Get IT Satisfaction: How to Clearly Explain Problems to Your IT Department

January 23rd, 2015

We’ve all had this experience: We log onto our computers at work and something’s not working. Maybe we aren’t receiving our e-mail messages. Maybe our Web browser has slowed to a crawl. Maybe the computer crashes every 10 minutes.

Whatever the problem, it makes it impossible for you to complete your work. You now have one option: You have to call your IT department. Unfortunately, that can sometimes cause as many headaches as does your current computing problem.

Be honest: It’s not always easy to communicate with your IT department personnel. The staffers working in IT obviously know a whole lot more about computers, Web browsing and general technology than you do. Because of this, it sometimes sounds as if your company’s IT personnel are speaking a different language. And when this happens, it’s not always easy to effectively communicate your computer problem so that you can receive quick results.

Fortunately, you can take some simple steps to make sure that your IT department clearly understands your problem. Once clear communication is established, your IT pros can quickly and effectively repair your ailing computer.

No reason to be intimidated

First, don’t be intimidated. Yes, that IT worker knows more about your computer than you ever will, but remember, you know more about your specialty, too, whether it be the law, accounting, sales, or marketing.

Screen shots

Secondly, take screen shots when you can. If you can show your IT personnel exactly what has gone wrong with your computer, they’ll more easily be able to tackle the problem. If you can’t do that, try to replicate the problem in front of IT workers when they arrive at your desk. If certain actions, for instance, cause your computer to crash, perform those actions – causing the crash – while your IT workers are standing at your desk.

A written report

Finally, keep a written report of your problems. If you notice that the same problems are taking place whenever you check your messages, log onto the company’s Intranet site or visit Google, write this down in a notebook. Make a new entry every time the problem reappears. This, too, will help you better communicate your computing issues with your IT personnel.

Communicating with your IT workers doesn’t have to be an intimidating or frustrating experience. Just follow these simple rules, and you’ll be back computing at full strength in no time.

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Don’t Let Your Competitors Set Your Agenda

January 21st, 2015

Even the biggest tech powerhouses make the occasional business mistake. And one of the most frequent? They let their competitors set their agendas.

Take Google. Google remains the undisputed search engine king. It’s also one of the most powerful companies in the world, but that hasn’t stopped Google from trying unsuccessfully to become the next Facebook.

Facebook takes Google to school

Facebook has already established itself as the leading force in social media. Google thought that it should hold that title, so it launched Google+, its own social networking program.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with Google+. It boasts some nifty features, especially in the tweaks it offers for business owners. But Google+ is not Facebook. Consumers are simply used to Facebook. They prefer to use the service for their social media needs. Google attempted to break into Facebook’s turf by offering a product that’s not really needed.

It hasn’t worked. Google+ remains a distant afterthought in the world of social media.

An Internet search mistake

Microsoft knows the feeling of falling into this same trap. As everyone knows, Google remains the top dog in the world of Internet search. This hasn’t changed since Microsoft launched Bing, its own Internet search engine.

Again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with Bing. The search program does a good job finding information. And it, too, comes with some nice features. Unfortunately, Google search is still better. It’s easier to use. It’s familiar. And it’s quick. There’s no real reason for consumers to make the switch from Google search to Bing.

Learn from Google, Microsoft mistakes

You can learn from the mistakes made these two tech giants. Focus on improving what you already do. For instance, instead of targeting social media, Google should concentrate on improving its search, e-mail, and online documents servers. These are already successful offerings, and Google can gain even more followers by making them stronger.

Follow this example. Don’t be distracted by what your competitors are doing. Your job is to make the services and products at which you already excel even stronger.

 

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Getting the Most out of Gmail

January 15th, 2015

Gmail, Google’s e-mail system, is steadily growing in popularity. This isn’t a surprise; Google hasn’t developed too many products that prove unpopular with consumers.

But are you using Gmail to its fullest potential?

You aren’t if you’re not using these tips to get the most out of your Gmail account:

Label your messages: Is your e-mail inbox overflowing with messages from friends, co-workers, bosses, and family members? It can prove difficult to keep track of these messages. Fortunately, Gmail allows you to add brightly colored labels to your messages to better keep track of your inbox.

For instance, you can slap a bright red “Urgent” label to all messages that you need to address quickly. You can put a blue “Vacation” label on e-mail messages relating to hotel reservations, car rentals, and other vacation-planning activities. If you’re conducting a job search, e-mails from prospective employees and networking contacts might include a purple “Job search” label.

