Category Archives: Business Management

In with Efficiency – Out with Mindless Tradition

In my mind there are few worse things than clinging to a tradition or system without a clear, justifiable purpose. Along the same lines, I’ve always been a huge supporter of finding new and better ways to do things, and I’ve never been content with the words “just because”. From the time I was a child I’ve clung tenaciously to the maxim “Work smarter, not harder”, and this post will endeavor to explore the art of efficiency while identifying the woes of mindless tradition.

I consider myself to be an efficiency expert, and the fact that the last three employers I’ve had have needed to hire two or three people to replace me when I’ve left supports that claim 🙂 So how is it that I am able to be consistently efficient, regardless of what type of work I am doing? Simple…I test and then seek to improve the existing process for every task I’m asked to do. If no process exists, I create one.

Let me give you an example of a common inefficient tradition and its simple solution: QWERTY keyboards.

Did you know that the QWERTY layout was created due to a mechanical deficiency in typewriters? Because typewriters tended to jam when you typed too fast, the inefficient QWERTY layout was created to effectively limit typing speed to non-jamming speeds. The solution? The Dvorak Simplified Keyboard. Dvorak is a much more efficient keyboard layout that allows you to easily type over 100 wpm, with some individuals easily exceeding 200 wpm. Efficiency.

Just because things are being done a certain way doesn’t mean that it is the best way to do things, and it is OK to make a change if a change is needed. That said, don’t immediately dismiss the process you are initially handed. Try it first. If after giving the traditional method a shot you think you can improve it, then by all means do so…just don’t ask for permission first.

You see, it’s almost always easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. Of course, you may be putting your job on the line by testing new methods, but if you succeed you will be hailed as an innovator, and you will find that previously closed doors are now open. If you fail, then you learn from your mistakes and move on.

Another great example of inefficiency and mindless tradition: The 5 day, 40+ hour workweek. I’ve hammered this one to death, and address it in-depth in my Remote Working post, so I won’t go into details here. Sufficeth to say that it is completely and totally unnecessary, is a product of corporate greed and mindless tradition, and that the solution to this global plague is a ROWE (results only work experience).

If you stop to examine your typical workday, and your life in general, you may be surprised at the incredible number of mindless traditions and inefficient tasks that you take part in. For example:

  • Saying “Bless You” when someone sneezes – Last I checked, sneezing is caused by sinus irritation, not by spirit possession. I don’t need to be blessed when I sneeze, thank you very much.
  • Working 5 Days a Week for 40+ Hours – The vast majority of American’s participate in this madness, and it is totally unnecessary. Work for work’s sake is utter insanity.
  • Meetings – I doubt there is any better example of inefficiency than the traditional meeting. No agenda, plenty of wasted time, and nothing that couldn’t have been covered more effectively in an email. Meetings have been around for thousands of years, and are no more useful today than they were then. If you want an example of the drivel that meetings produce, read the Nicene Creed.
  • Spring Cleaning – This originated from two things: that a family’s livestock needed to be kept in the house during Winter to protect them from freezing, and the buildup of soot in the house from inefficient chimneys. Sufficeth to say that houses got incredibly dirty. Thus, when it was warm enough to shut off the fireplace and put the animals back outside in the Spring, the house needed a good “Spring Cleaning”.
  • Christmas – Once again, I wrote an entire post on this subject here: Christmas is not about Christ. I love the holiday, but I recognize it for what it really is, and not for what people think it is. Many holidays fall into the category of mindless tradition. Feel free to enjoy them, but educate yourself first.
  • Shaking Hands – Once again, a tradition that much of the world participates in on a daily basis. This one is incredibly ancient (thousands and thousands of years old), and seems to have originated as a means to identify if someone was a real person or a spirit/devil. Considering the statistics on hand washing after going to the bathroom, this is one tradition that REALLY needs to die.

There are numerous other superstitions and traditions, cultural, linguistic and otherwise, that should no longer exist. Sufficeth to say that we waste a lot of time and effort on useless, worthless things.

If you want to be as efficient as possible, examine everything, and take nothing for granted. The key to efficiency is to get out of your comfort zone, turn off the auto-pilot, and examine your life. Be honest with yourself, and be willing to change what needs changing.

