You think your business has it rough?

Macworld features an article called “Ten business lessons from ‘Battlestar Galactica'”

A summary

  • 1. Tech isn’t always the answer. : Totally agree… IT-ers tend to always go for a tech solution where a human solution might suffice!
  • 2. Don’t neglect training. : I guess nobody will disagree here, but companies often don’t see the hidden cost of neglecting to do so.
  • 3. Some things can’t be outsourced. : I’ll repeat it again; Outsourcing is good, but don’t do it on stategical areas!
  • 4. Update your antivirus. : Personally I’d like to see this one renamed to “keep your organization up-to-date”
  • 5. Democracy doesn’t always work. : A simple Project Management lesson; It’s a democracy until the scope is set, then it’s dictatorship!
  • 6. Some problems can’t be killed. : Indeed, not all problems can be killed, just learn to cope with them.
  • 7. Seek strategic alliances with competitors. : So true! Being a stategic game fan, I found that alliances either make or break any outcome of a game. The numerous time I’ve “won”, is always due to making (and breaking!) stategic alliances.
  • 8. Don’t store all your backups in one place. : Better renamed to “don’t put all your eggs in one basket”.
  • 9. The mission can change at any time. : A bit like 4., the world keeps evolving, incorporate that in your strategy.
  • 10. Beware of visionaries. Zealots make bad leaders. – Awh, crap, that’d be against me… 😉

Freelancing during the lesser times

Freelancefolder.com features “8 Ways Freelancers Can Survive In A Troubled Economy” ;

  • Be a Bargain Hunter. Whether you’re buying routine office supplies or making a capital purchase, make sure that you get the most value for your dollar. Check sales flyers and compare costs to maximize your purchasing power. You can also look into barter arrangements to reduce your costs.
  • Don’t Spend Everything That You Make. I give this advice during good economic times as well. The advice to save some of your earnings is doubly important in an uncertain economy. Whenever you are paid make sure that you set some income aside for times when your business is slow.
  • Moonlight on Your Freelancing. You may have started your freelancing business by working a corporate job and moonlighting as a freelancer. There’s no reason why you can’t turn the tables and moonlight on your freelance business now. Consider taking a part-time job to bolster your monthly income.
  • Ask Past Corporate Employers for Gigs. Many employers have hiring freezes, but their workload remains the same. While they may not be able to hire a new employee, often they are allowed to hire temporary help to meet a deadline. (I’m told that the money for contractors comes out of a different “bucket.”)
  • Consider the Do-It-Yourself Question. Are you paying others to do tasks for you that you could actually do yourself? If your cash flow is slow, then you may want to consider whether it’s more cost efficient to continue outsourcing as you have been doing, or to start doing the tasks yourself.
  • Make Sure To Consider Your Tax Liability. Even if the economy is slow, it is likely that you will still owe taxes at the end of your tax year. To avoid being saddled with a tax burden that you can’t pay, start setting money aside for taxes now. If you paid estimated taxes during the course of the year, then ask yourself if you paid enough.
  • Broaden the Scope of Your Business. If your workload has slowed, then ask yourself if there are other products or services that you could add to your current offerings. Do you have a skill that you are not using? Broadening your scope could bring additional business from current customers as well as attract new ones.
  • Be Patient. Difficult economic times come and they go. It may be a matter of weeks, months, or even years, but this tough economic period will also pass.

The 8 steps to succesful Change Management

The father of Change Managemnet (John Kotter) outlined 8 steps to succesful Change Management in his book “The Iceberg is melting“. Let’s go through them:

