Horse Sense #84
In this issue of Horse Sense:
- Small Business is the US Economy
- Finding Money for Your Pet Projects
Dell lost a second case this year regarding its business practices.
Dell's support, warranties, finance terms, and rebates have come under fire.
Unfortunately, we don't expect this trend to change. The PC world, aided by
the Internet, is becoming rapidly commoditized. Customers clamor for the
lowest price and discount service. Computer hardware is rapidly becoming
like consumer electronics. You can get an inexpensive TV, and perhaps one
that is high quality that has a long warranty, but if something is wrong
with it or you have a question not answered well in the manual, quality
support will be difficult, if impossible, to get. High price consciousness
among American consumers lately is accelerating this trend.
Toshiba is starting to provide manufacturers with solid state drives up to
512GB in size in 1.8 and 2.5 inch form factors suitable for portables, home
entertainment systems, and consumer and industrial electronics.
Solid state drives are faster, take less power, make no noise, and are more
tolerant of heat, cold, altitude, vibration, and shock than hard drives.
They also boot up more quickly. Costs on solid state drives have dropped
even quicker than we thought they might. We suspect that most notebooks
sold by the end of next year will contain solid state drives. OCZ is
shipping 1TB 3.5" drives <http://www.ocztechnology.com/products/solid_state_drives/ocz_colossus_series_sata_ii_3_5-ssd
Small Business is the US Economy
Large businesses make headlines, but they aren't the US economy any more.
The US Small Business Administration says: Businesses with fewer than 500
employees account for 99.7% of all firms in the United States. Small
businesses have generated 64 percent of net new jobs over the past 15
years. Small firms produce 13 times more patents per employee than large
The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) says: American small
business is the world's third largest economy (trailing only the U.S. as a
whole and Japan). 70% of college graduates say they want to work for a
small employer rather than a large company. 43% of U.S. small business
owners believe the economy will improve in the next 6 to 12 months.
Businesses employing fewer than 100 people (excluding those self-employed
who employ only themselves) constitute 96 percent of all employers.
American small business produces roughly one-half of the privately generated
Gross Domestic Product in the country. 91 percent of small business owners
contributed to their communities during the last year through volunteering,
in-kind contributions, direct cash donations, or some combination of these.
Update Checker from FileHippo.com <http://www.filehippo.com/updatechecker/
will quickly scan your system and give you an itemized list of links you can
click to download the latest updates to your programs. It won't help with
most Windows updates or paid programs and it won't identify security holes.
If you want to get a more comprehensive scan of your system, try my earlier
tips on Belarc and Secunia. Both of them are more comprehensive, but Update
Checker is much faster, easier to use, and helps you update the most
commonly used shareware you might use. Of the three, it is the one I'd
recommend to those with the least technical savvy, but technical
sophisticates will find it refreshingly quick, simple, and easy to use.
Finding Money for Your Pet Projects
Here are some ideas on how to find money for your pet projects and how to
spend that money wisely. Some may be obvious to you. Others may seem to
repeat a point I've already made, but that is only natural since we are
talking about improving on the same basic processes. Looking at the problem
from a different direction sometimes triggers a revelation.
Ask us how you to get a Return on Grief (tm). Of course, if you have any
ideas or comments you would like to share with us, we are listening!
(1) Reexamine what you are doing.
(2) Say no.
(3) Use consultants.
(4) Get a better warranty.
(5) Do less.
(6) Get someone else to do it who values your business.
(7) Think small.
(8) Be prepared.
(9) Maintain what you have in good order.
(10) If you can't hire staff, consider outsourcing functions.
(11) Consider different methods of paying for what you need.
(12) Use free stuff.
(13) Consider bulk buying, even if it costs you more now.
(14) Buy for the long term.
(15) Start at the right end of the problem.
(16) Use dates wisely.
(17) Keep a wish list.
(18) Cut recurring costs.
(19) Cut your licensing by using only what you need.
(20) Go green or turn it off.
(21) Buy the latest and greatest.
(22) Don't be afraid to stick with an oldie but a goody.
(23) Retask and reuse.
