Thursday, October 31, 2013

No-Fuss Online Collaboration

Virtual TeamIf you're an independent business owner, you must be able to collaborate effectively online with clients, colleagues and close business associates. It’s no longer enough to keep them at arm’s length and work around the times you’re not available in person. Because so much work nowadays is done remotely, online collaboration needs to be part of your normal working day.

Let's look at the steps involved in working together online. You won't need all these steps every time, but it's useful to have them as a step-by-step checklist.

I'll mention a few tools and services along the way, just to give you an idea of what's available. However, these are just a small sample of what you can find, and new tools are cropping up every day. So use them as just a starting point for your own work.

Build up: Choose the initial work space and environment

You'll choose your collaboration space depending on the job you want done.

For simple jobs, a shared Dropbox folder might be all you need. Everybody can add, change and delete files from there; and as long as they understand what they are doing, they won't get in each other's way.

For bigger jobs, you might want to use something more structured, with better document control and more features for interaction between team members. For longer-term collaboration, you might even go as far as a Ning community for the project (like having a private Facebook page).

Team up: Choose your work team and plan the project flow

The next step is to form your team. Of course, you might have chosen them already, or them might have been chosen for you. However, if your team doesn’t have all the expertise required, the Internet makes it easy to find other providers. You can use general outsourcing sites like Elance and oDesk, crowdsourcing sites like 99 Designs, or specialised sites that offer specific services.

When working together, you also require a project planning tool, where people can check deadlines, deliverables, ‘To Do’ lists for the week, responsibilities for various tasks, and so on. An excellent tool for this is, a project management service that allows you to set actions, due dates, calendars and the like.

Set up (meetings): Schedule meetings – internal or external

Meetings are important and inevitable in online collaboration, and the first step is scheduling them. Bringing a team together for a meeting seems like it should be an easy task, but it can be surprisingly challenging when working with a dispersed team. Fortunately, there are a number of scheduling tools you can use to simplify this process. and are two of the many options available.

Meet up: Come together at a set time to discuss issues

Having scheduled the meeting, the next challenge is to run the meeting. The simplest option is to conduct a meeting by telephone, using Skype, a teleconferencing service, or even just the plain old telephone system. Although this is fairly “low tech”, it’s still effective and reliable.

The next step in sophistication is to include screen sharing and/or video. I like GoToMeeting from Citrix, which provides both of these features, as well as other features for online meetings. A Google+ Hangout is another good option, and it's free.

Most of the online meeting tools have the capability to record the meeting, which means you can send the recording to participants afterwards, or get it transcribed for reference.

Chat up: Conduct informal conversations and discussions

Since you aren’t going to bump into colleagues in the corridor or around the water cooler, you’ll need online tools to conduct informal discussions. These tools fall into two categories: Deferred, where everybody doesn’t have to be there at the same time; and Immediate, which requires everybody to be present.

The deferred communication tools are more formal and considered, because people have the time to think about their responses before contributing. They include things like a discussion forum, bulletin board, and even a private LinkedIn group.

The immediate communication tools are less formal, but allow people to interact with each other in real time. These tools include online chat rooms, instant messaging services and Twitter.

Mark up: Share and edit documents together

Working together on a project isn’t only about meetings and conversations, of course (although it can sometimes seem that way). In between these conversations, team members work independently on their tasks – including collaborating on documents.

The tools you use depend on the work environment you set up initially. For example, if you use Google Drive for your work environment, it's already designed for people to collaborate on documents.

With other systems, this might not be the case, and you need to be careful about how people work together on documents.

Fix up: Track issues, actions, problems and concerns

Finally, you need some way of managing tasks and issues that crop up during the work.

A good issue tracking system (sometimes called a bug database or online help desk) lets you add all these issues to a database, and then team members update them as they work on them. At any time, anybody can log in to check on progress.

There are a variety of tools that will enable you to do this, including They can either be installed on your company’s Web server or an external Web host. Either way, only you and your team have access to the database.

How can you use this in your work day?

Online collaboration is an increasing part of your professional life. Make it work for you, and learn to do it effectively and efficiently.

This article is an edited extract from our book Out of Office: Using the Internet for Greater Freedom in Your Work Life, by Chris Pudney and Gihan Perera. The book has an entire chapter about online collaboration, and includes more information about principles and tools to make it work for you.

Monday, October 28, 2013

What do your customers/clients truly value?

This weeks sparkenation.

"What the business thinks it produces is not of first importance. What the consumer thinks he is buying, what he considers 'value' is decisive." 
Peter Drucker

What do your customers/clients truly value?

Answering this question is the key to the future prosperity of everyone’s business.

Be the difference you want to see in the world.

