Monthly Archives: November 2013

Work/Life Balance… or Integration?

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Work/Life Balance — or integration?

To me this comes naturally. I work at home. I am in a sense always working. I blend work and play, as well as blending play and work. I bring work with me on vacation, and bring play to my daily work routine. How is this possible? I work from home and take regular breaks where I drive to other cities to relax.

Balancing work and life
Many people have trouble balancing work and life. They go to offices. They work when they are at work. Then they come home to be with their family. Some work too much, others too little. Some are lazy while they are working and accomplish very little in their eight required hours. Others work fast and get tons of work done. Those who overwork are the ones that have trouble balancing work and life, because they are at the office too many hours a day. Those who leave immediately at 5pm generally have trouble balancing their retirement funds — because there is very little to balance.

Integration techniques
For me, it is easy. I work, take breaks, go back to work, take a walk, work, sleep, work, etc. I enjoy living like this and I am passionate about my work as well as my play. Play rejuvinates you for work, and work makes you ready to play. Being stuck at an office is good for many. For those who do not have a good work environment at home, or who lack the discipline to work hard at home, an office is the only way to get anything done. But, for those who can function at home, we have greater flexibility.

Don’t work regular hours
I’m not saying that working regular hours is bad for business, but it is bad for work / life integration. If you work, then take a break, then go back to work, then take your walk, go out to dinner, and come back and work until 2am, you have achieved integration. Ooops, I forgot to include meditation and spiritual rituals. Spirituality creates balance in our lives. It happens very naturally if you meditate an hour or two per day. But, how can you do all of this blending if you work in a stifling office environment. Work from 9-12, take exactly 60 minutes for lunch, then work from 1-5. Ouch. Can you take a late lunch or even go to a dentist appointment without getting fired? Can you create the type of flexibility that I enjoy in an office?

Offices need to rethink how they operate
If I could operate any type of office environment, I would put an office in the Himalayas and you would walk on dirt paths from your hut to your office suite. Very soothing, and with great hiking and views. If in an urban atmosphere, you would be able to get acupuncture once a week, perhaps a massage, food delivery with many choices, and have many places to take a relaxing walk. Forget about weight rooms. How about a glass dome in a forest that had a fitness room in it with fresh air piped in. Work shouldn’t be a torture. It should be fun and mixed with fun activities in fun settings to keep you charged up to do your miracles! If I didn’t have fun regularly, I don’t think I could perform at the level that I do. I would be too depressed! How you structure your office environment is up to you, but flexibility and thinking out side of the box is key.

Don’t think for a minute that you can be lackidasical about missing deadlines with this flexibility — “au contraire mon frere!” Just because you are having fun and living an integrated life doesn’t mean that you slack off!

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Three ways for startups to save on office space

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If you are creating a small start-up, you may want to find ways to save money on office space. Still, it is always better to have an office than to work out of your home. Companies with offices are seen as more reliable…and in our experience, companies with an office do a better job somehow. Interesting. Here are three ways to get less expensive or free office space:

1) Find a big company that has extra office space and is willing to make a deal with you: this could be a company that trades you office space for work (IT, design, phone work, or admin work of some kind). If you have a few connections, try asking around. One young woman we know was pleasantly surprised that several business owners she knew were enthusiastic about the idea. She made a deal: she did marketing and social media work for the company two days a week to ‘pay’ for the office space, a 12′ x 12′ area that was used as storage for old file cabinets and separated from the larger office with a fold-out partition. Within 8 months, she had enough clients to move her office–but chose to stay at the same location for a monthly fee…and a better space. Her company eventually provided the company she rented from with all kinds of services, and they had an excellent working relationship that referred her several other big clients. She eventually moved her office across the hall and now has several employees.

