Monday 19 November 2007

Business Principles: The Barn Identity

Ever work in a barn?

If you have, then you know that everything that is done in there will require some sort of clean up afterwards.

Whether it is washing and putting away the various tools and implements used, or shoveling up after Bessy or Clive. One must keep the clutter down to a minimum as a matter of safety, cleanliness, and respect for the next person who will need to work in there.

Our work areas, that is our shop and office areas, reflect a very important aspect of how we run our business. The same is true of the transportation we use when making a professional level call on a client or prospect. Our personal dress and hygiene will also have a direct impact on our clients and their impression of our organization.

The first impression will provide 75% or more of the incentive or disincentive to deal with us as a professional products and services organization. A bad first impression can kill a $xxxK deal in an instant.

The Office and Shop:

Ever bring a client back into the shop and have motherboards, memory, hard drives, keyboards, cables, and other components scattered about hither-tither? How does that "organized chaos" reflect on our company? How does that chaos reflect on the technician that normally sits there?

It is even more critical if multiple techs use the same station. It never fails that, in any type of working together situation, there will be conflict if one is into keeping the station organized and the other is not.

The same is true of our dedicated work space whether that is an office or a cubicle. When things are in a constant state of disarray, it has an impact on the client's impression of us. If there is an Eb and Flow to what is going on in our areas and the various stages of "paper piles", and the client gets to experience them over time and subsequent visits they would come to understand at least that we start out with a clean space and end with one too.

Our workbench areas are no different.

It is all about respect for our client and their products that we work with, our company/employer, and ourselves.

This particular lesson usually gets drilled home with the help of two very important things:
  1. Someone in the company that is a respectful mentor (one of my former employers was exactly that for me). They take the time to work with us patiently to develop our sense of understanding how we have an impact on others and that the other should come first.
  2. Starving.
The first involves a strong team playing ethos as well as a deep respect for our team leaders. Our team leaders will engender that respect in their charges. We share our expertise and encourage those around us to excel in their particular specialties, but also to grow in those areas where they are challenged. We encourage them, we do not beat them over the head.

The second is self explanatory and is Step 1 of the Twelve Step Program: We reach Rock Bottom with nowhere to go but up. But, heading up cannot be done alone! We must admit to ourselves that we have no one to blame for our hitting that spot ... r-e-s-p-o-n-s-i-b-i-l-i-t-y.

The Transportation

One of my former employers used to groan at my $50 - yes I bought my first car in out here for fifty bucks - 1975 Chevelle Malibu Classic 2 door. It wasn't that it was loud or anything, it was that you couldn't tell what colour it was supposed to be for the rust and peeling vinyl roof. It may have gotten me around cheaply, but we sure took a hit when one of our lawyer clients who drove a $250K Benz Coupe saw it and wasn't too sure his office was going to deal with us any further.

In a way, I was very fortunate, as per my former employer, that the car decided to die in a funeral pyre at an extremely busy intersection not far from the office/shop! :D

The eventual replacement for the Malibu was a well appointed Taurus Wagon that was in excellent shape. It was a respectable form of transportation.

Our Personal Disposition and Attitude

We are professionals, therefore we should behave, dress, and keep hygiene like one.

As an example: If one gets in trouble with the law, who do they want to defend them?
  1. Lawyer 1: Charges $100/hr and wears bargain basement suits with shoes and tie that kinda match.
  2. Lawyer 2: Charges $250/hr and wears a decent $500 three piece suit with a decent pair of Italian shoes and a silk tie that actually match.
  3. Lawyer 3: Charges $1,000/hr and wears Armani.
If our first inclination is to choose Lawyer 1, we have a problem. When push comes to shove, will Lawyer 1 rescue us from our predicament? More than likely not, and they will still charge us the 20-30 hours they "put into our case" including the paper clips.

If we think, okay, Lawyer 2 would be a good choice, then think again. There is a whole lot of mediocre out there, and choosing a gem in amongst the riff-raff can prove to be expensive and fatal to us.

Lawyer 3 would not only get us out of our predicament, they would know exactly what part of the law was applicable off the top, and end up billing us for a couple of hours plus the hour for the court time.

Reread the example and let it sit for a while.

Now, reread it again ... and again ... and again.

Starting to get it now?

Not only does the example speak to how we place value in the products and services provided to us, it speaks to the value we place in OUR OWN provided products and services.

Remember this post? Cheap is as Cheap does.

Our personal demeanor, our hygiene, the clothing we wear or somewhat don't wear, the vehicle we drive, the tools we use ... all of these things reflect on us and the company we represent to a client or prospective client.

We surely cannot expect to garner premium rates, or provide Managed Services, if we first do not present/manage ourselves as and behave like premium professionals.

While we may not drive the $250K Benz, wear Armani, or visit a salon to keep our coiffure on a regular basis, two or three good pairs of slacks, six or eight button down shirts (low cut or tight does not cut it), undershirts, and a couple of decent pairs of shoes will go a long way to facilitating the Premium Professional reality that is standing before the Prospect or Client.

Any MCP or Microsoft Partner can visit the MCP/Partner Store to pick up some very professional button down Microsoft, Certified Professional, Small Business Specialist, etc. logo shirts for a reasonable cost. Or, the company could spend some funds on a decent set of button down shirts for office and technical staff. Golf shirts just don't cut it anymore. The Alligator is dead ... *phew*

We should reflect our Products & Services Rates and our Products & Services Rates should reflect us. Anything out of balance in the equation and we all loose.

Philip Elder
Microsoft Small Business Specialists

*All Mac on SBS posts are posted on our in-house iMac via the Safari Web browser.


Anonymous said...

I second your thoughts on this post

When we first started out and worked out of a spare room at my business partners home i still wore a shirt and tie to work every day even though i didn't need to

A client will never see us in anything but this!

We also moved out of our last office due to image issues

We rented a small office with shared facilities on a business start-up scheme. It helped keep costs down but because some of the facilities were shared with industrial type business it didn't project a good image (car park full of busted up cars for example!)

Philip Elder Cluster MVP said...


Thanks for sharing your experiences.

In the long run, this is the only way to be a step above.