Monthly Archives: March 2008

Complete Communication Complexity

I said to my  wife, “I believe my problem is I have current and future communication complexity”.  She said “w*nker”.  I said “I’ve got a phone problem” so she said, “then fix it”.

1.    I work out of 3 offices (that’s including the kitchen table at home).
2.    At one of my offices, I am not the primary tenant so the phone gets answered with another company’s name.
3.    I believe that at some stage in the nearish future I will be moving offices.
4.    I don’t just want to be handing out a mobile number all the time, as I feel that its like walking around with a t-shirt saying “small-time”.

What to do?

The answer was SkypeIn.  I’ve heard of Skype you say, but whats SkypeIn ?

– Firstly you get a free Skype account  that allows you to make free computer to computer calls.
– This isn’t a tutorial on how to use skype, so skip to the next step.
– Next you buy yourself a local number from Skype. They call this service SkypeIn.  In real terms this is going to cost you under $100 a year.
– You connect the phone number to your skype address (it simple, and done via their online control panel).
– Finally you decide what you want to do with the calls you receive.

Option A.  Take the phone calls on your computer.
If you don’t answer the call (eg you are away from your desk) the calls can automatically go to your voicemail system.
The other choice is that if you don’t answer the calls, you can have them forwarded to another phone (small perminute cost for this) such as your mobile.

Option B.  Forward calls to your skype phone number to the office of wherever you are or your mobile.

A couple of cool things about this solution.
1.    People see a landline number, not a mobile or weird address.  Eg Mine is 03 9014 9600
2.    If you are overseas, local people call your local number and get charged for a local call, despite the fact you might routing the number to a village in Siberia.
3.    You can have local numbers in lots of areas in the world – Want to setup a virtual office in San Francisco?
4.    Finally if you are like me, and using lots of computers, you can login to your skype account with any of the computers.

There are lots of other good ways of using the skypein number but the above are what appeals to me.

The solution appeals to the wife as well as now she only has to call one number to find me.

How to Execute a favour

How to execute a favour (is it just me that this sounds weird to?)

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how I dislike favours Almost certainly someone whom knows me well has read the article and thought b*llshit, you’ve done me favours!

Its not true though, I don’t do favours anymore, I only do “specific favours”.

A couple of years ago I met with a “Captain of Australian Industry” for coffee. We had a wide ranging conversation about what I was doing with the Churchill Club. During the conversation I mentioned that I felt concerned about the number of favours I was doing for people and whether I was wasting time and insane. M y coffee guest, pointed out something that was obvious as soon as he mentioned it, but I never would have though of before hand – when I did favours, I threw a business like approach out the window.

If I was offering to sell services, I would be very specific about what I would and wouldn’t do. But when offering to a favour I would be too vague, just a “happy to help you”. My coffee guest pointed out that my favours would be far more effective and less demanding on my time if I put some structure around them.

So I came up with some simple rules…

Rule Number 1. – Is there intangible value to be had here?
If the favour is going to introduce me to new and interesting people or opportunities, I am happy to get involved. If not – goto rule no 2.

Rule Number 2. – Is it good karma?
Because I am not a self centered b@stard, I am happy to do favours that need to be done. However If there is no intangible value for me, and its not good karma, I have learnt to say no. However if it is good karma, goto Rule no 3.

Rule Number 3. – Will it take less than two hours?
I, like the majority of the population have to make a living and can’t spend all my time doing favours. Just like I can’t give to every charity, despite how deserving the may be. Therefore I have to ration my time. If someone asks for a favour that’s going to take longer than two hours, I really have to look at “whats in it for me” as its highly likely its not actually a favour, but someone wanting to save money by getting me to act for free.

So once I have decided that I will do the favour, I am now much more specific about what I offer, I tend to focus on limiting the actions I can control, and not owning outcomes that I can’t. Eg.

– I will help you for two hours, sorry I can’t spend more time on it.

– I show you how to do this, but I won’t write the instructions down, you will have to take notes.

– I will introduce you to person X with my recommendation, but I won’t make the meeting happen, you need to impress them yourself.

