Amateur Marketing Expert?

I’ve worked out that I have several peculiar personality traits – all, save one, of which I won’t go into any detail here – but the one I’d like to talk about here is that I’m a “fiddler”

The fiddler is, by definition, the one that will wait for as long as possible until calling for help, they will seek a solution (usually Googling the problem and trying the first option that appears) to a problem, and sadly in many cases break more than they fix.

It is natural to fiddle. So don’t be upset if you fall into that category, especially as a small business there is a natural reticence to call in the experts early.  In larger corporates, certainly in IT, there usually exists an entire internal support structure to help, and whilst problems can be wildly varied it’s generally regarded that’s what they’re there for.

How does this fit in with marketing? Well that’s the thing – as my business is young and therefore not entirely financially able to support the cost of a marketing expert I find myself in the unenviable position of having to become my own marketing department – something I really don’t want to do, but simply can’t avoid.

I’ve been lucky, had some help from various government funded groups and spoken to a few professionals but the one thing that’s standing out is that there just isn’t a clear path to follow and the whole thing is very subjective – is that by accident or design?

It’s not a completely inexhaustibly researched point of view, I’ve only met with most of these people once or twice, but ultimately it’s been enough research for me to form a considered opinion, or rather get confused as hell about the direction I need to go in!

And so due to the cost involved it’s not an investment we are able to make at this time, the hope and expectation is that as soon as a practical budget is available we will look to engage the services of a really good professional, but for now it’s just the spit, lolly sticks and sellotape approach.

I have become a Marketing Fiddler (TM)

At the core of the problem is our offering and the sector.  We have an extensive range of skills in the IT industry that are transmutable across many sectors and a service that is very generic in it’s nature, and so the temptation is to offer “general IT services” to all. That is something that the majority of the professionals have agreed on, so how to, as an amateur, get over that particular hump?

When you are a generalist is it such a bad thing?

After much thought, brain hurt and consternation a plan has been hatched, a plan to provide a “Managed Service” wait….what do you mean too generic?

A lot of previous work with clients and in the private sector has meant much in the way of troubleshooting but also negotiating, lots of messy stuff, lots of awkward stuff, in some cases having to evolve a really thick skin and be very bull-headed/strong-willed just to get things done. But I wholeheartedly believe that’s yielded a unique skill set.

Like a wind up kids toy, set the destination, put us down and let us go.

Isn’t that a valuable skill to market? Please please do drop me a line and tell me either way? To hell with the sales – this is more about the time spent on this and getting it right.

The service I’d like to sell is that of an outsourced managed service, a direct contact for all technical issues. One that is smart on the detail and that keeps you looped in, if you want it, but just gets on with it if you don’t. Making things work, work better, faster and cheaper (there I’ve said it, we can save you money blah blah!).

But each and every attempt at putting it in words just feels like a cheap sales brochure!

Your personal IT something or other (they jury’s still out on Guru @johnharvey !) or your Virtual IT Manager / Department, your Bespoke IT Expert Fiddler Pasty arrrgggghhhhhH!!

And so I sit at my desk gibbering like a madman – I WILL win! Eventually!

Footnote

After another day of wrangling (I’d rather be working) this delightful tweet comes in from Mike Truscott ( @michaeltruscot1 )

And, well, lets just say it makes the effort, and writing really does take an effort honestly it’s not all bashed out (rarely at all!), worth while – but potentially saved me from another time-costing round of more corrections, mad typing and consternation – on the right track then? Thank you again Mike!

If nothing else it must demonstrate the determination I have, and ultimately my company does, to get things done, and done right?

The indiscriminate blogger

I’ve always been a sporadic (you say lazy, I say potato!) blogger at best but such is the way of things huh?  This blog has existed online in one form or another for some years now the first post on this incarnation the ubiquitous “Hello World” in 2010 at which point it was supposed to become a resource of tech gubbins as well as detailing my progress through the murky world of IT Management in a medium-sized enterprise.

And its fair to say that that journey was an interesting one, but I have very definitely moved on to pastures new now. In so doing it’s given me a load of extra social media responsibility and pardon me if I feel all old-school about it and prefer to be working as opposed to talking about working, or even talking about talking about working! (I think you get the gist!) But I just do – so how come I’m back here trying my best not to author yet another sorry-I’ve-been-away post?

Well here’s the thing, this time there’s a point to it, or rather more of one than there has been in the past – at least as far as I’m concerned.  That point being I’m drowning! Well ok, not physically drowning but metaphorically so!  Drowning in a sea of new processes and new distractions whilst trying to make sense of just what I’ve done.

Actually that’s over dramatising it – I know exactly what I’ve done, I’ve fulfilled a life-long, no really, ambition to become the lord and master of all I survey – that is to be Director of my own business.  To be fair I did achieve that nearly 20 years ago, sort of.  I’m not sure we can really count a shell company setup by a contracting firm to avoid paying me full rate for a bunch of contracts in the 90s can we?

