Sunday, September 07, 2014

How To Deal With Creativity Slump

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Your team works well together, solves problems, and comes up with innovative, unique ideas. Except when they don't. If your team is in a creative slump, here are five ways you can end it.

1. Identify the Blocks

Denial is your enemy. Awareness is your friend. If everybody is sitting around, pretending like everything is going just fine, you need to step in. Open the discussion so that they can be open about their difficulties. Ask questions and listen to their answers. Chances are, they already know a few issues - or, perhaps, many - that are causing blocks. Set up a team meeting and talk about what is blocking the normal creative flow you have come to expect from them. The goal of the meeting should not be to destroy all creative blocks, but to figure out what they are. Sometimes, talking through the issue will prove to the solution. If communication problems, personality conflicts, or internal stress is the source of reduced creativity, an open and supportive discussion can do a lot to resolve it. If, however, the issues are different, you will know how to start addressing them once you know what they are.

2. Take an Enforced Break

Walking stimulates creativity. Sleeping stimulates creativity.

Most likely, neither of those things is happening when your team is actively working on a creative project. If the pressure is on and the deadline is looming, your team members are focused and stressed. And that stance is kind of the opposite of what creativity needs. Enforce a break, of a few hours, a half day, or more if you can afford it. Require no work during the break: team members should take personal time, take a walk, take a nap. After the break, your team will be able to get back to work with refreshed minds and new creative energy.

3. Work on a Different Project

The magic of creativity is in the diverse connections made. Inventiveness doesn't usually happen from stumbling across brand-new knowledge, but in combining well-known facts in new ways. In order to do that, though, the brain needs input from a variety of sources. Stimulation is important. If your team has been hunkered down, working on a single task or on very similar projects, their brains are starved for new input, different input, a variety of sources. Move the team to something completely different for a while, then come back later with fodder for fresh connections.

4. Take the Pressure Off


There's another thing creativity doesn't like very much: pressure. People might feel like they are being creative when they come up with solutions under stress, but research shows that both the quality and creativity of work plummets when stress is high. Remove or extend deadlines. Give your team some breathing space. Bring in more team members so that tasks and responsibilities can be spread out. Add more resources. Creativity is a function of growth, not survival. If the brain interprets the environment as a threatening one, it will not be searching for new and novel ways to respond. It will be coming up with quick, defensive measure to end the threat (or stress) as quickly as possible.

5. Impose Limits

Generality does not heighten creativity. There's a reason that Hallmark cards don't go down in the annals of great poetry: generalities do not make powerful images. Generalities do not produce powerful creativity, either. Creativity responds to challenges (not pressure) when there is a particular need to be met. If you've asked your team to "be creative" about a broad area or request, try tightening the scope. Define the lines. Set boundaries. Name the problem, as specifically as possible, and then work on a single, focused solution.

Bitrix24 is a free online team productivity and collaboration platform. Use promocode TIP10 when registering your free Bitrix24 account to get extra 10GB

See also:

- 5 Simple Things You Can Do to Improve Workplace Productivity
- Intranet review checklist – seven must-have features for ANY intranet
- Social HR 101: What is social intranet?
- Mobile Productivity Dos and Don'ts
- Michael Leander - People still make the same email marketing mistakes they did ten years ago
- Free Asana alternative

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Effective Idea Management In Small Groups

Ideas are worthless unless implemented. To make the most of those creative brains on your small team, you can’t have a brainstorming session and leave it at that. You need to have a system in place to manage ideas fr om the initial burst of insight to complete execution. 

The Three Stages of Idea Management 
There are three essential stages in idea management: 
Stage 1: Capture/Input Stage 2: Feedback/Analysis Stage 3: Decision/Action 
All three stages are necessary. With a smaller team, you can move more quickly fr om one to another, but you still need to work in the right order to manage ideas effectively. 
Stage 1: Effective Collection 
The best ideas are often the ones that sound a little crazy. Sadly, those are the ideas we are most likely to reject because they sound, well, a little crazy. It’s important to create a truly open space where all of the ideas can come out and introduce themselves. Welcome all ideas equally in order to keep getting a lot of ideas. Quantity produces quality; let your team members know that all of their ideas are welcome. The more the better. It’s a lot like panning for gold: you have to sift through a good bit of silt to find that nugget. 

Takeaway: Make Stage 1 a friendly, open, any-idea-welcome environment. This shouldn’t be the place or time where you analyze weaknesses or discuss budgets. It should be a place where you capture all the ideas, sort them out according to the problem or project they address, and get them lined up for feedback in Stage 2. 

