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The 3 Ways You’re Killing Your Competitive Advantage

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Your processes, your business model and your workflows will need some ironing out. That’s just a fact of life in business. We all have kinks and growing pains. That being said, every organization will also come with inherent pros -those are your competitive advantage -the positive things that make your team unique.

Your competitive advantage might be purposeful, and it might just be intrinsic to your team. Whatever it is, define it, embrace it and be sure these common poor workplace practices aren’t extinguishing it.

Running Your Business on Excel

If you have a few simple numbers to run, or an ad hoc project with very few moving parts (like only you) excel makes a lot of sense. It should never, we repeat, never be used as a business database. When we get the opportunity to sit down with potential clients, we find they have a few of the same reasons for sticking with the old standby, excel…

Excel is fine for the amount of data we have.

Everyone already knows how to use it.

We’ve always used excel.

Whatever your particular competitive advantage is, it will always be overshadowed by poor information management. The utilization of sound, measurable data is any business’s strongest shot at improvement and growth. Businesses that rely on spreadsheets to store, organize and interpret their data are putting themselves at a huge disadvantage compared to those who are willing to invest in a real database.

Databases can be shared and worked on by multiple users and they support formal workflow processes. Plainly put, spreadsheets aren’t built for multiple users. When we look at this on a larger scale, spreadsheets are sometimes shared with hundreds of people, reviewing, approving and making edits to one document. At the end of this process, each and every one of those sheets must be consolidated manually. Please take a moment to think about that.

We could go on forever with this one, that’s for another blog post…and don’t even get us started on security.

Tailoring your Workflow to Your CRM

We’ve seen it a hundred times, instead of going with a tailored or customizable CRM, the choice was made to instead tailor an established workflow. That’s fine and dandy if the workflow is flawed and is being improved upon, but that’s not generally what happens.

Many organizations realize their competitive advantage flows from a particular process that has been refined over time, and with the right people in place. Your CRM should support these such workflows, not impede or alter them.

When thought is put into the customization of a good CRM, it feels almost intuitive to users. It should feel like this system is aligning itself to your team, rather than the other way around. No, a CRM cannot do this on its own, there must be a strong, supportive vendor behind it.

Failing to Empower Your Staff

Let’s get one thing straight, no matter how awesome your tech is, your number one asset in business is your human capital. Use them, empower them and seek return on your investment in them in a more enlightened way than in the past.

A great example comes from Zappos. Their competitive advantage can almost directly be attributed to their unique stance on customer care. Their sales teams aren’t merely order takers and the go between for the customer and line managers. Instead, Zappos employees are empowered to make customer care decisions and actions on their own. How much more sense does that make?!

“I want to feel like I can make decisions for what I am doing and other people want that as well. When people are empowered they feel a sense of ownership.”

Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO

We contend that there is a better way to integrate technology into your workforce and workflows. We don’t believe in the rigidity of unwieldy bureaucracies, we believe in change. We love to find an organization’s competitive advantage and create processes, systems and workflows that support that. Stop killing your competitive advantage with archaic business practices and become the nimble, market share winner you got into business to be. We can help. Connect with a group of lifelong learners of workflow now.

Big Omaha Recap

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Spreading, Sharing the Big Omaha Energy

We have returned! A handful of staffers from Volano Solutions are still bubbling from the energy, action, and enthusiasm of Big Omaha V. This year marked the conference’s fifth anniversary and, as in past years, the lineup of speakers was equal parts impressive, motivating, and thought-provoking. (Anyone remember Dave McClure?)

Volano Solutions was proud to return as a sponsor, offering up a variety of tasty snacks to attendees and speakers alike on Thursday and Friday.

And, we’d be remiss for not mentioning the much celebrated five-year club. Big Omaha organizers were kind enough to recognize those 50-plus individuals who have attended all five conferences, of which our very own Rod Smith and Don Stavneak are a members!

The pixel pushers at Omaha’s own GoodTwin even created 8bit characters of those Big Omaha faithful. Talk about clever!

We asked Kelly and Rod to share their thoughts on Big Omaha 2013.

Kelly Grace, vice president of sales

Most memorable? Catherine Rohr from Defy. The testimonials from the three former prisoners was powerful.

I was motivated by Marc Ecko and Noah Kagen. And I found Diana Kander to have pretty relevant points for testing ideas before seeking financing partners and starting a business venture.

Biggest takeaway: I found it really exciting that Omaha has continued to define itself as a hot spot for entrepreneurialism and technology. The conference was well-run, fun, and thought provoking. Dusty and Jeff have put together something pretty amazing.

Rod Smith, co-owner

Photo by Megan Hunt

The networking was good. It seemed like more out-of-towners this year; and, they were regional folks – not necessarily people from the coasts.

It was reaffirming to hear that starting something new is very hard, takes time to build, and isn’t for everyone.

I wish each founder would spend at least half of their time talking about their organization and how they built it. Many of us don’t spend our reading time studying up on who’s doing what, so we don’t know the founders’ back-story.

I like how Peter Hudson described his relationship with his business partner. Don and I have the same kind of yin/yang, deeply trusting setup.

Contrast: I like Ben Milne’s authenticity, but I also enjoyed Mark Ecko’s bigger than life presentation.

Hungry? The Big Omaha Snack Menu

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As you may have read last week, Volano Solutions is sponsoring the snack and beverage tables at Big Omaha on Thursday and Friday.

We’re joining the excitement of the other 600 attendees who’ll network, learn, and have a little fun Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

And as sponsor of the Big Omaha snack and beverage table, we’re delighted to announce the tasty selections that will be available to fellow attendees (and speakers) this week at KANEKO.

