Sonoma County: News and Notes

The rain is gone for now, but cooler temperatures should help us maintain our snow pack. We are not through the drought according to the news reports, but it is very encouraging that we are at a much better place than we were last year. Some of the largest reservoirs are over normal capacity and the snow pack is near normal. All of this is good news for us in Northern California.

I spoke recently to Lincoln Miller of Sonic.net about his role with Sonic and what they are up to in with their newer offerings.

Jim Sackman: Hi Lincoln, you are a Senior Fiber Specialist. Can you tell me about this?
Lincoln Miller: Thanks Jim for speaking to me. I am part of the changes going on in Sonic where we are pursuing our own fiber optic network and becoming less reliant on AT&T for connectivity. As for myself, I deal strictly with Business Customers as they are connected to our network.

JS: So, where are business services available?
LM: That is a huge part of my job. For example, we offer service near the Santa Rosa Airport and along North McDowell Boulevard in Petaluma. We have other neighborhoods that are opening soon. But a whole lot of my job is looking for others.

JS: Anything specific that you are looking for?
LM: Well, yes actually. Sonic is currently working to build a fiber network that will essentially serve the 101 corridor in the North Bay, so I am looking to meet with business owners and commercial property owners in these areas to discuss bringing Gigabit fiber to their areas.

JS: Why would people want your service over your competition?
LM: We are building a Gigabit network. People will get that extreme speed and phone service at a relatively modest price. For $40 per user per month companies can get the best service available. Imagine how it can change your business by providing such great connectivity to your customers, partners, and employees. We have award winning customer service that makes our customers can depend on. On top of that, we are a local company and that keeps the money we bring in local. As you know dollars spent locally mean that we all do better here in the North Bay.

JS: What should people do if they want this great service?
LM: The easiest thing is to go to our website and connect with us. We will get them hooked up with the right person to talk about their needs. I would love to talk to anyone who has a business along the 101 corridor to see if we can get more businesses on our fiber solutions!

So, there it is. A local company trying to beat the big boys by installing a better network, delivering a better service, and doing so at a price that anyone can afford. Contact Lincoln Miller and Sonic to learn more!

Have a great week!

Jim Sackman
Focal Point Business Coaching
Business Coaching, Executive Training, Sales Training, Marketing

Change Your Business – Change Your Life!

 

 

Time and Employees: Interviewing

Last week I wrote about how to find those people that you want to bring in for a face to face interview. You should plan on talking to at least 3 people before you make a selection. This is true even if you really like the first person that comes in. It is better to have a good sense of the audience. On top of that, you need to communicate to the other folks that you spoke on the phone to. If they are not coming in, let them know. If there are people ahead of them, let them know that as well. The fact that you take the time to keep people updated will help build your credibility, even with folks that do not become employees. You never know when they might know or become a customer.

The process of Interviewing is a skill that can be learned. It is always best to have more than one person talk to the individual if possible. If you are a Sole Proprietor, see if you can get your spouse or significant other to be another interviewer. Having a couple of views is always better than just your own view by itself. Everyone has different strengths and can pick out different qualities of a candidate. In any case, you need a plan for the interview. You need to know what questions you need to have answered before you end the process. Are there hard technical skills that you need to confirm? Or is it more about personality and maturity? Each person and each position is different and you are the best judge of whom you should be hiring.

Once you have a plan for each interviewer the candidate will come in and meet with everyone. The biggest factor in the interview itself is to ask open ended questions. Unless you are trying to confirm a specific fact, having yes or no answers provide you with the least amount of information possible. Your goal is to get the person to open up and tell you about what they have done and what they want to do. An interview that is yes or no will not very productive that way. You want people to explain and give you answers that you can follow up on. In an Interviewing class I took a long time ago, they called this the “Rolling Why”. By that, the instructor meant that you want to be able to ask “Why?” to every answer that you get. By digging in a couple of levels, you will be able to get the information that you need.

Okay, once you have had a candidate in it is time to debrief with everyone involved. Don’t wait to get feedback or you will likely lose some information that they had. People tend to forget things over time and lose some of the details. It is preferable if the debrief is held the same day as the interview, but it should be held no later than the next day.

