.  This is an area of particular interest for me.

**Update – I now highly recommend Sync.com – Secure cloud storage (This is now an affiliate link because I believe in their service and am comfortable doing business with them)

I know I am not an expert on these areas, and there is lots written out there.  I’m working on increasing my knowledge in this area though because I want to make sure that I do what I can to help my clients setup their websites in ways that meet their security needs.

Thanks for stopping by and Happy New Year!