Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Community Filter

If you've attended SMB Nation, the IT Pro conference in NOLA, SMB Nation East, Exchange, CompTIA, or SMBTN, you've probably met a lot of the same people over and over again.

Why do people go to all these conferences? In particular, why do people go after the first two or three years? (After two or three conferences, you've been dyed in the wool regarding the E-Myth, good business practices, and introductions to the community.)

One the the most important reasons people continue to participate is due to the filtering process. The Professional Consulting Community is an excellent filter for your business and your relationship with vendors. Here's what I mean.

If you're in the technology business, the biggest filter you need is your Microsoft Filter. We've all heard the phrase that working with Microsoft is like drinking from a fire hose. We receive dozens, if not hundreds of CDs and DVDs every month. At any given time there are a dozen Go To Market campaigns. And, of course, there are waves of campaigns for licensing, new products, new initiatives, and the flavor of the month.

Other vendors are similar. Annual or quarterly pushes. Ever-changing partner programs. Educational opportunities, training oportunities, and co-marketing dollars.

On top of that, there are certain trends you need to be aware of (and decide whether you'll participate in). Will you tip-toe into managed services, HaaS, SaaS, VOIP, virtualization, or hosting? Will you sign up for MSPU, MSPSN, or Robin Robins?

Community filtering starts online. The Yahoo groups are filled with discussions that start with "What are people using for . . . ?" or "Have you had this situation?"

Then there's the monthly user group meeting. A great opportunity to meet people, get more in-depth discussions about all this, and maybe see a demo.

It's also a great way to avoid big mistakes and waste money with programs and products that don't work. We've all saved money by making good choices.

Conferences are the ultimate extension of all this. The stage might literally be set by the conference organizers, but the best part about any conference are the hallway and after-hours discussions.

More than once, I've grabbed someone who had the knowledge I needed and sat them down so I could get up to speed quickly on a topic. When you're working with experienced people who run a similar business, knowledge transfer can be super-fast and very high quality.

So the community is an excellent filter and teaching tool.

Why doesn't everyone get the same benefits from the community?

I think some people want to watch and learn, but they don't want to jump in and contribute. They've heard it a hundred times, but maybe they don't believe it: You get as much out as you put in.

If I want to know what's going on with a program at SonicWall, HP, ConnectWise, Zenith, or Microsoft, I know people who filter this information very quickly. Lots of people use a certain product, but who's the uber-user?

And I built this mini-rolodex of resources by participating in the community. When I ping someone and ask a question, they have a context for who the hell I am because they met me at a conference or saw a post online.

The best thing about the Community Filter is that no one has to build it or maintain it. The Community Filter simply exists as smart business people communicate with one another and try to figure out what to do next.

If you're not participating, jump in now. Everyone's welcome and the community is constantly changing. If you've been too busy to participate in awhile (I go through these phases), feel free to jump back in any time. Everyone's welcome!

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