Once you have done this will all the candidates, you should have enough information to make a decision. We all know that it is important that people are the most important part of any business. This means you want to make the right choice. What is just as bad as making the wrong choice is making no choice. So, be clear on what you need and how a new employee will meet the need. By being specific about the role, you should be able to make the right call.
Jim Sackman
Focal Point Business Coaching
Business Coaching, Executive Training, Sales Training, Marketing

Change Your Business – Change Your Life!

 

Time and Employees: Selecting the Right Candidate

Apologies for missing the last couple of weeks. I had a pretty bad flu followed up by some travel. Last post on this topic was all about the job description and how to tell people about whom you would like to hire. From there, you will place an advertisement in an appropriate place. That itself is a bit of an art form as these things shift over time. Today, you might use say Dice but tomorrow maybe Monster is the place to recruit for a specific kind of position. I am not an expert in these things, but know people who are and consult with them when I need to.

Here I want to focus on how to select the right person from the group that you have gotten resumes from. Importantly, you will probably have to pre-screen even those resumes into 3 piles. First are those that meet all your criteria, including the preferred criteria. Second, is the group that meets only the required parts of the job description. Third, are those that do not meet your minimum requirements. That latter pile is a definite no. I have had hiring managers who look at people out of that third pile and want to pursue them. Generally that means that we actually have an incorrect job description and we need to rework it. Once we have gotten past that, we are at the meat of the issue.

If you have more than one candidate in the first pile, then you can dismiss the second pile as well. If you are not sure if you have enough candidates then keep the second pile around until you are sure. Those first pile resumes will get a phone screen first. By this, you get a chance to talk to people for between 15 and 30 minutes to try to narrow the candidate field even further. You will likely be able to ask basic hard skill questions over the phone and then you will leave it to them to ask you some questions. This latter bit will be the most important. The questions that are asked will give you significant amount of information about the person and their motivation. This is especially true if you can give the person warning that you are going to call them. It gives the person time to take a second look at their submission and your company. If they have no questions, you have either done a great job in explaining everything about the position or the person has not taken the time to research you and your job offer.

Which leads to something that is probably not in the job description, but should be part of the phone screen. That is that you should provide some view to what will you will consider the candidate to have accomplished to be successful. This can be both quantitative and qualitative. One question that you should follow up with is how they react to the definition of success. You can then ask specific questions about how they might go about being successful. The absolutes of the answer is not as important as the thinking and any questions behind their answer. They are working with imperfect information and you are giving them a chance to frame a discussion with you. This is important for anyone that you would hire. Great way to take advantage of the time on the phone.

From there, we will stack rank the candidates and go to bringing people in for a face to face interview. That will be our topic next time.

Have a great day!
Jim Sackman
Focal Point Business Coaching
Business Coaching, Executive Training, Sales Training, Marketing

Change Your Business – Change Your Life

Net Neutrality Friday

So last week I talked about the stability that is happening on the hardware front and that this might lead to relative stability in the services.

The same is not true on the software front where I have posted before about Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Function Virtualization (NFV). On top of that, Service Providers see Open Source (OS) Software as a potential to change the way that products and services are built. The thing is that for all of that disruption in how software is architected and created, I still see stability.

Why is that?

Well, the problem is that Service Providers are always looking at ways of building functionality into the network. Now from a Service Provider standpoint that makes a lot of internal sense. The more capability that the network has the more they can charge for it. Thus they would get to charge more for the bits that are being delivered.

The problem with that is that it makes no sense at all if you are a consumer or a company trying to sell services to consumers. The reason is that universal connectivity to your service is what you want. If you try to build a service based on a specific set of functions built into the network, then you are limiting your potential by restricting where you can sell the service. The alternative is that a premium version of the product would be available by taking advantage of these network based services.

Well, that all seems quite possible and then we go on to think about what a network service could be. And in the end it is all about the availability of bandwidth. People talk about “bandwidth on demand” type services. These kind of services have been around for decades. I worked on a video conferencing system based on a form of bandwidth on demand back in 1988. These are not revolutionary, but simply a way of getting people to utilize the services that they already pay for more often and upcharge them for it. The other kind of service is related to the quality of bandwidth transmission via some form of prioritization. This is against Net Neutrality rules where they apply, so are unlikely to have much consumer impact. These kind of services can make sense for Enterprises in some cases. Which the reality is the same place that the bandwidth on demand is going to be of any value.

