Small Biz 101: 3 Things

Small Biz 101: 3 Things

A few chestnuts I’ve learned along the way:

  • Know what your service / product / time is worth. Corollary: Don’t give your time away. When you’re in the “agency life” or working for a small consultancy, you will invariably be approached to work on spec, work for “sweat equity”, or work at a huge discount for the promise of better pay on “the next project.” These offers never pan out. Know what your service or time is worth, and engage only at those rates. Your time, resources, and patience are finite – and these “clients” will only waste all of these.
  • Never sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement. Corollary: Never sign a Non-Compete Agreement. To quote a famous proverb “there is nothing new under the sun.” Non-disclosure agreements between clients and contractors on limited engagements pretend you don’t have experience you didn’t attain but through a client engagement, are nearly impossible to police, and start from a premise of distrust and suspicion. And besides: ninety-nine times out of one hundred, the “secrets” being protected have been done many times before, and in effect, are unprotectable anyway. As far as non-compete agreements go, the only reason to sign on is that you have been compensated – greatly – to do so. The fact remains: there’s generally only downside for you to ever sign an NDA or a NCA. I was recently asked to sign a two year non-disclosure, transfer of invention, non-compete agreement – for a $2,000 contract engagement. Needless to say, this was a no brainer to walk away from. It’s not to say clients won’t ask. You should never put yourself in a position to have to explain – or defend – your prior experience, art, or inventions. Don’t sell your birthright for a bowl of lentils.

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    Image Credit: http://www.premiumbeat.com/blog/passion-projects/
  • Don’t be afraid to fire a client. Corollary: Don’t be afraid to say no. We’ve all heard that the worst mistakes in life happen when you said “yes”, when you should have said “no.” Sometimes, this moment of clarity doesn’t occur until you’re far down the road on an engagement, and it’s too late to make an easy course correction. Simply stated – not all business is good business, and some customers are more trouble than they’re worth. If a customer or relationship is in opposition to the well being of your business or your employees, then it is time to cut the relationship or engagement short as soon as you can ethically and responsibly do so. You should always be honest with the customer as to why you’re doing what you’re doing. Ultimately, your main responsibility is to yourself, your employees, and to your business. The best advice is to say “no” when your intuition tells you that that high-maintenance (though high paying / high profile) contract you’re about to bag may not be all it’s touted to be.

Take a look at your business charter – I bet it says that your business is for-profit. That fact alone should be the primary guiding principle behind all of your decision making.

Remember: your business making a profit isn’t dirty. It’s your business’s raison d’être.

And if it’s not, you’re not running a business – you’re running a hobby.

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Internet Time vs. Academic Time

Internet Time vs. Academic Time

A question that I’m asked in almost every interview, is how I handled the transition from being an entrepreneur, to working at a small liberal arts college.

Implied is the question: how did you bear the excruciatingly slow pace of higher ed governance, versus being used to working in “internet time?”

There’s a “bumper sticker” answer, and there’s the real answer.

The bumper sticker answer is that the pace of higher ed decision making allows “the ball to slow down so you can see it” (to mangle a sports metaphor).

The real answer is that shared governance, as practiced in higher education, is complex; to practice effectively within the academy, it takes time. The time it takes, is the time it takes.

Does that mean that every project and initiative at colleges and universities has to happen at an “academic time” pace?

Absolutely not. There are any number of projects and initiatives that can be executed at whatever pace administrators and campus leaders desire to drive them (within the constraints of their budgets and institutional priorities, naturally). I daresay that a lot of innovation on campuses isn’t deterred so much by budgetary restraint or governance as it is by – not apathy, but – the lack of incentive to perform any better. “Atta boy / girl” only goes so far. But I digress.

With all that said, one of the favorite parts of being a CIO at a small liberal arts college was that it was my job to think and act innovatively. By coming to realize precisely where shared governance began and ended, I was able to be effective, by owning all the agency my position permitted me to have.

