New Site Launch

I launched a new version of my web site today! While the old site had served me well for a while, it was gradually losing focus as I had repeatedly attempted to incorporate past blog material, and content from other blogs that I had created. Merging everything into a single site was a good starting plan, but as refined what I needed to focus on, the old content became less and less relevant.

And so, the new site is trimmed down, with the old content archived away. From this point onward, will focus on three key topics:

  1. Information Systems (a discipline focusing on a blend of business and computer science; My Link | Wikipedia’s Link)
  2. Project and Process Management (focusing largely on business and information systems projects; Project Management | Process Management)
  3. Entrepreneurship and Small Business / Technology News, Tips and Advice*
* This one is a little more open ended. As part of providing IS consulting, news and information relative to my customers and clients (typically entrepreneurs and small- to mid-sized businesses) is often of great value to business owners and managers. The blog area of this site will focus on providing helpful tips and advice, as well as reporting key industry events that can impact you or your business.
I hope you like the change, and if there’s anything you’d like to see added or modified, please feel free to drop me a comment, or connect with me on Twitter or Google+.

Business Service Pricing

I’ve been to sites several times in the past where consultants, contractors, designers, or developers fail to provide any information on pricing or fees for their services. It always frustrated me, but as I moved along further in my business work, I discovered the reason: pricing is highly subjective when doing business development, and fixed rates always scare people off.

Sure, there’s a standard hourly rate that can easily apply. However most hourly rates are set according to generic criteria that cover a wide range of services. And most often, that hourly rate is significantly higher than the specific services that may be required. Without directly engaging with a person about their specific needs, it’s often impossible to provide a blanket price, especially for entrepreneurs and start-ups.

In my case, for instance, I do have a “base rate” that I start with for business consulting. This rate applies to the development of corporate-grade business material (business plans, product pricing, department organization guides, employee manuals, etc), and usually applies to medium-sized businesses (between 25 and 250 employees). That rate is $120/hr.

Most small businesses–especially startups–simply cannot afford that rate, nor would I expect them to. But depending on the specific service, I have other rates ranging from $15 to $80/hr.

Several years ago, I posed a question to a client: How much does rope cost? Their response, “I don’t know… it depends on the rope.” I took that moment to explain that consulting for a business is much like measuring and charging for rope. Whether you buy a lightweight string, or an industrial steel cable has a huge impact on the price. Whether you simply need three feet of it from a readily available supply, or 150,000 feet to suspend a bridge has a tremendous impact on the availability and cost. Whether you just need a piece now, or whether you need a steady supply every week for three years has an impact on the supply, and subsequently the price.

And so the answer that I always cringed at, “it depends,” becomes the most common answer I can give. And that’s entirely because everyone’s needs are different. Some simply want a few hours of advice and help. Some want development work done on their business plan, project plan, or other systems. Some want entire software platforms or web sites developed. Some just want a mentor to chat with.

I’ve found, however, that most entrepreneurs or start-up businesses effectively have a budget of $0. And I recognize that, because I’ve been there. So there are three options that I make available for fees.

  1. I almost always quote for a project, and specific deliverables. This way, you are not simply agreeing to an hourly rate without any accountability as to how many hours are being accumulated. You know the cost before a project starts, and you owe nothing until it does. You also know that the quote will stand as the final price, as long as you don’t make any changes to the scope of the project.
  2. I offer a prearranged, mutually agreeable hourly rate that will cover any and all work requested up to a maximum number of hours per month. This allows a business owner to budget, say, $250/month for about 5 hours of monthly availability. So why is this rate lower than my usual rate? Because a fixed monthly amount can be budgeted and accounted for differently than other “on-demand” services, which typically cost more because there is a level of urgency attached, or there is a demand for on-site availability on request. My regular rate takes those kinds of constraints into consideration, while a pre-arranged monthly rate allows me to keep rates lower.
  3. I offer a payment option that is subjective to your business’s revenue. This doesn’t mean “taking a portion of your income until your bill is paid,” but rather, “a mutually agreeable rate relative to projected revenue.” This means that if you required a $3,500 project, but couldn’t afford that up front, you could assess your business’s projected revenue stream over, say, the next twelve months, and agree to a payment that would be sustainable without affecting your profit negatively. The payment doesn’t need to be the same every month, and can be adjusted higher during busy periods, and lower during slower ones. In contrast to a loan, where you pay a fixed percentage, or a fixed dollar amount monthly, the arrangement would be to pay an estimated amount that is affordable based on the income you expect over a certain period. Specific options can be arranged on request.
And as I always encourage every client directly, please feel free to simply contact me (make sure you supply a return method-of-contact!), or engage with me directly on Twitter if you’d like a fast and direct response.

Getting in Contact

On three separate occasions over the past two weeks, I’ve received questions through the Ask Me section of this site without including a way for me to contact the requester.

