iPhone “4S” is for Strategy

In the wake of yesterday’s Apple keynote announcing the iPhone 4S, which left many people disappointed and dropped Apple’s stock by 5%, I’ve noticed that there are a few things that the industry is waiting to catch their breath on and adjust their rumor mills accordingly. Just like the jokes that cropped up over the iPad’s name, the disappointment of receiving a “4S” instead of a “5” will also fade, which is why it will be available in a week. You should never need to wait for speed…

Speaking of which, although the “S” officially stands for “speed,” as it did with the 3S, there’s a subtlety that it also means “strategy.” Bear with me on a few deductions:

  1. This release model and timing were planned long before Steve Jobs’ departure from the company. The fact that the industry expected this to be Tim Cook’s moment to shine was irrelevant. Cook’s presentation was no different than what Jobs himself would have presented, so it’s a hint that most things at Apple are continuing on exactly the same momentum as they have been. Jobs’ absence was an acknowledgement of that.
  2. Cook set the stage for future presentations: it’s less about him, and more about Apple as a whole. In other words, he let Jobs continue to be Jobs, and continue to be regarded and respected for his role, while also showing more of Apple’s cards. The “one more thing” hallmark of Jobs was notably absent, because that’s Jobs, and will forever be Jobs only. There is no “one more thing” with Cook, because the future is going to be less about Cook, and more about Apple.
  3. The 4S is an iPhone 3/3S replacement product. Not enough of an upgrade to woo iPhone 4 early adopters, but significant enough to be a “must have” for iPhone 3 users, who, internationally are just ending their 3-year contracts. It’s also the perfect model to attract the iPhone 3S users who have already proven they want the stepped-up model, and whose 2-year contracts are just ending in the US.
  4. It coincides with iOS 5 which has a one-year life, because iOS 6 will launch just after the iPhone 5 next year, and both will be a major rewrite. Why? Because iOS 6 will also need to service the 4th generation iPad (the 3rd will come out next spring*) which will be a major technology advancement, and for which the iPhone 5 will need some huge upgrades to match. Since the iPhone 4 was a complete redesign, there needed to be a pacifying model to keep the supply chain of complementary products functioning for one more year while the phone is completely re-engineered.
  5. There was a brief jab at HP, Dell and Microsoft with the statement that consumers don’t want tablets: they want iPads. It’s a hint that Windows 8, while it will still be successful in its own way, will only truly work on tablets that are intended to function like desktops.**
  6. The hardware changes are mainly intended to be hints at the future. The upgraded processor and increased RAM brings the iPhone to desktop-like production. The addition of software tools like voice instructions and online card printing are a hint at the future of services.***
  7. The brief stock drop is actually great news for shareholders. Apple knew what this would do, and let it happen. Shareholders can now buy more stock at the reduced rate, knowing that next year’s iPad 3 and iPhone 5 will boost the value tremendously, and investors now will get a great return on their money over the next year.

In the end, a purely strategic move for Apple, and a real hint at things to come.

[divider]

* I expect the iPad 3 to be another technology hinting product. The iPad 2 brought minor revisions and a speed boost. Essentially, it was a 1S, but for strategic reasons, it needed to be called the iPad 2. The iPad 3 however, will introduce groundbreaking new features, like a retina-style display, improved cameras, a processor and RAM boost, and very likely a software tool for remote desktop capabilities to OS X Lion (something like “AirDisplay for Everything Else”). The 4th generation iPad, in spring or summer 2013 however, will likely come shortly after an iOS 6 announcement, and a developer announcement about the next version of OS X (which will probably get a new name). Something will blend OS X and iOS together, and it won’t happen until about 18 months after Lion’s release, which would mean some time around early 2013. iPhone 5 will be the first hint, and iOS 6 along with iPad 4 will be the main iteration of it, followed by a new line of Macs (something in the MacBook Air family) sporting the new OS.

** Watch for this. Windows 8 will be released along with a slew of tablet-laptop hybrids. Consumers will jump on them quickly, but will soon recognize how much it differs from an iPad. And by the time Microsoft releases a fully trustworthy tablet (remember that HP has already failed at this, so that really only leaves Dell to get it right; and Dell has a bad reputation with home users), Apple will already be on their third model of iPad. And since iPad 3 will have groundbreaking new features, the new Windows tablets will look antiquated the day they’re launched. By the time there’s widespread consumer adoption, Apple will have responded with a new OS that will marry iOS and OS X making the iPad even more desirable for the consumer, and making Windows 8 look like Windows 3.1. Consumers still won’t want tablets… they’ll want iPads. And when the new OS is released, within a year of Windows 8, Microsoft will still be three years out from catching up, and the iPad will be on version 7 by then.

*** The future of services is inevitable. Apple has a business enemy in Google because of Android, but Apple has a more stable revenue model. Google makes its money from involuntary participation (revenue derived from advertising, which is why their products are all free: no one wants to pay for stuff associated with Google, as is evidenced with non-free Android apps). Apple on the other hand, makes its money from completely voluntary participation, almost to the point of absolute dependency (consumers crave Apple products, and would step over their own mothers to get one). Because of this difference in revenue methods, consumers are willing to pay Apple for the next big thing. And the next big thing Apple is betting on, is that people won’t want to continue “searching” but will want to start “doing.” With Google, you type your queries, find your results, and then try to apply those results to what you’re trying to do. For example, typing “Meeting with Fred at 10am” into Google yields nothing of value. If you want that to be a calendar entry, you have to switch to Google Calendar. In other words, with Google, you have to know how to do something before you can tell Google what you want. Apple is putting that all in one place, so all you need to know is what you want to do, and it will show you how. It’s a hint that Google will get less relevant for the average consumer. Similarly, the cards app is another service hint: print is still important, but it’s less about you, and more about the people you engage with. Cards is an example of remote printing at its finest. Print this, and send it where it needs to go. The old model is, print this, and then I have to figure out what to do with it. Again, with Apple, tell it what you need to do, and it will show you how.

With Great Exposure…

I am amazed at how many times I’ve heard clients who have said “I have some work for you… it doesn’t pay well, but it will give you great exposure.” As though it’s an honor to be able to work for them, almost to the extent that we should pay them for the opportunity. Even more amazing is how many of those people actually believe that their exposure is so fantastic that consultants would be fools not to jump at the offer. It’s as though they think their affiliation is so valuable that doing business with them is like shaking hands in front of a crowd, and everyone will want to work with you because you work with them.

There was a time in my career where I was suckered into this lie. A time when I thought exposure was far better than great pay. But the truth is, clients with that mentality actually bring neither great pay, nor great exposure. What they bring is frustration and high demands. They want a Mercedes for the price of a Chevy. They want premium service to advance their business, not an opportunity to help you grow yours.

When they say, “it will give you great exposure,” what they’re really saying is, “I want this to give me great exposure.” And they come borderline close to adding, “I don’t really give a rip what you get out of it.”

If you’re a small business owner, particularly one who offers consulting-based services, recognize these problem clients right from the start. Watch out for phrases like, “we don’t have a lot of money,” “we think this could be a great opportunity for you,” “this will go like gangbusters,” or “we’ll be able to pay you once we get our seed capital, which is coming ______.”

Most of these people are perfectly well intentioned. Most of them actually believe what they’re saying. Most of them aren’t trying to defraud you. Most of them are wrong.

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, StevePye.me 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.

Thanks!

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?