(24) Anything that saves you time is probably worth paying for.
(25) Have Uncle Sam pay for it.
(26) Renew on time!
(27) Kill the budget!
(28) Stop (or start) the vicious cycle.
(29) Procrastination kills (and saves).
(30) Ditch the big contract.
(31) Build a safe, strong, infrastructure. I've seen lots of projects fail
because people looked only at the latest and greatest exciting software and
hardware they were getting, forgetting that they needed other hardware and
software to make it work well. Infrastructure isn't sexy, but you always
need to start with a good foundation. For example, a new computer is great
only if you can get electrical power to it easily and connect it to a
network. Oh, and it should be reliable. One major federal agency bought a
lot of networking gear, but couldn't plug it in because they couldn't power
it. Over a year later, they had the same problem because power and wiring
were in a different budget controlled by someone else. Another agency
bought new computers and couldn't connect them to the network for months
because they didn't have the right networking adapters. A third agency's e
mail servers crashed so often that people didn't trust them. Reliability
and resiliency are much more important than speed or other features. Your
car isn't much use to you if it won't get you from here to there or breaks
down all the time.
(32) Trade in. Trade up. Buy (almost) new. Buy used. You may not have
to or need to buy new equipment. You can trade old hardware, even from a
different manufacturer, in on new models and get at least some value for it
rather than selling it yourself. Sometimes the deals are excellent. You
can often trade in an older hardware model to get a significant discount on
a newer one. Manufacturer refurbished equipment is sometimes available at
prices up to 50% off retail. This equipment can't be sold as new because it
was once sold and returned to the manufacturer for some reason (bad box,
missing manual, customer didn't want it, dented/scratched case, loaner/demo
returns, etc.). The manufacturers usually thoroughly check out this
equipment and offer a warranty on it that is the same as that of new
equipment. You can also buy used equipment and save a bunch of dough,
though you will usually only get a 30 to 90 day warranty unless it has one
that already exists, though some warranties may not be transferrable to a
new buyer. In general, software is licensed, not sold, so even if you buy
new equipment, you may not have the right to use the software that runs on
it. Some software is tied to certain hardware, so you aren't allowed to use
it elsewhere. You can relicense some software. Some companies also allow
you to transfer your license as a gift to someone else. Software licensing
can get complicated fast, so ask questions!
(33) Settling is OK. There is a saying in this business that you can have
price, features, or performance and at best you can pick any two. It
is true. Nothing is perfect. Shopping forever for something is an
expensive waste of time. I'm told the Marines have a 70% rule. If it has a
70% chance of success, go for it! That is a pretty good rule. You
will also save quite a bit of money, time, and effort over making it
"perfect." (See tip 5)
(34) Going with your gut is OK too. Return on Grief (tm) is a good metric
because it makes you think of the soft factor. Making a good decision isn't
just about adding up X number of features, getting to 70% and automatically
buying something. You have to feel that 70% number is OK. More than that,
you have to feel that it is good business. At Iron Horse, we walk away from
millions of dollars worth of business for lots of reasons, many of them
having to do with our gut. There is no business worth an ulcer.
(35) When it goes south, where are you? Things go wrong. It happens.
If it does, a warranty is nice. A contract is nice. But, a relationship
with someone you can trust to be your champion when the dragon is attacking
your village is what you really want. I tell all of our suppliers, "If it
is good, tell me. If it is bad, tell me day before yesterday so I can do
something about it. I understand things can and will go wrong, but I expect
you to do everything you can to minimize the damage." Really listen to
those who go out of their way to give you warnings, set realistic
expectations, and discuss worst case scenarios. They will be your
champions. Keep them informed. Give them the tools they need. Don't
ignore them or treat them as disposable commodities. Champions are of your
Buy from someone who will be your champion. You want them to care about you
and your business. This is a lot more likely with a smaller provider. If a
manufacturer isn't meeting a client's needs, Iron Horse has no problem
advocating for our customer or switching to another manufacturer. You want
to work with a small vendor for a number of reasons (see <http://www.ih-online.com/hs55.html
on why to buy from a value added reseller).