Free up space with archiving: Is the number of e-mails in your inbox fast approaching the 5,000 mark? Then it might be time to archive your messages. This nifty feature from Google allows you to place messages that you don’t need right now but don’t want to delete to the “All Mail” folder. Unlike messages that you place in “Trash,” e-mails archived in “All Mail” don’t disappear forever after 30 days.

Add a signature: Tired of typing your name, phone number, and e-mail address at the bottom of each of your Gmail messages? Why not create an e-mail signature? Gmail allows you to save signatures that you can then simply drop into the bottom of your messages. This is a great time saver for anyone who writes dozens of e-mail messages during an average day.

Filter your incoming messages: Gmail also allows you to create filters that can automatically label, archive, delete, or forward specific incoming messages. By choosing the “Filter messages like this” option from Gmail’s “More” drop-down menu, you can tell Gmail to automatically apply the “Job Search” label to any messages that include the words resume, apply, career or job. You can tell Gmail to automatically send all messages with the words “hotel,” “car rental,” or “reservation” to your Gmail “Vacation” folder.

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Got questions? These Three Sites Have Answers

January 13th, 2015

It’s human nature to question. After all, if we never wondered about the world around us, how would we ever be inspired to create?

Fortunately, if you have questions, the Internet has answers. The Web is filled with sites dedicated to answering any question that might pop into your head.

Here, though, is a look at three of the sites that can best answer your most pressing questions.

Quora: The designers behind Quora boast that the site connects you to everything you want to know about. And that’s not an empty boast.

If you have a question, you can log onto Quora to get answers from people who share your interests. This often means that doctors, lawyers, economists, screenwriters, and police officers are providing your answers.

As an example, a dietitian might answer your question about how to eat healthy without grains. A long-distance runner might answer your query about how to best prepare for a marathon in chilly temperatures.

Ask MetaFilter: Ask MetaFilter operates under the concept that there are plenty of experts out there with the answers to just about any question you might have. It’s an intriguing concept and, surprisingly, Ask MetaFilter usually does provide reliable answers to questions.

The questions on this site are broken into various categories, everything from human relations to technology to health to law and government.

On a recent visit to the site, for instance, people were asking when the fifth season of Mad Men will become available on iTunes Canada. Others asked more philosophical questions. One user, for instance, asked how mature she could possibly be when she considers the best way to make friends is to have the same enemies.

StackExchange: StackExchange is a relative newcomer to the online question-and-answer game. It is made up of a network of 85 question-and-answer sites, though, so it certainly boasts the breadth and depth that you’d want whether you have a question about your dog’s incessant barking or the meaning behind that Nietzsche quote.

The site has certainly become popular. It already has 1.7 million users and has provided 7.1 million answers to 3.4 million questions.

Best of all? StackExchange’s question-and-answer sites, broken into those serving fans of science fiction and fantasy, database users, cartographers, Web designers, chefs, gaming junkies, and everyone else, are free and open to all users.

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Four Options for Sharing Big Files

January 8th, 2015

We’ve all faced the same problem: we need to send large photos, complex PDF reports or videos to friends, family members or co-workers. Unfortunately, these files are so big that they can clog even the fastest e-mail system.

There is good news: There are plenty of programs – many of which are free – that you can use to send large files with ease.

Here are four of the most popular:

YouSendIt

YouSendIt’s cloud-based online storage allows users to share everything from gigantic pictures to videos for free. The service is known for how easy it is to use.

YouSendIt also gives users control over their large files. For instance, they can set expiration dates for these files and control who can and can’t access them.

DropSend

DropSend operates in much the same way as YouSendIt. DropSend, though, offers file-sharing programs in a variety of option.

For instance, you can choose DropSend Lite, which is free. This version allows you to send five files a month. The basic version of the program costs $5 a month, and allows you to send 15 files a month. The business version — $99 a month – allows users to send an unlimited number of files each month.

SugarSync

SugarSync has grown in popularity along with the rise in smart phones and tablet computers. That’s because users can create a SugarSync account that instantly saves their files on all their devices at once – everything from their smart phones to their desktop computers to their tablets.

SugarSync also allows users to provide access to these large files to specific users. It’s an easy way to allow family members or co-workers to view movies, pictures and other big files without the use of e-mail.

Dropbox

Dropbox, too, has become a must-have program for mobile computing. Like SugarSync, it allows you to instantly store files on all of your devices at once. It also comes in both free and paid varieties.

