These are my notes for a presentation that I gave to several young entrepreneurs on May 30th, 2006. The audience was about 25.
- Success in business is about relationships, not about a product or technology.
- The old adage about a better mouse trap is wrong, best does not equal success.
- However, technology can be used to help you maintain and improve relationships.
- When technology is used in this way, to smooth over interpersonal relationships, your people can focus doing their jobs, not how to do their jobs.
- Additionally, technology can be used to reinforce the good habits, and make it hard for people to stay in bad habits.
Time is money
- As you build a business, you must focus on your core competency.
- If you are not a tax expert, you hire a CPA.
- If you are not a real estate expert, you hire a Realtor.
- If you are not an electrical expert, you hire an electrician.
- Hiring expertise not only gets you the best work possible, but also helps you to keep your business interruption-free.
- Time to market is critical.
- You must maximize your time, or a competitor will beat you to it.
Example: Suppose your computer crashes and you fix it yourself. Can you do this? Probably. However, the big question is how long will it take? If it takes you six hours to fix the problem, you did not save $600 (six hours at $100/hr). You saved $100, as it would likely have taken an expert one hour to fix the problem. You also lost $600, as you could have spend those six hours doing work for your clients. The effort to save money actually cost $500.
- Note: I stumbled a bit in this section, as I was worried about not having enough material to fill out the time. As it turned out, with examples, I had plenty, so this section should stay fairly short.
- Technology is an investment that changes frequently.
- Experts in technology know the current state of technology and where it is likely going.
- Experts can guide your purchases and help reduce the risk of investment.
- Current and future technology:
- Open Source
- Open Office
- Seek experts outside your competency and choose based on trust.
- If the expert understands where you are going and what you need, they are invested in your success.
- Trust the experts (pick two competitors if the trust is lacking) to deliver, and focus on your business.
- Yes, it is generally best to buy once rather than rent… when value stays the same.
- Technology is changing very rapidly. The old model of buying a 3 to 5 year solution no longer works.
- Renting/subscribing to services allows you to focus on the services you need, not the technology behind them.
- Less investment in technology equals a more agile company.
- If you are not needing to recoup an investment, you can keep your eyes on the goal, not where you’ve been.
- Success comes from constant change, proper application of technology can make this less painful.
Example: Email used to just be email, now it is groupware with serious security complications
- Document sharing
Example: Websites used to just display contact information
- Online chat
- Customer forums
Example: Vax System
- Huge investment, made considerable profit by renting out the machine.
- After years, people stopped using us, but core business apps were written to use it.
- 15 years later, we still have to support the system, even though it is now losing money.
Best Practice and Automation
- Standards exist for a reason — following them prevents several known unpleasant surprises from occurring.
- If you are going to break best practice, fine, but be certain that you understand why it is there to begin with.
- Only break if you are willing to accept the worst case scenario.
- Once you know your business practices, they can be automated.
- Repetitive tasks can be automated. Don’t pay $7/hr for two years to do a task that can be automated for $500.
- Magic number is two. If a task will take a person two man weeks over two years, it’s worth automating.
- Do not fear automating away jobs. You’re not in business to pay people, you’re in business to make money.
- If the workers are worth keeping, they will adapt. That’s to your advantage.
- If they are not worth keeping, they will go to a less efficient company. That’s also to your advantage.
- The best technology is systems-based, many small components working together for a greater whole.
- It also works for organizations, give each person small, well-defined roles, and everyone becomes more efficient.
- As technology improves, automate the roles that you can, and free people to focus on goals of business growth.
- Technology cannot create quality where there was none to start with.
- However, technology can ensure quality as processes grow.
- Keep processes simple and reproducible. As the business grows, automate portions of it.
- It’s not about the tech, it’s about using the tech to simplify problems and maintain flexibility through growth.
Most service companies suffer from “service creep”, where the the services that they offer become more and more diverse. However, this often does not coincide with larger revenues. If a billing system is written to tie into the process of offering services, then as a customer demands greater services, they can get them. They will, however, be reflected in the billing.
Document and Don’t Duplicate Effort
- There are many people working on similar problems. Do not work in a vacuum — talk with your competitors.
- This allows you to compete based on business model and service level.
- Anyone can make a better product.
- Recreating the wheel just takes time and gives up the quick to market advantage.
- Once you know exactly where you stack up against your competitors, you know your strengths and weaknesses.
- Use tech to make your strengths scalable
- Use tech to make supplement your weaknesses
- Tech used for documentation reduces duplication of work within your organization
- Depending on the industry, documentation may be needed to meet regulatory requirements.
Example: Revision Control
Programmers use a technique called Revision Control to keep track of changes in code.
Basically, the system receives files and stores older versions. This way, if you ever need an earlier version of a file, or to know who changed something and why, you just ask the system. It’s like a super backup system.
The concept behind a wiki is a web site where anyone can edit any page. This is very useful when making encyclopedias and other knowledge repositories. In business, however, you want a bit more control. Using a controlled-wiki, however, allows all the people you designate to freely document process and suggest improvements. This can leverage your organization and create a culture that embraces change, rather than resisting it.
Personally, I have never been able to spell very well. As a child, I learned to use Apple Works, a word processor on the Apple IIc to write papers. I got into the habit of always using a computer to spell check my work. By supplementing my weakness this way, I built a career for myself.
Apply Technology Properly
- Technology needs to solve a business problem, not be applied for the sake of applying technology.
- There are systems that can scan in business cards, take photos, make temporary IDs for visitors, etc.
- Consider unintended consequences
- Using technology to scan business cards into a CRM system serves to reduce memory retention as well as save data entry time. Not a good trade.
- Technology is also a huge contributor to corporate culture.
- Tech can complicate work flow and create a class of “irreplaceable people”
- This is often referred to as job security
- However, tech can also be used to create an atmosphere of transparency, so all employees are accountable.
- This keeps everyone honest and keeps quality high.
- This also means that the company as a whole does not suffer when one employee is absent.
- Tech can complicate work flow and create a class of “irreplaceable people”
- Provides clear phone calls and agile treatment of messages and calls
- Proper use of email can distinguish a company. Improper use conveys a lack of professionalism.
- Use good grammar and spelling.
- Only include recipients that are directly effected by the email.
- If multi-person discussion is needed, use a proper mailing list with archive functions.
- Realize that it will be read without the benefit of vocal or visual cues and adjust accordingly.
- NEVER send an email while angry.
- Cost of interruptions is very high, often higher than the need to be instantly available.
- Instant decisions are often wrong.
- On the other hand, the ability to communicate real-time with disparate employees is very useful.
- Treat IM like net meetings.
- Schedule them in advance
- Archive the discussions
- Ability to know when people are busy and when they are not is huge for scheduling meetings
- Ability to block off “non-interruptible” time compensates for putting people into cubes, lacking doors.
- Track clients and allow you to manage your client list.
- CRM is NOT a magical tool. You must use to and keep in contact with your clients.
- Do not delegate the relationship management to technology.
- Keep that in people, delegate the tracking and reminding to technology.
- Customers can still tell the difference.
- Your website is an employee, not a brochure.
- Must be interactive
- Must present the business
- Must answer all questions
Example: Social Software
- Livejournal, myspace, amazon, ebay, forums
- These techniques amplify marketing, positive and negative
- Stay on the good side of the internet. Best way is to be honest and forthright.
- Unethical behaviour will get uncovered and stay with you forever. Best to never start.