As small business grows, it accumulates forms, lists, procedures and other resources which become the backbone of the company's functioning. Over time, these important documents become scattered and soon people begin asking, "Is this the most recent form we should use?" "Is this the latest list?" "Where is the certification we just updated?"
Coherent use of resources is essential to your work, yet bringing about coherence can be a daunting task, especially if the resources have been allowed to grow uncontrolled. But it's not impossible. It just takes a well-chosen method and a quiet afternoon.
Start by Organizing the Paper
The most primitive, but effective method of achieving document coherence is to create a big, fat 3-ring binder with tabs dividing the resources into categories. Obsolete pages can be culled, and gaps in the collection can be easily noticed.
This hard-copy can be an easy reference, as long as the path/filename of the corresponding digital version is displayed on the document. This can be an important first step, especially if many of the resources are hard copy, as opposed to digital.
Binders are also great if there is a certain type of static (not often changed) information which needs to be easily accessed without the user being chained to a computer. An example would be out on a factory floor where the worker needs to quickly check the drill bit size required to accomodate a particular screw. Don't bother that guy with a computer. But even that information should be digitized so the clean-hands bunch can find it.
Decide: In-House or Web-Based Distribution
For our computerized world, after reviewing the hard copies and organizing them, you will now need to make an important decision: Will your resource site always stay local (operating on your computer or local network only) or, will there be a chance that you might want to post it on the internet, for use of employees when they are remote?
Ramification: If you will only operate locally, the resource site can link to any file in any network or shared folder. If you post to the web, all resources and the site itself need to be in one master folder, so that it can be uploaded to a web host with all links intact.
At my company, we decided to prepare for posting remotely. Our people are increasingly traveling and they will need the resources.
Select, Update and Move Resources
This created a useful process for building the site. Each resource could be reviewed one-by-one, then moved to the site folder. In fact, we converted many of them to HTML during the process, so they would render on the screen rather than act as downloads.
Name your master folder something like "resource-site" (avoid spaces in all folder names and filenames). If you have a network, place the folder at the highest visible level of your folder structure and give all appropriate employees access to this folder.
Use Subfolders for Organization
Create a few subfolders under this master folder which organize the forms and documents into categories, such as "Sales," "Accounting," "Products", etc. Then start the process:
1. Open the resource file
2. Check it and update it.
3. If you want it rendered, or viewable in the browser, convert it to HTML if you can. Try File/Save As/ and select "HTML" or "Web Page" as the file type. Save it directly into the folder you just created under the folder named "resource-site".
4. If you want the resource to be offered as a download from the resource website, simply move it to the new folder using Windows Explorer or "File Save As".
5. As you go, if you find multiple versions of the same form, dispose of all obsolete files.
6. Obsolete the moved file from its previous location by either deleting it or adding "-OLD" to the end of the filename.
7. Notify co-workers of the change you made via email and remind them weekly that resources are being moved to a new location. When they add resources, they must do so in the correct location, or better yet, submit it to a person designated as the site webmaster.
The work you have done to this point will bring about a marked improvement in company performance. Now, take it to the next level. Get it online.
Can the Browser Display it?
The word "online", in this instance, means accessible via browser software, such as Internet Explorer of Mozilla Firefox. In some senses, browsers are universal interfaces. Browsers will do something with any file type. For instance, Browsers readily display HTML, TXT, JPG, PNG, GIF file types.
If a "plug-in" or "viewer" software is installed into your browser, then the browser will be able to display these also, but not necessarily modify them. Examples files which can be commonly viewed after installing a plugin: PDF, DOC, XLS.
If the browser can't display the file type, it will offer the file to you as a download. Don't think of this as a limitation, but rather a design parameter. It can come in handy when you want to deliver a fresh form to a user, and force the user to save it in a new location. Examples of files not readily viewed in a browser: Autocad formats such as DWG or DXF.
Create the Resource Site Using Excel
Here's how to create an online resource site which will allow access to your important documents and forms through a browser, using Microsoft Excel. For this example, I used Microsoft Office Excel 2003.