So then, forward to 2014 and Aurumtech Solutions – and lets get that out of the way first off shall we? Aurum is the Latin word for Gold, it’s also the first letter of the alphabet (if that means anything on lists any more) and we were going to be called “Aurum Technology” until someone stole the name from us – the domain name had been registered and in the week or so before we registered the business name someone else nabbed it – lesson learnt kids!  With me so far?  Gold Technology the symbolism is buried pretty deeply, but we like that it had a meaning to it.

And far more important than faffing about with a name, image, and all of that is to just get out there and start swinging right?  Right?

Apparently there’s a little more to it than that!

So the best part of 20 years worth of IT and technical work, troubleshooting, support, projects, pretty high-level stuff (some project values ran into six figures – I have, in my time, installed systems responsible for managing staggering amounts of money, well into the millions!) a great understanding of customer services and more importantly how to treat people – that is to say not everyone is safe, take note suppliers! Management, experience, qualifications, how could I possibly fail?

For that, the jury is definitely still out!

What’s intriguing about the whole process is just how far removed from the general Business world I’ve been, despite living in Cornwall my entire life. I’ve realised over the past few months that I simply know no-one within the circles I’m now moving.  My wife jokes about how we can’t go anywhere without bumping into someone I know (it’s happened in London, Eastern England, the middle bit and even, annoyingly way up North) and that I must know everyone in Cornwall, nope, not true, just half of them it seems.

Of course I’m referring to that wonderful mainstay of any business – the networking.

To me it was never a word that struck fear, it was usually made in reference to some messy cables or some switch gear, but in the business context it’s a catch-all for the deepest depths of HELL itself.  And you know what, see me out and about and I might even tell you I hate it, but that’s far too strong and simply not true, I can see that it’s a crucial part of business and as a really young business like we are I know we need to stick our heads up and wave our arms about – even if we’re not quite at the point of shouting how great we are yet.

And so you find us (mostly me, but I do try to drag Mrs R along to events now and then) neck deep in the middle of our next mission, a mission to find a direction and a purpose for Aurumtech – will we manage to become a general technical improvement provider as we’d ideally like or will we be forced to define our specific offerings and target a certain sector or sectors, as we are being told?

This isn’t personal, it’s Business. Just having a personal work ethic and set of values isn’t enough it seems as we all have to seek and provide clarity – so that’s where we’re headed – but until we get there we are the BEST IT firm you’ve never heard of, we can fix stuff, save you time, money and even hold back the inevitable march of the wrinkles and grey hair (that’s reduce stress to you and me!) and all of it whilst remaining cheerful, more or less!

What have we done?!

Chris – 12/02/15

Elbee Valeting – keeping your car looking it’s best!

I like Lee, I think we could have almost been two peas in a pod! We have similar views on certain aspects of life despite coming from different backgrounds.

The "before"

The “before”

We met on the Outset Cornwall class of July-October 2014 with both of us being a little bit more advanced than just being interested in starting our own businesses – we’d sort of both already kicked things off.

And to think I was proud of my status as being up and running when Lee was in the same boat.

As I think one of the highlights of the course has been that we get to meet and know others in similar positions so the culture of helping each other fosters. I’m helping Lee improve his web presence (I hope) and general use of IT.

Well today he’s Valeting my car, getting it ready for sale.

I would have previously said “doing” but now I’m a little more educated I feel I can call it what it is.

Lee has this issue, it’s a little like mine in some respects, it’s difficult to get out there, we both feel we offer a premium service to our clients too, attention to detail, caring what clients want, not just wanting to offload.

My problem is trying to convince you that I do know what I’m talking about better than another IT firm, that my solutions are more relevant. Lee’s is to try to convince you that his service is worth it when you can go down the road and get a bucket wash “done” for a few pounds.

Getting personal with my alloy wheels

Getting personal with my alloy wheels

Well today they (Lee brought his assistant “Fergie” with him to help beat the oncoming weather) came to my office – before the time we agreed – plenty of time for a cuppa and a chat. And since then they’ve been out there in the car park – the generator revs up every now and then, I peek out and see discs whirring, and cloths and spray and elbow grease being applied.

The thing is that what he does is treat a car, bring the surfaces back to pristine condition, I don’t know exactly how it works, but a combination of the right kind of product (and you thought that was an expression only applicable to peoples barnets!?) and a process of polishing and using clay (I’ll have to ask him if it’s locally sourced!) and other techniques to put things back the way they should be.

But you know what’s amazing about this? Once done your car should be good for a year! Provided you keep it topped up – as far as the topping up goes it’s just washing it properly. Don’t worry, I have that covered, we’re going to get him to record some tutorial videos and pop those online – to show us all how to get the best out of our cars finish once it’s been valeted by him!

The cost of this?  Well prices do vary but this is an average situation (I assume) as the car wasn’t completely hanging and is a family saloon sized vehicle, anyway, £120 – or put it another way – £10 a month!  (They were there for four an a half hours!) Yes that’s right – if you slice it into monthly amounts it’s barely more than taking it to those awful car washes at supermarkets – and like I said before, a sensible regular monthly (or so) wash with shampoo (PH neutral, thank you Fergie!) coupled with the treatment it’s received should keep it in tip top condition for up to a year or more.