And remember, it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission 🙂

Remote Working and the Virtual Office

For me, July 17th, 2009 was an incredible day…it marked the last day that I would ever spend working in an office.

Yup, that’s correct. For almost a year I have been a remote worker, working quite literally from a virtual office (my office consists of an Acer netbook, a Sprint MiFi cellular router, an iPod Touch and my HTC Mogul). And, bar none, it has been the best year of my adult working life, not to mention the most productive!

Let’s begin with a story: Once upon a time, long long ago, there was this little thing called the industrial revolution. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? It involved factories, lots and lots of workers, and brilliant leaps in efficiency. It completely transformed our country, our economy, and the world. Unfortunately, it had some negative side effects.

You see, along with the industrial revolution came the near universal concept of shifts, aka the evil 8+ hour day and the 40+ hour workweek. Who exactly decided that this was the way it should be? I don’t know, but whoever it was, I expect there is a particularly nasty corner of hell reserved just for them 🙂

This concept, the 8/40 deal, has remained essentially unchanged for the last 200 years or so. That’s right, despite the fact that technology has completely changed the working world, and despite the incredible efficiency that said technology has created, it still somehow magically takes 8 hours per day, 5 days per week to do your work. Doesn’t that seem a bit odd?

Actually, not only is it odd, but it is a complete load of crap. Studies have actually shown that most employees only work, really work, between 3 and 5 hours per day (less on Monday and Friday). And, on top of that, very little of that time is actually spent efficiently, without meetings or interruptions, working on important work. As Pareto would put it, 80+ percent of the real work an employee is doing comes from 20 percent or less of their time. So that employee you think you are paying $20/hr may really be making closer to $100/hr in terms of time spent working effectively.

Enter the concept of remote working.

You see, despite what some employers may think, when you pay someone a salary, or by the project, you are paying for results, not hours. If it is possible to meet or even exceed your required goals and responsibilities in 1/10th the time expected, what’s wrong with that? In my mind, it is up to the company to determine what a fair amount of productivity would be from an employee compared to their salary, and then be happy with quality and productivity equal to or greater than expected, regardless of the time put into the project(s). Time isn’t money…results are money.

Oddly enough, there are many employers who agree! Best Buy, for example, has instituted a ROWE (results only work experience) for all of the employees at its corporate office. They can work whenever and wherever they want, so long as their output and quality meet or exceed a certain standard. Unlimited sick days, unlimited vacation days. No schedule, no office. Just good old fashioned work.

As a result, their productivity has increased, employee happiness and morale has increased exponentially, and the company is better off as a result. Less hours, less money spent, and more profit…isn’t that every company’s dream?

In our connected age, an office is usually a waste of money. Perhaps a few examples would be in order:

  1. Meetings – I can tell you from ample experience that there is rarely if ever a good reason to hold a meeting. A detailed email is almost always going to be more effective and efficient. If you absolutely need a face-to-face, you can use Skype. The video and audio are excellent, and Skype to Skype calls are totally free. No traveling, no building necessary, but a meeting all the same. Make sure to have an agenda to avoid wasting time.
  2. Project CoordinationGoogle Docs, Basecamp, and a private wiki are all excellent options. There are numerous tools to track billable hours spent on a project, such as Rescue Time. You can securely share files with co-workers and clients through Dropbox (2gb free). You of course also have email and Skype as additional options. If you are worried about productivity cutting into billable hours, assign tasks a set hour value, and bill accordingly. That way, efficiency=higher margins 🙂
  3. Phone Calls and Call Centers – Aside from numerous outsourcing options, you can use Google Voice to forward one or more virtual company numbers to any number of other phones. Skype does the same thing, and it’s either free or very cheap. Google Voice can record a call, transcribe a voicemail, and more. Both can forward to cell phones or landlines almost anywhere in the world.
  4. Security Issues – I take security very seriously, so my computer has a difficult password, all client data on my machine is encrypted, and a backup is stored in a secure online Dropbox. I never access the internet through public WiFi spots, instead opting to use my own Sprint Cellular Router, secured of course. I run the best firewall and anti-virus tools available (I highly recommend the Yoggie Gatekeeper Pico Pro), and use a virtual sandbox for any new programs and files just in case. My laptop never leaves my sight, at any time for any reason. I always work with my screen to a wall if I’m in a public place, to avoid prying eyes (you could also use a 3M privacy shield). My computer can even be remotely locked and wiped, should the need arise. Security really isn’t an issue.
  5. Corporate Address – Thank you UPS Box! You get a street address and a “suite” number, all for $20-$30 per month. Some office buildings charge more than that per square foot! If a client wants to meet at your office, let them know that your company is testing a virtual office in an effort to be more green and to increase both productivity and morale. Offer to meet at their office or a restaurant instead. Personally, I’ve never seen any backlash from this, and most clients absolutely love the idea! If you absolutely must have  a physical place to meet from time to time, of a more professional variety, try a Regus Virtual Office or a co-working space with a shared conference room.

