The second annual Microsoft Small Business video contest is here!

02-small-biz-contestMicrosoft is launching their second annual Small Business video contest, and we need your help. Last year we launched our first small business video contest with a simple request for small businesses to share their business stories via a 2-minute video. We reached 21 million people and had over 175 entries.

Our 2016 contest, starting January 25, is a great opportunity for business influencers to help small businesses in the US.

We will recognize the best, most inspirational and original video that showcases a small business story. The grand prize winner will win $20,000, new Surface Pro 4s, and subscriptions to Office 365 for their business (up to 10 devices/seats) in addition to a publicity package.

In addition, this year we will award a prize to four business associations. When a business connected to your organization enters the contest, they can write in your organization name for a chance to win a Surface Pro 4 and one-year subscription to Office 365.

The 2015 grand prize winner was Citizen Frederick, a men’s retail clothing store. Other winners included an innovative technology product for pets, a women’s clothing boutique, an embroidery franchise and a frame shop. Among the dozens of entries we received there were many inspirational stories from non-profits, retail, and online businesses.

Contestants can read more and enter the contest

“It was great fun and more importantly, our small business was seen by a few more people… It is great for a large company like Microsoft to support the little guys and both Luke and I appreciate your help!”
~ Custom-Wood-Urns

How you can help

We encourage you to be a part of this campaign and help make it a success by promoting it to your members. Following are a couple of suggestions:

Project Health Reporting – The Overlooked Project Success Factor

02-project-healthSooner or later every organization is faced with a technology or organization change project in trouble. Most times we find out when the money is gone or when it’s too late to do anything beyond surviving the outcome. Very often project sponsors see project reporting as a routine process that only requires selecting the right project manager, outsourced systems integrator or systems provider. Experience tells us this perception is far from valid. Those of us who have run projects or supervised the work of project managers recognize four realities:

  • Good projects led by strong project managers sometimes go bad
  • Project Managers are under tremendous pressure to show progress
  • Most reporting is after a problem surfaces, rather than leading in anticipation of a problem
  • In large projects and multi-project programs, key communications and expectations are often missed or misinterpreted

These realities led us to look at a two-phase approach to look at project health/status reporting that goes beyond the typical, cost, schedule, and issue reporting.

The first step is to apply a type of 360° assessment to strategic projects. In this approach, input is collected from key project players — half on the management or customer side and half on the in-house or contracted integration or project delivery side. Weekly input is collected anonymously. Each factor is rated on a simple scale from poor to excellent.

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The weekly collection is displayed in a dashboard that allows decision makers to look at trends that anticipate current and emerging issues. The cross section and anonymous nature of inputs removes the bias towards looking successful.

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The second phase aligns expectations in order to ensure everyone on the team is on the same page. This step addresses the critical communication of expectations within the project team and between the project team and key stakeholders.

The purpose is not to perfect the expectations between all members of a large team as the number of combinations would become unmanageable. We want to:

  • Identify the key relationships (e.g. Sponsor to Project Manager; Project Manager to Technical Lead, Architect, or Process Analyst; etc.)
  • Identify areas of misalignment and take corrective action at project initiation, key milestones and in response to issues raised through “Pulse Checks” mentioned above
    1. Coach each stakeholder to develop specific and measurable expectations of others and what they think is expected of them for identified areas of misalignment
    2. Analyze results to identify the largest misalignments
    3. Feedback the results to the Project Stakeholders and develop an action plan to resolve expectation differences

This two phase approach moves project reporting from a rehash of what has happened to a dynamic look at the drivers of project success. It will enable decision makers to anticipate problems and when required, develop a blueprint to full project recovery.

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In terms of overall project delivery, project controls and health checks are one part of the project delivery process, which also includes steps required to initiate, plan, execute, and close. Success in all areas requires strong and systematic project management to ensure delivery that meets requirements within budget and on-time. For projects that require a change in behavior beyond product delivery, we strongly believe emphasis needs to be placed on organization change management to assure realization of measureable business value.


Social Media Tips and Tricks

02-SMMtipsPick One Platform

If you don’t have time to fully devote to social media upkeep, choose one platform (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram) and do it well.


Choose how much time you want to devote to social media and include it in your weekly/daily schedule. Pre-write any posts/blogs and proof before sharing (spelling mistakes and grammar errors get called out all the time!) Make sure if you are posting pictures that the picture is cropped to showcase correctly. Great shots of products are only great if the product is visible!

