BNI so far

BNI

Since the last post on joining the BNI organisation, a lot has happened.  After about 3 months of joining, I accepted the role of Educational Coordinator.  Its been an interesting experience since.  This role has had me educating myself on material provided by the organisation.  Its also made me far more confident as a public speaker and better at communication – skills and characteristics I know I have to work on.

There’s a lot to take in from an organisation that is almost 30 years old.  As I have mentioned in my previous post, it’s a lonely road when you are on your own-some.  Muddling your way through is certainly not the best thing to do.  I’ve found a lot of support from my colleagues in The Hub Chapter.  The philosophy of ‘Giver’s Gain‘ makes all the more sense now that I’ve witnessed its workings over the past few months.  Also, the mechanisms used in BNI allow your performance as a member to be monitored over time.  It makes a lot of sense.

Business is now picking up as a result.  80% of my business now comes from referrals.  In a fiercely competitive industry with entrenched incumbents,it is an effective way to get a foot in the door. A strong referral from a person who already has gained the trust and respect of the future customer makes all the difference!  I suspect that in these tough economic times and with what the experts are predicting, this form of marketing will become more prevalent.

Referral Marketing

Referral Marketing

All good things take time to mature.  A solid reputation is built over time – there are no shortcuts. In BNI, it is the currency we trade on.  Once your fellow colleagues start to get to know you and see how you work, it becomes easier to champion each other’s business.

It works for my fellow BNI members – and for me.

Business so far – finding BNI

Business so far…

I’ve been busy trying to grow the business over the past couple months and hit a dilemma most business founders have at the beginning.  How do you market when you are doing the work as well?  After reading business literature, I understood that the main source of business comes from referrals.  We just don’t have the time and finances to do full scale marketing.  Referrals are basically where its at.  This presented a challenge to me though as the IT space is very competitive and the customers that have been with me for a while only presented so many opportunities.

I tried the usual via business networking meetup and asking other business owners in my position.  Some referrals came through these meetings, however this seemed more happenstance.  My biggest frustrations which came from Business Networking Events was how unstructured and daunting they were.  You get yourself to the meeting but need get to introduce yourself to all the cliques you see.  I’m not a gregarious person, nor a social butterfly, so this presented a real challenge for me.

BNI LogoThen in one of these meetings, I met a guy who invited me to a BNI chapter.  The rest, as they say, is history. The concept is so simple, it just makes total sense to me.  Basically, you have a group of people who represent their respective industries.  No-one can be the competition of services to the other – ie only one representative from each industry.  The idea is that you establish trusted relationships with each member.  You get to know who they are, what they represent and what they do – so no assumptions.  BNI has policies, procedures and traditions which are very simple to understand and follow – in so doing, it facilitates the increase of referrals to your business tenfold.  The other members that make up the group are then marketing your company whenever they have the chance.  And you do the same!

So what’s the catch?  In my opinion, it’s that you have to have a long term vision – and be a decent human being.  This is encapsulated by a simple philosophy of BNI called ‘Givers Gain’.  What this means is that you first look to provide referrals to the members in your group before expecting referrals to come flying in to you.  Its a very basic tenet that spans religions and cultures.  First look to give before you get.  S0und familiar? The system is self regulated.  You will only refer business when you trust the member providing the service you are recommending.  Can’t work any other way.  So when you get to know this person, you do so with a view of establishing trust in what they do and how they do it.  Likewise.  So this can only attract a certain caliber of individual.

Your reputation is on the line when you actively refer.  The better the service provided by your fellow members, the stronger your marketing power and the more referrals are provided in the group.  The organisation’s strength lies in everyone actively referring each other and the ability for members to actively and properly service the referrals provided.

In a cynical world of dog eat dog, step over your competition, win at all costs mentality, this working concept of co-operation, goodwill and small business reputational marketing appeals to me.  It is an effective long term solution to marketing your business.  The added benefit is that you are among positive people in their respective fields, supporting each other and possibly becoming firm friends in the process.

Anyone reading this who is starting out in their business or is considering how to grow their business should check out this networking group in their area – have a look here – https://www.bni.co.za/.

It’s working for me.

Proud BNI member – BNI Profile

Access to company information

company information secureCompany Information.

What happens when you need access to company information across the company? Read an amusing and thought provoking article on one of my favorite technology sites. An administrator posted a situation where he was asked to provide password’s to everyone’s computers by the boss of the company.

https://community.spiceworks.com/topic/1629883-boss-wants-everyone-s-passwords?source=start&pos=6

Have a read on the contributions. Quite enlightening! In my experience though, this method of gaining access is not the most practical. There is a better way…

In my opinion, what is actually required would be the communication information that the company receives, generates and sends out. Typically this will be email and documents. Maybe chat as well, if the company is using this to communicate with suppliers and clients.

There is one platform which provides a unified way to audit and secure communication – Office 365!

When setup correctly, all communication are audited and kept on hold for future reference.  You even have the ability to prevent certain information from leaving the company via email and documents.  And all of this can be securely accessed at your very own computer.