(36) Be nice. Yelling, demanding, threatening, withholding, and other
negative tactics are often used with vendors. It works with them about as
well as it does between a husband and wife. On the other hand, recognizing
a good job, being thoughtful, being kind and polite all pay dividends. Good
business relationships save time, money, effort, and result in fewer
ulcers. I've been known to sweeten deals with thousands of dollars in labor
and products to customers because they made an effort to be a good partner.
(37) Don't play the blame game. From a business and personal standpoint,
this is totally useless and will cost you dearly. I often stop the blaming
and bleeding of time and money by saying, "OK, let us just say that I'm to
blame. Now what? How do we fix this?" Once you stop blaming, you can
concentrate on the problem solving.
(38) Promote your people. Get other people. Look at what you need to do
to make your business work. Let us say you had a limo business. Your
cars need to be well maintained because they are necessary for your
business, but your real business is getting people from here to there.
Your drivers don't have to be able to service the cars. The same is true of
your computing environment. You can "promote" your people by taking the job
of managing the computing environment away from them and putting it in the
hand of professionals. In doing so, you will free up their time to do their
real work and often pay a lot less to get the computing tasks done. And, if
you have routine computing tasks, you could have someone from outside the
company take care of them, pay them a fraction of a full time salary, and
let your IT people concentrate on higher value projects and needs. In
addition, the same people who would have handled their own computing
problems (perhaps badly), will be more satisfied and productive. That is a
huge Return on Grief(tm).
(39) Let it all hang out. Tell others of your problems. It will feel
liberating, especially if you are talking to someone who cares. So what if
they are a possible supplier? Be honest. If you lie to your doctor because
you are embarrassed, don't be surprised if he treats your cold rather than
your hemorrhoids. Sure, you may not want to admit you have problems like
that, but do you want to wait until things become even more unbearable? See
the article on the trust deficit in <http://www.ih-online.com/hs60.html
(40) It is the little things that often count the most. Want to be more
productive? Get a bigger monitor. Use a keyboard and mouse that feel
comfortable to you. Pay attention to workspace ergonomics. Use a
typing stand. Wear a wireless headset so you can move around easily and
talk on the phone. Get a mouse pad to help you mouse around or gel pad for
your wrists. Relatively small outlays of cash can result in tremendous
productivity gains and user satisfaction.
(41) KISS. Keep It Simple, Stupid. There is a tendency to buy the latest
and greatest, to get something sexy and new. There is also a tendency to
keep adding on to a feature or shopping list. Simple plans, ideas, and
designs are more likely to be successful and will cost you significantly
less time, effort, and grief.
(42) Talk it out. Try to explain to a number of people what you are trying
to do. See if you can explain it to your wife and kids or to the dentist
next door. If it sounds like a good idea to them, it is a good idea. Not
only that, but they might point out simpler, cheaper, and easier ways to do
it. I love when people ask me about something they want to do and I tell
them they already have what they need. They love getting something for
(43) Sell or give it away. Have an old piece of hardware or software you
don't want? You may be able to sell it to an employee or someone else and
use that money to help you buy something else. Giving stuff away is also an
option. You may get a tax deduction. Even if you don't, you could build
good will both inside and outside your organization with your donation.
(44) Don't distance yourself. People want to distance themselves from
something they fear. Buying anything is a frightening step into the
unknown. So, you might want to handle everything with a formal proposal.
You might want to use an on line buying system. You might want to conduct
all your business by e mail. The big risk here is that you take the human
element out of the equation. If you buy everything on line from the
cheapest guy on the Internet, don't be surprised when you run into problems
and they don't care. You treated them as a disposable commodity, after
all. Welcome feedback. Make yourself available. Look at alternatives.
When we were planning our wedding, my bride-to-be was all atwitter about the
cost and details of the wedding. I didn't care. I told her she could
have the wedding. I got the marriage. So, look to build a satisfying long
term relationship with someone you can trust. You will be happier in the
long run. And, in the short run, you might find something that costs less
and makes you just as happy.
Tony Stirk, Iron Horse firstname.lastname@example.org