Stage 2: Effective Discussion 
It’s important to look at ideas with an eye for reality. An objective discussion, with insight from various team members, is how you determine if an idea goes forward or goes away. Most people will respond with initial negativity to ideas that are new or foreign to them. This is the curse of unfamiliarity, and every innovator has faced it. Establish a few rules for the feedback cycle to keep a balance. You don’t want unnecessary negativity, but you do want smart analysis and objective thinking. 
Rules might include 

Takeaway: Stage 2 is a forum which allows the necessary people to camp out around a few ideas and talk them over. Putting guidelines in place keeps it productive, rather than personal, and moves the ideas forward faster into the realm of action. 

Stage 3: Effective Execution 
For each idea, set a time lim it on discussion. While some ideas might require a little more research, do the minimum necessary to make an informed decision. Every moment spent in discussion is a moment taken away from the stage wh ere results happen: execution. Keep discussions from lingering on an idea that just isn’t ready for reality yet. Lower the hammer, quickly and finally. For the ideas that pass, remember these two truths: 
  • 1. Everybody likes getting credit.
  • 2. Execution matters more than ideation. 
A mediocre idea carried out excellently will accomplish more for your business than an excellent idea carried out halfway. Give credit for the idea by tagging the idea generator as the idea executor. 
Takeaway: Make a clear decision about each idea, designate an idea leader, give access to the resources, budget, time, and team members needed, and then get out of the way. 

The Final Stage: Assessment and Reward 
After a reasonable amount of time, bring the team together to analyze both successful and failed ideas. Was it completed? Executed well? Did it work? If so, give rewards and recognition and look into implementing the idea further, if appropriate. 
If not, figure out why. Was the idea flawed? Were there problems in leadership, execution, lack of resources? Was there some unknown circumstance that popped up and threw the whole thing off course? The more you understand your idea management system, the more efficient and effective you can be as you continue gathering, analyzing, and executing ideas. 

Bitrix24 is a free enterprise social network and idea management solution. Use promocode TIP10 when registering your free Bitrix24 account to get extra 10GB 

See also: 

- Best free internal communication software and tools 
- How to build successful inside sales team - tips from inside sales guru Josiane Feigon 
- Keith Burton: Why email will never die 
- Plan your day BEFORE you check your email and other simple email lifehacks from Graham Allcott
 
- 5 Simple Online Calendar Management Tips 
- The biggest project management mistake that companies make

Friday, August 01, 2014

10 Tips To Increase Your PR Tenfold

Note - this article has been originally written for TheNextWeb. 

PR is hard. And expensive. Most of the time, you get nothing out of it. And when your company finally is mentioned in an article, even in a big publication, the results can be disappointing. Like that time when we got a whooping 169 visitors after getting intoZDNet. 

Over the past two years, I’ve made a lot of PR mistakes. I’ve also got Bitrix24 into Forbes, VentureBeat, ReadWrite, PCWorld, PCMag, TechRepublic, CIO, ITWorld and 200+ other tech publications. I’ve learned that what you do with the article AFTER it’s published is frequently a lot more important than what do you before. And I am happy to share my insights with you. 

1. Pay for LinkedIn Inmail. 

LinkedIn Inmail is the cheapest and most effective way to pitch journalists. My account cost me $100 a month and at least 50% of all mentions of Bitrix24 in the press are results of LinkedIn pitches. The most amazing thing about LinkedIn is that once you find one or two journalists, their network will actually show you who else to contact –editors in the same or other publications. It saves you a lot of time. Also with Inmail the results are guaranteed, you pay only for those messages that got read by their recipients. 

2. Contributors are better than editors. 

Publishing industry is about pageviews – that’s how advertising is sold. To get pageviews, you need content. To get content, you need to pay journalists. That’s exactly why a lot of publications now - we are talking about Forbes, Entreperneur or Inc here – have blogger/contributor sections. Free content. Your competition and traditional PR agencies are pitching editors, who receive dozens, if not hundreds of proposals every day. My personal experience suggests that contributors and experts are actually much better ‘targets’. 

3. Twitter stalking 

After you get to know most editors who cover your niche, you should start following their Twitter accounts. When you see a tweet that you can meaningfully respond to or comment on, do so. If you consistently comment and retweet someone’s account for 2-3 months, they’ll start noticing. Now you can pitch. Hint – the best way to do this is with a question. 

4. Pitch in multiple formats. 

The same data can be presented in multiple formats – report, infographics, slideshare presentation, webinar, video and so on. Last Christmas we did a report about social intranet use. We first pitched it as a study that got picked up by major tech publications, like ReadWrite. We then released infographics based on the same data and got a score of mentions again. I now know that I should also include podcast and videocast friendly materials in my pitches (you can’t easily show infographics in a podcast, and podcasters are almost universally overlooked). 