2) Rent an office by the hour or the day: depending on what type of business you have and whether or not you have employees, you may not need an office 24 hours a day. If you need one only a few times a month to meet with sub-contractors and clients, you can easily find such offices. Companies like in the Washington, D.C. area will rent you space in different parts of the city or the region depending on where you need to have client meetings. Every city has office rental companies that will rent you space by the hour, take phone messages for you, and give you a phone number and an address for your mail. You can gradually build your business and get a permanent office when your company has a solid income.

3) Check out your local government offices: city government is downsizing, and depending on where the office is, you may be able to get space there. Again, you can offer to trade your skills to get the space you need. Keep talking to them, find the decision maker, and go meet with him or her and convince them that you are someone they want around. Find out what they really need (someone to answer the phones?) Then, if you like the space, make them an offer that will help them fulfill that need. One young marketing entrepreneur ended up supervising and training a group of callers one day a week, and later offered free weekend classes in telemarketing in exchange for the space. He was adept at making all sorts of calls, and he was good at explaining the whole calling process to others. He discovered that training people to answer the phone and training telemarketers was actually a great niche for him in his area, and these trainings became popular and started a whole new business for him. He is in part responsible for developing the call-center industry in his area of South Carolina.

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How many of your workers speak clear English?

Categories: India | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Are you outsourcing to the UK, Australia, America, Canada, and other English speaking countries? How many staff members does your company have who speak good English? The boss? I thought so. Anyone else? No? You are in trouble. What do you do when you have an inquiry and the boss is not around.

Company 1’s performance (F)

Austalian client: Ring ring….

Employee: Hullo (in a dull and muffled tone)

Australian: Good day mate… How are things going?

Employee: Hmmm? Going? No, I am at work. Manager not here. Call back later.

Australian: Gee, that was very unprofessional and unhelpful how this employee dealt with me. Why am I outsourcing to this company? Probably because the others ones are just as bad!

But, what if your outsourcing company was the one company that had a few workers who could answer the phone and do translations when your clients want to talk to a staff member, or have a question answered? You might gain market share. Imagine the following conversation.

Company 2’s performance (A)

Australian client: ring ring.

Employee: Krishna’s outsourcing service, this is Surya here, may I help you?

Australian: Good day mate… How are things going?

Employee: Things are great mate. How are things down under?

Australian: Wow, you know our slang… Nobody else in India knows this. I’m impressed. I had a question about my SQL server mate. Were you able to assess the server speed?

Employee: Could you tell me which person was responsible for that project?
Australian: Yes, I believe it was Rikesh

Employee: One moment… he is sitting to the right of me… I’ll ask….

(30 seconds later)

Employee: He said that the speed today averaged 10 megabites per nanosecond.

Australian: Wow, that was the quickest answer I have ever gotten. Normally I have to send ten emails, and make five phone calls, be put on hold, disconnected, repeat the process, and then three weeks later after pulling teeth get an answer. With you, all I had to do is make one phone call, ask and in 45 seconds get an answer. Amazing! I’m hiring YOUR company for all of my SQL needs for the rest of my life!

See the difference?

Is your company more like outsourcing company 1 or company 2 — be honest — I can tell if you are stretching the truth!

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If you do outsourcing, your programmers need English

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5 Tips for Rewriting Your Outsourcing Contract

Categories: Management | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

If the workers assigned to your project are not at the level you originally requested both verbally and in writing, or if your Service Level Agreement is not being fulfilled as agreed upon in terms of time and quality, it may be time to renegotiate your contract. Such factors should have been part of an initial verbal agreement and contract, but since only hindsight is perfect — renegotiate your contract now!

1) Are you getting the level of experience you asked for? If you discover, for example, a few weeks or months into an IT project, that you originally asked for a senior programmer (5+ years) and are being billed for such–but that the programmer you have been working with has only 3 years of experience and is extremely slow and inflexible, you want to obtain some kind of credit and better accountability going forward. Write it into the contract in more definitive language, and include what the penalty will be for such an oversight. You as a consumer have the right to get what you originally contracted for and were promised. Is a required training period being adhered to (in a call center campaign, for example)? Ask that a specific level of skill and work experience be documented as part of the contract. Since this request was not adhered to from the very beginning–although it was agreed upon–see if the company is willing to give you a credit or substantial discount, particularly if there have been problems that might not have occurred had you been assigned a more experienced programmer or worker. And–write that penalty or discount into the terms of the new contract.

