Thursday, February 27, 2014

Business Essentials: Project Management Software

Business Essentials: Project Management Software

Tech companies have been hard at work over the last decade finding ways to streamline their workflow. As a result, numerous companies have entered into the domain of developing software specifically designed to manage their various projects and they have addressed almost every growing concern under the sun. Project management software in this day and age is powerful, easy to use, ubiquitous, and cheap. Businesses are quite literally spoiled for choice in this area and, if your company is not currently using any project management software to coordinate your projects, it’s time to take a serious look at how one of any of the number of programs that are out there might add value to your company.

What’s out there?

Sometimes choice can be a difficult thing to handle. With so much choice out there, how do we know which program is going to be the right one for our business? How do we know that it will be able to do the things we need it to do? Basecamp, Asana, Microsoft Project, Smartsheet, what’s the difference?

Generally speaking, there is no difference – they are all designed to help you manage your projects in one way or another and all will perform many of the same functions. Where they differ is in how you interface with each program. One could choose blindly and accept that there will be a learning curve to understanding how the program operates. No matter which program you choose, eventually it will become an extension of how your business operates.

However, there are a couple of points worth investigating first:

Web-based or on-prem? – One thing you need to decide is whether or not you want to operate your project management software literally from within the building (or “on premises), or if you want your project management to be handled on the web. On-premises software has the advantage of typically being more robust than web-based software. However, companies more and more are trending toward web-based programs because they have been stripped down in order to be more easy to use and because it does not involve installing the program on every computer in the office. Instead, project members simply visit the relevant website.

Proprietary, GPL, or Open source? What these three terms refer to is the type of license a program might use and defines what you are allowed to do with the software once you have it. Whether a program is free to use or not, project management software will most commonly use a proprietary license meaning that you agree to use the program the way it is simply to help you with your business. Other licenses may give you the freedom to tamper with the code and tailor the software to your company’s needs, but this does take some savvy and you’ll need a competent computer engineer.

How they work

As mentioned earlier, every project management software is initially designed to do more or less the same thing and most will cover all the essential components of what it takes to coordinate a project.

Communication – If a program does not allow for a team to communicate with each other, then it’s not of much use. Virtually all programs keep each project separate from one another so, when running more than one project at the same time, it’s easy to track what’s been discussed about which projects. It’s even possible to cherry pick who needs to know which pieces of information so that the right people get the necessary information while everybody else doesn’t have to feel bogged down by excessive communication that is not relevant to them.

Scheduling – Project management software also allows your company to set milestones and completion dates for aspects of a project. Anyone involved can then go to the calendar and see what tasks need to be completed, allowing them to better manage their own work.

File Sharing – Any project management software acts as the central hub where all the information regarding a specific project is located. It is open for all the people involved in the project to get their hands on. Relevant documents can easily be uploaded and shared for all to give their insight or make changes.

Although these represent the core of what most project management software will address, each program provides its own nuance, bells and whistles, and special features. How you decide to use these features is anybody’s guess but you’ll eventually find that there 101 ways to solve any number of problems right at your finger tips. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Business Essentials: Building a Great Website

It wasn’t all that long ago that for a business to have a website seemed a novel thing. The tipping point has long past, and for a start up company to not prioritize their website as a major arm of their business seems sophomoric. The hurdles that confronted the early pioneers of website building (technical complexity, cost, technological limitations) have disappeared and there is now no excuse not to have a website. There is, however, one basic rule that has not changed – nor will it ever – and that is: the better and more effective you want your website to be, the greater the investment it will represent. Below are a few handy tips that will hopefully give you greater insight into what steps are involved in building your website and allay any concerns that it might represent.

The Anatomy of a Website

There are essentially two vital parts to any website that businesses need to consider: the code and the server.

The Code: Everything you see and read on the internet is nothing more than a series of binary codes – a seemingly endless stream of 1’s and 0’s. It’s like the DNA of your website. And as your DNA eventually becomes the you that others can see and interact with, so the code is what will become the part of your website that others see and interact with.

The Server: The code, in order to be seen and read by others, needs a place to be stored and easily accessed. The place where these codes are stored, or hosted, are on servers owned by companies that continuously allow the transfer of information. These hosting companies pay for their servers, and to transfer all those billions of bytes of information, and they make their money by your renting space for your website on their server in the form of a “domain”.

A website thus becomes a website when your code occupies the domain space that you have rented.