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Image Credit: Loren Zemlicka https://www.flickr.com/photos/lorenzemlicka/3459346334/

That also carried with it the quite serious responsibility of balancing actions and decisions within the existing structure of shared governance, while still respecting and not breaking faith with the inclusiveness and community of shared governance; not sacrificing trust and amity solely for the urgent pull of delivering high profile projects in accelerated time (as considered by the academy).

Besides: urgency is dictated by the beholder.

In my life as an entrepreneur, my urgent need to be paid on time was not felt as strongly by the accounts payable clerk on whose desk my check had sat for two weeks, unsent. In my “role” as a job seeker, my urgent desire to be in a new job isn’t the same urgency shared by those considering my candidacy.

The time it takes, is the time it takes.

Find a way to be effective in whatever system of governance you find yourself. Or, work as hard as you can to change the system entirely.

Either way, your mastery over the perception of time will influence how effectively you perform on the job, and how satisfied you will be – personally and professionally.

Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub-Ub: 2015 Off to a Great Start

Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub-Ub: 2015 Off to a Great Start

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The Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub kicked off their 2015 series of monthly Hub-Ubs tonight. In addition to kicking off a new year of interesting topics and technology community building, the Hub celebrated its one year anniversary of Hub-Ub events.

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I also had the chance to shamelessly plug the upcoming Raspberry Pi Bake-Off, to be held at the Innovation Hub, on Saturday, March 14th (Pi Day, naturally). This is the event’s 3rd year.

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A very special “thank you” to the Innovation Hub staff (and of course, CEO Joel Gordon) for hosting this great series of events for the Central Arkansas tech community. Mark your calendars for 6 PM on the second Wednesday of each month.

The Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub is located at 201 East Broadway, North Little Rock, Arkansas 72114.

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CxOs – Put the Emphasis on the “C”, not the “x.”

CxOs – Put the Emphasis on the “C”, not the “x.”

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A long standing belief I have held is that any senior exec who holds a CxO title, should have (or be on their way to developing) the capabilities needed to helm the enterprises they serve.

Each and every one of them.

Else – why have them be a chief at all?

Organizations all have a varied stratigraphy as to how and why they are structured the ways that they are. Chances are, yours has a smallish leadership group of folks with a C in front of their names.

Chief Executive Officer. Chief Financial Officer. Chief Marketing Officer. Chief Information Officer. Chief Information Security Officer. Chief Digital Officer. Chief Operating Officer.

All of these “chiefs” are responsible for a major area of your enterprise’s governance structure. But only a small subset of these leaders ever advance beyond their limited spans of control, to helm their company as Chief Executive Officer. Lots of CMOs, COOs, and CFOs find their way to the CEO slot; vanishingly few from the ranks of CIO, CISO, or CDO wind up inhabiting the top corner office.

In part, this is because not every chief has a business line under their control, and therefore, doesn’t get the chance to demonstrate their mastery of the business they serve.

Which is unfortunate.

But also, a major opportunity to gain a significant competitive advantage over other enterprises in your market.

The smarter large companies you see not only have segmented areas of responsibility manned by some CxO – they also give them some accountable business unit as well.

This is business succession by doing.

And it is something we all should be doing.

If you find CxOs in your organization that don’t have the attributes or talents to run the whole shebang, you should do one of two things:

  1. Train them, or
  2. Fire them.

Don’t waste your time worrying about whether someone should be a COO or a CIO or a CMO or a CDO.

Worry about whether that person could potentially be a CEO, first. The rest will take care of itself.

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Little Rock Raspberry Pi Bake-Off

Hitting the ground running, planning this year’s Little Rock Raspberry Pi Bake-Off!

This year, in addition to our tradition showcase and competition, we’re adding workshops and labs!

Be sure to save the date… Saturday, March the 14th (Pi Day)!

And of course: watch this space for details!