Secure Online Document Sharing 
Friday, March 21, 2008, 06:54 PM - Computers, E-mail, Links, Small Business, Technology, Work Habits
One of the nice things about the Internet is being able to share information quickly - but it's not always secure, especially when a document is sent by e-mail.

In response to the needs of some of our clients, my company, Midwest New Media, has created a secure alternative to e-mailing sensitive information. This new service, SendItWisely (senditwisely.com), facilitates secure online document sharing in a simple, easy-to-use manner.

So now, instead of e-mailing that sensitive document, you can share it quickly and securely via an SSL connection. Best of all, it's free to try.

SendItWisely is currently in beta testing, so please feel free to send us comments about your experience.
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How to Take a Real Vacation 
Thursday, June 1, 2006, 03:20 PM - E-mail, Life/Work Balance, Phone, Small Business
Now that summer is knocking on the door, vacation planning goes into high gear for many of us, including myself. Here are some tips on how business owners and freelancers can get the most out of their vacations, including a few things I learned the hard way.

1. Don't be directly accessible to clients. You are not really on vacation if you're taking calls from clients or co-workers. If you must remain accessible, ask a trusted colleague to act as a go-between. Your colleague will be able to handle certain requests without contacting you, and can filter out issues that aren't so urgent. This will help convey to clients that your vacation is to be respected, while still giving them some peace of mind while you're away.

2. Tell people in advance. Make sure that everyone you work with on a regular basis knows that you'll be leaving. Notify them far enough in advance that they have the opportunity to tie up any urgent loose ends, and provide them with information on who to contact in your absence.

3. Make sure you can be reached in case of emergency. There will always be times when you're out of reach - on a plane or cruise, driving through the wilderness, or if your cell phone battery runs out. In most cases, however, there's a way that you can be reached, so make it a point to leave your contact information with the people who need you. If you're out of the country, leave the telephone number of your hotel, or the name of the ship that you're cruising with.

4. Avoid e-mail. Before you leave, set up an automated response so that anyone who e-mails you will be notified of your absence. Make sure to include your date of return, an e-mail address for general service requests (if applicable), and a phone number of someone who can be reached in the event of an emergency. While you're away, do everything in your power to avoid checking your e-mail. If you can't resist the computer, use a personal e-mail account to keep in touch with folks back home. If you do check your business e-mail, you probably won't be able to stop thinking about all the little things that could wait until you get home. Even worse, if you respond to someone, you're essentially telling them that you are not on vacation after all. It's just not worth it. Remember, your clients and co-workers will know that their requests will have to wait, and they will have other ways of getting assistance anyway.

(A note for those who do not manage their own e-mail accounts: Make sure that your IT/hosting administrator is aware of your vacation several days in advance of your departure. If you request an autoresponder the night before you leave, it probably won't be set up until some time after your inbox starts filling up.)

5. Avoid the phone. You should also record a new outgoing voice message before you leave, with all the details that are included in your automated e-mail response. It's important to keep a cell phone with you, so that you can be reached by those who have your number, but don't give out your cell phone number in your voice mail greeting!

6. Get some good help. If you really want to leave your worries behind, it's vital that you have a support system in place. Train a co-worker, friend or contractor to handle the important, day-to-day functions of your job. Consider writing it down in the form a guidebook; for example, I provide each of my staff members with an Administrative Manual that includes access information for each web site and server that we manage, along with instructions on what to do in case of certain crises.

7. Fear not! Even if you have all your ducks in a row, it can be difficult to relax and let go of things back home. But let's face it: If your work was that important, you probably wouldn't be able to take a vacation in the first place. Odds are, nothing serious will go wrong while you're away, and your clients and co-workers will be respectful of your right to have some time off - if you set the right boundaries.

I learned most of these lessons during a Baltic Sea cruise that I took with my family two years ago. I had minimal access to e-mail, no way to be reached by phone, and my colleagues weren't fully prepared to handle any problems that might come up. I was a nervous wreck for several days.

By contrast, I recently took a ten-day vacation through parts of Nevada and California, and even though a few small issues popped up, I didn't check my business e-mail or voice mail a single time, and felt no need to do so. It was a wonderful trip.

Remember, the purpose of a vacation is to relax and recharge. But vacations take work - you can spend a little time preparing, or you can take your work with you. We all deserve the chance to occasionally be free from our to-do list, and more importantly, from our work-related thoughts and concerns.
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