Archive for Entrepreneurship

Busyness -Thought for the Day

What is considered great when delivered early is only adequate when delivered on time, and is usually insufficient when delivered late.

Equal effort yields differing results based on time. Sooner is better than later.

Thanks to Sean Murphy at the SKMurphy blog.

 

How to sell on value instead of price

red-leaf-1In a recent blog post titled Be the Red Leaf, John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing discusses the importance of defining, understanding, and communicating your unique value in order to stand out from the crowd. Being different is not being louder or having more ads. It’s about truly knowing what your product or service means to your potential customers. Jantsch listed three types of research every entrepreneur must do to uncover this customer-eye view of value: Read More→

This may explain some of my outsourcing troubles

outsourcing

Although this woman speaks much better English than anyone I dealt with.

Outsourcing The Big Tasks

It’s been a while since I updated my outsourcing efforts. I’ve been head-down in trying to get my major task — bookkeeping and accounting — under control. I have been trying to find the right solution for this for over five (5) years.

I am, apparently, unique in my requirements. I just fired my second accountant for failure to help me do what I need. But I can’t imagine that I am alone in what I want. I have a small service business. I am a consultant. I travel extensively. I am a sole operator. I have no employees. I need, and have needed, someone to help me setup a bookkeeping and record keeping system that I can understand, that meets all the requirements of the government for taxes, and for which I can outsource the day-to-day tasks of data entry, filing, etc.

Because I focus on my clients I do a very poor job of keeping my own paperwork in order. Oh, I invoice everything right on schedule. After all, I don’t get paid unless I do. And my client and project records are first-rate – that’s what I get paid to do. But taking time to do my own data entry, organization, filing, etc on anything like a regular basis just never seems to be a priority until there is a crisis. So I repeatedly end up at the end of the year with boxes and piles and stacks of stuff all over the place. And I know, I know, I am not alone in this.

So why is there apparently no one who offers this kind of service? How in the world do all the freelancers and free agents survive? Do they just do like me and spend two months a year under incredible stress trying to get it all together and spend the other 10 months dreading the process? Maybe. But I am done with that.

Previously, my VA helped me locate a very nice young lady with a nearby Staffing Solutions business. Christi has turned out to be a very good find. She took on the first part of my organization project and did a good job. We are now moving to the second phase – getting an accounting system established. For that I have gone through a rather strenuous research and screening process to locate an accountant who specializes in doing what I need.

For this I found the people at Intuit to be invaluable. I started with an online chat with a sales rep there, who gave my name to one of their sales advisors. Kelly turned out to be great. She helped me understand my options, the limitations of each, and what I needed to be looking for. She also made herself available to answer any additional questions and volunteered to help my (former) accountant setup my new system using QuickBooks Online Edition.

When that didn’t work out she helped me locate several more that were certified QuickBooks Advisors. That’s when I began my interview and screening process. I found two that were very helpful and knowledgeable. Both took the time to explain what they do, how they do it, and  talk to me about my particular needs and the limitations therein. This past week I selected a provider to get started. He is former consultant who worked much as I do now, so he understands (I hope) my requirements better than my previous providers.

This next Friday we will meet – me, Christi, and the accountant – to go over the setup and processes for getting all the data in and keeping everything up to date. Of course, I still have to get all the back data entered, and that will be a challenge. But Christi is going to tackle that as soon as we’re ready. This feels like progress.

I am also on my second Virtual Assistant. As mentioned previously, I’m using GetFriday – an India-based service that provides virtual assistant services. My first VA simply did not have the skills – either technically or language – to meet my needs. GetFriday was good about getting me a replacement as soon as I asked. I spoke with Venkat on the phone  prior to his assignment to make sure I was comfortable with his English and we are  working through some early tasks to see how it goes.

Working with a VA is as much a learning experience for me as it is for them. It is a challenge for someone like me who has done everything alone for so many years. Finding the right tasks, communicating them clearly, doling them out in the right amount, etc, are all things I’m having to learn.