5. Content amplification (free). 

We’ve got mentioned in Forbes twice, both times by contributors. One article had 50,000+ views within the first week. Another one got less than 2500 views in the same period of time. Why the difference? Reddit and StumbleUpon. Your corporate Twitter and Facebook are a given. Make sure you submit articles that mention your product or service to Digg, Reddit, Delicious and other free content amplification tools to drive more traffic to them. You won’t always have 100% success rate, but when your articles get picked up by Reddit or StumbleUpon, the results are amazing. 

6. Content amplification (paid) 

If you can’t get your content amplified for free, don’t worry, there are services like Outbrain (what we use) or Taboola that let buy amplification. There are several instances when using them makes sense. Some publications rank articles according to pageviews. By driving traffic to your article, you get more pageviews, ranking it higher. Another instance is when your old article got tapped out and is buried so deep no one can see it. 

7. SEO 

Let’s face it – Google likes Forbes.com a lot better than your site or ours. You can use that to your advantage. For hypercompetitive phrases like ‘productivity tools’ or ‘collaboration tools’ where our own website has no chance of getting to the front page results, we use SEO (links with anchor text and social media mentions) to improve ranking of articles that mention Bitrix24. Not only it’s easier to improve SERP results for high authority domain, people trust publications a lot more than vendors sites. 

8. Giveaways 

When we launched the service, we decided to make it free to startups for a year but journalists weren’t interested in covering this. So we changed our PR pitch to Bitrix24 announces $1.2 million grant program for startups. Than minor tweak made all the difference. We also routinely partner with other publications for giveaways (last time we raffled away Parrot AR.Drone to TWN readers). Many publications are happy to promote your giveaways for free, some charge sponsored post free, but the advantage of giveaways is that you can run them all year around, and not wait for a new release or major product update to contact editors. 

9. Lists 

There are two ways to get onto lists. First way is to find a year old article and contact the author, asking if he or she is planning an update. That’s how we got onto PCMag’s Best Free Web Apps list. Another way is to hire a guest blogger to write and place a list for you in a blog that accepts such posts (see 9 Best Free Business Productivity Tools For Startups), I highly recommend Maricel Rivera of SourcingPen.com for the job. The best thing about them is that lists beget lists. When I see our service mentioned on a list that I did not solicit, most of the time I know which older list was used as an inspiration. 

10. Promote others 

I try to mention as many other tools and services when promoting Bitrix24 as possible (lists make this easy). Even when these services partially compete with us. Most social media managers are very happy to retweet any article that mentions their brand. A lot of time they’ll link to the article from their website or social media pages too. Hey, the more qualified traffic, the better. 

There are actually a lot more techniques that we used to improve Bitrix24 visibility and drive traffic to our website. And we’ve increased our ROI by a lot more than 10X after we dumped our last PR agency. Unless we are running a big promotion, our PR related expenses are around $500 a month, and we get 10-20 new articles mentioning Bitrix24 during a typical 30 day period. Our last agency cost us $7000 a month and delivered no results. 

If you want ‘predictable’ and affordable PR, here’s what you have to do. First, contact journalists directly via social media with short pitches, not press-releases, and try developing relationships with them over time. Second, keep looking for new formats, because you aren’t Google and nobody cares about your new release. Third, develop a solid post publication strategy to squeeze out as much traffic from each article as possible. Finally, concentrate on ‘grassroot PR’ activities that improve your chances of being mentioned in media, without you pitching them directly. 

Bitrix24 is a free enterprise social network and online collaboration solution. Use promocode TIP10 when registeringyour free Bitrix24 account to get extra 10GB 

See also: 

- Best free internal communication software and tools 
- How to build successful inside sales team - tips from inside sales guru Josiane Feigon 
- Keith Burton: Why email will never die 

- The biggest project management mistake that companies make 
- Effective Idea Management for Your Small Team
Tags: communications, productivity, sales, tips

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Intranet check list

So you are planning to launch a company intranet or want to replace your fossilized SharePoint portal. There are more than 30 intranet vendors to choose fr om and you are lost. After all, intranets aren't cheap and you don't want to make a mistake. Don’t worry, this intranet evaluation checklist will help narrow down your intranet choices to only the best solutions: 
1. Cloud AND self-hosted. 

You ONLY want solution that gives you these two choices and most vendors do. Cloud-based intranet services are usually very inexpensive and require no involvement fr om intranet developers who charge a pretty penny. That’s a plus. However, cloud intranets have few customization options and some, like Yammer, are known to have regular and prolonged outages. You want to have an option to migrate to cloud (if your intranet budget is slashed) or go from cloud to server (if you need customization or for compliance in your industry) any time you want to. Stay away from vendors wh ere you have only one choice. 