2) Are you getting your money’s worth per hour? If the company is giving you less effort per hour than you know to be indicative of an hour’s work, find a way to put that in writing: build in an incentive for certain quality delivered on a certain schedule, and for work done in much fewer hours than you think is necessary–with good results, of course. Money (a bonus) is the best incentive, but a few companies have succeeded in creating effective incentives such as trips, restaurant dinners, or shopping sprees (see for ideas on how to do this in the U.S.; in a foreign country, ask managers what employees would like). By the way, incentives are better than penalties, but they work hand in hand as we discuss in “Motivating workers with bonuses or shortages

3) Forgot to include checkpoints and reviews? Add them this time: include periodic virtual (Skype or phone) meetings to let everyone know what is going well and what needs to improve. If you include in your contract this simple review process– and how often such checkpoints or reviews will occur– your needs and intentions will be clearer. Be sure to include wording that lists exactly what you will be looking for–for example, number of hours spent, specific tasks accomplished, concrete suggestions made by the project manager and workers, improvements made since the last checkpoint, and what procedures are yet to be perfected. Put it in writing. Then, the outsourcing company and its employees will know your expectations and respect your standards.

4) Are there liability issues not covered by a contract that is essentially unfavorable to you? For example, if code is broken (IT), or the query system does not work (IT), or certain calls made by a call center on your behalf cause problems and actually cause you to lose business, be sure the rewritten contract states all terms in your favor as well as the outsourcing company’s. The standard contract may limit the company’s liability. Make sure the final contract asks the company to take a good look at what its negligence might cost if your business suffers. If the company is not willing to take responsibility for certain errors…you pretty much know what will happen if the contract-makers do not change their attitude.

5) Last but not least…your contract should include what party will mediate the contract if things do not improve. Again, this should have been part of the original contract. With a professional mediation organization such as with mediators in every country, you may do better than with an international law firm such as with offices in both the U.S. and the outsourcer’s country. Remember: You do not want to get to the point of litigation…but you do need to consider how the contract will be mediated or brought to suit if needed. Otherwise, your company looks foolish and lacks the power needed to control the level of work you are getting from the company in the first place. If they realize you are savvy about litigation with a company in their country and have laid out all the possibilities, many issues will be solved in a professional manner from the very beginning. By the way: one tip so obvious you are likely to overlook it is to make sure the contract is bilingual. That way, no one can claim that certain points were not clear. Get someone to check the foreign language contract against yours (English) and make sure the agreements are the same in both languages. How did we think of this? We know of a case where the contract was substantially different in Chinese than in English. The company’s written contract, created and signed by them, was actually in several ways a different contract than the English version a U.S. company signed.

Good luck making your contract perfect the second time around. If at first you don’t succeed– do it again–or prepare to find another company to outsource to.

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International contracts to watch out for

Precontracts for outsourcing: before the real contract!

How do you expand your thinking in business?

Categories: Of Interest, Semi-Popular | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Thinking of what you don’t think of

In business, there are often dozens of ways to solve a problem. Humans seem to have minds that get stuck in a rut. They think the same thoughts over and over again. The trick to being “smart” is to be able to think of many solutions to problems. I recently hired a writer who is really smart. If I ask him to make a situation “funny”, he will think for about 90 seconds, and then he always thinks of something — and I generally blurt out laughing when I hear it. To succeed in business, you need to become very resourceful and learn to think of more possible solutions to problems.

