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How to Stay Positive & Productive -Chase Smith (Guest Author)

Staying Positive & Productive at Work

Work is… well, work, and sometimes it’s not the most fun in the world. Sometimes you might feel bogged down by tedious activities or by a lack of recognition. Whatever the reason, here are a few tips you can use to keep yourself motivated, happy, and productive.

Be the Change:

It’s easy to go along with the crowd, and often the crowd at work is pretty negative. Studies show that people who frequently socialize with people who are unhappy or depressed often become unhappy or depressed themselves. Instead of getting caught up in the moaning and complaining, put a smile on and bring some positivity to the conversation. Are you enjoying a particular aspect of your work that day? Did you enjoy a success for which you can dole out credit and praise? Share it, and help the people around you be happier. This will cultivate a more positive environment, making it progressively easier for you to feel happy, too.

Take Your Breaks:

Although your boss might be impressed if you sit in your desk through lunch and never stop working, he might be less impressed when he sees the volume of work you’ve accomplished. Why not make him happy with the quality and amount of work you can pull off when you take your fifteen? Taking short, planned breaks boosts productivity and focus, and more than makes up for the five minutes you take to stretch your legs.

Engage in the Light-Hearted:

Sometimes the office doldrums are the worst part of a job. Everyone’s in their desks, silently plodding away in the corporate machine, and you can hear the water cooler running. Imagine how it would lighten the mood if you suddenly decided to lob a marshmallow over the cubicle wall. At worst, you’ll get a weird look and a chance to share your sunny disposition, which, truth be told, is infectious! When people see another person smile, it actually releases chemicals into their brain which make them feel happier. Plus, you get benefits, too-when you smile, your mind assumes that you must be happy, and so you feel happier, too. Backwards? It seems like it. But it works!

Organize Yourself:

There is nothing more stressful than scrambling for your presentation notes fifteen minutes before a meeting. Plus, you know that’s not the best way to climb the corporate ladder, either. Get a system: invest in or request a filing box, organize your virtual file folders, and keep your day planner up to date. Don’t ever be put in a position where you have to wonder if you have an appointment now or at three o’clock. Not only will being organized reduce your stress and improve your mood, it will increase your productivity by reducing the amount of time you spend searching for things or trying to remember important events.

Keep Trying:

Regardless of what you do, there will be days when you fail. But don’t let that knowledge keep you from learning from your mistakes and persevering to overcome obstacles. Most companies don’t expect that their employees will never make mistakes; rather, they expect that their employees will learn from their errors. It is important that you accept what has happened and create a plan of action to do better in the future. Not only will this impress your boss, but the satisfaction of achieving a goal will lend you a good mood and improved confidence, which will help you feel more satisfied in your work and be more productive.

Overall, try to keep a positive attitude about your work. See the silver lining, smile, and make the best of whatever you’re given. Keep learning, and focus on your successes. The combination of all these things will make you a happy and productive person.

About the Author:

Chase Smith is a freelance consultant for personal productivity and blogger. www.ChasingProductivity.com focuses on a variety of ways to increase your productivity. Methods such as Pomorodo Technique, Results Curve combined with today’s mobile & cloud based applications.

Now that you are staying positive and productive, Up Next “Weeding Out Your Business to Increase Productivity”

Cutting Your Overhead with Open Source IT Solutions

 How to Cut Your Overhead with Open Source!

Different businesses can vary greatly in size, type, and sector, but they all share a common goal: to maximize the bottom line. One step towards achieving this goal is to cut your information technology overhead by employing open source software.

The IT requirements of most businesses are steadily growing and meeting these requirements is a necessary part of being successful. This does not come cheap. With hardware, software, and licensing, IT is typically a significant source of overhead. Although you cannot cut IT entirely, there is something you can do that may drastically decrease the associated overhead.

Open source software has been quietly taking the business world by storm. Small businesses and big businesses alike are reaping the benefits from switching to open source software for some or all of their IT solutions. Even technology giants, such as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft use open source software to power parts of their IT infrastructure.

Open source software is created by a community of developers who believe passionately in creating quality software. Open source software can do virtually everything that non-open source software can do and in many case are better, more efficient, and more secure. And that is not even the best part; open source software is is totally free.

We will take a look at a few options where you can fit open source software into your infrastructure and start cutting your costs today.

Open Source Solutions for Workstations

First and foremost, you should consider changing the operating system on your workstations to an open source alternative. The de facto standard for operating systems is Linux.

Several organizations offer different distributions of Linux, but two of the most popular distributions are from Red Hat and Ubuntu. Both of these organizations offer free packages specifically tailored for business workstations and make installing everything you need to get started as easy as popping in a CD.

Taking the plunge into an open source operating system has several benefits. The most obvious is completely eliminating the licensing fees for proprietary operating systems. A less obvious benefit is an increase in the security of sensitive information.

Touted as the most secure operating system available by security professionals, running Linux can significantly decrease the probability of being hacked or infected by malware. This, in turn, reduces the chance of a potentially business-cripping situation.