  • Set The Stage
      Create a Sense of Urgency : Help others see the need for change and the importance of acting immediately. Remind people that they are on a burning oil rig; they’ll die, if the don’t jump off…
      Pull Together the Guiding Team : Make sure there is a powerful group guiding the change; one with leadership skills, bias for action, credibility, communications ability, authority, analytical skills. Just like project teams; one needs to have a great team to drive the change.
  • Decide What To Do
      Develop the Change Vision and Strategy : Clarify how the future will be different from the past, and how you can make that future a reality.
  • Make It Happen
      Communicate for Understanding and Buy-in : Make sure as many others as possible understand and accept the vision and the strategy. Start communicating from the start; remember that there is always communication, be sure that you are the one providing the correct information!
      Empower Others to Act : Remove as many barriers as possible so that those who want to make the vision a reality can do so.
      Produce Short-Term Wins : Create some visible, unambiguous successes as soon as possible. Go for the quick wins to boost moral.
      Don’t Let Up : Press harder and faster after the first successes. Be relentless with instituting change after change until the vision becomes a reality. Be persistent in driving the change.
  • Make It Stick
      Create a New Culture : Hold on to the new ways of behaving, and make sure they succeed, until they become a part of the very culture of the group. Think neurological levels here…. where culture is at the top of the pyramid.

The difference between Consultancy and Bodyshopping

During my career I had multiple discussions about the line between bodyshopping & consultancy. Yet “Work The Line” has a really nice post on this.

Some excerpts…

Does the firm have genuine practice areas based on shared intellectual property? A consultancy should have mechanisms for capturing, sharing, and reusing intellectual property in areas of specialized expertise. These mechanisms can be embodied in people (practice leaders), processes (defined practices for knowledge-sharing), and tools (collaborative software, reusable collateral, etc.).

So is there an infrastructure to back up your knowledge workers? As a consultancy firm your key asset is the knowledge of your people, so are the able to share this asset?

Does the firm limit its consultants’ billable time for strategic purposes? A body shop bills as much of its consultants’ time as possible, all the time. In contrast, a consultancy continually invests time in improving its collective knowledge and performance.

Key indicators here are training & the % of people “on the bench”. If people are allocated fulltime towards a customer; how can they be acquire their knowledge? One might say that this is because they are trained on the job, but those are not always the grounds where one can gain much experience in new/expert fields. When spending all your time “on the road” is not allowing the time for reading, communicating and reflection which is essential to maintain quality.

Does the firm measure success in terms of profitability per engagement? This question is closely related to the last two. If a firm’s goal is simply to bill as much as possible, and its preference is to bill for time and materials, it will have no interest in the profitability of individual engagements, and will simply “run the clock” as long as it can. Conversely, if a firm uses its knowledge to deliver high-value fixed-price engagements, it will try to perform engagements as quickly and efficiently as possible, in order to maximize their profitability.

The profit made on project with a fixed price is based upon your knowledge. The more you know, the more efficient you can provide the solution. Where is your motivation when you charge by the hour? Then it’s just a hidden form of interim work (to me).

Does the firm leverage new skills to build higher-level relationships? Over time, a firm builds skills engagement by engagement. It comes in to offer skill A, and picks up skill B in the process. If the firm simply adds these new skills to its list of “things we do,” it is behaving like a body shop. If the firm analyzes, consolidates and leverages these skills into higher-level client relationships, it is behaving like a consultancy.

Do you have many different profile which are being “rented” towards clients, or do you have a specific area where your knowledge dominates? This come close to the question whether or not the firm can distinct one self (as a brand) by encapsulating a specific value proposition.

Conclusion

A body shop bills as much of its consultants’ time as possible, all the time. In contrast, a consultancy continually invests time in improving its collective knowledge and performance.

Company meets Culture

“Culture Trumps Strategy” by Ken Wilcox
http://edcorner.stanford.edu/swf/mediaplayer.swf

Description: Building great corporate culture is more than just metaphors; it’s what motivates a winning team. Most people at corporations in the US are unhappy, says Silicon Valley Bank CEO Ken Wilcox. But the organization can craft a pleasant and productive environment by hiring diverse and intelligent people and keeping them onboard. Knowing how to work together under an organization’s guiding principals is critical. Past experience in commercial banking is not.

Neurological Levels
Regular readers might recall the “Neorological Levels” when thinking of the culture aspect. The company culture is the top block on the pyramid. You can compare it with the “spirit” from the neurological levels; when you need something done at the bottom, then you need to start making changes at the top (culture).