What You Pay For

Renting space with a hosting company is a piece of cake and can be done for as little as a few dollars a month. A simple Google search will likely bring up a myriad of companies that offer hosting with different options. Most have a help line that you can call and simply knowing a little bit about what you want your website to do will easily give them a sense of what option is best for you. Most often it comes down to whether or not you plan to have a lot of data-heavy bells and whistles like streaming audio and video. These things take up space, which means you may need to rent more server space.

Once you’ve rented the space, you need your space to have a name. This is how people will remember your website. Ideally, you’ll want your domain name to reflect the essentials of what your business is about and it should be snappy and easy to remember. Acquiring a domain name is somewhat of an art. It’s quite possible that your perfect domain name is something no one has yet thought of, at which point it’s easily acquired through your hosting company at no charge. However, if your perfect website name is owned it can be a challenge to acquire. There are entire companies that purchase domain names with the sole purpose of brokering them to people who want the name for their business. At this point you have to decide what the domain is worth to you. If someone has already beat you to it and has built a whole site around that domain name it might be best to explore other options. If it is available for purchase, then it all comes down to what you’re willing to pay.

The code you can also pay for, but most hosting sites now come with their own website builder which can handle the code for you. Although these website builders are rudimentary, they can easily handle a variety of different website formats and give the user several different style sheets to choose from. If you have time, building your own website can be fun.


Stepping it up a notch, WordPress has become the gold standard in website design. WordPress takes a day to learn and a lifetime to master. Ultimately, it is an incredibly powerful and versatile tool for building websites. The program (or code, since technically it’s not a program) is free, but you’ll definitely be investing your time to learn how to use it. It can be as simple as downloading the code for a template, or completely building your own style sheet and code right from scratch. Scouring the web there all kinds of add-ons that are available that are simple enough to add to your website’s code and that can make your website all the more engaging to the visitor.

Website Design

Website design has become a niche all unto itself and there are plenty of companies and freelancers out in the marketplace who are happy to do the legwork of building the code for your website for you. This is essentially the code that you can pay for and although prices can vary substantially, so can the quality of the workmanship. Obviously, a more complicated website brings with it a heftier price tag. It’s standard practice for companies and freelancers to have a portfolio of designs so that you know what your getting into before you buy, but ultimately their job is to make your website as concise, easy to navigate, and engaging as possible.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Free Minute Book with Incorporation

This week, incorporate your business with and receive a FREE minute book ($75 value) with your incorporation order.

To receive this offer, use the promotional code CCINCMB7514* in your shopping cart when placing your incorporation order in any jurisdiction. Please ensure that the minute book option is checked before clicking the Order Now button.

To place your order, please click here.

A corporate minute book is used to hold all the important documents related to your business to keep everything in one place in an organized and professional manner. A minute book is premium law firm quality with a hard cover and slip case for a 3 ring binder. It comes with the name of your corporation on a brass finished plaque on the spine, and corporate dividers.

*Promotional code is valid from February 17 to 21 2014.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Art of Self-assessment

Self-assessment is an art, and knowing precisely who we are, where we’re at, and what we offer is an essential component to business management. Looking inward can be cathartic, it can be eye opening, and it can even be shocking. But no matter what, it has to be revealing and it has to be authentic. In the process of assessing ourselves, if the truth does not surface, even if it’s a hard truth to face, your business could soon find itself in peril. Of course, it’s hard, even seemingly impossible, to be incredible – to always be ahead of the business game and driving the market forward – but it should always be an ideal to strive toward. Most of the time every business out there is just trying to stay relevant and stay in the game – we want to find a niche, grab a slice, and build a life. A credible business that stays true to itself and that feels solid from sunrise to sunset is where the lion’s share of us to look to invest our time and energy - it’s how we earn our living; it’s how we eat. Done properly, a thorough self-assessment can be the difference between being a credible business and being an incredible business. On the other hand, an inauthentic self-assessment can be the difference between being credible and being eaten alive.

Leave your ego at the door

The story of how the artist suffered through countless years of having their work overlooked and receiving rejection after rejection before they eventually had their big breakthrough is so mainstream that it’s become cliché. Typically, the reason even some of the greatest artists, musicians, and writers suffered for so long isn’t because the world wasn’t ready, or that their work just hadn’t reached its audience, it’s because their work probably wasn’t very good. Inventors also go through hundreds of designs that fail miserably before they hit on the one that works, goes public, and then viral.

