Monthly Archives: August 2012

Get More Productive with Virtual Calendars and Apps

By Gail Z. Martin

Virtual calendar programs enable you to track your appointments and other commitments via computer, rather than in a manual date book. Scheduling programs make it possible for you to share access to your calendar with others to take the back-and-forth out of finding good times/dates for meetings and phone calls.

Whether you prefer to access your calendar from your computer, smart phone or tablet PC, virtual calendar and scheduling programs mean you never have to say, “I left my book back at the office.”

Virtual calendar and scheduling basics

Virtual calendar programs look and act just like their paper counterparts, with two important exceptions: they are accessible via computer and most allow some level of sharing so that you can “invite” participants to meetings and note the appointment simultaneously on your calendar and theirs.

At a minimum, your virtual calendar should make it easy for you to enter new appointments, change or cancel existing appointments, and block out time when you are unavailable. Many programs also alert you to upcoming appointments via email reminders or pop-ups on your screen, making it less likely that you’ll miss a meeting.

As users take computing on the go, virtual calendar programs have evolved to include smart phones and table PCs as well as laptops and desktops. Some programs can populate all your linked devices with your schedule, while other programs can be accessed online from any device with Internet capability. No matter what device you use to access them, virtual calendar programs enable you to keep your calendar close at hand and update your schedule wherever you are.

Calendar sharing and scheduling programs save you time and increase your productivity by taking out the “middleman” when it comes to making appointments. Tired of trading emails with clients or vendors to set up meeting times or phone calls? Using a calendar sharing/scheduling program makes it easy to share a calendar with your available days and times with others and to have them select the best options from your openings and book the appointment. Some calendar programs enable you to share different versions of your schedule with different groups of people, so you could, for example, separate work and personal appointment times.

If you’ve ever spent hours playing phone or email “tag” trying to confirm an appointment, the productivity benefits of a sharable, online calendar become immediately apparent. If you make just five appointments per week and each appointment now takes you an average of 15 minutes to arrange, using an online calendar and scheduling program could save you five hours a month!

Taking a tour of some top programs

There are plenty of online calendars and scheduling programs to choose from, with more being added every day. Here, we’ll take a quick tour of four popular programs to get a feel for what’s available.

Microsoft Outlook® Calendar

You may not realize it, but if you use Microsoft Outlook, you’ve already got an online calendar that’s linked to your email and Outlook’s integral Business Contact Manager.

Access the calendar at the bottom of your Outlook dashboard. You’ll find well-marked buttons that enable you to add an appointment or create a meeting with multiple invitees. You can invite someone to your meeting by accessing contacts in your email address book or the program’s Business Contact Manager, or by entering the person’s email address manually.

You’ll be able to differentiate between all-day events and regular appointments, and to set recurring appointments. If the other people you want to invite to a meeting have shared their calendars with you, you can view their calendars to look for available times and dates before scheduling the meeting, to avoid conflicts and rescheduling.

Because Outlook’s calendar is linked to your email, you’ll get pop-up meeting reminders when you log into Outlook. You can access your calendar when you don’t have an Internet connection, although you won’t be able to invite others. Outlook allows you to adjust the time increments and designate work days and non-work days, for those whose meetings don’t automatically fall on the hour or half-hour, and for people whose “weekends” don’t fall on Saturday and Sunday.

There’s even an easy way to auto-populate your Outlook calendar with the major U.S. holidays at the touch of a button. And if you’ve entered personal details, like birthdays and anniversaries, in your Business Contact Manager, your Outlook calendar can pull in that data so you never forget a special day!

Google Calendar

Google offers a free online calendar with plenty of robust features. With Google Calendar, you can create and share your schedule and view other people’s Google Calendars. Google offers a built-in synchronization feature that enables you to see and access your calendar from your mobile phone as well as your computer, and share updates made on one device with the calendar stored on the other device.

As with Outlook, Google Calendar makes it easy to invite others to meetings and confirm their attendance. It’s accessible for read-only viewing offline, so you can see where you need to go even if you’re in a Wi-Fi dead zone. Google Calendar will send you reminders by email and text message, and it can even sync with some other calendaring programs, such as Outlook.

Apple iCloud

Apple’s iCloud replaces its previous MobileMe virtual calendar. iCloud works with all Apple devices and shares books, photos, music and apps as well as calendar information, email and contacts. The iCloud is a hybrid virtual storage and virtual Swiss Army Knife of sorts, bringing together all of a user’s data to make it location and device independent.