Now some of these applications of service can be sold to companies that are offering services to consumers in order to enhance their offerings. But these services will never be the boon that anyone wants. The reason is that the money is moving into applications. That is where all this new software technology is most useful. The problem is that the network makers have not been doing a lot in the content and application space. But in order to get on the Apple or Google growth curves that is where they will have to go. We can talk about how they might get there in the future!
Jim Sackman
Focal Point Business Coaching
Business Coaching, Executive Training, Sales Training, Marketing

Change Your Business – Change Your Life!

 

Sonoma County: News and Notes

 

Well, I am slowly recovering from the flu and my travels to Southern California. It is not fun to have to travel while you are sick. But I have muddled through.  The rain we have gotten recently will be of great value to us, and I hope all came through any flooding safely!

Today, I want to post about my talk with Mike Runyan at LegalShield. Many people might recognize the company under its old name of Pre-Paid Legal. This service now includes Identify Theft protection. But we want to talk about it from a Small Business Standpoint.

Jim Sackman: What should Business Owners know about LegalShield?
Mike Runyan: Well Jim, there are a lot of businesses out there that are too small to have their own in-house council. They use outside legal representation for everything. At LegalShield, we can reduce their cost in doing so by handling all their smaller matters directly. We can find reduced cost representation for those larger matters.

JS: Can you give me an example of how this might work?
MR: Sure! Documents up to 10 pages are reviewed for free within the contract. Many businesses have to deal with contracts all the time and many of them are not reviewed before they get signed. Who wants to pay 100s of dollars of legal fees for something simple? But it is the simple things that can come back to bight you. As I like to say, it is better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

JS: What else can LegalShield do for Business Owners?
MR: Well one of the things that I like to talk to owners about is offering LegalShield to their employees. There is a lot of benefit for low cost to employers.

JS: As a benefit?
MR: It is getting harder to find and retain good staff today with the improvements in the economy. Employers need to differentiate themselves and yet don’t want to take the full step to offering health benefits. LegalShield is something that they can offer for a modest cost. In fact, it is likely that the employer will make money by offering LegalShield as a benefit!

JS: How does that work?
MR: You have to look at worker productivity. By having coverage of legal and identity matters, employees will have lower stress in their lives. They will have to take less time off and be more focussed on their jobs. Costs for the coverage is likely less than 1% of their salary. Yet, they will receive a benefit that is visible to them and help them in their lives. So virtually any productivity improvement is going to be more than 1% of their salary.

JS: Anything else?
MR: Retaining good employees is crucial. It often takes 3 – 6 months to get the same productivity out of new employees that you had with longer term employees. By having an effective benefits program, you can con improve retention and recruit the best people.

I would like to thank Mike Runyan for taking the time to talk to me about LegalShield. If you want more information, talk to Mike @ 707-484-3663.

Have a great day!
Jim Sackman
Focal Point Business Coaching
Business Coaching, Executive Training, Sales Training, Marketing

Change Your Business – Change Your Life!

 

Net Neutrality Friday

So, here I am sitting in Northern California listening to the rain in what is being called “Miracle March”. The rain is good news for us here and I want to reflect the thoughtful and quiet times in today’s post.

I think we are heading for a bout of stability. Pish Posh you say? There is all this legal wrangling around the telecom network and the Internet. Well, there is always churn on debate on the regulatory side. What I mean is on the technology side. There was a period for about 15 years at the start of the Internet where things jumbled around. There were choices made, short term and long term.

If we go back to the start of the World Wide Web (which was really the start of the consumer Internet), we are in 1992. Consumers had to use dial-up Modems for service. This continued on while Broadband Technologies were being developed and commercialized. Most folks forget (for example) that the original Cable Modems were not based on the DOCSIS standard. But the availability of any Cable Modems gave the cable folks a huge leg up in the Consumer Broadband Internet Market (even today 60%+ of Broadband Connections in the US are Cable and not Telco). DSL had deployment drawbacks and the telcos were slow to respond and adopt the newer technologies. I had one of the very early DSL lines in PacBell in 1999 with Alcatel 1000 Modem and a splitter in the NID. But by 2003, we were already onto ADSL2+ and were building the prototypes for the BPON Deployment in FiOS.