The point is, there is really no reason to have an office. The ability to work fewer hours will motivate most employees to create more efficient methods of working, and in most instances to increase the quality of the work, all of which is excellent for the employer.

The employer no longer has to pay for a computer, an office, furniture, utilities, internet, phones, etc. All of that can be on the employee’s dime, which they are usually more than happy to pay for. IT, accounting, HR, sales, and most everything else can easily be outsourced, and any other employees have no real need for an office.

I’ve been doing this for almost a year, with no trouble whatsoever. My productivity has gone way up, the quality of my work is praised constantly, and I have the freedom to run errands and do what I need to do when I need to do it.

If I’m sick, I’m already at home, so no big deal. I see my wife more, which means a great deal to me. When we have children I will be able to spend more time with them, and actually watch them grow up. If I need a vacation I can get ahead on my work, and handle little things as needed from wherever I am or delegate the work to another employee.

I am of course available by phone and email during regular business hours, but that isn’t any inconvenience. I’ve still had 40-50 hour weeks when things were extra busy, but it usually takes much less than that to handle all my work and sometimes more. Clients are happy, I’m happy…honestly, from my perspective there are no negatives.

Save your company some money and do your employees a favor…offer remote working. There has never been a better time to do it, and your customers, employees (and shareholders if you have them) will thank you.

Pareto’s Law and Client Stupidity

I read a quote yesterday from Albert Einstein that says “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.” Working as a consultant in the Internet marketing industry, I can tell you that the latter is absolutely true.

Vilfredo Pareto was a genius, and his 80/20 rule is as applicable today as it was in his time. Case in point, SEO clients.

I am an Internet marketing consultant, specializing in SEO and Social Media. I’ve been working as a consultant in that industry for over 5 years, and in all that time I’ve found that clients, despite paying sometimes ludicrous amounts of money each month for my expertise, rarely do as they are told. Why is that?

For example, just yesterday I had to cancel some work for a client because they have yet to implement changes to their website that I sent to them over 2 months ago. The changes are simple, literally copy and paste, and yet they have not been implemented. I just don’t get it. That client paid $2,625 for those documents/changes.

The sad thing is, that really isn’t unusual! I’ve had client’s paying $5,000, $10,000, even $25,000 per month who have done the exact same thing. They pay, I do, and they ignore. Not too bright, if you ask me.

The reason I reference Pareto’s Law is that, in my experience, only about 1 in 5 clients actually implement the on-site changes I send, and only about 1 in 10 clients do it correctly/completely. Why on God’s green earth would a client pay thousands of dollars for something just to toss it aside? It boggles my mind.

The funniest thing is when I have clients ask me why they aren’t ranking yet, after months of ignoring the changes I send for them to implement. Really? You wonder why you aren’t ranking?

This shouldn’t really bother me, since I get paid whether changes are implemented or not. However, I got into this business to help people make their websites better, to actually improve the quality of what is online, so it really does bother be.

I can say with 100% accuracy that every client I have worked with who has implemented my recommended changes exactly as sent, in a timely manner, has achieved their ranking goals (usually within a matter of a few months). I know what I am doing, and if you are going to pay for the expertise, do us both a favor and LISTEN!

Alas, the only conclusion I can come to is that too many companies have more money than sense. If you are going to pay for something, and your business would benefit from using what you paid for, then common sense would dictate that you use what you paid for…wouldn’t it? 🙂