Because all data is stored on the iCloud, Apple takes care of syncing your devices for you. That’s handy if you make an appointment using your iPad and want to later see your schedule using your computer or your iPhone. You can share your calendar with other iCloud users, and any changes will be automatically pushed out to the schedules of all meeting or event participants.

The iCloud is an attempt to seamlessly integrate your online life, so the program also makes it possible for you to access your email and phone contacts, virtual notes, online reminders and Web bookmarks from all your devices.

Tungle, anyone?

Tungle is a stand-alone program (currently free) to share your calendar with people who may not be on the same email program, such as people outside your organization. Tungle is especially designed for setting up meetings without hassle, and promises to help users avoid double-bookings and missed appointments.

The Tungle calendar makes it easy to limit your availability to particular days/times. This is handy if you want to reserve portions of your calendar for other work or events, or just want to control how much of your calendar can be booked by others. Tungle adjusts for differences in time zones, and sends you reminders of upcoming appointments. Tungle also offers a difference between the private and public view of your calendar, meaning that your clients won’t be privy to any personal appointments you book on your online calendar.

Tungle will sync with a variety of other calendar programs, including Outlook, Google Calendar, BlackBerry, LotusNotes, Facebook, and Apple iCal among others. There’s also a handy Tungle app for your smart phone, so you can Tungle on the go.

Other programs similar to Tungle include TimeBridge and Doodle (calendar sharing), and Evite (event/party invitations).

Excerpted from my new book, 30 Days to Virtual Productivity Success




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It’s Time to Get Your Head in the Clouds!

By Gail Z. Martin

The term “Cloud computing” sounds intangible, and that’s just the point.

“Cloud computing” refers to access to software that is accessible via subscription over the Internet. Programs that reside in the Cloud are actually housed on the servers of the company that owns the software and which provides subscription access. Unlike traditional software, such as word processing or spreadsheet programs that are stored on your computer’s hard drive, programs that reside in the Cloud never have to be installed, updated or uninstalled from your computer. That’s the beauty of the “Cloud.”

Why move to the Cloud?

Why would you want your software to be housed on the Cloud? Several good reasons come to mind:

  • You don’t have to install the program, so you can use software that requires greater speed or memory than your desktop or laptop might possess.
  • Because the software is stored on the Cloud which has edge cloud security, it doesn’t hog memory or bog down your computer.
  • You don’t have to worry about updating the software; the tech staff at the company providing the software takes care of doing that.
  • Since you access the software via the Internet (and a secure password), you can access your software (and possibly your related files) from any computer, anywhere you have an Internet connection.
  • Since your access is via subscription (usually monthly or annually), your costs are much less than if you were to purchase a private license for the program.
  • When you no longer want or need the software, cancel the subscription. There is no software to uninstall on your computer.
  • If there’s a problem with the software, your subscription includes access to technical support. It’s the provider’s responsibility to fix the bugs, and you don’t have to download patches or new versions.

Starting to see the appeal? Cloud computing programs offer extremely flexible access to powerful programs without the hassles of maintaining the software on your own computer. If you’ve ever suffered through a lengthy software download (especially one that needed to be done over several times), you’ll understand the appeal of being able to “visit” your software instead of needing to have it all on your hard drive.

What kinds of programs reside in the Cloud? Over the last decade, a growing variety of programs are available via Cloud computing. Most, if not all, of the productivity and networking programs I’ll talk about in the remainder of the book are Cloud computing programs. Here are just some of the types of programs provided via Cloud computing:

  • Calendar programs, such as Google Calendar and Tungle
  • Email programs, such as Constant Contact
  • Web audio/video programs, such as AudioAcrobat
  • Conferencing programs, such as GoToWebinar
  • Shopping cart programs, such as 1ShoppingCart
  • Data storage programs, such as Carbonite
  • Online job management programs, such as Elance
  • Benefits administration programs, such as

What about security on the Cloud?

If the idea of having your valuable and proprietary data residing in the Cloud worries you, there are steps you can take to set your mind at ease.

First, make sure that you understand the individual service provider’s privacy policies, terms of use, intellectual property safeguards, and recommended methods for assuring the security and integrity of your data. Also ask the important questions such as “What To Do With Your Invention Idea?” because this can be a crucial information when it comes to safeguarding intellectual property.

