Category Archives: Small Business

Continuum Projects

In a previous post discussing computers for seniors, I had suggested three options: 1) a desktop computer, 2) a laptop, and 3) a smartphone.

Then I stated that if I had limited funds and could only afford one of the three choices I would choose the smartphone. I backed that up by creating a series of courses on how to use your smartphone for leisure and work.

Enter Continuum
I have since upgraded my phone to Lumia 950 and with that got the Continuum feature as part of Windows 10. Continuum allows you to connect your phone to a large display (either a TV or computer monitor) as shown in Microsoft’s promotional video below:

The video shows the husband connecting his phone to a monitor to work, and then still being able to use his phone as a phone. In the mean time the wife, on business, walks into her hotel room, connects her phone to the hotel’s TV to work on an Excel spreadsheet. Once back home they enjoy a video on the living room TV.

It is clearly easier than working on the smaller phone screen. But it is a promo video – is it really practical?

Practical Continuum
There are many articles and videos on the internet discussing the merits of Continuum but very little on how to actually use it in real life.

With that in mind I have developed a series of online courses, Practical Continuum, to show what you can achieve with a Windows phone and Continuum. These cover formatting a Word document complete with images and table, managing local and online files with File Explorer, and many more.

A Challenge
I am very excited about these courses—they really show how much one can do with a Windows phone!

There is a technical challenge that I have yet to overcome. It turns out to be difficult to video the monitor screen so that the resolution is high enough to read the text, and not have the screen flicker in the video. If anyone has suggestions, please let me know.

What I’d Like in an Ideal Windows Phone

The Lumia 950
The Lumia 950

In a recent article by Jason Ward, he posed a rhetorical question: “what does the perfect Windows Phone look like?”

The many comments the article received, reflect the varying requirements and preferences of the readers. Clearly there is not a single ideal phone that would suit everyone.

In the final analysis, they all look pretty much the same, right? As long as they do the job.

It is hard to cover the subject adequately in a short post comment. In this rather long post, I will express my thoughts on the matter.

My History

I have owned three Lumia phones: a 620, 830 and now a 950. The first two I bought because that was all I could get in Canada. I really liked the size of the 620 – it was with it that I learned what a smartphone could do. I was excited to learn that I could actually browse the web, and send emails and texts.

After a while I bought the Lumia 830 and was pleasantly surprised how much faster and more fluid it was – the 1GB of memory and newer processor made a difference. While I was happy with the 620, I was now much happier. With the better phone, I discovered I could do Netflix and read Kindle books; I was now a very happy camper. And I really liked the design of the phone, although the relatively sharp edges can become painful when holding the phone for long periods.

I did not need another phone, I was happy with the 830. But it did not have Continuum, which I did not really need anyway. Then Microsoft had a huge discount on the 950 and included the dock for free! So, I succumbed to the temptation and bought it. That was really a good move. Compared to the 830, this phone was even faster and smoother, a real joy to use! And Continuum turned out to be really useful – just ask my senior citizen eyes.

The Ideal Phone

So, what would the ideal windows phone look like? For me, the 950 is pretty close to it size and performance-wise. But I recognize that some people might prefer a smaller phone. Therefore, the phone has to come in several sizes. The 950 case design works for me as it is easy on the hands and allows for the battery to be replaced which is a huge advantage. I did like the looks of the 830 at first but the plastic 950 case is more practical and still looks professional.

While I think that the 950 is more than powerful enough for my needs now, experience tells me that more memory and a faster processor would be appreciated provided that the cost is still reasonable.

I believe that the camera is an important part of the ideal phone, both for business and pleasure use. A Zeiss lens and optical stabilization is essential. Being able to use an external microphone during video shoots is key (this is both a hardware and software issue). The front facing camera is used for more than just selfies so it should also be high quality.

Front-facing stereo speakers would be nice, though not essential, as long as the headphone drivers are good.


Software is not really part of the phone but the operating system and core apps do determine the functionality of the phone.

Overall, I find Windows 10 mobile very nice. However, I would like to see the promised improvements in Continuum. In particular, it would be useful to have windowing and more features for the Office apps such as table of contents in Word for example.

In many ways, the native camera app is very good. I would like to see monitoring and manual adjustment of audio levels for video work added, as well as an option to select either internal or external microphones.

Part of the “ideal windows phone” would be for Microsoft to use its resources to 1) enhance marketing, 2) encourage third party app development, and 3) provide real technical support. This would be the subject of a separate post.

In Summary

While it would be presumptuous to tell Microsoft what to do. I believe they should still cater for the consumer on a budget though. I would like to see an affordable phone similar to the 830 but with more memory and a bit faster processor for around $200. This must be capable of running Continuum.

Next level up I would like to see a 2017 version of the 950 series (970?) with an 835 processor, and optionally capable of 4/6K ram and running Windows 10 Mobile Creators Update. This should still be “affordable” i.e. in the $400 – $600 range depending on options selected.