  • Chocolate miniatures
  • Chewy granola bars
  • Nature Valley bars
  • Rice Krispies Treats
  • Lifesavers mints
  • Starbursts
  • Fruit Roll-Ups
  • Chex Mix
  • Pita chips and hummus

Which options will you grab this week? Comment below!

We’re counting down the hours until Big Omaha kicks off, with the opening party this evening at Slowdown, followed by two solid days of conference speakers. Be sure to say hello at @volanosolutions on Twitter (using #bigomaha within your tweet).

Snacks, Drinks on Us at Big Omaha 2013

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Have you heard? Big Omaha will celebrate its fifth consecutive conference next week in the heart of downtown Omaha. Dubbed as one of the Midwest’s most exciting and ambitious conferences for entrepreneurs of all ages, Big Omaha and its 600-plus attendees will fill KANEKO and surrounding Old Market establishments May 8-10.

Volano Solutions has been a constant supporter of Big Omaha and its mission throughout the past few years. And 2013 is no exception. We are pleased to return to Big Omaha 2013 as the official snack and beverage sponsor.

What does this mean? Fellow Big Omaha attendees will enjoy sweet and savory foods and beverages while fueling up on motivation, inspiration, and innovation for two solid days. Ask anyone who has attended Big Omaha: the mid-morning and early-afternoon snacks are just the sustenance needed to keep listening, keep learning, and continually network.

(More good news: We’ll announce the complete Big Omaha snack and beverage menu next week here on our blog. Stay tuned!)

The shared missions of Big Omaha and its organizer, Silicon Prairie News, have forever been focused on highlighting our region’s success stories, along with providing the tools for entrepreneurs and start-ups — just like Volano Solutions — to make great strides in their respective industries.

Our team is counting down to next Wednesday, when the fifth annual Big Omaha opens its doors to attendees from around the country. We are eager to hear the varied speakers, the backgrounds of whom are outlined on the Big Omaha website.

Look for the Volano Solutions team at Big Omaha next week. (We like sitting up front.) Say hi via @volanosolutions on Twitter (using the soon-to-be-trending #bigomaha). We’re certain Big Omaha 2013 will be the best yet, and we can’t wait to see you there.

Want to experience Big Omaha? You’re in luck. Entrepreneur and corporate tickets remain available:

Letting Others Win

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One of the prominent virtues of greatness is humility.

Humility is the ability for one to remain modest regardless of his aptitude and potential. Here is an example illustrating what this means:

If you’re an amazing dart player (like myself), you tend to win the majority of the time. However, simply because you possess the ability to win does not necessarily make you “great”. In my opinion a “great” dart player does not always out perform his competition, but instead occasionally lets those with less ability than himself come out on top.

This is the same concept behind letting children win at board games. While winning may not be important to an adult, children find it very encouraging. Letting others win can be a great way to boost their self confidence.

So my advice to all those who possess greatness is this; show a little “Grace” and let others shine from time to time.

PHP and AuthSMTP

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Need to specify an SMTP server in PHP, but don’t want to update the global SMTP settings in the PHP.ini file?

We came across a neat little library that allows you to specify an SMTP server each time you send an email.

No installation required, just drop it in the root directory and include it in your mail script. It’s gravy – Swift Mailer

Walt Mossberg Review of

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One of our clients, PeggyBank, was recently given a review by technology journalist Walt Mossberg. You can read the full article here – The Wall Street Journal | PeggyBank.

PeggyBank specializes in the digitization of film and photography. For a fee, they will take old home movies and photographs and convert them into digital format (MPEG & JPEG). Your digital memories are then stored in an online vault which you (and only you) can access from any computer with internet access. From their website you can also easily share your videos/photos with friends and family via email or social media.

Congratulations to PeggyBank and Senior Consultant David Carnely for their recognition.

Dart Terms

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Over the years, and various employees, we’ve christened a few terms we like to use while playing darts. Each terms is named after an employee who had particular tendencies while playing. I would like to share some of them with you:

The Smith – Busting on a triple/double when you only need a single to win.

The Ultimate Smith – Busting on double bullseye when you only need a single bullseye to win.

The Mos(er) – Missing the board completely.

The Ultimate Mos(er) – Missing the board 3 times in a row.

The Fitch – Missing the board, but you somehow get a double anyways.

The Ultimate Fitch – Hitting an 18 but the board gives you a bullseye.

The Pineda – Busting because you can’t do math.

The Doug – Closing out all your marks in cricket with absolutely no points.

The Heeg – Starting the game with a 100+ point round and doing terrible the rest of the game.

The Carnley – Hitting the rail of the number you need.

The Jensen – When everyone can feel the vibration from the dart hitting the board at 90 MPH.

The Brandon – When nobody wants to play with you because you’re too good.

The Stavneak – Not sure how to describe this in words, so here’s an image:

"The Stavneak"

Moving On

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After 2 years of loyal service to Volano we recently had to part with a valued member of our team. Losing a team member is never easy, and I would like to share a few thoughts regarding his stay with us.

Volano has high expectations for all its team members, and his case was no different. We often demanded more from him than we should have, but he always came through for us. This team member was witness to numerous hours of debauchery and drinking and all the while maintained true to his cause. He was with us for the crowning of many great champions and the heckling of those who fell short. He was one of us, a friend who will be sincerely missed. So from all of us here at Volano, we would like to thank Ted (our company dart board) for all his faithful years of service. While he will likely be replaced, his memory will live on.

Thirsty Thursday

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Water Cooler Margaritas!

As you may know, the Volano team has a long standing tradition of being “awesome”. Keeping with tradition, today Don decided to modify our company hydration practices by replacing our purified water tank with four gallons of margarita.

Here’s hoping that this becomes a permanent addition to the office.