Open a new workbook in Excel. Place your company logo at the top by clicking "Insert/Picture/From File" and selecting your logo. If the picture needs modification such as resizing, right click on it and select "Format Picture". Then you have a world of options.
If you think your resource site will have many links, use the tabs in Excel to correspond to your major categories. These tabs will carry over to the web page version. If not, just work with one page. You can add tabbed pages later.
Set the Width
Decide how many columns of links you will want to display. If it will be one column only, widen column A so that it stretches about 800 or 900 pixels wide. If everyone is using wide screens, you can go up to about 1100 pixels wide. For all purpose use, I believe 900 pixels is better. Do your work on monitors similar to ones your co-workers will use to get the best visual feedback.
If you want more columns, drag the columns so they are equal and add up to 900 pixels. These columns will be where you will place your links.
At the top of each column, but beneath the logo, enter main categories of resources you will be presenting. In cells below these headings, type names of each resource you want to link to. These will be the names of the links you are building. You don't need to enter filenames to describe your resource, just a simple understandable resource name.
Take some time with this step, it will be an exercise in organizing your thinking and your company's organization.
Sort the Resource List
You can use Excel's Data/Sort capability to alphabetize the resources.
Build Your Links
Right click on a link name, then click "Hyperlink". In the dialog window, at the upper left corner, click "Link to Existing File or Web Page", then navigate to the file in your computer or network.
Select the target file. Where it says "Text to Display" you should see the name you already selected for the resource. You can change it there if you like.
Click "OK". The link name on your page will now display in the familiar blue underlined text.
Easy, isn't it? Do a bunch more. Don't worry about making mistakes. Everything you do can (and probably will be) edited and corrected.
Then click File/Save As. In the dialog box, navigate to your resource-site folder. Name the file "resource-site". Where it says "Save as type", select "Web Page".
Do not save it as an Excel Workbook.
Before you save it, you will have a choice of whether to save the entire workbook or only the selected page ("Selection:Sheet"). If your Resource Site is only one page, select accordingly. If you only have one page with content, Excel will only produce a one-page site, even with "Entire Workbook" selected.
If you are using multiple tabbed sheets in Excel for your Resource Site, select "Entire Workbook" and the tabbing function will be preserved in the site. Having the tabbing available on your resource site is a very nice feature.
Give Your Site a Title
You can also click "Change Title" to use a different title for display in the title bar of the browser. Select a title which will tell your story in the title bar. It adds credibility when the browser title shows "Acme Resource Site" as opposed to "Resource Site.html". Your title bar will show your web page file name if you don't specify a title.
You can now click "Save".
You are a Webmaster!
Open your browser. Click "File/Open" or "File/Open File" (depending on the browser), and browse to your Resource Site file. Click "Open". If you see your Resource Site rendered on the screen, you just published a website!
Technically, since it is not hosted on the World Wide Web but rather in a closed system, some might argue that it is not a "web" site, but I won't tell if you don't. If you upload the same folder to a web server and pointed a URL at resource-site.htm, it would be undisputably a website.
One at a time, click on the sample links you posted. Observe how the file opens. This can vary from user to user depending upon the browser and add-ins, also known as plug-ins, the browser has installed. Based upon these variables, results may not be consistent across your entire user base, but it should be close.
When I create sites using Excel, I review the results of my work in two browsers simultaneously, Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox. They display differently, especially in the location of graphics. For consistency, you may need to left-justify your logos and images.
To edit, have same resource-site.htm file open in Excel and both browsers at the same time. Make your edit in Excel, click "Save", then refresh both browsers. You will see your results immediately. Make your corrections accordingly. After a few rounds of this, you will have a great Resource Site.
Teach your people to set their browser home page to the resource site, and you now have a company-wide Resource Website.
Copyright 2006 Mark Meshulam
Mark Meshulam helps small business keep it all together at http://www.poingo.com