Does Your Web Site Attract or Turn Off Visitor

Too many businesses hire a web designer to create a masterpiece of wonder. The functionality is just okay, but the graphics are beautiful. Sure, that's great, but if you're interested in a web site that works hard for your business, here is a nice checklist of things to be aware of from usability specialist Steve Krug.

1. "Don't make me think." Krug says that "Most people are quite willing and able to think when it's necessary, but making them do it when there's nothing in it for them (other than compensating for your failure to sort things out properly) tends to be annoying."

2. "Keep me in mind at all times. Always make it easy for me to figure out where I am in your scheme of things. One of the best ways to do this is to give each page a name that tells me what's there, and display it prominently, near the top of the page."

3. "Keep the navigation in the same place on every page, so I don't have to go looking for it."

4. "Try not to overwhelm me with options. If you have a lot of content, organize the options into logical groups to make it seem like there are fewer of them."

5. "Organize the site according to what your users are going to be looking for, not according to your corporate org chart, or even according to your business priorities—unless they happen to coincide with your users' interests."

Krug's book Don't Make Me Think focuses on web usability and is a helpful print guide for anyone who updates web sites on a regular basis, whether for profit (if you're reading this for your business) and for information purposes only.

From Amazon.com "The title of the book is its chief personal design premise. All of the tips, techniques, and examples presented revolve around users being able to surf merrily through a well-designed site with minimal cognitive strain. Readers will quickly come to agree with many of the book's assumptions, such as ‘We don't read pages--we scan them' and ‘We don't figure out how things work--we muddle through.' Coming to grips with such hard facts sets the stage for Web design that then produces topnotch sites.

"Using an attractive mix of full-color screen shots, cute cartoons and diagrams, and informative sidebars, the book keeps your attention and drives home some crucial points. Much of the content is devoted to proper use of conventions and content layout, and the ‘before and after' examples are superb. Topics such as the wise use of rollovers and usability testing are covered using a consistently practical approach.

"This is the type of book you can blow through in a couple of evenings. But despite its conciseness, it will give you an expert's ability to judge Web design. You'll never form a first impression of a site in the same way again."

More Talk About Using Teleconferencing To Save Money

The city of San Jose, California has a proposal on the table this week to save their "in the red" city employee travel budget.

Teleconferencing.

"With San Jose confronting chronic budget deficits, one councilman suggests the capital of Silicon Valley could employ computer technology to shrink its more than $1.3 million annual travel costs by substituting virtual travel for the real thing.

Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio has proposed an addition to San Jose's travel policy for city employees that would require them to explore whether Internet teleconferencing could be used to substitute for traveling on the taxpayers' dollar.

'Millions of dollars on travel seems to be high for a city suffering a deficit,' said Oliverio, whose proposal will be considered next Wednesday by an agenda-setting committee chaired by Mayor Chuck Reed. 'Using technology will not only save the city money, it will also help our environment.'

The proposal comes on the heels of a scathing city audit of travel expenses for San Jose's pension trustees and retirement services department that found a loose policy allowed them to routinely overpay for airfare, transportation and lodging. Oliverio noted the retirement travel audit looked just at the spending of one department, whose trip expenses totaled about $90,000 a year and are paid out of pension funds rather than the city's operating budget.

According to travel expense figures provided by the city manager at Oliverio's request, city travel expenditures averaged more than $1.1 million annually over the last eight years."

The Pioneer Press based out of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota reports on the trend for conventional businesses as well.

"Video conferencing has been underwhelming corporate America for years. But maybe it's finally ready for its close-up.

With oil hovering around $100 a barrel and the rigors of business travel looking more and more like an episode of 'Survivor,' more companies are giving the high-tech alternative to the in-person business meeting a second look.

And more are buying in. Video conferencing was a $1.14 billion global market last year, up sharply from about $800 million in 2006, according to Wainhouse Research, a Boston-area technology consultancy that focuses on the industry."

This spike in teleconferencing activity for businesses and city governments shows that once again Americans have figured creative workarounds during the past year. If you haven't considered teleconferencing, why not check it out? You may save some money in the process.

Where The Customers Are

What are your customers looking at online? How do you track their behavior? A couple of books on the subject explain where customers roam and their insights may help your business compete online.

Click: What Millions of People Do Online and Why It Matters by Bill Tancer monitors the online behavior of over 10 million customers and has come up with some interesting tidbits for companies who rely on Internet statistics for their marketing.