Monday, October 21, 2013

All change is personal first

This weeks sparkenation.

All change is personal first. Relationship change is second. Organisational change is a distant third.

If you are bringing the same intentions, feelings, thoughts and behaviours to this week likely you will get the same results as last week. Want a different result this week? Modify or change your intentions, feelings, thoughts first. Then behave in alignment. The outcome will take care of itself.

Be the difference you want to see in the world.

More sparkenations

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Seven Habits of Highly Connected People

Social media and highly connected peopleThe late Steven Covey's famous habits for highly effective people have guided many people's personal and professional lives. They are based on timeless principles, not gimmicky practices. That's exactly the same approach you should take to online marketing and social media.

In fact, all seven principles can be applied just as effectively to your social media strategy. We'll look at each of the principles here, and I'll give you three practical ideas for each.

1. Be Proactive

Part of your social media activity will be to respond to other people's contributions - for example, sharing a photo, commenting on a blog post, "thumbs up" a YouTube video, or retweeting a comment. That's good, and an important part of building your network. But don't make it all about that. Take initiative and create original material as well. That's the first step to establishing yourself as a trusted authority.

Here are three key ideas:

  1. Publish a blog, and post to it regularly (at least once a week).
  2. Connect your blog to Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, so every blog post appears there automatically.
  3. Identify key people in your network and send them something of value regularly.

2. Begin With the End in Mind

Social media is - or will be - an important marketing piece for any business, so you do need to master it. But success in social media (as with any other relationship in your life) takes time. Start small, and focus on building relationships, not just getting a quick sale.

Here are three ideas if you're getting started on a social media platform:

  1. Look, listen and learn from others before you jump in and start contributing.
  2. Connect with people you know rather than trying to convince strangers to follow you.
  3. Do something nice for somebody every day.

Also keep in mind that social media influence is a process, not an event. Don't expect instant results, and don't give up too soon.

3. Put First Things First

Steven Covey puts it beautifully like this, "Don't major in minors". Unfortunately, many people don't follow this advice on social media, and waste a lot of time on unproductive activities. There's nothing wrong with using it for personal activities and fun (that's what most people use it for!). But if you're planning to use it for your professional life, make sure you focus on that as well.

  1. Choose one (maybe two) social media platforms, rather than spreading yourself too thin.
  2. If you can't help yourself with wasting time on social media, set a strict time and time limit (e.g. the 15 minutes before lunch every day).
  3. Know your business and professional goals, and always ask yourself, "How is this advancing my goals?"

4. Think Win-Win

Too many business people think of social media as a marketing tool, but in fact it's a relationship tool (think "social", not "media"). Think less about what you can get from it, and more about what you can give.

  1. Every time you contribute something, make it something of value to others (whether or not they do business with you).
  2. If you really want to promote something, do so - but make sure you've earned the right. The 80/20 rule is a good guide: At least 80% of your contributions should be value, and at most 20% promotional.
  3. Look for ways to work together with other people you meet - for example, interviewing them for your podcast, or writing a post for their blog.

5. Seek First to Understand – Then to be Understood

When you're involved in any online conversation, look at it from the other person's point of view first, and use that to tailor your response.

  1. Know your market's biggest problems, concerns, questions, issues and goals. That will help you to be relevant.
  2. Speak in their language, not yours.
  3. It's difficult to convey tone online. Re-read what you write to make sure it can't be misinterpreted and to be sure any words out.

6. Syngergise

Synergy is the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Social media gives you many opportunities to connect and form relationships, and the best relationships are more powerful than the individuals in them.

  1. Look for people with complementary skills - for example, where you have some expertise and they have a market that can use that expertise.
  2. If you know of somebody who might be a potential partner, approach them, but do it patiently and slowly.
  3. Join communities where the value you contribute can help many people at a time - for example, LinkedIn groups of colleagues or clients.

7. Sharpen the Saw

Social media for business doesn't always have to be about business and marketing. Take time to relax, enjoy yourself and participate for fun, not just for profit.

  1. Share funny things - such as photographs, videos and articles - but be sure the humour is appropriate.
  2. Allow yourself some time to "goof off" on social media each week.
  3. Use social media to connect with family and friends. This not only allows you to connect with loved ones, it also gives you an idea of how most people in the world use social media.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Two types of employees. Which one are yours?

This Sunday's sparkenation is a follow-on from last weeks about shareholder value being the "dumbest idea in the world."

"Every company at a certain stage ends up with two sorts of employees... some that work hard to improve the experience and value for the original customers, and some that tear down that experience and value in order to please shareholders in the short run."
Seth Godin

Seth's full post about this.

Which type of employees are yours?

Be the difference you want to see in the world.

More sparkenations.

