Thursday, September 06, 2007

A friendlier front

One of my clients asked me to send them something that they could forward on to a friend that was looking for IT services. I tried to write a good pitch and quoted my recently raised rates, which was all fine and dandy, but then I messed it up. I had been soured a bit by purely hourly work and the disjointed lack of focus that it would create for me so I said that I only do work on retainer, like I do with my current client.

What I failed to recognize, is that although I was being recommended, I still needed to earn my place in this prospective client's mind. Doing some small hourly projects is a great way to do that. Needless to say, that referral never called me back. Fortunately with a second recent referral, the friend giving it to me made some suggestions and that opened my eyes.

I still want my clients to pay a retainer in the long term because if I am managing their equipment I have to be constantly available, or have provisions made, and that is a large non-billable demand on my schedule. I of course wrap the retainer in with the price for phone support, minor incidents, and regular maintenance; but it is still a retainer.

As a side note, I also realized that I need to be more aggressive and/or professional in my sales and call referrals like that to follow up resolve any concerns. Maybe someday I'll learn this whole sales bit.

Replacing carpet

When the tenants moved out of one of our rental units recently, they left a big mess. The carpet was covered in stains that couldn't be removed and was full of cat urine. So we decided to replace the main areas with laminate and use remnants in the bedrooms. This is a basement unit and when we pulled up the carpet we found that the cement wasn't at all level. Neither of us had noticed when we bought the place.

The new tenants want to move in ASAP and we already have the laminate installation scheduled, so now we are scrambling get the issue resolved. This has all been a really big frustration for us, but we have learned a lot too.

Our biggest lesson is that playing the discount market is no fun. Charge higher rates, get better tenants, and provide better rental units. We have applied this in raising our deposit on the unit to $950. It has made a tremendous difference in the quality of applicants. In a situation where you can't discriminate, this has done a wonderful job of simply resolving the issue.

Another important lesson we have learned is to just hire the more expensive professionals and to stop letting the cheap guys waste our time. Get it done right the first time. It saves you so much money in the long run. The higher end market is so much nicer a place to be if you have the standards to match.

Stories...and a windy storm

In reading the book "You, Inc" I came across an item that talks about the importance on stories. Not inventions of the mind, but really describing to someone what happened, how you reacted and how you felt. That kind of story. So I am going to start telling more stories.

Yesterday I found classic, but terribly frustrating failure scenario. We had a power outage across the valley and that included one of my clients. The two floors of their building are connected by a decent 24-port linksys switch. Come Wednsday morning half of the computers and phones didn't work. We happen to use Asterisk and VoIP phones. I also happened to have rolled out bad configs the night before. So I regenerate the configs and reboot the phones. After that, in a particular department all the phones still didn't work. It took sometime to find out that the computers that were plugged in next to those same phones also didn't work.

So while half the floor didn't work at all, the other half worked fine. While I was racking my brains to figure it out and running around looking for the problem, people were mentioning minor issues like: the printer was slow, email was slow, the phone quality is poor. At first I just figured that the small issues could wait, I started to wonder. After thinking for a bit that something on the network was overwhelming it, it dawned on me. The switch wasn't on a battery backup. The power storm might have "given it a concussion". After getting the head honchos off the phone so I could power cycle the switch, remember it was only one department on the floor that had the problem, I rebooted the switch and like magic all the problems went away and all the computers and phone worked again.

I made sure to put that switch on a battery backup after that and plan on adding monitoring alarms for out of sync changes to the phone configs.