Like most people, I think incrementally and find it hard to imagine a new category of device like the rumored surface, phablet-sized, phone with foldable screen and what not. Maybe once I have one, I will again discover why it is useful as I had with each upgrade of my old phones. That said, I feel that a smaller but powerful 970 phone, with Continuum for when I need to work more productively, is the best of both worlds.

Getting to Know Office 365

office365So you now subscribe to Office 365, what does that mean? For one, you now have a powerful arsenal of productivity tools at your disposal!

The schematic diagram below represents what I call the core Office 365 ecosystem for individual, home and small businesses. Confusing isn’t it!

the-ecosystemThe Office 365 Ecosystem

In this post I will attempt to shed some light on how you can get to know Office 365 in a realistic manner.

The Ecosystem
The big overlapping ovals represent the productivity programs of Office 365—these are the tools you use to do or create things.

They are shown as overlapping ovals because they have overlapping functionality. So you can write a letter in Word and in Publisher but Word does it better, Publisher will do flyers better. You can create a table of figures in Word but Excel does it better, and so on.

The horizontal rectangles represent programs that provide supporting functions.

The programs that make up Office 365 are tightly integrated and work together very well. So you can compose a letter in Word, include a table created in Excel, and do a merge email using Outlook with addresses stored in Access—you get the picture! It sounds overwhelming, does it not?

The Impossible Learning Curve
The diagram implies a huge amount of learning that awaits you. No, you don’t have to know all of it—nobody does! You learn as you need, when you need.

Each of these programs has a plethora of options, but if you know the core features of each program you will be able to do 99% of the tasks that are likely to come your way.

One advantage of Office 365 is that the programs share many features in common. So once you learn one program, the next one will be that much easier to master.

HMD Training
Knowing how overwhelming learning Office 365 may appear at first, we have adopted a powerful approach to learning. Our courses are project-based. So rather than teaching all the possible features of a program, we tackle real-life projects. It is like sitting next to an expert while they complete the project step by step, from start to finish .

The courses are graduated: the first course uses only the core features of the program. Then subsequent courses tackle more complex projects, but still in the same step-by-step fashion.

We have not yet created courses for all the programs but will do so over time. It takes a lot of time to design and record online courses.

A Strategy
Where do you start, which program to learn first? That depends on what kind of activities you have. An author should start with Word, whereas an accountant may want to focus on Excel. For most people I would start getting to know Word well first.

Then progressively do the introductory courses for the other programs as you have time. This will be easy and fun as you discover new ways of being productive.

Be sure to visit to see the range of courses we have available!

Book Promotion on a Budget

book coverThe key to the success of a self-published book lies in the promotion—and this is no easy task.

I was recently asked if I could help a mutual friend with her book. In this post I will describe how we went about it.

Setting the Scene
The book has been self-published. Our starting point is an entry on Amazon with a book description and a small graphic of the book face. We have a copy of the book and have read it. The author has spent a lot of money getting the book published so has minimal residual funds for promotion.

The book is an historical novel, so we don’t have access to photographic material. The author is elderly and not really up to making many public appearances.

Our Approach
We felt the best approach was to create a book website ( as the main promotional vehicle. Other activities will serve to drive people to the website for more information and buying instructions.

In this case we have to rely on people finding out about the book via search engines (Google/YouTube). This would require us regularly creating keyword-rich content.


  1. Create a website using WordPress with a basic free theme. This would include typical pages like About the Book, About the Author and a blog. Make sure to include a SEO plug-in.
  2. Compile an editorial calendar listing when we would publish what content where. For SEO to be effective, it is important that one has regular content. With all the other things going on, an editorial calendar keeps one on track. The idea is to create posts in the blog at least once per week, and more regular posts on Facebook and Twitter.
  3. book-cover-3dCreate required graphics e.g. 3D book cover, website header graphic etc. We have no other visual material, so we designed a look and feel that would permit rapid creation of images for social media.
  4. The editorial calendar includes the creation of video. Video has become very important and with YouTube one can make sure that the uploads are keyword-rich. As video is more time consuming, we aim for one per month. Early on in the project we created two essential videos: a book video (aka book trailer), and a recorded book excerpt (reading).
  5. We encouraged the author to obtain reviews/endorsements from friends/family and to use every opportunity for word-of-mouth promotion. Books are too expensive to just give away, but a “book business card” with the website address has made up for that.
  6. When funds/time allow, create a promotional DVD by using the videos already made to send to book stores, libraries and book reviewers.

Side Benefits
As there is no financial incentive, we looked at what other benefits we could get from the project. Of course the experience gained in any volunteer work is always worthwhile.

And one gets indirect, personal exposure when one posts about the book on social media sites – this post is an example.

