Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Pricing and clients and good will for my clients

As I add clients, get more business, negotiate contracts, invoice for various jobs and so on, I have to do a lot of head scratching.

One of the things I had planned for in my 'planning session' in December was to standardise my contracts and re-negotiate fees. We are totally undercharging and need to revise our fees.

In fact, one of my new clients told me I was under the market rate which made me 'competitive.' Actually, it made me a little 'mad' but I had to keep that part to myself. I thought we are pretty much it, that no one else out there even compares! In fact, I know that we do not really have any serious competition. Apparently one company we know of goes around doing maintenance on PCs with soap and water. Don't ask.

In another conversation with a good mate of mine who was once upon a time on the board for multi-million dollar companies but is now heeding the call of development, I realised I need to
really figure out my pricing and mark up and all that wonderful stuff to do with numbers. Numbers. It's like dealing with doctors.

So while I am trying to do a good cost pricing for my services, I also got some crappy feedback from some clients. Apparently, our service is good but we're slow. Usually, I do not quite believe the client because they're A) illiterate in IT B) are completely oblivious to the obstacles they themselves create when you're trying to do a job like you can't expect us to do maintenance or check without giving us access to the freaking PC or server C) you can't do a job in 2 seconds. I have also experienced extremely annoying clients who simply do not appreciate service. I knew this anyway, had seen Wesley deal with difficult clients. It was always at the back of my head. But when I heard this new feedback, I had to sit up and take stock beyond the operating procedures in place.

It turns out it's a combination of things - clients are still difficult and we also have some snail-speed issues. I'm finding ways to make both sides happy - i.e. client and my techies. I have to find a turn out time for Call Outs and Repairs and try to stick to that.

So while I sort out that out, I guess I am getting a better idea of how pricing works for services. I'm going to stick to my current rates for Call Outs and Repairs for the time being but try to price upwards for maintenance contracts.

As expected January is becoming incredibly busy and I am thriving in the madness of it. The other night, I was up until 2 am, crunching invoices and proposals. It was fantastic. I feel so alive when I have to be coordinating and juggling 10 jobs at a day. The team is really coming together. Our trainee did his first call out and actually made money for the company. It is a good feeling.

What am I learning these days? I guess service is very challenging. I am fiercely protective of the kind of work my guys do. I really understand how tricky it can be to provide a service to a client and ensure they are satisfied. Some of our clients are easy going and clearly understand that my guys actually have to use their brains and find solutions in trouble shooting call outs for example. Others are oh so snooty and think they know it. 'Dude, if you know how to sort out the problem, why'd you call us? Did your wife not make you a paratha this morning? Don't take it out on us.' I also have to deal with my techies' frustrations. Sometimes they really complain about a client and sometimes they do not even mention it. It can get pretty random. My goal is to also be on site once in a while, flirt with the customers, tell them a few jokes and so on. It should ease things out.

I am getting acutely aware of my job and responsibility as a manager. I have to m-a-n-a-g-e all this. And guess what? I am really enjoying this.

Things are looking up, dude. Our head is finally above the water and we can see the shore.


Have a great computing day! Hope your computers compute and your printers print.
The great people at NLTC.

(Not really - we hope your PCs crash, deadly viruses freeze your LAN, your printers break down, so we may come and repair, re-install, re-format, trouble shoot and save the day.)

Thursday, 14 January 2010

We strategise and plan

I thought December was going to be a slow month but it turned out to be a busy one. We added a few clients, sent a team up to Gbarnga to do some maintenance work, installed some equipment, made computers compute, commanded printers to print, and basically ruled.

During the last week of December between the long Christmas and New Year's weekends, I took a couple of days out with my team to strategise, to plan - in other words, to workshop.

My initial plan was to actually plan for the first few months of 2010 as I was busy as hell in November and December with building a pipeline of new clients and business. I knew we were going to get busy. I also wanted to brainstorm ideas on continuing to grow the business. Lastly, I wanted to give and get feedback from the team.

As the whole workshop thing rolled out over the next couple of days, it became an interesting and very dynamic exercise. For it to really work, I had to take a few steps back and take a look at the big picture. 'Who are we?' 'What is it that we are selling to our clients?' 'How do we do it?' You know, all the workshop 'blah blah blah' that makes you usually want to kill yourself (those tedious staff meetings at the UN). But this was different. I was leading the process, it was a smaller team and it actually meant something! Not some development intangibles that we are supposed to achieve by building a latrine or buying a $ 40,000 land cruiser.