Doing these specific favours allows me to still think of myself as a good guy, without having to rip my hair out.

The sausage, the sizzle and the whole bloody bbq

I used to sell people. Although I had the occasional slave trader vision, usually accompanied by lots of whipping, the reality was much more mundane. Apart from the part where no one wanted to have coffee with me – it turned out I had developed the habit of sacking people at coffee, but hadn’t noticed I had the habit.

Anyway, selling people in the IT services industry meant we normally either offered people at an hourly rate, a weekly rate or occasionally offered customer to pre purchase hours or “block time” at a discount. Pretty much our offering was the same as the rest of the industry and a differentiator was the availability and skill of the people on offer.

I wasn’t really thrilled about this arrangement though, and spent a lot of time in front of a white board trying to understand what was making me unhappy. The conclusion I came to was that there were three things going on that interacted.

1. My Product

2. My Sales Model

3. My Market

My product and market was reasonably obvious. I had system administrators and network engineers that could help organisations that had IT problems.

However the Sales Model was where I spent the majority of my thinking. I was selling people by the hour, and would offer a discount for bulk purchases. The question haunting me though (haunting is probably too strong a word) was “is there a better way to sell people?”. After much staring, I came to the conclusion that there were three things I wanted from my sales model.

1. It made it easy to sell the product.

2. It maximized the profitability of the sale.

3. It gave me repeat business.

These I realized were probably principals of good sales model design.

Having this framework, I then looked at other industries to see how successful businesses were applying these principals. In fact I realized that the further I looked the more innovative solutions I found.

Eventually I came up with a solution that I now see regularly in the market place (and of course like to think it was copied from me). I called it contract support. Basically our client’s committed to a certain number of hours per month of iIT services that they would buy off us. They got this at a low/low rate. Then any additional hours they purchased were at a higher rate, but still below the market rate.

The result was a product that was easy to sell, more profitable (due to a higher utilization) and gave us forecastable repeat business. Sweet. Sizzle.

Staff Retention

Having run a number of businesses full of Gen Y staff, I found that they were very focused on managing their own career.  Topics such as loyalty normally drew blank faces, as the industry norm was career advancement through job hopping.

In fact many of my competitors refused to train staff as they knew it meant the employee would immediately start applying for jobs paying a higher amount now that they had a new skill or qualification.  Many of these courses were very expensive as well, it wasn’t unknown to be paying about $2,500 for a three day course in networking or system administration for big end of town IT solutions.  There was a plethora of courses to choose from.

I decided to approach staff training in a slightly different way, and got dividends I didn’t expect.

The different approach was one I borrowed from the Royal Australian Armoured Corps. What I did was create training diagrams. Diagrams that showed all the courses on the path to each of the qualifications. These training diagrams also represented that some courses, and/or series of courses, were pre-requisites to more than one qualification.

Training Diagram

What I did was then two fold.
Firstly I would work out a training budget for each staff member. (In my case $7K per annum).

Secondly I sat down with each staff member, and mapped out a training program with them using a standard template. We put a course date in each box of the training diagram (depending on the budget, course cost and timing), and then the employee signed off on their training programme and took a copy with them.

Employees then knew what course they were scheduled to do later in the year, and which courses they would be offered in future years. Turns out, unsurprisingly, they felt like they owned their training program and had a really strong incentive to stay. We had staff turnover down to 5% in an industry were it appeared to be closer to 50%.

Of course delivering as promised was part of the deal; and meeting with staff on a 6 monthly basis to review amongst other things, their training program. Sometimes a course would be cancelled by suppliers. Employees weren’t stressed by this as I had built up a level of trust so they knew they would simply be booked on the course the next time it came up.

Economically it made good sense as well. I was spending around $7Kpa per staff member on training, but replacing them via a recruitment agency was going to cost around $7K..

Anyway, the unexpected dividends alluded to earlier were:
1. Staff that were recommending our company to their peers as a great employer (reducing my recruitment and employment costs).
2. Happy customers whom had constant reminders (through missing staff) insight into how dedicated we were in having highly trained and qualified staff at their establishment.