Secondly, always back up essential information. This can mean creating a print-out, saving a Web-based document as a file or a screen shot, or copying essential information to your hard drive or an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) storage site. An FTP site allows you to store and share documents or files that are too large for regular email. Yes, FTP sites are also Cloud computing sites—an example is, but there are many similar sites.

Third, be certain to safeguard your password. Realize that when you share access to your Cloud computing sites with an administrative assistant or colleague, they may gain access to your billing and credit card information unless the site allows for different levels of access. Some Cloud computing sites offer a group membership, so that you can provide access to several employees or partners while keeping your own account information private. Other programs make it possible to designate an “administrator” who can access everything except the billing/payment information. If you must share your password with an assistant, keep track of which passwords have been shared and be sure to change your password if your relationship with the assistant ends.

Cloud computing programs, along with advanced event technology, can boost your productivity by giving you access to powerful software without the hassle of downloads and updates. You save time, reduce the in-house needs for online storage, and reduce your dependence on hired computer professionals. Just think–no more losing part of a day as your IT consultant tinkers with the settings to make sure a newly downloaded program doesn’t wreck your network!

Small businesses and solo professionals also benefit by gaining access to valuable online services and software which would be prohibitively expensive to license on an individual basis, and which would require significant investment in servers and personnel to install and manage in-house.

For big productivity gains and lower costs, get into the Cloud!

(Excerpted with permission from the book 30 Days to Virtual Productivity Success.)

Gail Z. Martin owns DreamSpinner Communications and helps companies and solo professionals in the U.S. and Canada improve their marketing results in 30 days. Gail has an MBA in marketing and over 20 years of corporate and non-profit experience at senior executive levels. Gail hosts the Shared Dreams Marketing Podcast. She’s the author of the new book, 30 Days to Virtual Productivity Success as well as these books: 30 Days to Social Media Success and The Thrifty Author’s Guide to Launching Your Book. Find her online at, on Twitter @GailMartinPR and check out her Facebook page at 30 Day Results Guide.


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Your Summer Sales Advantage

By Gail Z. Martin

Ready to throw in the (beach) towel because you expect slow sales this summer?

You could be missing a big opportunity.

Summer sends many people on vacation, but it also slows down hectic workplaces, meaning that the people who are still in the office may have more time for a phone call, a lunch meeting, or an early morning coffee with you.  The person you’ve been trying to reach for months just might be available for a conversation—and in a frame of mind to actually focus on what you have to say.

Budgets for many companies are due in October, and the planning and wish lists begin over the summer.  This is a great time to let your customers know if you’ve got new products, updated equipment, or new services available.  Did you miss a sale last year because it “wasn’t in the budget”?  Follow up with your contact and offer to get them an updated quote well in advance of this year’s budget planning.

Having a slow couple of weeks?  Use that time to plan, network on social media, create a new information product, or get caught up on your filing, accounts receivable, or phone calls.  The more relaxed summer atmosphere can he just the thing to stoke your creativity on a big project like a book, article series, new speech, video or other item that’s been on your to-do list.

Summer can be a great time to invest in yourself.  Take a working vacation and attend a conference to learn new skills or get a dose of motivation.  Buy a home study course and listen to the CDs in the car when you take a trip—or download the MP3 audios and listen by the pool.  Take time off on a beautiful afternoon and read a business book in the park.  You’ll make good use of your “slow” period and have new skills and a brand new can-do attitude come September.

Do a mid-year look at your goals.  Have you hit your revenue goals?  Is your business where you thought it would be by the year’s half-way point?  How is your to-do list coming along?  Congratulate yourself on what’s gone well, and take a few moments to think about where things are behind schedule.  What can you do in the remainder of the year to adjust?  Where might your plans have been a tad over-ambitious?  If you need help to assess, get it!

Prepare now for the Fall.  Once Labor Day is over and the kids are back in school, everyone gets serious about business again.  Get a jump on the competition by doing your prep work now to have the materials, videos, presentations, web sites and other elements ready to launch so that you can dive into the Fall ahead of the competition.

Rest and restore.  No one can work at full speed forever.  You’ve earned a break, and you’ll return to work with a better attitude, more creative ideas and a whole new level of energy if you just give yourself permission to take some time off.  Do whatever you find more relaxing and rewarding, whether that’s sleeping late and lounging by the pool or trekking into the wilderness.  You deserve it—and you’ll be twice as good when you come back.

