Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bonus Don’t Help

An interesting post from Mark Cuban on bonuses, and one that I think is pretty accurate. People tend to act in their own interests, for the short term, and don’t really have loyalty.

Why should they?

At least in the US, most people don’t see loyalty from their companies. It’s not that people are fired or laid off without thought, but they aren’t treated well. They aren’t necessarily appreciated, and they certainly don’t get their bonuses that often. At least not great bonuses. While executives often receive good bonuses, the rank and file, who contribute a great deal to the success of the company, don’t. I’ve seen plenty of cases where the bonus plan wasn’t met for employees, but executives were still well paid.

Setting a bonus plan is hard. Owners, executives, they do deserve to get more, but not an outrageous 10-20x more. They don’t really produce that much value. A bonus plan shouldn’t be a lottery.

I say let people go, find employees that want to work for you, pay them fairly, and build your business. Overpaying someone because you think they make a huge difference, is almost always, a mistake.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Marketing Books

Marketing your products is hard, especially if you're not a marketing person. However my business partners and I have been trying to learn a bit more about what makes sense for marketing and how to do it as we strive to grow JumpstartTV and End to End Training in a soft economy.

I started Permission Marketing awhile back after seeing Seth Godin speak at the Business of Software conference. It was an interesting talk, and I found the book to almost be a common sense type approach to marketing. It has a lot of stories about various marketing strategies (good and bad) that have been tried. It also really tries to explain why permission marketing works better than interruption marketing.

My business partner started An Idiot's Guide to Marketing, which he liked as a basic introduction to marketing.

Great IT Teambuilding – Star Trek

When I worked at JD Edwards years ago, we were looking for monthly teambuilding exercises that would help our group of 20 stay focused, and ensure we bonded together. We tried a variety of things, we’d plan and discuss ideas at a weekly meeting, and we would rotate the odd-man-out, the person that had to remain in the office to provide coverage.

One of the choices we made was to attend The Matrix Reloaded on opening morning, catching the first show at a local theater. 18 of us car pooled down there one morning, watched the show, and then enjoyed talking about it the next day.

We were geeks. The Matrix was a popular movie, and seeing the sequel gave us a common bond, a point to touch each other, and a shared experience away from work. You might debate how beneficial this is for a company, but I’d argue that these bonds make it easier for people to do favors for each other, help each other out, and they build morale. All of that should help with retention and productivity.


There’s a chance to do this again for many companies in a little over a month. Star Trek has a new movie coming out on May 8th. While the original series, and even The Next Generation have been abandoned as series, there is still a lot of Star Trek fandom in the geek world.

If you have a team of people, consider scheduling a morning out. Grab that 10am show, treat your IT staff (or as many as possible) and give them a chance to grow tighter together as a team.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Very Cool Idea

If you can afford to do it, this is a great way of looking at the slowing economy and trying to stimulate things. Mark Cuban blogged about Tees and Tats, a shirt company. They decided they’d rebate customers if the economy continues to fall.

It’s a gimmick, but it’s also here, now, and relevant. As long as they can follow through, it builds a bond with the customer.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Thinking Things Through

We've been working on enhancing some of the tools that we use for automated processes like invoicing, commissions, etc. Using automation to reduce the labor costs, which are usually owner labor, can make a huge difference in the amount of work you can get done.

So before we undertake development, what we've done is think about the process that we need to implement. We go through what he normally does manually, entries into Quick Books, transfers from banks, invoices entered, calculating things, etc. We then note that down in a Word document, describing the flow.

Next we look at the process for places for breakage. Meaning where things can do wrong, or where we might need to correct/adjust things. Then we outline those as well and use that as a basic document to provide to a developer, and also for some testing.

It's a pain. It takes time, but it helps to ensure that we are actually building what we need.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Great Customer Service

After a recent event where I saw a number of other “geeks” sporting stickers on their laptops, I decided to join the trend.

I Google’d for stickers, and the first result was from StickerGiant. They had a nice site, I answered a few questions and got to a contact form. Typically I don’t like that, especially as most of these products are commodities. There’s no value in involving a salesman since one site is the same as others.

I was out of town, didn’t want to research a lot, so I filled it out and moved on. I checked a couple other places as well, noted a few prices, but didn’t order anything. No one had a great interface like VistaPrint, so I put this on my to-do list and moved on.

A day later I got a quote from StickerGiant that seemed OK, but I wanted to check more prices, so I let it sit until I got home. The next week I was working on this and checked a few prices from 2-3 other places and compared with StickerGiant. Their prices were as good as anyone, they already had my logo, and so I replied to the salesperson saying I wanted to proceed. Inside of 10 minutes I had a reply asking for color matches, address, and how I’d like to pay. I replied saying I’d like an online payment method and gave my address. I said make a standard color match since I’m not sure that a Pantone match of my logo matters. Actually I have no idea if we’ve ever matched with the products we’ve ordered, and I didn’t want to start now.

I got a reply saying that I needed to pick the colors from their list with a link to the site and then a minute later an invoice link in a separate email. I clicked the invoice, it had my information in there and then a “pay now” button that took me to a place for my CC info. I entered that, got a confirm, sent my color choices and the salesperson confirmed I’d have stickers in 4 business days.