From Amazon.com "What time of year do teenage girls search for prom dresses online? How does the quick adoption of technology affect business success (and how is that related to corn farmers in Iowa)? How do time and money affect the gender of visitors to online dating sites? And how is the Internet itself affecting the way we experience the world? . . . As online directories replace the yellow pages, search engines replace traditional research, and news sites replace newsprint, we are in an age in which we've come to rely tremendously on the Internet—leaving behind a trail of information about ourselves as a culture and the direction in which we are headed. With surprising and practical insight, Tancer demonstrates how the Internet is changing the way we absorb information and how understanding that change can be used to our advantage in business and in life. Click analyzes the new generation of consumerism in a way no other book has before, showing how we use the Internet, and how those trends provide a wealth of market research nearly as vast as the Internet itself. Understanding how we change is integral to our success. After all, we are what we click."

Web 2.0: A Strategy Guide: Business Thinking and Strategies Behind Successful Web 2.0 Implementations by Amy Shuen "explains how to transform your business by looking at specific practices for integrating Web 2.0 with what you do."

Amazon.com writes, "Web 2.0 makes headlines, but how does it make money? This concise guide explains what's different about Web 2.0 and how those differences can improve your company's bottom line. Whether you're an executive plotting the next move, a small business owner looking to expand, or an entrepreneur planning a startup, Web 2.0: A Strategy Guide illustrates through real-life examples how businesses, large and small, are creating new opportunities on today's Web. This book is about strategy. Rather than focus on the technology, the examples concentrate on its effect. You will learn that creating a Web 2.0 business, or integrating Web 2.0 strategies with your existing business, means creating places online where people like to come together to share what they think, see, and do. When people come together over the Web, the result can be much more than the sum of the parts. The customers themselves help build the site, as old-fashioned ‘word of mouth’ becomes hypergrowth."

Forging a Powerful Team

The newest trend in team-building these days are team-building seminars, either hands-on or conference-style. Before you buy in to a spendy team-building event, why not run through a quick checklist to ensure your team will fully utilize the experience.

1. Ask your people. If you’re going to sign up all your employees or your entire department to a team-building event, ask them about the planning and design. People are really open and willing to try just about anything if given some advance warning. "Games can be trite or patronizing for many people - they want activities that will help them learn and develop in areas that interest them for life, beyond work stuff," writes Alan Chapman at BusinessBalls.com. Consider physical challenges, like an obstacle water course outdoors, or something more brainy, a complex puzzle at a science center. Or try something cultural near to your company. Your employees will guide you.

2. Consider the make-up of your team. Chapman also recommends that you track a few variables, including:

  • team mix (age, job type, department, gender, seniority, etc.)
  • team numbers (one to a hundred or more, pairs and threes, leadership issues)
  • exercise briefing and instructions – how difficult you make the task, how full the instructions and clues are
  • games or exercise duration
  • competitions and prizes
  • venue and logistics - room size and availability (for break-out sessions, etc.)
  • materials provided or available
  • stipulation of team member roles – e.g., team leader, time-keeper, scribe (note-taker), reviewer/presenter
  • scoring, and whether the exercise is part of an ongoing competition or team league"

3. Think about what you are trying to achieve. Are you hoping for improved productivity, trying to bridge differences between members, or training new members into the processes of your team? The end will guide the means, so consider carefully what you’d like to accomplish with the team-building activity.

4. Make sure the instructions for the event are clear. This includes the time, the place, the activity, how long the activity will take place, and the goal for the activity. If you can make sure every single member is aware of the details for the event, you’ll end up with a group of willing participants, and maybe even an improved team experience before the event itself.

5. Chapman also recommends that you "ensure that team-building activities and all corporate events comply with equality and discrimination policy and law in respect of gender, race, disability, age, etc."

Once you’ve worked out these issues, your team-building event, whether popular or controversial, will be a greater success and will facilitate a stronger, more cohesive team.

Becoming Green Overnight

It may be one of the most overused buzzwords of the year, but "green" still has some serious purchasing power. Even in this unstable economic year, consumers want green first. They are serious about the drive to reduce waste and many say they are willing to pay more to reduce the footprint they leave behind.

Wonder how you can change your business to be more green? Wonder if that could be something you could brand? Read on.

1. If you offer a service or product that was developed to or will help to sustain the planet, that could be a key offering and promotional benefit. You could develop a marketing campaign around green to promote your upgraded product or service. Remember to talk up the green aspect as you sell this service or product at all points of customer contact. Word will spread and fast.

2. Can you offer services that cater to the new "green" businesses? If you are a finance broker, can you offer specialized services matching emerging eco-entrepreneurs with corporations? Can you find venture capitalists or angel investors who are particularly interested in emerging "green" businesses? If you are in the consulting business, these same emerging businesses need business plans, access to renewable energy, and strategic consulting on how environmental issues affect the company. See what I mean?

3. Can you become more green and launch a new brand or image by using solely green products? A beauty salon could use only nontoxic substitutes and become a "green" spa. A landscaping firm could strive to offer low-water services and take lawn clippings and other lawn refuse to add to a compost pile and then offer that compost to your clients. A garden center can cater to clients who want to plant drought-resistant yards, called xeriscaping, which needs 25% less water than other plants.