2. Classic AND social. 

Classic intranets are boring. True. Social intranets are hip, and younger workers love them. This is true, as is the fact that in many companies, social intranets devolve into an internal Facebook with mindless chatter. This is what a classic intranet looks like. This is EXACTLY the same intranet with a social interface. Let your workers chose which one they prefer. Again, stay away from vendors who force you to pick sides. 

3. Email inside the intranet 

Perhaps not a requirement but a GREAT idea and here is why: people use email daily. They probably use other communication tools as well – telephone, group chat, mobile messaging, and videoconferencing. When you add communication tools inside intranets, you kill two birds with one stone. First, you draw people into daily intranet use, solving the ‘zombie intranet’ issue that plagues so many companies. Second, you keep all conversations in one place, making them very easy to find. 

4. Employee self-service 

Employee self-service is probably the easiest way to boost intranet deployment ROI. A self-service portal can greatly reducethe load on your HR and IT departments, eliminating hours and hours of repetitive and low-value work. Things like vacation time approvals, business trip requests, meeting room booking, and IT service requests can be handled optimally by utilizing employee self-service (ESS) features in your intranet. 

5. e-Learning and knowledge management 

Intranets are perfect for accumulating knowledge, both formal and informal. Wikis, knowledge base, idea management, skill tags, employee workbooks, sales manuals, online testing - these can be easily integrated into your intranet and there are intranets that already come with these included ‘out of the box’. 

6. Project and planning 

You’ve probably noticed that companies that don’t have intranets rely on project management solutions to coordinate work. Many project management vendors add features like activity stream, file sharing and shared calendars to their solutions, making them very intranet-like. That’s because intranets and project management are made for each other. 

7. Search 

Intranet search is one of the most overlooked, but incredibly important features. Intranet search must be fast, thorough and smart. The first one is obvious. Thorough means ability to search EVERYWHERE, including inside documents, calendars, wikis and so on. Smart search means structured and permission-based search. For example, when you enter an employee name, you should get different categories – employee profile page, messages created by this employee, his or her blog post and, lastly, mentions of the person. The search box should also have filters (date range, categories) that narrow down the search results. 

We hope that this checklist will help you make you a smart choice. Obviously, we’ll be delighted if you pick Bitrix24, which comes not only with all of these, but 35+ other tools that practically guarantee success. Even if you don’t, we’d at least advise that you make some intranet consultants sweat and stutter as they try to explain why their expensive solution doesn’t have half the features that the free edition of Bitrix24 comes with.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Free Slack Alternative

Slack is all the rage these days. Twitter is full of excited slackers. VentureBeat says Slack will change the workplace. TechCrunch praises Slack. So does pretty much every other media outlet. HipChat and Flowdock must be losing customers left and right, I imagine. Is there anything out there, that’s better than Slack? 
I think so. To me, the best Slack alternative is Bitrix24. Not because it’s free for small teams and has affordable unlimited user plans, but because it offers tools that Slack should be offering. These are:
1.     Solo and group videocalls
 
Chat is fine and dandy, but sometimes you want to talk to a person. WebRTC makes video and audio calls from/to PCs and smartphones fairly easy to integrate into your collaboration platform and this is exactly what Bitrix24 did but Slack did not (yet). 

2.     True file management
 
File sharing is fine. But I expect Dropbox-like file sharing. I want files to be available in the cloud, on my PC and mobile devices. I want them to sync and update automatically when someone from my team edited shared file. I want to be able to edit documents directly inside the discussion. Again, not that hard to do and something that Bitrix24 makes available even in the free plan. Strike two, Slack (and HipChat, and Flowdock, and Campfire).

3.     Group tasks and projects
 
I can write a message “Mike, can you please do …” and get a reply “Sure”, but chances are, everyone will forget, myself included. Project management needs instant messaging (I am looking at you, Asana) and team chat absolutely needs tasks and todos. And shared calendars for easy coordination.

4.     Self-hosted version
 
I love cloud, you love cloud, everyone loves cloud. It’s cheap and requires no setup. But then paranoia creeps onto you. What if Slack goes bankrupt? What if NSA is reading all my messages with funny gifs? If only I could can my hands on the source code and put the damn thing on my server, it would do everything I want. Another major Bitrix24 advantage in my view.

5.     Extranet
 
Collaboration is addictive. Team chats are for teams, but very soon you’ll want to use it for talking to clients, freelancers and others who are not employees at your company. This poses serious challenge. You DO want to collaborate with these people, but you DON’T want them to have access to sensitive data and have the same access rights as employees. The solutions? Extranet.

Do you know of other good Slack alternatives? Let me know.

Other freebies:

Free CRM with telephony and phone calls

Free team task manager

Free shared calendars

Free lead management