WINE, which stands for Wine is not an Emulator, is a handy open source application. As the name implies, it does not emulate Windows, but it does allow you to run a huge number of Windows applications on Linux. This is quite useful if you have a legacy Windows application that your business relies on. If this is the case, do not let it hold you back from making the switch before you determine if WINE will run your application.

Whether you change operating systems or not, there are open source versions of most productivity tools. Open Office is a free word processor that is compatible with Microsoft Word. Does your business employ digital artists using Photoshop in their pipeline? Check out the Gimp, an open source alternative with a similar interface and feature set to Photoshop. Almost all popular office applications have open source alternatives and using them will reduce your IT overhead.

Open Source Solutions for Servers

If you host your own web server or web service, do not worry, there are open source alternatives here as well. Apache is the most popular open source web server available. In fact, not only does it do everything that proprietary web servers can do, but it holds the largest part of market share out of all web servers available today.

If you need to share files across your business network, Samba is an open source file server similar to Microsoft Windows Server. For hosting your own email services with something like Microsoft Exchange, look no further than Zimbra, a mail server and client, with all the features found in Outlook and Exchange.

Whether your company is in the business of technology or not, IT is most likely an integral part of your track to success. Stay ahead of the pack, and cut your overhead at the same time by taking advantage of open source alternatives to your current IT solutions.

Open Source is an excellent way to reduce overhead. But, change can cause a loss of seasoned staff. Up Next: “Keeping Your Intellectual Capital”

Avoiding the 10 Common Killers of a Small Business

10 Common pitfalls to avoid for a small business

businessStarting a business is a huge venture, and it requires a lot of hard work and dedication to get that business off the ground. Even with the best intentions, some people estimate that up to 50% of businesses fail within the first 5 years. Keeping those statistics in mind, some business owners have begun looking for answers on why those businesses do not make it. The following list highlights the top ten pitfalls for small businesses to avoid in order to succeed.

1. Starting the business for the wrong reasons:

There are many reasons why a person would open a business, and all of those businesses share an equal shot at succeeding. However, when a business owner opens shop for the wrong reasons, that business is executed with the wrong planning, the wrong passion, and the wrong mentality. Starting a business as a lack of other options such as a lay off or unemployment situation can leave an owner overwhelmed and barely treading water. A business takes months or even years of planning, and all aspects must be examined. Owners with a passion for the business or trade they are in stand a better chance of keeping that business afloat. Similarly, business owners must have enough know how to run a successful business.

2. Cash flow problems:

Many businesses are not prepared for the months, or sometimes years, that it takes for the business to grow enough to be profitable. Owners should prepare themselves for the fact that they not only need to have six months of operating expense money for the business, but also six months of living expenses for themselves while the business builds a client base.

3. The word hasn’t gotten out yet:

Advertising is key in getting a small business off the ground. Although word of mouth promotion is important to a business, there must be enough customers to begin with to spread to the word. Many owners overlook a budget for advertising, and this is a major mistake. Let everyone know where the business is and what service it offers. A good marketing campaign will pay for itself many times over.

4. Not enough room to grow:

When a business suddenly takes off, some owners are unsure on how to handle the onslaught of new business, and all the upgrades that it requires. Owners who reinvest in their companies give those businesses the upper hand. Technology is a big part of this pitfall. Many customers today are put off when a business does not use the technology that is expected. A business should not look cheap to customers, as it implies that the services or goods are cheap as well.

5. Image issues:

Along with advertising, businesses need to keep their reputation in tip-top form to keep their customers coming. Customer service should be the number one priority in any business, and those that show superior customer service have more word of mouth referrals. Along with keeping up with technology, image issues are also based on the physical appearance of the store and its employees.

6. Staffing issues:

As a small business grows, some owners are late to notice the need for more staff, or even more knowledgeable staff. Owners should analyze business trends frequently to ensure that their customers are receiving prompt and professional service from staff members.

7. Lack of planning for slower times:

Businesses are rarely booming all year long. There are months and seasons where business tends to slow down. Owners need to plan for those slow seasons by offering incentives for customers to come in and spend their money. Even with that planning, it is wise to have a cash back up to cover those leaner times.

8. High prices or cheap products:

Customers want to know that they are getting a good deal for their money. Many start-up business owners price their products or services too high to compensate for slow business. Small businesses have to compete with the big box stores that can offer low prices because of their high volume. Owners need to sell or offer high quality goods or services at a reasonable price.

9. Lack of knowledge of rules and regulations:

Fines and temporary shut downs can be a huge drain on a business. Business owners should avoid these by making themselves knowledgeable of the laws and regulations of the city and state, and to be sure that they are always in compliance.

10. Hunter mentality:

A major pitfall to avoid is going for the quick sale without thought of future sales. This hunter mentality can cause a business to fail. Businesses must cultivate relationships with their clients, much as a farmer cultivates a field, concerned with not only the current need, but also the needs for the future.

Although these ten items are not the only reason that businesses fail, many fall into these traps, which can be a step on the way to failure. Being aware of these common mistakes can empower an owner and give the knowledge needed to run a successful business.