For more information on green businesses, check out Glenn Orston’s book 75 Green Businesses You Can Start to Make Money and Make a Difference, published last month by Entrepreneur Press.

Any way you look at it, businesses can utilize the "green" movement to become innovative and to produce products and services that consumers want and yearn to purchase. When a company is able to capitalize on such trends, they may also enjoy the ability to ride out the economic down times.

Web Conferencing with your IPhone

Iphone and Web Conferencing

Less complicated is pretty much the American mantra.

We want it all and we don't want to have to wait for it. Drive-thru's, toll tags, tap and pay services for credits, and there's even an entire marketing campaign dedicated to why you should use your check card instead of cash. We want it quick, we want it now, and we don't have time to wait for it.

Apple cashed in when they created their iPhone system, integrating a MP3 player, a cell phone, and a mobile internet browser into a single device. Part of being less complicated definitely means that it's important to carry around less stuff in your pockets. Listen to music, answer a phone call, check your email, and the great thing about it is that you can do it all from the city park or from JFK International Airport.

The iPhone has, in many ways, eliminated the need to carry around a laptop to meet your busy lifestyle. It can also take some of the pressure off when travel is delayed or you get stuck in traffic. Gone are the days when you had to drag out the laptop, plug in the wireless card or fork over ten bucks for airport Wi-Fi just to hop on a manage your conference call, a call that you had expected to be in your office for.

Use the access to the 3G network on your iPhone and log into the AccuConference customer website (don't worry touch users, it works, you just need to make sure you have a WiFi connection). Just go right through the Safari browser and pull up your account information. Once you're logged in, you have the ability to manage on-the-go with your iPhone. View the live call that is going on and scroll through the participant list. It is updated in real time just like when you are accessing this feature from a laptop or PC it is just a smaller screen in the palm of your hand. You can also listen to the call at the same time that you are controlling it so that you're not trying to juggle too many things at once.

The iPod's touch sensitive screen will recognize when you click the different features from the Live Call screen. You can access the toggle functionality for Lecture Mode, Free Recording and more. Use your finger the same way you would use a mouse so that you can identify those noisy callers and mute their lines. Who knows, they could be experiencing muddy travel plans as well.

It's not just for travel purposes either. Sometimes computers can go horribly wrong (see the blue screen of death blog from Friday) when you're right in the middle of something, even if it is a conference call. Just pull out your iPhone and access your customer information. No one on the call will ever know the difference and you'll be able to do the same things you would have on your PC without having to go into panic mode.

There are a lot of "it's" in the world and this is just one little thing that makes "it" go a lot easier.

Recording your Conference Call is the Perfect Meeting Back

There is one screen that strikes fear into the heart of computer users everywhere. It's not the invalid operation popup or the "if you open this file, you're going to get a big virus" warning. Every PC owner has experienced the screen I've described at least once and some truly unlucky few have experienced it more than once. It's the fatal error screen commonly known as the "blue screen of death."

The blue screen of death is the PC user's worst fear. It means your computer is probably now just a really expensive paper weight. The screen comes out of nowhere, popping around the corner like a special effect zombie in a horror movie. You're tempted to pull the plug but decide to try the Ctrl+Alt+Delete command and get no response from the system. That pretty much cleans you out of ideas and by this time you're tired of looking at the bright light of the blue screen.

So you pull the plug and hope that rebooting the system will make it better. The computer logo pops up and you think that all is well. Until you get the somewhat less scary looking but completely disastrous little brother of the blue screen of death; "Windows cannot locate drive C: /". Oh yeah, that's right. It's time to completely reformat your system. Now everything is lost and you're going to have to start over from the beginning and hope that you kept all your software passwords.

Entire businesses have been created based purely on the idea of backing up documents and programs on a secondary system. The pictures, documents, and music files that you store on your personal computer are important enough that you spent extra money to back up everything and not have to go through this kind of hassle.

Wouldn't it then make perfect sense that you should be recording all of your conference calls? Without these meetings, those trips down to Disneyland and over to the Grand Canyon wouldn't be possible. So call recording should be used on every conference as both a safeguard as well as a reference tool.

Recording doesn't always seem like an important step to take until it's too late. Most conference call systems don't store conferences on back-up unless they are commanded to do so. So if you find yourself in a situation where you chose not to record your call and then you need to reference it for some reason, you're probably going to be in a tough place. Many conference companies, AccuConference included, offer the recording service for free.

This is a good safeguard if you ever find yourself in a position that you need to listen to the call again or need to gather more information. You have the ability to do these things right away. There's not a secretary or note taker in the world that will be able to write down every single word and be able to transcribe the call in its completion. If you're the type of the person who enjoys having hard copy of what was said on a particular call these recordings can also be submitted for transcription, which will give you yet another way to keep a copy of the meeting on hand. If you ever find yourself in a position where you want to know verbatim what a particular participant said on the call, the recording is there to back you up. No one can deny their own voice can they?