I like to leave the option open for people to supply contact information at their discretion, rather than making it a required field. This also allows people to enter alternative contact methods such as Twitter or instant messages. It also ensures that if the question is of a generic nature, I can reply publicly as a post, rather than directly contacting the person posing the question.

However, to those who posed questions over the past two weeks or so, if the question is of a more direct nature, I would strongly encourage adding a point of contact (even if you just supply a temporary email address), so that I can appropriately respond and personalize the response to you.


Important For Us

What’s important for you, isn’t necessarily important for me. What’s urgent for you, isn’t necessarily urgent for me.

Similarly, what’s not important for you, may actually be important for me. What’s not urgent for you, may be urgent for me.

I think we’ve all experienced times where we’ve felt the urgency, or the importance of someone else’s priorities. The pressures of someone else’s deadline. The pains of someone else’s mistakes.  But the truth is, none of us have the same priorities, and yet, we all have each other’s priorities.

It was once said, “poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” But when you’re part of a team, poor planning on your part very often constitutes an emergency for everyone else. Not by choice, but by reaction. Your failure to meet the needs of your team because you failed to plan your time properly causes everyone else to scramble to fix the problem for the sake of the team, or for the benefit of the project.

Is there a solution? Well the simple answer is, “start planning your time properly.”

The harder solution is, “be more transparent with your team, and plan things together, and meet your deadlines.”

The best solution is,

[pullquote1 quotes=”true” align=”center” variation=”copper”]If you’re part of a team, and someone else is counting on you, there are only two right times to do your work: yesterday, and now.[/pullquote1]

Seeing What Is, Not What Isn’t

Most of us tend to see the world around us the way we are, not the way it is. Take other people for example. We see how others work in their jobs, how they raise their kids, how they spend their off-hours, how they drive, how they shop, even how they maintain their online social lifestyle.

But we see these things relative to how we do it. We see the coworker’s behaviors relative to our own; their ethics relative to ours. We see others’ kids relative to how we raise ours. We choose to “follow” or “like” in social media based on how others fit in to our “circle.”

Are we really seeing what’s there? Or are we seeing what we expect to see, because of who we are? Are we seeing people fairly, or are we simply seeing our own inadequacies in them?

Guy Kawasaki said it best in his recent book, Enchantment,

People deserve a break. The stressed and unorganized person who doesn’t have the same priorities as you may be dealing with an autistic child, abusive spouse, fading parents, or cancer. Don’t judge people until you’ve walked a kilometer in their shoes. Give them a break instead.”

Being Overburdened

One of the biggest challenges of being a small business owner is the burden that’s often associated with having to fill every role within your company. As an owner, you’re often the receptionist, the customer service team, the sales representative, the bookkeeper, the marketing team, the IT manager, the custodian, and the production coordinator.

And although you love what you do, the roles can become burdensome. Even to the point of exhaustion.

And yet, somehow, the benefits of running your own business can often help to outweigh and offset the burden, such that you can sustain yourself for years without feeling regret.

The problem is, eventually you’ll burn out. Eventually, the burden will become too much. Eventually, you’ll either quit (by choice, or by effect of health), or you’ll try to solve it by hiring someone you probably can’t afford. Neither result is good.

If you’re in that boat–or are about to be–make sure you’re taking steps now to plan for that point in time when the burden is too much for you to bear. Take the steps now to plan for the day when you need a new hire, even if it’s a year off, and hire when you’re levelheaded enough to make the right choice, and not just because you need to offload your burdens.

Ask yourself, what steps can you take today to relieve your burden for tomorrow?

A Thousand Words

I’m a huge fan of infographics. In my line of work, I often have to communicate technical information to people who aren’t technically-minded. In many cases, they aren’t even interested.

Worse yet, I need to share a lot of detail to explain a concept, so I tend to be long-winded. Infographics however, have the capacity to communicate a large amount of information in a manner that most people resonate well with, and these have helped me to avoid getting into the trap of verbosity.

I’ve even found that I get a point across faster, clearer, and with greater retention and agreement by the audience by simply conveying the concept visually.

As the old adage goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.

So it begs the question, when did you last spend time sharing a thousand words, when just a picture would have sufficed?

What Constitutes an Expert?

I once read that “you’re an expert if you call yourself an expert.” It sounds funny, but it’s true. I’ve met plenty of people who, by education or experience, are classified as experts. And yet those same people are evidently not experts because their skills prove them to be otherwise.

Education alone isn’t enough. Experience alone isn’t enough. Consistently delivering an expert result is really all it takes.

Call yourself an expert, if you will, but back it with your results.

And, make sure the delivered results for which you’re calling yourself an expert are actually the results you’re delivering. If you’re outsourcing half of what you do, then your subcontractor is half the expert, not you. If you’re outsourcing a core competency, you’re not the expert in that field. You’re an expert contractor.