Keep you business going by reducing overhead! Next Up is on “Cutting Your Overhead with Open Source IT Solutions”

Tips for Customer Retention & Keeping Your Cool

Tips for Customer Retention & Keeping Your Cool.

“The customer is always right,” is an old cliché, but here’s why it’s true. It’s harder to win new customers than to keep old ones. A recent survey conducted by accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers found that it costs five to ten times more to acquire new clients than to keep existing ones happy. And with customer turnover of about 50 to 65 percent on average every five years for the typical shop, learning to keep customers is a key part of doing business. Even when your customers are upset (or worse), take a deep breath and remember that their satisfaction is literally part of your bottom line.

Here are 10 tips to manage your clients successfully and to increase retention and overall customer bliss:

  • First impressions about how you communicate are important: Your first contact with customers is often pivotal in determining the tone of your business relationship. When you send your project proposal on time, it signals you are diligent and efficient. When you send an email follow-up, it signals you are organized and thoughtful. When you produce correspondence and all other branded material in the same way, it signals you are consistent and professional. On the other hand, you don’t want to set up unrealistic expectations. If you respond to an email within minutes of it being sent, that might set a precedent you can’t live up to later. If you allow your customers to call you at anytime, they may call you when you are on a deadline or have other pressing priorities.
  • Set boundaries and expectations and then live up to them: Particularly if you are a freelancer, you should make your customers aware of your boundaries. Freelancers have to balance their development time with customer consultation time, which can become impossible if customers call at inopportune times. Try to make a routine for emails. Instead of checking emails all day, consider checking email only once or twice per day, but make it a point to respond within 24 hours. As for phone calls and IMs, make sure that you schedule them so they don’t become disruptive. If you explain to your customer that setting an appointment for a phone call will be more productive because you can prepare ahead of time, you can make the customer feel appreciated without needing to be on high alert for random calls. When you keep up habits and patterns, customers will know what to expect and will adapt accordingly.
  • Be transparent and professional about billing, time sheets, and turnaround times: If you show how much you bill and how, your customers will face less sticker shock. One of the most frequent complaints in customer care is a lack of billing transparency or a gap between perceived value and price. Being upfront can ease this. It also helps to develop real plans for turning around project work items so that you can accurately and confidently quote this information in future correspondence. If the customer suggests a change but you don’t know how long it will take, follow up with more information instead of offering a vague promise. It’s better to follow up with more information confidently than to set your customer up for later disappointment.
  • Build self-service, timely updates, and useful features into your website: Your website should offer continuing value for your business. Freelancers should sign up for project management and billing sites to make sure they make professional and accurate communication with their clients. Self-service can help customers to feel empowered, but make sure that your site provides a quality personalized experience.
  • Approach confrontation with the customer with their perspective in mind: Everyone eventually faces the irate call from a customer due to a missed deadline or some other problem. Listen to the customer, and respond gracefully and professionally. It helps to repeat back the customer’s question or complaint to confirm that you have listened. It also helps to use positive phrasing such as “Here’s how we can solve this problem”. If the conversation becomes particularly personal, gently remind the customer by saying something such as “I know that these comments are not directed towards me but this situation, which if I were you I wouldn’t be satisfied with either.” Some social scientists have discovered that in the case of refunds, it can actually be helpful to ask the customer to suggest a fair refund price. More often than not, the customer will offer a price lower than you expect, and if you keep the customer, this goodwill will pay dividends.
  • Personalize all correspondence and communication as much as possible: When you send correspondence to your customers, use their name and information about a recent conversation to make the correspondence seem more urgent and timely, which gives the customer greater satisfaction. If sending a generic email, at least give users a chance to opt-out. Sending email too often will seem like spam, so use software that detects whether the user is reading your emails or not. Use a service like Scrubly to make sure that your address book contains the best name to use to address customers and that all email addresses in your address book are clean, neat, and up-to-date, which will prevent annoying customers with accidental duplicates and improper salutations.
  • Use automated telephone systems with care:If you use a computerized telephone system, make sure that customers are able to speak to a real live person at any time. If you can afford it, use professionally recorded audio instead of text-to-speech, which can sound robotic and unfriendly.
  • Ensure that customer care representatives have everything they need to interact successfully with the clients: You should keep a log that documents all customer interactions. No customer likes the sense that they’ve had to repeat information from earlier conversations. This log will also help you to develop a rapport and to find leads.
  • Under-promise and over-deliver: Customers get excited about big project plans at deep discounts, but this is a recipe for disaster either because you can’t meet the price or you can’t meet the high expectations. Going the extra mile on a smaller project plan will delight the customer and will show extra value than failing to deliver a bigger plan.
  • Cold-call old clients and win them back: One of the difficult things to do, particularly for freelancers, is to learn to cold-call old clients. Old clients could be easier to win back than you think even if you parted on not-so-good terms. Focus on a technique called “the soft sell”. Instead of convincing customers they should come back, remind them of what it was like when they did business with you. Talking about the past conversations you had and other information about your relationship shows that you are considerate and remember their specific business. If they talk about their current projects, suggest how those projects would have been on time and on budget if they were still a client.

Up Next: “Avoiding the 10 Common Killers of a Small Business”

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