So, how do you expand your thinking?
When I meet people who are “smart”, they generally read a lot. Some of them can even quote great literature, or famous statements made more recently by politicians. Reading books is good. Recently, I have been learning a lot by reading blog posts that I saw on Twitter. The limitation was that I always went to the SAME resources to find interesting articles when what I should have done was to look everywhere! The mental limitation to not thinking of everything is very similar in nature to the mental habit of not looking everywhere. It is a rut.

The difference between a successful person and…
I read on Twitter that the difference between a successful person and a very successful person is that the very successful person says “no” more. This is a very misleading statement if you don’t interpret it correctly. My interpretation is that a very successful person will consider more options before making a decision. If you are hiring people and interview ten, then you will pick the best one. But, what if that one is mediocre, or not perfectly attuned to what you need to have done? A very successful person might have an HR staff that interviews 1000 people, and then picks the best ten, and let’s you try them out one by one to find the best one. This is a perfect example of saying “no” a higher percentage of the time! Big companies think of this, but small business owners will typically say, “Gee, I didn’t think of that” or “Hmmm, I don’t have the resources to do that”.

Having an office in the Himalayas
I was recently looking for office space, and trying to apply my idea of thinking of everything. I was thinking about various parts of Los Angeles. Then, I thought about getting a temporary office in an entirely different metro. I could travel one week per month to that remote location. I like to travel in any case. Travel revives my soul. But, what about getting my office in India in the mountains? That would be super cheap. Labor is cheap there too. I don’t need to be in America 12 months a year. I can disappear for a few months at a time without too many consequences. The Jury Duty folks might not appreciate a long absense, but I can just tell them that I was at my office in the Himalayas! Most people would not think of having their office in Dehradun. But, why not include that as an option on the list. If you are thinking of everything, that is a fun option to think of — and might even be the best one if you like to meditate!

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Being Aware in Business & BPO Outsourcing

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Being Aware in Business & BPO (Business Process Outsourcing)

I wrote a previous blog article about being aware in business. You really need to be a Zen Monk to be good at business. You need to have a still and watchful mind that notices everything. You need to notice behavioral traits in others. If you can spot bad behavior or signs of risky character traits in others EARLY, then you can save yourself a lot of grief in business. But, what I have been thinking about recently is more tactical.

Multiple approaches to getting tasks accomplished
Let’s say that you have a particular set of tasks or BPO business processes to do. You might have one way of doing those tasks. Perhaps there might be other ways of doing those tasks that you thought of. But, what if you meditate on this business process and come up with ten ways to approach the tasks at hand? The issue is that in business, your workload varies over time, and your labor resources vary too. It is expensive in terms of time to interview lots of people just to fill one position, and then potentially have that person quit or get fired. One interesting way to solve this situation is to have a “fluid system” for business process outsourcing (BPO Outsourcing).

What if you have what I could term as a BPO overflow tank?
Your car has an overflow container for radiator fluids, why doesn’t your business? Let’s say that you handle most of your work in house, but you always have a certain percentage of particular tasks outsourced to a BPO company. Let’s say that according to your business model, 20-70% of your outgoing call work is outsourced, and the rest is done in house. That buys you tremendous flexibility. The outsourced call center work might cost you more in labor, but you don’t need to interview people, etc. That buys you time. You can delay your interviews until you have more time in your management schedule. You can be more selective about who you hire. You can fire someone more easily who is not capable or who is slacking off. Having a reliable, tried and tested overflow system for handling your business processes is a great idea. Keeping that system always running ensures that it will run more reliably as well.

There are other solutions too.
If you want to outsource call center work, there are auto-call systems that you can use online that can send messages to clients. You can have a mass email system to communicate with mass amounts of clients. You can even auto-text them. You could devise a system where you would reduce the quantity of outgoing calls under certain business circumstances so you could gracefully adjust to changing workloads. Managing labor resources is fascinating and more complicated than you think! So, try to increase your awareness and think of more innovative ways you can solve problems. Write these solutions down and compare them. Don’t be afraid to use more than one system simultaneously!