As we also create online training, we saw a real potential for turning the work into a range of online courses. For more information visit

One can promote a book on a very low budget. The main cost being the webhosting and domain name and the business card printing.

It does represent a considerable time investment. This can be mitigated by repurposing content and graphic elements as much as possible for example creating a DVD from videos already made.

The book was a good read too so that is a bonus!

Long Documents in Microsoft Publisher

Basics-of-Publisher-GraphicsMultipage documents include newsletters, whitepapers and product guides—all tasks that a small business or organization will regularly need.

These can be a challenge but with Microsoft Publisher 2016 it is easy and quick to produce good looking multipage documents—once you know how!

To help we have a developed this new course that will take you step-by-step through the process of designing technical guide using MS Publisher 2016.

It is a good introduction to the use of Publisher for more advanced documents.

This course is part of our Office 365 for small business series.

Click here to visit the course home page for more information →

Why Learn Publisher?

Microsoft_Publisher_2013_logo_svg_With Microsoft Publisher now included in Office 365, small businesses have a tool that allows them to create many graphic projects easily and quickly in-house. That’s great, not so?

Well, there is a danger lurking there. And that is the reason to spend some time learning Publisher properly.

What is Publisher
Publisher is a powerful, easy to use page layout program. It allows one to easily lay out graphic projects like flyers, adverts, newsletters and more.

While one could do similar things in MS Word, it was much more difficult. Objects that you had carefully placed on the page, seem to move without apparent reason. Publisher uses frames to place objects and they stay put no matter what you do elsewhere.

The Danger
Graphic design is an art. Publisher is easy to use and so it is also easy to make a mess of a graphic project if you ignore graphic design principles.  Your project can end up looking “home made”!

There Is a Way
We have created a fun course, Flyers with Publisher. In this course we take you step-by-step through the design of two typical small business flyers. In the process you will learn the most frequently used tools and concepts of Publisher.

What is unique, however, is that we teach the basic concepts of graphic design in the way these two flyers are structured! This alone is worth its weight in gold.

This course is part of our Office 365 for Small Business series.

To learn more, visit the course home page


Software for Small Business

Image_AcrossDevices_558x272In the “old days” MS Word was probably the most essential software product that small business would use for every day work. Of course there also were email and accounting programs.

For that reason we have created many online courses showing how to apply MS Word to everyday tasks in a small business or organization.

There are still tasks that are outside the scope of Word, and there we looked at the accessory programs that were included with Windows, like MS Paint and Movie Maker, and we designed several courses around them.

While they allowed one to do most of what a small organization would need, they are limited. So we recommended Adobe Elements which gives you a quantum leap in capability, without breaking the bank. Again we have created many case study courses using Adobe Elements for various small business applications.

Then along came Office 365, which is a subscription service, and changes everything. Because Office 365 is a tax-deductable expense it is worthwhile getting it. With your subscription you get all the Office suite components, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher, Outlook and OneNote. So theoretically you can do so much more now.

But, included with such a powerhouse of programs, is a steep learning curve!

Getting to Know a Program

book-cover-3dHow does one get to know a new program? You can buy a How to book or go to computer classes. In the end there is no shortcut, one learns by experience.

As an instructor I have found that the more I teach the better I get to know the program! I learn as I prepare the courses and also learn by helping the students.

Adobe Elements is a powerful suite of programs that are ideal for everyday graphic and video tasks of a small business. Even though they are the “lite” version of Adobe’s graphic programs they are still very powerful and that translates into a learning curve!

You need to know now
If you have a task that has to be done by tomorrow, you can’t wait until you have experience. So what to do? It is with that in mind that we have developed our Adobe Elements for Small Business series of courses.

You have a task, simply look through our list of Adobe Elements courses and choose the once closest to your needs. The beauty is that the courses are available 24/7 and are super affordable.

For example, let’s say you need to promote a special event so you need a website, a poster, and so on. Well, we have just created a course Promoting a Book with Photoshop Elements that covers exactly that – to see the graphics we created visit


It’s That Time Again

Festive DDIt’s amazing how often “it’s that time again”! For us it means it is an opportunity for seasonal advertising. With that in mind, we have created a special course, Seasonal Advertising with Adobe Elements.

What do we mean by seasonal advertising? It is advertising for specific times of the year like autumn or winter. It also includes cultural events like Halloween, the Super Bowl, etc.

These “seasons” typically have a very narrow time window so the key is to be able to produce advertising quickly and Photoshop Elements is ideal for that!

In this course we show how you can create seasonal ads for print, web and email easily using powerful, but often overlooked, tools in Photoshop Elements. This course is part of our series, Adobe Elements for Small Business.

In the course we focus on Clipping Masks and Graphics tools – powerful skills that you will be able to use in many other Photoshop Elements projects.

Here is one of the ads you will create in the course:


Go to the course page…