It’s also different in that my project work is conducted with a team of highly-skilled specialists and we all work to a common methodology. That means we all know what the other is doing, how it’s done, etc. That’s just not the case when you start using a VA. The type of tasks, and the level to which they can be done, are different. I want my VA to do all those sorts of routine, mundane, non-client tasks that must be done, but which I have neither the time nor inclination to do.

This might be keeping up with my personal calendar, sending reminders to me about friend/family things, or doing preliminary research on new car models for my daughter. It could be all kinds of stuff. I’m still learning.

Blueprint CSS Framework

My friend Matt Mower recently pointed me to the Blueprint CSS Framework, a very nifty set of modular CSS stylesheets and accompanying sample files that help a neophyte web builder create nice looking sites with multi-column layouts while still using CSS.

I can’t point you to my results yet, but I can say that it’s helped me immensely and allowed me to actually structure a multi-column web page without the use of tables.

About once a year I foolishly take on the task of designing a new website. As you can see from the HTML on this very page (assuming you’re looking at my web page and not the RSS feed) this effort has never actually resulted in a new design for b.cognosco. But never mind that.

What normally happens is that I spend days and days with high blood pressure, evolving a blue-streak vocabulary, throwing temper tantrums, and being cruel to small animals while I try to get HTML to do what I want with my limited understanding of the all too cryptic CSS.

Once I have good and well failed at that I try to hire someone to help me. I am a cheap bastard and have no interest in going out to *real* designers who will charge me $3,000 – $10,000 for a website that is basically for some hobby interest of mine or some freebie for a friend. But I am also a contrarian – so I do not wish to click over to TypePad or WordPress and grab up a template that is in use by a few hundred other people. I like to do a lot of stuff that simple templates don’t cover.

So I do various mockups of the page in something I can understand (like Adobe InDesign) until I have something I am happy with, create a PDF, and send it to some HTML slice-and-dice service or con one of the many web people I know into doing a little work for me on the side.

Sometimes this last approach works out ok except that no one creates CSS stylesheets I can really understand. So even if the site looks good I have to spend days of frustration trying to understand the nesting and tagging and inheritance and hacks and browser-specific workarounds that everyone uses.

But Blueprint has made it a lot easier, and more understandable, to use CSS by providing a discrete grid for layout and a well-documented set of stylesheets that explain what things do. I’m told the grid is even quite useful for experienced web designers to speed their basic development. I’ll put some links to the new site(s) here when they’re ready. In the meantime, try out Blueprint. It’s nice.

How To Think About A Presentation

My friend and colleague Sean Murphy, who is a great synthesizer and sensemaker, came up with an excellent presentation idea a while back. He’s done this a few times now and if you’re in the San Jose/Silicon Valley area and have a chance to see Sean’s “12 Books for the Busy CEO” you should do so. Links to his next session is below:

Crucial Marketing Concepts for Consultants @ PATCA May 10

I will be presenting a revised and improved version of the “12 Books for the Busy CEO” presentation on Thursday May 10 at 6pm at the PATCA monthly dinner at the Embassy Suites Santa Clara – Silicon Valley on 2885 Lakeside Drive in Santa Clara.I will cover a dozen books and offer a synthesis of the key marketing concepts (this is not a sequence of twelve book reports) that they offer. I will have an article on crucial marketing concepts that I will give out for attendees. There is good content here for entrepreneurs, whether they are starting out as consultants or embedding their expertise in software or a SaaS offering.

Spend an hour and leave with a summary of key marketing insights and some rules of thumb for successful innovation in Silicon Valley. You may even identify one or two books that you haven’t read that will be worth your time. I will cover a dozen books that form the basis for conventional wisdom on marketing in Silicon Valley. They provide the terms, the metaphors, the parables–in short the language–that successful high technology firms use to develop their plans and monitor their execution. Some of these books are old–most have stood the test of time, which in Valley years is a decade or more–but still provide succinct guidelines for new product introduction and sales.

I want to thank Mark Duncan for helping us turn a set of black and white PowerPoint slides that were primarily text bullets into a colorful and illustration rich article.