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Are you aware in business?

Paying attention to the long range effects of business decisions

Long Range Effects of Business Decisions – a Mistake That Got Turned Around

Categories: Management, Semi-Popular | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A mistake that got turned around
I made a business decision a few months ago which was to reduce my involvement in certain processes of my business. I removed the weakest 20% of listings from one of my directories. We did not lose traffic as a result, but we lost growth. I didn’t know what the long range effect of my decision would be other than I would have less responsibilities. Luckily for me, I track my decisions and the results thereof. I quickly learn when I have made a bad decision and turn it around. But, sometimes it is not so easy.

Gaining and losing personnel
If you hire a new person, there are positive and negative attributes that they bring on board. Someone with a bad attitude can really interrupt the flow of your company. On the other hand, someone who is occasionally difficult might bring a lot to the table that your business might suffer from if lost. I just read an article on Harvard Business Review where a manager lost one of their key team members. A few months after the fact the manager stated how they didn’t realize how critical that member was to the team. It is very important to be able to assess in business. You need to know how important each of your team members is — because one day you might have to live without them, or you might have to decide whether to fire them or not.

Techniques for elastic expansion
Expansion is another popular topic for business owners. Most companies want to grow, but many don’t know how, or how fast. Trying to grow too fast can cause a lot of confusion, especially if you have to change your business model. But, what about changing the way you do business in a way that facilitates flexibility in the size of your company? What if you have seven people at your company, and you create a new team structure that allows you to be able to add or subtract team members without dramatically altering your personal workload. If you change your business model to incorporate more middle level managers, or reliable outsourced help, then they can handle whatever growth there is for you, and you can work as much or little as you like. On the other hand, those who try to grow too fast without a business structure that can accommodate it can fall on their face and suffer huge losses in the long run!

The long range effects of business decisions are fascinating to think about and read about. Make it a habit to think about the karmic effects of your actions. Think before you jump!

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How to Make Sure Outsourcing Companies Follow Directions

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How to Make Sure Outsourcing Companies Following Directions

Following directions is a problem in any company. But, if you work with offshore labor, or outsourcing companies, they always blame the customer if they didn’t follow directions. Remember — the customer is always wrong. Most companies just don’t value the work you are giving them in my experience which is where the problem starts.

But, the resolution to the problem is easy. Here are a few steps to ensure that your offshore company follows instructions well.

(1) Give them a test run before you give them any real work.
If a company is too sloppy to give a chance on something that might be time sensitive or critical, test a few companies out on your dime on a test project. I recommend TWO test projects. Companies tend to be “trying” more on the initial test project, and will slack off a lot more on the second one.

(2) Let the offshore company believe that the 2nd test project is real
Outsourcing companies will let you down a lot of the time if you are a small client. They just don’t care much about the little fish which doesn’t make good business sense. Little fishes are easier to catch, easier to keep, and lots of little fish add up to a big fish. Companies will be more careful in your assignment if they feel it is a test. If the second test project is a real project, then they go back to their regular habits of taking forever and making lots of mistakes in many cases. A second test is like a second interview. People are being “themselves” the second time around — and you need to know what the real “themselves” is before giving them anything critical!

(3) You need to keep clear instructions in writing, and then go over the instructions verbally after the fact. If you flood someone with emails, you will create a mess. So, only send needed emails and keep the information in them well organized. Anything that was assigned orally can be disregarded and YOU will be blamed. People can forget what you told them, or just blatantly disregard what you said. Or, if someone gets upset with you, then they might decide to not follow instructions.

(4) Have your offshore company check in with you periodically
It is impotant to have work get done in steps. You need to inspect each step. The first step should be the smallest. That way if your offshore company is on the wrong track, you can get them straightened out. But don’t assume that because you corrected the company, that they will follow directions from then on. Assume that they will continue making mistakes as they usually do. In real life they might make some of the same types of errors they made before and perhaps a few new ones too!