Company Information SecurePractical cases:

  1. Employee is on leave and the team needs access to email for that time.
  2. Company/department announcements via email not meant for outside communication can be restricted to company/department – no forwarding, copying or printing of the email message – you can even time bomb the message!
  3. Documents needed to be secured – Management, HR, Finance sensitive documents.

The list goes on.

The electronic communications act of South Africa states that electronic communication including emails can be presented in court as legal communication.  It therefore makes sense to have some form of governance on company information generated by company employees via email, documents and chat.

Let us help you get your communications to the next level!  Contact us below.  Look forward to hearing from you.

Talk to your IT provider

talkTalk to your IT provider – good mental health and well being!

You know it. You spend so much of time on your computer doing something you have been doing the same way since you first switched it on. Its the way its been done and will be done forever more. Then, purely by chance, you have a talk with your friendly IT guy about something that has always frustrated you about the process. He utters the words “but that’s easy!”, comes round the table to your computer, fingers dance on the keyboard and a few mouse clicks – DONE! 2 hours of slogging reduced to a few minutes.  You don’t know whether to kiss him or……

There are countless tales of this in the field. Why does it have to be this way? Computer folk generally aren’t the type to stay around to chat though – there is a deep culture of putting out fires. So, we don’t do ourselves any favors.  A service provider with the right attitude and attention to customer service, however, will make the time for you.  It’s the way that support is provided which counts.

Making Time

As IT providers, its important that we provide a service which moves away from ‘break-fix’ – that is, only when things break, do we respond.  Times are changing.  There are tools which allow us to monitor your environment just like the system that monitors your engine in your car.  This means we can resolve issues before they get serious.  We can automate many processes.  This leaves more time for planning and sitting down with users and listening to issues.  It is an important shift in the way IT support is provided.

talk

When your systems are working for you instead of against you, you are saving time, increasing productivity and increasing revenue.  Music to any business owner’s ears!  So do yourself a favor – invite your IT guy or gal to a cup of coffee and donuts(yes we are that easy!) and chat about that excel sheet that needs to have some magic done.  Its worth the time!

In the spirit of the conversation, please have a look at this article – http://gizmodo.com/5908285/15-ways-to-make-yourself-a-better-computer-user. Some great tips on how to save time on your computer!

Contact Us!

Drop us a line and let us help you with your computers:

Your computers – blessing or curse(s)?

computersYour computers – blessing or curse(s)?!

So do you have a healthy regard for your computers or are you like this nice lady in the picture? hmmm?

Read a joke recently about how electronics were meant to save you time.  Haha! It just seems email and document generation takes up all your time.  Lets not get started on social media!

However take away your means to do these things and watch what happens – I suspect the picture would be a tame representation!

Surely there can be a middle ground.  As with any tool, the use of your computer systems is dependent on how it is maintained, the policies provided on its use and how it is regarded in a company.  When IT is regarded as a strategic tool, a lot more efficiency, cost savings and mental good health can be achieved.

Saving Time!

I remember my first foray in Computers and what got me started along this path.  My brother, bless him,computers got me involved in the family business in the school holidays.  I had to do the wages for a local factory which had about 400 employees.  It was a painful, manual process of paperwork.  On the third day into this, I was ready to pull my hair out.  Necessity is the mother of invention they say – believe it!  I was fiddling with excel on my brother’s computer and got the idea that the wage calculations could at least be done on a sheet.  The next challenge was working out the coinage for each employee.  This took me some time to figure out.  Managed to do this via Macro’s and it wasn’t pretty but got the job done well enough.  From 3 days to 3 hours!!! I was a HERO!  And I maintained good mental health as a result!

I have always believed that IT systems are more of a blessing than a curse.  This approach has provided direction on what solutions to recommend to client’s including how they should be maintained and supported.  Your systems should run reliably, provide you with time saving and productivity mechanisms and therefore give you a leg up over your competition. For real!

Contact Us!

Should you want this for your company, please contact us below and we will be glad to visit and show you what we can do for you.  Hope to hear from you.

 

Procedures and Documentation – Eeeeish!

Having been in this sector for a looooong time, I’ve grudgingly come to appreciate documentation.

I diligently scan articles in my company sector and came across this article: Great Way to Document Procedures and Policies

This ties into a book I read recently, The E-Myth, Revisited.  The basic principle is that if you want to scale your business and provide a predictable and comfortable experience for your customer, you must ensure that you have procedures and policies in place.  This should be in a central and easily accessible documentation repository.  This ensures that your business provides a consistent and superior service.

One of the biggest challenges in our field is understand how the environment works, what it took to get there and if the doodoo hits the fan, what to do to REMOVE THE FAN! Then see what you can do about the doodoo….

Documentation

Each customer’s environment has its quirks and special sauce.  A common occurrence is that only the Technician that fixed the problem, rarely documents the procedure taken to fix this problem.  This is endemic in our field of work – its actually cultural.  Ours is traditionally a break-fix mentality.  It if works, leave it alone and move on to the next one.  Pray that it does not break, and if the Gods have a sense of humor on the day, react the best you can.  A technician’s sole purpose is to fix the problem.  However this does not work for a Managed Services environment and for those of us that want to provide a long term valued service!

