Saturday, April 11, 2009

Best Practices, Part Three

This is the third and final post on BEST Best Practices. The others are here and here.

The thing about "best" practices is that they need to habits (practices). For example, you can buy a PSA system. But if you don't use it, you might as well throw it away. The same is true with buying Robin Robins' materials. If you buy them and sit them on a shelf, they're useless.

I knew someone who once bought every single product John Maxwell had for sale. Thousands of dollars. Probably over $10,000 all at once.

They were all neatly shelved and in perfect condition. Thousands of pages of material. Dozens of books. Hundreds (thousands) of hours of audio CDs.

All unopened. Perfectly new. Perfectly clean. Perfectly packaged.

and perfectly useless.

As Mark Twain said: "The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them."

There are really three levels of engagement in any habit of success
1) Acquisition
2) Getting started
3) Being fully committed

Once you acquire a tool or a habit, you set the base for your future success. But if you let it go unused, then it does you no good.

So learn your tools. Sharpen your habits. Practice until you really know your stuff.

Eventually, you will use the tool to its fullest extent and the habit will become part of who you are.

Those are best practices.

Again, no particular order:

Best Practice: Get a PSA system

After reading the first ten items, this shouldn't be much of a surprise.

A good PSA system will help you run your business. It will give you the tools you need to keep track of clients, employees, jobs, and processes.

In terms of other best practices, the easiest way to keep scope creep to a minimum is to put every single activity in the PSA system.

The easiest way to keep your company from being interrupt driven is to only perform work from a service request. Again, that means inside the PSA system.

And a great place to get started with key documentation is inside your PSA system. If nothing else, key passwords, configurations, and imported documents will do amazing things for your documentation.

If you don't have SOME system, it's time that you got off the fence and made a decision.

Best Practice: Have a Good, Professional Name For Your Business

Even if you need to rename and re-brand your business, you should pick a good name and go with it. Please see the post What's In A Name?

If you want to charge top rates, be taken seriously, and make it easy for people to give you referrals, then you need a good name.

Granted, it's hard to come up with one more name that got words like cyber techno chron. And adding guru or wizard just makes it worse.

Stop yourself and go think in another direction. Consider words like Business, Associates, and Professionals. Who makes more money:
- Cyber Techno Goober Gurus?
- Professional Business Associates?

Not to beat a dead horse, but I don't want to hire the Lawyer Wizards to represent my company. I don't want the Plumbing Guru to magically fix my pipes. And I don't rely on TechnoKron Marketing Zolutions for my marketing.

Assuming you've moved out of your parents' basement, it's time to have a good, grown-up business name for your business.

Best Practice: Balance Your Personal and Professional Lives (Have a Personal Life)

One of the saddest things I see is consultants who are never "off" work. They don't know their wife's favorite TV show. They miss major events in their childrens' lives. They don't have a hobby.

Even if you love you job -- and most of us do -- you have to NOT WORK sometime in order to create balance. You can't balance work at work and work at home. Those are both work.

You need to draw lines around your business and keep it inside the lines. This can be difficult with a home office. But you need to "clock out" and go do something else. Close the door and be home for awhile.

We've seen people get sick from working too much. We've seen nervous breakdowns, heart attacks, and stroke.

If you don't take care of yourself and bring balance into your life, no one else is going to do it for you.

This also loops back to the central point FOCUS plays in your success. If you work while you're at work, you'll have more time to play when you're home. If you can avoid being interrupt-driven at work, you can save all the little fun stuff to share with your family.

I have a whole business dedicated to this, so it's obviously a passion for me. Please take a little time to check out Relax Focus Succeed. It could save your life!

Best Practice: Know your Profession: Learn the Skills You Need To Do Your Job

One of the reasons I rarely reply to technical posts on the message boards is that I have very little patience for people who are in this profession but are clearly incompetent. In fact, there are some people who are so un-professional and incompetent that they don't know how incompetent they are.

We've all cleaned up after these people. The software's illegal, the server's registered in the old consultant's name, nothing's written down, SBS was somehow installed without a single wizard.

I know everyone has to start somewhere. Why not start by learning your job before you go out in the market and sell the wrong thing to a client?

And I don't just mean technical competence. That's the minimum. There's also a level of professionalism in how you communicate with your clients and employees.

We often get involved in something because we're interested or we want to make money. Nothing wrong with either of these. But neither of them means you're any good at something. I'm interested in lots of things that I'm no good at. And the world's full of way to make money that I'm no good at.

If we are motivated to do something without being motivated to learn something, then we simply can't do it well.

There was a time when a human being could know everything there was to know about the Internet. Really. And it wasn't that long ago. But now you have to make decisions. You cannot sell yourself as being the expert on all things technology. You're not the Professor on Gilligan's Island.

You need to a few general topics (e.g., Windows desktops) and a few specific topics (e.g., Small Business Server) and learn those things really well. Specialized knowledge is always more valuable than general knowledge.

For example: My company doesn't sell Microsoft CRM. We've loaded it. We've looked at it. But we decided that we don't want to spend the time and energy to LEARN it. You need to learn it to sell it. You need to learn it to set it up. You need to learn it to fix it. There's a commitment there.

Now, are there any great mysteries in CRM? No. We're technical. We could figure it out. In fact, we could master it. But we've decided NOT to master it. And we don't think it's right to charge our clients so we can "figure it out."

Many people get into this business because it looks easy. "I know about computers. I know about the Internet. The cost of entry is low. Everyone who's not a computer consultant thinks I'm a genius. I think I'll do that."

Well, most technical consulting isn't about technology: It's about business. The technology changes every month. So the challenge to being a good technical consultant is to keep up on a small subset of "technology" and provide the right solutions to clients.

Nothing replaces competence.

And you can't be competent at everything.

But you better be competent at the job you claim to do best.

Best Practice: Look Ahead Five Years and PLAN

Part of the business side of business is to look ahead. What's coming? What's next? And what's after that?

Why do this? Well, it's quite simple: If you're going to be around then, you need to be prepared for it.

Every day of your business life, you get to choose whether you'll simply Respond to the World Around You or actively Work To Build Your Future.

Time will proceed at exactly one year per year. You can spend that year responding to the world like a pinball in a machine, or you can take control of your business and move it in the right direction.

When you look into your future, which of these technologies are you looking to deploy?
- Windows Foundation Server
- SBS 2008
- Cloud Computing
- Hosted Services
- HaaS
- Virtualization

Next question: What are you doing about it?

If you're "betting" that virtualization will have no significant impact on the SMB market, then what's the alternative? If the answer is HaaS, what are you doing about it?

You need to think about all these things, and how they affect each other. You need to make choices about which technologies you'll embrace and present to your clients.

In the year ahead, you will have to allocate time and resources to learning the things you want to sell. How will you educate yourself and your staff? How will you learn to sell these things? Who will your partners be?

Way too many people simply continue doing what they do until they can't do it any more.

None of those people charge the highest rates, have the most loyal clients, or thrive as a business.

They simply continue to exist. They continue to ask how to get ahead but never take any action. They show up for user group meetings -- sometimes -- but nothing ever changes.

They don't consciously choose what their business will look like. As a result, they get whatever scraps drop from the table.

As Brian Tracy would say, "This is not for you."

Set a course for your business and follow it.

Yeah. You might be wrong. The most successful people I know fail really fast and move on the next thing. I fail at some initiative at least once a quarter. But I keep moving.

I might be completely wrong about the future. But the process of thinking about it makes everything work better.

Somebody in your company has to have the job of thinking about the future. If it's not the owner and the general manager, who is it?


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