In my case it’s a prep for sale, because I need the funds to move my business forward, but for you it might be important to complete the image, or because you have a classic car, or because it’s a fleet vehicle, whatever the reason the work he does comes at an impressive value provided you’re prepared to keep it topped up yourself.

I intend to be helping Lee as best I can because I think he deserves the support, he’s a decent guy trying to make his new venture work – I think we need a few more like him out there.

As for the car? It looks amazing, I’m going to find it hard to part with it now!

IMG_0136

Check him out, he’s a nice guy and knows his stuff, and boy if you want your car to really gleam he’ll do it!

http://elbeevaleting.co.uk/

Businesses get a grip! (of your IT infrastructure)

So as previously waffed upon, I’m an IT lifer, time served is now in excess of twenty years, and I wrote that in words for a reason! Not to make myself feel old but to emphasise the point of what I’m about to say.

And in thinking back through employment history until the most recent salaried job and on to clients and potential clients it’s my assertion that there is a huge gulf in stewardship of infrastructure. I chose that word carefully as it’s not ownership, nor is it really administration.

Administration is what you pay your techs to do, or pay me! (Hopefully!) This is the bit that often looks like it’s not really of value. If a good sysadmin does their job then they won’t have to do too much, systems work as expected, problems are few and far between – but that brings its own problems – surely that person/team isn’t doing much, right? Well that’s another post for sure!

Ownership is generally, unless your very fortunate, held by individuals that either do not really feel it’s their place to understand IT or simply don’t want to. It’s the “I’m the boss” attitude, IE do it and don’t question why type of mentality – not at all productive.

So administrators usually interact with owners and more often than not there is a gulf (those things again) between the two. Those of us who have worked in technical roles for a long time find it hard to talk to people that don’t, and if we get “I’m the boss”’ed too much?

It’s usually so much better if you have an IT-savvy owner or better yet something called TRUST! Or even just professionalism. Working with owners who have none of those things is one of the reasons I no longer do, and will continue to try not to in future, because clients are owners too after all.

So then, back to the stewardship, here’s a couple of definitions from Oxford.

[A] person whose responsibility it is to take care of something:

Manage or look after [another’s property]

Like it or not the IT infrastructure of ANY business is important. Lifeblood? In some cases yes, but even in cases where it’s not it is important. So much more of the general day to day work of businesses are now revolving around IT, it’s just as much a part of the toolset as paper and pen – this is measurable by how much angst appears if the only printer in the office stops working, or the internet drops, and so on.

So why do people pay it such little attention?

Try this scenario on for size, consider that you yourself are the organisation – how much do YOU know about your IT infrastructure?

How often do you make backups? Where are they?

How does it all hang together? Who holds account details? Router passwords?

If it all fell apart tomorrow what is your route to getting it back up and running again?

To be ignorant of these and other similar facts is simply not an excuse, any more than forgetting to put a parking ticket on your car in a paid car park, only with far greater risk.

It’s amazing as a professional but more importantly a conscientious person how come businesses can just ignore the core of their IT systems. We’ve all heard the old adage about comparing a situation to what would happen if a key person was run over by a bus. But what do you actually know about your IT infrastructure and its administrators, did the people that look after it now set it up initially? Are THEY in possession of all of the information?

What do you mean you don’t know?

Here’s a freebie, a simple starter for ten.

Ask someone technical to sketch out your network, but please engage with them first, don’t just bark an order, that’s basic management skills to be considerate of others and we should all know that! And once you have a basic sketch then ask who knows about that bit there – or that other bit there. Start to build a picture of who knows what.

Moving forward seek to have your diagram accompanied by a list of details for each bit of kit, access details, configuration, colour, waist size, whatever. Remember if they’re good your administrators should have a bit of time to put to this! Once you have that FILE it somewhere safe.

See what you did there? You made a solid start. You created a schematic that might save you a whole heap of trouble not to mention MONEY later on if you have a problem. Then think, what’s important, or ask if you don’t want to/can’t think for yourself.

Build up all of this information and you’ll start noticing certain things, enquire about backups and protection, and what does that bit do, or why are there two of those. And before too long you’ll have an elementary understanding of not only your IT systems, but also perhaps an appreciation for just what is going on behind the scenes.

Considering how adverse many companies are to risk it’s amazing to think that so many of them ignore the basic structure of things like this – like it or not IT is here and it’s probably already in charge in reality! Time to get a grip on it!

Quick update

So then what’s been cooking?

Lots of stuff taking place over the past few weeks but then isn’t that the same for everyone?

The big news is that we finally got fibre optic broadband installed at the house – it’s an 80mb connection – so we only get 35mb meh – that’s some improvement over the previous 2mb ADSL link!

Eldest daughter has now lost her first two teeth, that’s great, just don’t call her gappy!

Hmm, what else?

Oh yeah, finally started up my own IT firm, it only took me twenty years!  More on that later!