The roadblock that proves so difficult for these artists and inventors to overcome is their own conceptions of their real, or perceived, talent. In much the same way that a mother always believes her child is the most beautiful baby ever born, so an artist believes that their work is brilliant. It’s too crushing to the psyche to admit that what came from the most intimate part of us is ugly or worthless, so we end up living in denial instead of taking the positive out of negative criticism.

Harness the force of negative feedback

Anyone who has studied the ancient Chinese martial art of judo understands that the key to subduing your opponent is to use their own weight, and their own force, against them. This is how we have to begin to understand self-assessment from a business standpoint. If our work, or our product, is receiving negative feedback it’s important to make the distinction that it’s not as much about our clients pointing out our inadequacies, as it is about responding to what our clients are telling us they want. Every piece of negative feedback, whether about your product or service, or your competitors, is a window into what customers in your market are looking for. Isn’t business, after all, about meeting that demand?

The seldom-told story

Whereas the story of the struggling artist has become almost trite, there is another story that you don’t really ever hear about. It’s the story about the artist who after years and years of rejection eventually just gave up and was never heard of, ever. It’s not a story many people like telling, but the unfortunate reality is that it is by far the more common. Conventional wisdom tells us that what separates the successful artist from the one that got out of the game was a result of their superior talent. But in art, as in business, Darwinian principles rule where it is not the strongest of the species that survives, but the one most responsive to change. The successful artist, like a successful business, is able to tap into what their clientele is looking for by successfully internalizing the criticism they receive. After an objective self-assessment whose focus is on growth, one can then use any criticism to make positive strides forward and leap from being edible to credible, or even credible to incredible. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

How to Conduct a Meeting

Meetings, when properly directed, are a great way to get everyone on the same page, strategize, and brainstorm with the aim of moving the company in the right direction. If a meeting lacks the necessary focus, however, it can represent a colossal time-suck and a waste of everybody’s resources. It’s essential to have a clear picture of why a meeting is necessary and what needs to be accomplished. Below are a few “don’ts” and “dos” when it comes to taking the lead and conducting a great meeting.

DON’T conduct meetings every week for the sake of conducting a meeting – it can lead to so many annoying little problems like the anticipation of the dreaded weekly meeting, the didn’t-we-just-discuss-this-last-week feeling, or the incessant mulling over minutia. Not every decision in a company should be left to a democracy and it’s really only beneficial to call a meeting when one is deemed truly necessary.

DO include everyone - if you’ve decided that now is the time to have a meeting it should be because some kind of shift in direction is necessary. Sea changes can implicate the whole company and you might be surprised by who has big ideas. If wholesale changes are necessary, and you limit your company’s rebranding to the marketing team because you see it exclusively as a marketing issue, you’re effectively limiting your options moving forward.

DON’T make your meetings about one-on-ones – a meeting where everyone is gathered waiting for their turn to speak and explain what they do is likely to cause attendees to zone out. The key to a great meeting, and getting great ideas out, is to keep everyone engaged. Set aside time to have one-on-ones so that everyone can communicate what’s relevant about their particular position and then connect them with whoever they might need in other departments. Remember, meetings are about the big picture, not the details.

DO have a clear idea of what needs to be accomplished – a meeting’s focus can be lost so easily by getting bogged down in details. It’s imperative that, when leading a team meeting, you know exactly where your team is at and where they should be by the end. It’s possible to know the answers without having the means to articulate it, so cluing in to what’s being shared in a meeting should be what allows you to formulate an expression of what you know is already there.

DON’T get sidetracked by things that are irrelevant – although it’s important to keep things lighthearted and fun, maintaining control over the direction of the meeting is essential to make progress. Meetings can suffer from too many questions or too much fine-tuning. Ideas discussed at meetings should be global, not particular. It’s important not to just gloss over the details, but keep in mind that the grandeur of an issue should reflect the size and duration of a meeting.

DO allow everyone a chance to shine  - although you’re in control and you make the decisions, a meeting can never be about you. You can communicate company values in an email, but you get feedback in a meeting. Having an open mind, ceding the floor and jumping in only to direct traffic, should be the leader’s role in any meeting.


Meetings aren’t the kind of thing you want built into the framework of your company but it’s important to have systems in place that keep you in contact with the various branches of your business. A constant stream of meetings can devalue their importance and, as a team leader, it’s important to distinguish between when everyone needs to be brought together and when it’s time to meet one-on-one. Meetings represent an opportunity to shake things up, keep everyone on their toes, and pull them out of the doldrums of the regular routine. Suddenly throwing everyone into a collaborative environment of equals often has an effect of stimulating out-of-the-box thinking and it can be surprising where the next great idea can come from.