Think about that. From 1992 to 2003, we adopted 4 different complete technologies to deliver the Internet on wireline networks. Since then? About the biggest change was BPON to GPON and the broader adoption of VDSL2 as part of U-verse in a Fiber to the Curb (FTTC) scheme. These were extensions of the technologies we already deployed. Cable has done its work in extending DOCSIS to get higher and higher rates.

We have had more changes in the Wireless world with the adoption of data oriented 3G and 4G networks and more importantly the elimination of the Walled Garden with the iPhone. A Walled Garden is a private service that mimics a public one. A non-wireless example would have been AOL in the old days before their subscribers could surf the true Internet. They used to have to use sites on AOL. Just like older “smartphones” only let you surf specific sites under the control of the Wireless provider.

All of this has been stable now for about 10 years. Yes, we have the refinement of technology. But no real step function changes. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t mean important things are not getting done. It just means that we are in a different period. As a consumer, it is comforting in some ways to know that the technology that I buy today is not obsolete the day I buy it. I remember PC’s having a useful life of 2 years at most and phones only 1.

Will this change? At some point yes. But I have blogged at other times about how the way that things are being bought are forcing commonality between providers at all levels in the food chain. All this does create momentum away from disruption. This will be a good thing for us and may lead to some more normal investment cycles by Service Providers.

Jim Sackman
Focal Point Business Coaching
Business Coaching, Executive Training, Sales Training, Marketing

Change Your Business – Change Your Life!

 

Sonoma County: News and Notes

 

There has been a lot of rain over the past week and that is good for us here in the North Bay. Me, I came down with the flu. Boy does that suck. Anyway, here we are at the last of the earnings reports for this quarter. That of Autodesk.

Now the raw numbers are what they are they lost $0.04 per share on revenue of $648M. But to me that is not the headline here. Yeah the analysts liked the numbers, but to me the bigger issue was the length of the call and the detail provided.

Autodesk talked about the uncertainty of the stock market and the transition that they are going through. I have noted the changes that through the last couple of quarters. They wanted to be sure to provide detailed information to the analysts (and to us as potential shareholders as well). The stated reason was that the detail in the explanations would help all of us understand the transitions and rate the stock fairly. The former I agree with. The latter, I am still not sure about. As I have said in the past, it is very hard to link the company’s present to its past and its future. I will go through that in a bit of detail, as well as make sure I explain one comment that the CEO made. He was hopeful that revenue would come in lower than projected!

Okay, the CEO doesn’t want to lose customers. What he wants is customers to adopt a subscription model for Autodesk’s products. Let me use a more familiar example: Microsoft Office. You can buy Microsoft Office for $150 as a one time purchase. Or you can buy Office 365 for as little as $70. So, it takes Microsoft about 2 years to make its money back from you renting Office. In the mean time, you are paying either monthly or annually an amount less than $150. So from a revenue standpoint, you will end up paying less than the $150 in any year – so Microsoft’s revenue from you is lower today. But they are assured of more revenue if you rent for a longer term. Over the long term, the value to Microsoft of your revenue is much better. Because once you have been with them for more than 2 years, you have paid more than $150. On my computer, I use Office 2010. That means I have not bought a copy of Office for over 5 years. The software works fine and I have no reason to upgrade.

There is a smaller saving with the conversion to subscription sales. Online Services like Office 365 are always on a single version. So, Microsoft or Autodesk does not have to be concerned withe supporting and bug fixing multiple versions of the software. They can simply maintain and advance the most recent set of software. Now many companies don’t support 5 year old versions, but it was not that long ago that Microsoft quit supporting Windows XP. XP was released in 2001 and extended support did not end until 2012, over a decade later. Think about the number of people fixing bugs in a product for which Microsoft would not get any revenue. So, having a single version makes a lot of sense.

I strongly urge all of you to read the Autodesk Earnings Call Transcript. It was the most honest look at a business that I have heard on a call with some of the most detailed answers you will ever read. They did this to keep shareholders engaged and I applaud them for it. On the other hand, they may have set themselves up for problems a few years from now after they have pulled back in the depth of the answers. The call may surprise you and give you insight into how executives think about their business!

Jim Sackman
Focal Point Business Coaching
Business Coaching, Executive Training, Sales Training, Marketing

Change Your Business – Change Your Life!