Find Your Voice

If you have the ability to do so personify your business. Decide on a voice that fits your brand and attach your target demographic to it. For instance, if you are selling sneakers, perhaps the voice is that of a runner. If you are promoting a day care perhaps the voice is a grandma that smells like cookies. Have fun with it but really think through and commit. Consistency is incredibly important to develop a solid personification.

Target Audience Digital/Advertising

Take a look at some of the costs of advertising on Facebook. It is REALLY cheap in comparison to other avenues and it hits your target audience! Be aware that this ad needs to be less than 7 words if possible since people will view it scrolling. I would recommend an image and a punchy headline. Also, here is a weird thing…stay away from putting words on a red background. We discovered in our research that people don’t typically read words on red. Decide where your audience will be directed if they click on the add. Would you like them to go to your home page, to the actual item picture, to a lead capture form? You might have to do some testing to find out what works best. Digital add designs are one place that I would recommend consulting with an expert. Paying a little bit for an hour or two to sit down with some one and talk through what really captures people’s attention is never a bad thing.

Have Fun

Social media reaches a mass audience, have fun with it. The more interesting your business is portrayed in the online community the more followers you will. Take selfies of events you attend or places you go and tag people/places/businesses. Share posts or articles that were interesting to you and say why when you post it. Shout out to people that you meet or know publicly on social media, promote others and they will promote you!

Build A Fan Base

This is where it really gets going. If you can, offer contests for your audience and give away prizes to whoever wins. For example, who ever get’s a 100 likes on a picture of your product first will receive a free sample. Get creative with it and reward your followers that are constantly retweeting, sharing, and liking your business. Create some monthly online event that promotes your product or service — Today is donut day send us a pic of your favorite donut! Highlight local events and associate your business with them “Come on out to (event) and visit us!” The list can go on. Pretty much anything you can think of to share with your fans or get them to like and repost is where you will see fantastic results!


Because social media is so easy to track you will be able to see your return on investment and will quickly understand that spending a couple hours on social media a day will really help generate business!

Social Media Options

Facebook: Facebook allows you to post pictures and long captions. Facebook pages don’t show up in news feeds often. The best ways to get people to share your posts are to ask for people to share your posts and to promote your posts. Promoting doesn’t cost a lot of money. Seriously, it’s not expensive at all and you’ll be seen.

Twitter: Twitter is fast-paced. This platform works well with restaurants and bars especially. The key to Twitter is to not take yourself and your business too seriously. Have fun and tweet back to the people who tweet at your business.

Instagram: Instagram is great for businesses that have goods that can be photographed. Clothing, furniture, food. If it can be photographed, it can be Instagrammed. Make sure your pics are in focus!

LinkedIn: LinkedIn works similarly to Facebook, but is more professionally oriented. Ditch the casual and familiar language for more professional language. LinkedIn is good for B2B businesses and for finding new hires.

Now go be a social human!

On Leadership – In a start-up environment

02-leadershipThe subject of “leadership” is an interesting one and many people have offered their opinions.

My overriding belief is that not everyone is a “born leader.” You can attend classes on leadership and maybe learn the principles, but that doesn’t mean that you can become an effective leader. Or, perhaps more on point, just because a person assumes the mantle of leadership (like the title of president of a start-up), it does not defacto make that individual a leader. Only by actions and not words can someone be considered a leader.

In my opinion, a leader has:

  • Such extraordinary confidence in his/her abilities, that subordinating his ego for the benefit of the company isn’t a thought;
  • The vision of the future and is able to communicate that vision in all of the others on the team and motivate them to accomplish great things;
  • The ability to make sure that important things get done, even if he doesn’t do them directly
  • Is driven to see the venture to succeed
  • Embraces the team mentality — “we” and “us” and never the “me” or “I” For now, I’ll contrast the traits seen as important to strong leadership with those seen as “fatal flaws” that doom a person as a leader.

In an article, “Decoding leadership: What really matters,” McKinsey & Company highlighted four key attributes that account “for 89% of the variance between strong and weak organizations.”