(5) Deadlines should be in writing
Give lots of smaller deadlines in writing that are reasonable. Use these to double check all of the work. The secret to having people follow directions is to screen out those that are beyond help, and to keep coaching the good ones! Deadlines assist in the checking process. They also provide a definitive line where you can fire someone. You could even have multiple deadlines for the same stage in the process. The first deadline gets you a bonus, the second keeps you going, and the third gets you fired for sure — no excuses! You can engineer so many business strategies with creative deadlines. Don’t overlook this opportunity.

Keep an eye on everyone, communicate all pertinent points in writing every time, and good luck!

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Is offshore outsourcing right for you?

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We like to work remotely = a warning sign in programming!

Categories: Software Development | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

“We like to work remotely”
In this virtual age, people work remotely all the time. That is possible with the new technology, and a popular choice. I work from home as does everyone I work with. But, not everyone works well from home.

I like to work “one on one” with programmers. That means I need to visit their office to work with them. The problem I encounter is that they either don’t like having me around — ever, or that they don’t have an office. It gets more confusing than that though.

American companies in California and other states are very tricky these days. Watch out, because you might get taken for a ride. When I ask if the company has an office, they often say that they do. Next, I ask if the people they hire actually work in the office. You never know, they might have half their staff in the Philippines. I get a variety of answers. I typically tell them that I am going to visit their office so I can get a sense of who they are and how they work, etc. It is common for these companies to tell me that they do not allow visits from clients. They are probably hiding the fact that their workers are not actually working in their office.

The next truth or untruth I typically uncover is that their workers not only work remotely, but are not in fact employees. This is actually a serious problem. If a company has an employee, they can tell the employee what to do, and the employee has to do it. If the virtual programmers are independent contractors, they can accept any job they like, and are often very picky about who they will even talk to. Your point of contact will assure you that they are in control, but more times than not, the programmer is in control, and is not interested in acquiring new clients.

Then, when I find companies whose employees actually do work all under the same roof, the common answer is that they don’t want to work with me. There always seems to be a reason why I am prevented from getting my work done by someone reliable.

I had one scenario with a bunch of programmers. They told me that there were seven of them and that they were all authors. I was assigned to their lead programmer. After a while there were “delays” in my work getting done. The delays were really that the programmer had taken on a new client and didn’t want to work with me because he didn’t like me and didn’t have time either. I mentioned that I would be happy to work with their other programmers. Then, I learned that was against company policy as the lead programmer had to know what was going on before they could write even a single line of code. I was sabotaged with an artificial road block. The truth was that there was only one programmer and that he was not an author. I was hoodwinked.

Review of scenarios
(1) A programming company actually has an office with actual employees working in the actual office. They might refuse to work with a small company or bid four times the number of hours that a project actually needs. We have seen this many times. They can get away with a lot because they seem reputable.
(2) A programming company PRETENDS to have an office. When you tell them you are going to visit them, then the “employees” work remotely and are not in the office. When you finally make it to their office, it is a conference room in a shared office — and their name is not even on the roster for the shared office space.
(3) A programming company says that they work REMOTELY, but that they have been working with each other for 10 years. You have no way to verify how long they have been in business or how long they have been working with a particular programmer. The arrangement is likely to only have lasted a few months to two years at most making it very unstable for a long term relationship.
(4) A programming company has an office, but refuses to let you work directly with programmers there. Are they hiding something?
(5) A programming company with or without an office hires overseas workers who might not live up to any type of American standards.

How can you be safe hiring programmers you might ask? Honestly, California is the worst place in the world to look for a programmer. Try the Mid-West, Northeast, or find a company in India or Belarus that you have screened very thoroughly. There are some very good companies overseas, but they are mixed in with some con artists. America has almost the same percentage of con artists, but with prices that are four times as high. Do you want to get conned in dollars or rupees? I assure you that getting conned in dollars is much more costly! Be cautious and good luck!

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