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Avoid the Most Common PowerPoint Mistakes

January 6th, 2015

PowerPoint presentations are the vacation slide shows of the business world: we’ve all sat through boring ones that seemed to last forever.

Fortunately, there are several tips that you can follow to avoid creating a PowerPoint presentation that bores your co-workers. This is important: You create PowerPoint presentations to spread your message, promote products and achieve results.

You can’t do this if no one’s paying attention to them.

Don’t Forget the Creativity

As the writers at Microsoft’s Business Hub say, PowerPoint doesn’t give you permission to get lazy. You still have to be creative if you want to develop a winning presentation that grabs the attention of your audience.

This means that you can’t let PowerPoint’s ease of use trick you into thinking that you don’t have to come up with compelling content. Just because you can create an endless series of text-filled slides doesn’t mean that you should.

So don’t. Come to your sales pitch or company meeting armed with interesting and useful information. Don’t just slap some sales numbers on a series of slides. Instead, explain what these numbers mean.

Come with Solutions

You’ll also want to come armed with ways in which your company’s employees can improve these sales numbers.

Another fault of many PowerPoint presentations: they provide information. But they don’t provide useful strategies for how employees can use that information to better the company’s performance.

If your PowerPoint presentation shows that sales are down, make sure you follow up with your own suggestions on why sales have fallen and what the company can do to boost them. If sales are up? Provide information on how your company can maintain its momentum.

Don’t Get Too Fancy

As TrainSignal Training says, it is possible to get too creative with PowerPoint. Many managers clutter their slides with unnecessary photos and graphics. Others stuff charts that are too small to read on their slides. Still others add moving images that do little other than distract.

Don’t fall into this trap. The best way to convey a business message is to do it as directly and simply as possible.

And don’t simply fill your PowerPoint slides with the same words that you’re going to read aloud to your audience. You’re not in the first grade. Your audience doesn’t want to read along while you repeat every word that’s on your PowerPoint slides.

PowerPoint remains a powerful business tool. But it’s one that is easy to misuse. Don’t make the mistake of creating a PowerPoint presentation that turns off your audience.

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Have Access to an Unrestricted Internet Consider Yourself Lucky

December 30th, 2014

You surf to the online home of the New York Times every morning. You scan your Twitter account for messages from friends, family members, professional athletes, and celebrities. You read the gossip and news at the Huffington Post daily. And before you turn out for the night, you check out the antics of your favorite celebrities at TMZ.com.

Consider yourself lucky. There are citizens across the globe who can’t access any of these sites. That’s because they live under authoritarian regimes that block at least some of their access to the Internet.

Restricting access to the Web

Students in China, for instance, might not be able to log onto the Web home of the New York Times during times of political unrest. Government protesters in Iran might not be able to send messages to each other through Facebook. And residents of Burma might not have access to the global Internet entirely when political protests are taking place in that country.

Unfortunately, authoritarian regimes have several ways of blocking their citizens’ access to the Internet, and these methods have evolved over time just as the Web itself has evolved.

Blocking access to Web 2.0 apps

For instance, governments might block either permanently or temporarily the access that their citizens have to such Web 2.0 applications as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. Often, such blocks occur during political protests, election seasons or the violent crackdowns to protests that too often occur in such countries.

Countries can also be more subtle in squeezing off access to the Internet. Some, for instance, have restricted connection speeds. This, in essence, makes it impossible for users to download, share, or even see audio and video files.

Some authoritarian governments use what is known as technical filtering to prevent their citizens from accessing content that uses specific keywords. Others use this technology to block their citizens from logging onto specific domain names or Web addresses.

Human censors

This might sound surprising, but some governments even employ actual human censors to monitor and manually remove forum and blog posts that the government finds objectionable. Often, these censors will eliminate blog posts or forum messages that criticize government leaders or policies.

The United States, of course, has plenty of flaws. However, we can all be proud to live in a country in which the Internet remains largely unrestricted.

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Collaborate on Documents without the Headaches

December 25th, 2014

Many companies employ workers across the globe. These workers – separated in some cases by thousands of miles – must at times collaborate to create mission statements, marketing plans, and other important work documents.

This can lead to headaches. What often happens, as writer Dawn Foster with the Web site Gigaom points out, is that collaborators send their documents to each other through e-mail messages. Eventually, this leaves companies with several versions of their documents, many of them conflicting with each other as workers make changes simultaneously but without consulting with each other.

This can lead to confusion.