In the end, going the extra mile to back up personal files seems like a no-brainier, and the person who doesn't and suffers a crash always ends up regretting it.

Back To School for Managers

It's fall. School's in session and everyone's hauling home books to do their homework. Are you doing your homework as a manager?

Try these "textbooks" for an easy autumn management curriculum.

First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman is yet another "best practices" book to business, but specifically about management style.

From Amazon.com, "Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman expose the fallacies of standard management thinking. . . . In seven chapters, the two consultants for the Gallup Organization debunk some dearly held notions about management, such as 'treat people as you like to be treated'; 'people are capable of almost anything'; and 'a manager's role is diminishing in today's economy.' 'Great managers are revolutionaries,' the authors write. 'This book will take you inside the minds of these managers to explain why they have toppled conventional wisdom and reveal the new truths they have forged in its place.'

The authors have culled their observations from more than 80,000 interviews conducted by Gallup during the past 25 years. Quoting leaders such as basketball coach Phil Jackson, Buckingham and Coffman outline ‘four keys' to becoming an excellent manager: Finding the right fit for employees, focusing on strengths of employees, defining the right results, and selecting staff for talent--not just knowledge and skills."

The New Pioneers: The Men and Women Who Are Transforming the Workplace and Marketplace by Thomas Petzinger Jr

From Publisher's Weekly, "Wall Street Journal columnist Petzinger (Hard Landing) does an excellent job of spotlighting the faces behind the businesses that are leading the way into what he calls the ‘new economy.' The new economy is entrepreneurial, not corporate; it stresses adaptation rather than bureaucratic planning, ‘teamwork' and ‘empowerment' rather than rigid command-and-control structures. While the stories of the people behind innovative companies are often intriguing, readers will be left wondering what to do with this information. Some readers will even find Petzinger's premise puzzling. For instance, his introductory example is an innovative Philadelphia pharmacy that managed to succeed in a poverty-stricken area of the city. Petzinger is full of justified admiration for the way the owner wedded his pharmacy to the community, offered employees profit sharing and made a mint. Ultimately, however, the owner was so successful that he sold his three stores to Rite-Aid. This inspiring and informative book would have been even better had Petzinger delved more deeply into the paradox that the successes and innovations of the new pioneers he celebrates coincide with an era of increasing corporate consolidation. Readers are left wanting more guidance from someone who clearly knows the territory."

Freeing Yourself From the PowerPoint Security Blanket

When you think meetings, do you think PowerPoint slides? I sure do. Every meeting I'm in these days (offline and online) is a lovely compendium of slides and the thing that gets really monotonous is that the person who speaks forgets how good of a speaker he or she usually is and just starts reading off the PowerPoint slides. Yawn.

Here's a few tips to get out from under your PowerPoint crutch:

1. Tell good stories. Any human storyteller with an ounce of talent is a 100 percent improvement over rehashed slides or statistics. A story gets them every time. If you want to use slides, get one with a picture that represents the story you want to tell. When talking about how to sell ice cream, use ice cream as the visual. Totally more interesting. And then you'll get a run on the fro-yo machine in the break room.

2. Try to consider whether or not you'll even need slides for your speech. A nicely designed slide show can really show you off (lots of slides needed for all your accreditations and accomplishments, sure), but a slide for every single thing you say can quickly overpower your presence in the room and become the focal point of your presentation. Can you just skip it during your next speech? Wouldn't it be nice not to have to compete with a machine for your audience's attention?

3. A slide of vapid statistics really has no meaning. If you want to report those statistics, why not put them into context. "This year we'll see a 67% growth in our international division." That's an easy thing for attendees to jot down. Showing a screen full of numbers requires someone to use a calculator to get to that same 67% statistic and makes people crazy and thus need way too much caffeine.

4. Create yourself a PowerPoint presentation on paper, but then use it only to guide you as you speak. For the really important points when you must have a slide, insert a highlighted stage direction to yourself-"Put up slide #5 now"-and then you'll only be punctuating your speech with those wonderful tidbits that attendees can use as takeaways, which they will. At other times, when there should not be a slide, make sure you use the function key to darken the screen, keeping the audience attention right where it should be-on you.

5. Remember Seth Godin's rule of thumb: no more than six words on a slide. If you think Seth's advice is crazy, check out Seth's astute guide to PowerPoint here. If you're still not convinced, think back to the best presentation you ever sat through and try to copy your next presentation to match. I bet it was succinct and sparse. Right?

Follow even one of these rules and you'll be giving better presentations than most corporations in America. Don't your employees and clients deserve that from you?