What we have started using is Onenote stored on Sharepoint for Office 365.  This ensures that we can add video’s, audio, pictures and doodles in Tech speak.  We also have the ability of sharing a Knowledge Base or Wiki with our customers so that they too can also help themselves.  Using the Office 365 platform also affords us the ability of using Rights Management (excuse spelling mistakes in this article – author explains very simply what Rights Management is) to provide secure access to sensitive content like passwords to equipment.

Over the long term, this will build a good knowledge base for new technicians to familiarize themselves with. It will also give us the edge on avoiding issues or solving them in record time.  Met EEEEISH ya….:-)

Working as a Team

After a marketing exercise we recently embarked on, it quickly dawned upon us that our solution stack seems to fit only a certain segment of the market. It was our assumption and passionate belief that the platform such as Office 365 would benefit any small business team which needs the features as a tool to increase efficiency, communication and keep document generation and storage in check.

Actually, therein lies the rub!  A lot of small businesses work on keeping things just about working.  If it ain’t broken, leave it be!its not broken team

I can relate! However every business owner hopefully get’s to a stage where they realise that better use of their resources ie their people, will help to grow the business.  That should be a continuous business goal, no? Now it actually does not matter as much, what tool you use to do this, it boils down to a cultural change and leadership for this to happen.  This means that there should be active processes and procedures in place to get people talking to each other, helping out, contributing together as a team etc.  Only when this culture is in place, do you then look around for the right tools to facilitate this.

To be sure, this cultural change is painful when you are used to sitting in your corner keeping your head down.  Also as a business owner, getting out of the habit of constantly chasing your tail to concentrating on the business is not easy.  Your organisation can only grow organically by encouraging people to work as a team – and you can only really do this leading by example.  That’s a tall order for anyone not used to that as a daily way of life.

However nothing worth achieving comes easy as they say.  Lesson learnt though – while getting our own house in order, screen our leads to customers who are in the space we have identified above.  Full steam ahead!

Random Musings on the Business : Part I

When growing a business, time management really seems to be oxymoron. Countless business books tell you that you should concentrate on your business rather than working in your business. Well that seems to be a juggling act – with a healthy amount of prayer and lady luck (hopefully) showing up.

What’s helped me so far is taking a good hard look at what I need to change about myself to get where I want to go.  Having well defined goals and checking up on them once in awhile has helped me stay on a crooked path, but a path nonetheless.  Rome wasn’t built in a day they say.  I so wish I could witness a cartoony version of this phenomenon to assuage my impatience….cue loony tunes.

In this time of learning and changing, I’ve grown to appreciate the basic tenet of marketing.  No-one is going to care about the services you offer if someone is not talking about it to them or they have some means of knowing about it. Seems OBviasss neh?? For some reason in my previous business experience, this never quite clicked – like a typical techie(which I am at heart), just doing the work well and getting it done was the do-all and end-all for me.  Do it well and they will come…. uh-huh.

field of dreams

Marketing is a strange beast for me at the moment.  One the one hand, I know the services we offer are valuable, and on the other, getting prospective customers to see this is the challenge.  Intellectually I know that if I was on the receiving end of a pitch, I would want person pitching to be confident about their services, be hungry and WANT my business, know their stuff and convince me that it is of benefit to me to procure their services.  And how do you do this with a cold call? An advertisement? Even a presentation where you have limited time? Voodoo, I tell you!

I’m beginning to appreciate though that persistence and perseverance pays.  80/20 principle is a cruel lady, especially when she leans towards the 99/1 for me!  However the 1 has had me work through the door of a prospective customer and having them say – ‘You are a God send! Here’s my cheque book!!’.  After the 63rd cold call, an agreement on meeting for a presentation and some business procured.  Progress is painful but it is being made!

However with every new potential, there is affirmation – this will have to do for now until that day the business won’t be able to handle the calls coming in….. keep the dreams alive!

 

First Blog…Bold Declaration

I’m thinking about how I’d look at this first blog a few years from now when I’ve moved the company to a posh office space – the one with a staff gym, canteen and pet area.  Some of the challenges we have is politely turning down business since everyone is knocking on our doors as we are the best at what we do – we own the space!

blog

Yes I want to look back at this and say this is one of my starting points.  Starting a business at my age(!) and in these economic times is…crazy, some would say.  I wouldn’t want it any other way right now.  Been through some ups and downs – the knocks have taught me that each day is a blessing.  An important rule is to consistently improve, no matter how small and it will eventually add up.  I know though, that it’s going to take some time to get to second base.  Will get there!

So my declaration here is the following:

  1. Provide a service to customers which establishes long term trust in our abilities and expertise.
  2. Establish a reputation of being industry experts.
  3. Reflect quiet pride and confidence as a culture in this organisation.

Now to knuckle down and follow my plan to get to the next stage.  I can see myself coming back to this post time and time again along the way – just to re-center and strengthen my resolve.  For those on a similar path, these books have been invaluable in getting me to want to improve and change my perspective:

Highly recommended reading.  Please do yourself a favor and take the time to look at this material.

I hope those of you reading this will also remember this first blog and remember how far we have come.

We are going to make a difference!