We had to break down what it was we actually did, what value we brought to the clients, and where we needed to increase our volume. For instance, we broke down our key areas into maintenance, repairs and call outs and projects. We are doing okay in the first two areas but need to get some juicy project to make a juicy profit which we want to re-invest in the business. Alternatively, if we can get the volume up on the first two areas, we can also do pretty well for ourselves. Eventually, I do want to get into supply of hardware too. 'We supply, install and maintain it for you!'

It was a good exercise and I was pleased with the feedback from the guys. We even did a bit of peer review and apparently, I'm still quite the dragon lady which I need to work on. They are still a bit intimidated with me. I had to swallow my fire and smile back and say sure, I'll work on my temper, no problemo.

Apart from feeling a sense of achievement by having gone through that process with my team - it's hard work, eh? - I was so pleased with myself. It all came pretty naturally to me. I am damn organised. Even my guys said, you're so well planned! I am pleased that I can visualise, see the bigger picture and have a feel for the business. My guys are pleased that although I am not a techie, I can sell the business and bluff my way through.

The other fun bit of was throwing around vocabulary with the guys. I love teaching and seeing people absorb new words. We even have a 'word of the day' (it has to be an IT-related word) going on now which is probably more for my sake.

I can't WAIT to build the team, start creating proper departments, get into supply and build a world-class company. We'll be so freaking cool! And everyone will be jealous.

PS. Did you know there is a WAN, LAN and a PAN? Seriously, there is.
PSS. My guys are great techies. They're actually super tech nerds. The only disturbing thing is their taste in music - gospel! Akon! YiKes!!! No, no. For nerds and techies - it can only be hard rock. Maaaaybe alternative.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010


I bid farewell to 2009 and welcomed 2010 at Robertsport. It was my first time at Robertsport and I was blown away the pristine white beach, the serenity of the ocean and not to mention the safari-style lodge. It was unreal - I could not believe that I was a mere 2 hours away from the shabby, noisy and congested delights of Monrovia.

I think I could really get into the beach culture.


Most people who know me would think I'm so hilariously (annoyingly, actually) inconsistent. The reason I say it is because I used to go around saying that desi's don't really do the beach. We are already tan. We run away from the sun. Blah blah.

My friends managed to get me into a swim suit and even tried to teach me how to float. And I also went in the sea at Robertsport. I guess I am really changing (and really enjoying it)! Why did the lady protest so much?

So yes, I could really get into the beach culture. Lounge around in a sarong, read books, sip amarula, doze off. Not bad at all.

There was a part of me which was delighted and thrilled to be there in the midst of such beauty with such wonderful friends. And then then there was also a separate torrent of grief and loss within me, missing Wesley, regretting he was not with me, bidding goodbye to a terrible year, in fact, glad to be over with the relentless nuclear-strength nastiness of 2009 that which obliterated almost all of my life and forced me to start a new one.

So there I was, welcoming in 2010 - a wild sea of emotions within me - against the backdrop of a seemingly serene sea and the most glorious of full moons that was aglow with magical moonshine. What a bewitching atmosphere it was. Nostalgic, melancholy, achingly beautiful, warm and promising. This is how my moments have become nowadays, they are multi -coloured, multi-faceted, and deliciously and painfully complex and intense! My God, the intensity!

Perhaps this is how life is - complex, dangerous, wonderful, unpredictable, merciless, shockingly kind and so on. And, one has to take it in one's strides as it moves you along.

The metaphor. A definition. A re-telling, re-description of something, an experience, a vision. I remember writing to myself once that all poetry is re-writing of definitions. All good poems have at least one crowning glory - one image, one concept, one thing that has been re-cast into something else. Poets transform our experiences and feelings into something else, hopefully more sublime or more terrifying. And most often, we seek nature to find our inspiration.

So if I speak of life and its complexity, what better inspiration that the ocean itself? The ocean which is vast and ever changing?

I am sure though that if I had spent the New Year's in the bush, I would be likening my experience to a tree!

I can often hear Wesley's words and voice in my head. A lot of which he had to say and share with me makes sense now. He had really thought about life, happiness, love and the bonds we share with our fellow human beings. I think he was acutely aware of how random, unfair and wonderful life was and, how people put more stock into the unseen than ourselves and our own human capacity. I think of the sweet love which we shared and how natural we were together. I used to think Wesley was different from me but I realise that he was just an older version of me. I think a lot too, am very introverted (although I am consciously trying to be less so), have a few hang ups, and am very suspicious of sacred cows. I wonder whether I shall ever find someone who can challenge me in so many ways again and is yet so easy to be with. I really wonder whether I will ever love someone so madly and deeply again. The only consolation is that when I finally die and if we exist after death, I will see him.

I openly and sincerely welcome whatever 2010 has in store for me. I do not feel alone and I am not scared of the future. I am excited about life and its wonderful and terrible mysteries.

So let us say welcome to 2010!