Friday, October 11, 2013

What have we learned from the mistakes that caused the GFC?

I was interested in this Harvard Business School article about whether or not we have learned from the mistakes that caused the GFC. The authors of this article say there has been real progress. They also lament missed opportunities and remaining challenges.

I was also interested in a further HBS article that argues fixing climate change should be left to the markets

I don’t think so. We left finance to the markets did we not?

Our challenges are simply too big for one sector of society to solve. Sustainability requires all of us working together and this requires putting aside ideaologies and finding a shared-view of the way forward. 

Politicians think they rule the world and they keep trying to prove it as evidenced by the stupidity going on in between Republicans and Democrats in America that if unresolved may again bring our world to it’s knees.

Corporations rule our world. Corporations don’t exist of course without employees and customers. We the citizens of the world have a clear choice in my view and we all need to take a stand.

Which side of the fence are you on? And what are you doing about it?

Be the difference you want to see in the world.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Shareholder value - "the dumbest idea in the world"

This weeks sparkenation.

The first time I made the statement below to a group of CEOs 20 years ago there were giggles and sniggers in the room

"Profit is not a reason for being in business, rather a result of being good at business."

I don't get derision any more.

The purpose of your business is the unique way you add value to all the stakeholders of your business including our planet and society. Shareholder value and profit are outcomes of the value you provide other stakeholders. They are never reasons for being, always results of being.

For the article that sparked this post please check out Steve Denning's article What Killed Michael Porter's Monitor Group? The One Force That Really Matters.

Be the difference you want to see in the world.


Friday, October 4, 2013

The delightful design of a distinguished 21st century business

To guarantee success in business today and tomorrow we must provide a distinct experience for our customers/clients.

The journey to distinction begins with radical differentiation - what our people do that is better, different, or more unique than anyone else providing the same/similar product/service.

Radical differentiation is only possible when people are bringing their best game to their work every single day. This is only possible when people have discovered their unique gifts/talents and are continually enhancing them. Enhancing people’s gifts/talents is the number one role of leadership and followership.

Fundamental to discovery is understanding what intrinsically drives people. We must help our people to fulfill their deepest desires.

Differentiation, discovery and drive make the delivery of value to our stakeholders, value that they demand, desire, and feel that they deserve, possible.

How we deliver such value must be distinctive.

Differentiation + Discovery x Drive + Delivery x Distinction = a Distinguished 21st century business.

This is so important to me, and I suspect to you, that I have written a 2500 word article.

Please read it and take action. You can also download my article as a PDF at the link.

Be the difference you want to see in the world.


Thursday, October 3, 2013

5 New Fixes For Your Social Media Campaigns

Post It NotesThere's no doubt that you need to be active on social media, but are you doing it well? If it's taking too much time and effort, and not giving you enough of a return, perhaps it's time to re-think your strategy. Here are five small - but significant - adjustments you can make to your social media plan.

1. Be more social.

Whether you call it social media, social media marketing, or social networking, focus more on the social side of it and less on the media, marketing, and networking. No, this doesn't mean you should share family photos and cat videos! It means you use social media with the intent to build connections and help other people. Forget about tying every tweet, post and update to some marketing campaign or product launch. Instead, use it to genuinely connect with people (as people, not prospects).

2. Pick your battlegrounds.

Find the social networks where you can make the biggest difference, and focus your participation efforts there. This is unlikely to be your own Facebook profile, LinkedIn network or Twitter followers. But it might be a particular LinkedIn group, a specific Twitter hashtag you follow regularly, a private Ning community, or some other discussion forum. For me, one such place is, where both my colleagues and clients hang out. It allows me to help out colleagues and peers, and in turn that demonstrates my expertise and authority.

3. Solve their problems.

Keep your eye and ear out for problems, concerns, issues, questions, goals, and aspirations that people mention in social media. If you can help out, do so. If you can refer them to somebody or something else, do that instead. Don't always be looking for opportunities to promote yourself; just be genuine, sincere, and helpful.

4. Share other people's expertise.

Be a curator (filter) of other people's material, and share it with your network. You should already be reading blogs, watching videos, listening to podcasts, reading books, watching slide shows, and so on as part of your own professional development. Some of this material is appropriate to share on social media, so share it. Just be sure you do it with permission (for example, by using a link, rather than the original material itself).

5. Blog.

Finally, make a commitment to blog regularly (at least once a week, preferably more). Your blog is the hub of your social media efforts: Everything you do elsewhere should be copied into your blog, and your blog posts can be distributed automatically to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and some online communities. Every blog post is a Web page in itself, so blogging also helps raise your profile in Google's eyes. Apart from anything else, blogging allows you to demonstrate your expertise in small but well-considered chunks, and that helps to build your reputation.