I hate spam, and I don't mean the slimy stuff you find in a can (though I don't like that much, either). I imagine you all share my sentiments. In fact, I'm surprised that enough people respond to the endless barrage of offers for Viagra-like drugs, weight-loss miracles and relationships with Nigerian royalty that it pays to send the stuff in the first place, but obviously it does.
As I write this in late August, the online world has had a rough week. Viruses are at epidemic levels, spam is running rampant, and at Entrepreneur, our spam-filtering system seems to be blocking every other e-mail, including internal correspondence. Many businesses have been adversely affected, with computer systems crashing daily, costing companies millions. Executive editor Maria Anton's husband, Chris, claims that Maria and I often have conversations that temporarily veer off track, always coming back and picking up the thread of the original conversation. He calls these conversational detours speed bumps. That's how I'd describe the past five days--a workweek of speed bumps.
Speed bumps are intended to slow us down. And while that may be beneficial in parking lots and busy thoroughfares, it proves to be costly in the workplace. I have spent countless hours this week checking blocked messages, asking our IT staff to release the ones I need, and waiting hours to get them. Multiply that by Entrepreneur's other 96 employees, and you can only imagine the hours wasted. Our three resident tech gurus have spent even more time fighting off the onslaught of viruses and spam, which according to some estimates total 50 percent of all e-mails sent worldwide. I can't even estimate how much time has been lost, though it probably explains why I'm writing this at 11:30 at night. And we all know time is money.
Everyone I've talked to, every article I've read says there's nothing we can do to effectively fight spam or hackers. Maybe that's true (though reportedly the Direct Marketing Association is working on an Operation Slam Spam campaign). But our days are filled with other speed bumps we can effectively navigate around. The key is to identify and then eliminate them. You may know what slows you down, but are you aware of any barriers your employees are encountering? Several years ago, we conducted a very informal survey and found that baby boomer employers thought their Gen X employees were "wasting time staring at computer screens," while in fact, the Gen Xers were patiently waiting for sluggish connections to download.
The first place to check for speed bumps in your business is your technology. If you're still using dial-up, you haven't been listening. Smart entrepreneurs use broadband. Is it time to upgrade your hardware? Are you getting what you need from your software, or are there new programs that can increase office productivity? Are you using wireless effectively? Don't forget you can still take advantage of the increased tax deductibility of equipment purchases-writing off up to $100,000, depending on the size of your business.
Tech is not the only area of your business that needs examining. Only you and your employees know what's slowing your business down. Conduct an internal audit, which can be as simple as asking your staff to identify their speed bumps and suggest solutions.
Another epidemic running rampant in American business is dishonesty. "Your business is only as good as your work. One of the things you'll learn is that in a recent survey, about half the respondents said ethical behavior was still not rewarded in the workplace. Sounds like another speed bump to me.