All together that process took less time than writing this post, and while I wasn’t sure a salesperson added value, they definitely made the process smoother.

I have no idea how many people one salesperson can handle, or if this is part time work for someone doing other tasks, but this was a smooth process and it worked well. In fact, I think I’ll order other stickers.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Grass Roots Marketing

When I started in the technical business, almost no one had a laptop. And for a long time, those that did have laptops were carrying corporate laptops. With the need to take care of those machines and turn them in at some point, people were careful with them and did not “alter” them.laptop_stickers_4

Over the years, with the salaries being paid, people moving in and out of consulting, and the lower prices of machines, people are starting to purchase their own machines more and more.

And some manufacturer’s are taking advantage of that. Alienware, shown here, has a distinctive design that appeals to gamers. Those machines are a high end commodity, and I’m not sure if this helps sales, but there is brand recognition here.

laptop_stickers_5 At a recent conference, I noticed that a few people were handing out stickers for people to put on their laptops. At first I wasn’t sure how valuable or how well this would work, but I noticed more and more appearing on laptops.

And the more they were noticed by other people, the more those people started to put them on their personal machines. the one to the left is someone’s laptop that I never thought would put one on there.

So I decided to get some.

It’s a little bit of a me-too move, but you also ought to be able to recognize a good idea and implement it. Not everything you do has to be original, and borrowing an idea here and there can help your business.

As with most things, I started a quick Google search, found a few sites, went with one and ordered stickers. I’ll carry a bunch around in my bag and send some to friends to spread the word. Hopefully this will help promote my sites over time.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Just Do It

I was recently reading Joel Spolsky’s column in Inc. on management and I thought it was an interesting story. In general you want to be efficient with your time. You don’t want to waste it doing things that someone else could do better and possibly cheaper. Time management is a skill that you need to do well to succeed.

If you don’t want to succeed and just work for someone, that’s fine too, but time management can still help you.

In any case, I think it’s a balance that you have to find. Recently I asked to have someone else take over some of my duties on a part-time basis, mainly to give me more time for other things. I wasn’t sure how well this would go over with the boss since I’d been doing things fine and I was essentially asking for someone else to make my job easier. But I had a few arguments:

  • Someone else needs to know how to do this, since the proverbial bus could strike me down at any time.
  • I’m fairly expensive, and this isn’t really a good use of my time.
  • I could take on other tasks.

I wasn’t exactly emphasizing the last item since I’m fairly busy, but I don’t mind taking on other tasks periodically. Mostly I was hoping to get more vacation in (I’ve never taken my allotment) and get ahead more on my writing.

In any case, I did get someone that helps out, but I still try to go and handle some of those duties, primarily processing email to the webmaster, on a regular basis. It helps me to keep in touch with my customers, but also to show that I’m not above performing duties.

I have a story similar to Joel’s, but with the opposite effect. I was working in an office early in my career, in a small company, and we had a break room. In it was the large printer that was shared by everyone in the office. One day I walked in right behind the President of the company and we were waiting for things to print. His job was ahead of mine, but stopped in the middle as the printer was out of paper, but I didn’t know that.

He asked if I would add more paper, I did, and the printer started back up, printed his job and then mine. Now I didn’t mind loading paper in there, and I might have felt differently if he had gone to get a cup of coffee or talk to someone while I took a couple minutes to locate paper and load the printer. Instead he stood there and watched me.

My impressions of him took a further turn for the worse when I witnessed him doing the same thing to someone else at the coffee pot, asking them to make him more coffee while he stood there. Needless to say I didn’t stay there very long.

I’ve always pitched in when needed. I’ve had CTOs help pull cable and make patch cables with me, and I’ve been happy to handle permissions issues as the senior DBA when I made probably twice what others in the office did.

It’s not always about efficiency. Sometimes it’s about showing that you’re a leader and willing to do whatever it takes to get things done. And you’re no better than the others in the company.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Interesting Blog on Social Media

I actually found this via Twitter, which is kind of funny. I think it's a good look at social media in business.

Social Media and CRM

It says that you need to do more than be on these media outlets. You need to be working with them, looking at them, and reacting to the way they work and what's said. It's really a pretty good investment in using the technology, and definitely a culture change.

Monday, March 2, 2009

You Need A Chief

I read two great posts, one was Does a company Need a Chief Engineer? and the other was Toyota’s Chief Engineer. The first is based on the second and both were interesting reading, especially from a business perspective.

The second post talks about the job of the Chief Engineer at Toyota and how important this position is. And then compares it to how poorly we do in software design. I think that’s a hard position to fill, and hard to groom someone for. Especially as we tend to want to move faster and not have the patience for someone to grow into the position.

But is it a chicken and egg thing? Can people grow into this role even if they work at multiple companies? Do we need this type of position in software before we can really advance the way we build things well? Do we need this in other industries?

This is probably a luxury in most companies, having a position that you can get people to strive for, and you can afford for someone to take a significant amount of time to learn. However if you can actually have someone that drives direction, that can see the forest and still understand the trees, then I think it can really give you a competitive advantage.