These are:

  • Being an effective problem solver — problem solving is the precursor of decision making. A leader gathers information, analyzes it and then makes a considered decision. Along the way, in my opinion, a leader, especially a self-confident leader, will draw upon the opinions of others and reach a composite decision.
  • Operating with a strong results orientation — setting objectives or having a vision on the horizon isn’t enough. A strong leader actually accomplishes milestones that move the organization toward the longer term goal.
  • Seeking different perspectives — it is important to enlist the opinions of others. Drawing conclusions based on a composite is not a sign of weakness. Rather is shows confidence and involves others in the decision process. This engenders a strong team orientation and has people “buy-into” the directions being taken.
  • Being supportive — leaders consider how others feel. Ignoring those around you diminishes your effectiveness as a leader.

In some ways, it might actually be easier to understand the true characteristics of leadership by highlighting those of a bad leader. A good reference for this is a Forbe’s article from 2012 titled “15 Ways to Identify Bad Leaders.”

  1. Leaders who can’t see it probably won’t find it: Leaders without vision will fail. Leaders who lack vision cannot inspire teams, motivate performance, or create sustainable value.
  2. When leaders fail to lead themselves: A leader who lacks character or integrity will not endure the test of time. It doesn’t matter how intelligent, affable, persuasive, or savvy a person is, if they are prone to rationalizing unethical behavior based upon current or future needs, they will eventually fall prey to their own undoing.
  3. Put-up or shut-up: Nothing smacks of poor leadership like a lack of performance. Nobody is perfect, but leaders who consistently fail are not leaders, no matter how much you wish they were.
  4. Beware the know-it-all: The best leaders are acutely aware of how much they don’t know.
  5. When there’s a failure to communicate: When leaders are constantly flummoxed by those who don’t seem to get it, there exists both a leadership and communications problem. Show me a leader with poor communication skills and I’ll show you someone who will be short-lived in their position.
  6. It’s all about them: If a leader doesn’t understand the concept of “service above self” they will not engender the trust, confidence, and loyalty of those they lead. Any leader is only as good as his or her team’s desire to be led by them. An over abundance of ego, pride, and arrogance are not positive leadership traits. Real leaders take the blame and give the credit – not the other way around. Long story short – if a leader receives a vote of no-confidence from their subordinates…game over.
  7. Sing a little Kumbaya: While love and leadership are certainly two words you don’t often hear in the same sentence, I can assure you that rarely does great leadership exist without love being present and practiced.
  8. One size fits all leadership style: The best leaders are fluid and flexible in their approach. They understand the power of, and necessity for contextual leadership. “My way or the highway” leadership styles don’t play well in today’s world, will result in a fractured culture, and ultimately a non-productive organization.
  9. Lack of focus: Leadership is less about balance and more about priority. The best leaders are ruthless in their pursuit of focus. Those leaders who lack the focus and attention to detail needed to apply leverage and resources in an aggressive and committed fashion will perish.
  10. Death by comfort zone: The best organizations beat their competition to the future, and the best leaders understand how to pull the future forward.
  11. Not paying attention to the consumer: Leaders not attuned to the needs of the market will fail. As the old saying goes, if you’re not taking care of your customers, someone else will be more than happy to. Successful leaders focus on the consumer experience, which in turn leads to satisfaction and loyalty.
  12. Get Invested: Leaders not fully committed to investing in those they lead will fail. The best leaders support their team, build into their team, mentor and coach their team, and they truly care for their team.
  13. The “A” word: Real leaders are accountable. They don’t blame others, don’t claim credit for the success of their team, but always accept responsibility for failures that occur on their watch.
  14. It’s the culture stupid: The lesson here is that culture matters – forget this and all other efforts with regard to talent initiatives will be dysfunctional, if not altogether lost.
  15. Show some chutzpa: Leadership absent courage is a farce. I’m not referring to arrogance or bravado, but real courage. It takes courage to break from the norm, challenge the status quo, seek new opportunities, cut your losses, make the tough decision, listen rather than speak, admit your faults, forgive the faults of others, not allow failure to dampen your spirit, stand for those not capable of standing for themselves, and to remain true to your core values.

That’s 15 characteristics of “faux leadership” which often translate to “toxic” leadership, especially in a start-up environment. I’ve recently disengaged from a situation in which the anointed leader was a habitual “me and I” person and who was incapable of making progress on even the simplest milestones. Truly, leadership means getting stuff done and motivating the team to do it.