Make this the summer to finally master social media.  Use some of your slow time to play around with Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pintrest and other sites.  Make it playtime—enjoy what you’re doing and have fun making connections.  Get comfortable using the sites, and visit the business pages of other businesses you respect, big national companies, and thought leaders like authors and speakers to see what they’re doing and what ideas you can borrow and adapt.  Don’t stress out about it—just have fun and let the creativity flow.

Gail Z. Martin owns DreamSpinner Communications and helps companies and solo professionals in the U.S. and Canada improve their marketing results in 30 days. Gail has an MBA in marketing and over 20 years of corporate and non-profit experience at senior executive levels. Gail hosts the Shared Dreams Marketing Podcast. She’s the author of 30 Days to Social Media Success and The Thrifty Author’s Guide to Launching Your Book. Find her online at, on Twitter @GailMartinPR and check out her Facebook page at 30 Day Results Guide.


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Five Business Secrets I Learned from My Dog

By Gail Z. Martin

My golden retriever, Chase, was with me from the time I started DreamSpinner Communications nine years ago.  Sadly, we just lost him to old age, but in that precious time we had together, Chase taught me a lot about life.  Here are the top five things I learned from him about being successful in business:

Secret #1: Make friends everywhere you go.  Very few people can see a golden retriever and not smile.  Most people have to come over to pet one, and they stay to chat a little.  A dog can be a great ice-breaker, and because of Chase, we got to know a lot of strangers who became friends. I even got to meet this awesome virtual vet. For Chase, every stranger was a friend waiting to happen.  There’s some real wisdom in that, because success is not a do-it-alone kind of thing.  As the song says, we get by with a little help from our friends.  You can never have too many of them.

Secret #2: Wag a lot; bark a little.  Most of the time, Chase delivered a full-body wag that could knock a can of Coke off a coffee table and send papers flying.  But when it was important, he had a bark that got people’s attention (and respect).  What I learned was that you need to start out wagging (it makes lots of friends and makes people happy), but there are times when you’ve got to bark, and when that happens, let your voice be heard.

Secret #3: Take time to play every day.  Rain, shine or heat, Chase would drag me outside at lunchtime to throw a ball for him.  He loved to run after it (he was a retriever, after all), and watching him always made me smile. I was also surprised at how much our little outings (usually only a few minutes long) could also change my mood, brighten my day, and give me a mental break so that I went back to work feeling happy and refreshed.  Breaks are good for us, and we do better work when we take them.

Secret #4: When storms come, rely on your friends.  Although he was a big dog, Chase hated thunderstorms.  Whenever a storm would come, he would find his people and sit close to us (usually under our feet).  He couldn’t stop the storm, but he knew it wouldn’t be as scary if he was with people who loved him.  We can’t stop the storms that happen in our lives—economic downturns, delivery glitches, supplier problems, etc.—but whatever comes our way gets easier when we have a supportive group who can help us keep it together until the storm passes.

Secret #5: Show people how much you appreciate them every day.  Whenever I left for even an hour, Chase greeted me at the door as if I’d been away for months, wagging and spinning in circles, letting me know how very, very glad he was that I was back.  I never doubted that he appreciated me in his own doggy way.  It’s a pretty good habit to pick up (you don’t have to spin in circles or wag).  Let the people in your life know how special they are to you, how much you appreciate them, and how fantastic you think they are.  That includes family, friends, neighbors, employees, vendors/suppliers, referral partners, clients and everyone who makes your life possible.

I will always miss Chase, but I’m grateful for the time we had together.  Many people heard his deep “woof” in the background of a phone call, and he was the muse for all of my books.  His memory will stay with me forever, but so will the lessons about life and business that I learned from him.

So…take a moment to be grateful for the pets and people in your life, and show them how much they matter to you.  And while you’re doing that, keep your eyes open for the wisdom that they can share that lasts a lifetime.

Gail Z. Martin owns DreamSpinner Communications and helps companies and solo professionals in the U.S. and Canada improve their marketing results in 30 days. Gail has an MBA in marketing and over 20 years of corporate and non-profit experience at senior executive levels. Gail hosts the Shared Dreams Marketing Podcast. She’s the author of 30 Days to Social Media Success and The Thrifty Author’s Guide to Launching Your Book. Find her online at, on Twitter @GailMartinPR and check out her Facebook page at 30 Day Results Guide.


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