Fortunately, there are steps businesses can take to simplify the document-collaboration process. Foster, in fact, points to a pair of key tools that can help make collaborating on documents a drama-free task.

The power of the Wiki

Foster writes that Wikis are great tools for companies that boast large teams that are all working together on documents. With Wikis, any member of a team can edit documents whenever they want. Their changes are then saved to a master document that is stored in the cloud, where other team members can also access it and edit as they see fit.

Companies can also use Wikis to share their documents with a large audience. Again, companies can determine exactly who gains access to their Wikis, making it easy for all team members to collaborate and share ideas with one another.

Google Docs still a top choice

Foster is also a fan of Google Docs… and with good reason. This popular free program works especially well for companies that want to share a limited number of documents with a smaller team. Google Docs also happens to be one of the best ways for team members to collaborate on spreadsheets, presentations, and other documents.

Again, after team members make changes to a document, they simply have to “share” or save it to make the changes or suggestions available to all other team members.

No more headaches

Both Google Docs and a Wiki can significantly reduce the headaches associated with collaborating on documents. And in doing so, they can make everyone’s work days a little less stressful.

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Manage Your Employees the High-tech Way with These Apps

December 23rd, 2014

Starting a new business is no easy task. It’s why so many businesses fail during their start-up years.

However, you can give yourself an edge in at least one area – how you manage people. Inc. magazine reviewed some of the best apps for managing employees. By using these apps, smart business owners can reduce the time they spend on making sure that their employees are as productive as possible.

If you’re not using the apps listed below, then, you’re not giving your small business its best chance to succeed.

Here is a look at three key apps for best managing your small business’s employees.

Labor Time Tracker

As Inc. says, it seems a bit old-fashioned to have your employees punch in and out using physical time sheets. A better option is Labor Time Tracker, an app that costs about $4.95 a month for every employee.

With this app, employees punch in their hours on a virtual card. This lets you see immediately who is working and who is out for the day. Labor Time Tracker also tracks overtime hours and pay. It will work, too, in multiple time zones.

Trello

As Inc. notes, Trello is one of a large number of organization apps designed to keep business owners on task, but Trello does differ in one important way: It lets business owners add employees and contractors to their various to-do lists. This way, everyone in a company can see these lists and keep track of what needs to be done throughout the day.

Trello also lets business owners assign tasks to their employees and send them messages related to the business’s various to-do lists.

TribeHR

TribeHR ranks among the best human-resources apps out there. Even more importantly, it’s inexpensive – just $2 a month for each user.

As Inc. says, the app allows business owners to track employee time off, schedule performance evaluations, manage recruiting efforts, and update employee profiles. In short, it does just about everything you’d expect a full-fledged human-resources department to do at a fraction of the cost.

If you’re trying to build a small business in today’s challenging economy, you need all the help you can get. Take a look at the people-management apps available today. You might be surprised at how powerful they are.

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Don’t Drain Your Smartphone’s Battery

December 18th, 2014

Smartphones are wonderful tools. They let you watch movies while you’re taking the train to work. They let you make reservations at that hot new French restaurant, map out the quickest route to the theater in the next city, and give you access to the hottest online games.

But there’s one weakness that almost every smartphone shares: short battery life.

This is a frustrating problem. As you’re logging onto the Web, checking your e-mail messages, and making phone calls, you’re draining your phone’s battery. With many of the top smartphones on the market, you’re fortunate to make it home after the workday with enough battery life left to squeeze in one quick call for take-out food.

As PCWorld magazine explains, the problem comes down to this: Smartphones do too much. And by doing so, they consume more than their fair share of power.

There are steps, though, that you can take to increase the life of your smartphone’s battery. And PCWorld shares them with you. By shutting off some of your phone’s extra features, you might be able to squeeze enough extra juice out of your battery to keep your smartphone humming all day long.

Dimming that smartphone screen

First, PCWorld recommends that you dim your cell phone’s screen. A bright, cluttered screen display sucks the life out of batteries. By switching your screen’s brightness level to the lowest you can stand, you’ll already be doing much to boost the lifespan of your smartphone’s battery.

Screen lighting

You can save battery power, too, by adjusting how quickly your screen stays lit after receiving an input such as a screen tap. The longer your screen stays lit, the worse it is on your battery life.

Bluetooth

PCWorld also recommends that you turn off Bluetooth when you aren’t expecting a call or when you aren’t driving in your car. Bluetooth, because it is constantly listening for outside signals, is another major drain on your battery. By shutting it off, you’ll again significantly increase the life of your smartphone’s battery.

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