Horse Sense #84

In this issue of Horse Sense:
  • News
  • Small Business is the US Economy
  • Tips
  • Finding Money for Your Pet Projects (4)

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 <>.

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 firms.

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.


App Manager from 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 (4)

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!

Already covered in Horse Sense 81 <>:
(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.

Already covered in Horse Sense 82 <>:
(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.

Already covered in Horse Sense 83 <>:

(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 own making.

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 <> 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 <>.

(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 "nothing."

(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.

©2009 Tony Stirk, Iron Horse