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How the right question found $12,000 in 10 minutes

The $12,000 10-minute ROI plan

I walked into the building, announced myself to the receptionist.  She disappeared into the back. I was there to meet my customer who owns a great business: About 20 employees, really great at what they do.  Fun, creative people who are also really serious about being the best at what they do and always trying to find better ways of doing it.  My kind of people. A few minutes later a very intense-looking business owner came out. It looked like he wasn't having the best day.

"James, I'm so sorry- we canceled the meeting but there was a communication mixup.  No one ever called to tell you."

"Well, we can reschedule." I had paid a visit in person because I hadn't seen him in a couple of months. "Or I can quickly work through the very brief version of our agenda."

He responded, "I feel badly about the reschedule.  I can give you 15 minutes, but it has to be 15 minutes or less."

"Let's make it 10," I replied.

The 10 minute meeting worth $12,000

We walked into one of the conference rooms. I pulled out my iPhone and started a 10 minute timer.  He had already wiped off one of the glass white boards for me.

I proceeded to draw as I talked, walking him through the thread.  I knew that he and his partner were looking ahead to the future, and that, like all business owners, they were prepared to change to adapt and thrive in a changing marketplace.  This could mean several things, months or even years from now: Possibly moving.  Growing or shrinking depending on which roles become better suited for outsourcing. Technology changes everything.  I was there to give him a little surprise:

"You're paying X for Internet right now, and Y for your phones.  The technology's changed dramatically.  We can get up to 10X more bandwidth at 30% of what we're currently paying."

There was, of course, a "gotcha".  I addressed it up front: A 1% chance of an Internet outage, but we can purchase a failover system for $60/month, and the failover system will work 24/7/365.

The bottom line is a net expense reduction of $1,000 per month, or $12,000 per year.

My customer looked pretty happy.  The meeting ended on a positive and actionable note.

The trouble with techs

The most important question here is: Why was he paying $12,000 per year more than he needed to?  Over five years they spent $60,000 that otherwise could have been in his bank account.

The reason is very simple: Almost all small business owners have access to techs, but they either have never met or don't have easy access to a tech resource who can ask the right questions at the right level.  I knew a lot of other kids in high school and college that were really smart.  Chess team smart.  They could solve math problems in a snap. But ask them to figure out what problem to solve, and that's where things break down. Most of them couldn't relate to either the subject matter of a situation where it wasn't clear what variables to even start with.  What is it we want to do? Who do we want to do it for?  How do we want them to feel?  These questions aren't A + B = C formulaic.

At some point someone was sitting in front of my customer and asking "what problem do you want me to solve?".  The customer probably said "We need fast (A) and reliable Internet (B)."  And the tech went off looking (C).  Square peg, square hole.  The tech comes back with the one option that has the availability the customer wants with the speed the customer needs, and it costs him.  Dearly.

Screw A + B = C.  Tell me what's important to you.  Let me write the equation that asks the right questions.  Then we can solve it together.

The Smartest Customers

When I met my customer the first time, he said "I'm not looking for someone to answer my questions.  I'm looking for someone who can help me figure out what the right questions are. On top of that I want smart, responsive and professional."

This compares to the questions I get every week. One just came into my inbox this week: "We're looking for someone who can take us from Exchange to Office 365, and can help us figure it out." I never judge a customer, but when I learned that they were half Mac-based, I would bet (and I would win) that they've never had someone who took the time to understand their business at a business level, then relate what's possible with technology to it.  

Office 365 costs about 3X as much as Google Apps, has a very poor track record for availability (meaning it goes down a lot) and lacks 90% of the features I want a business owner to have access to that can give them back hundreds of hours per year.  That said, I know some Windows-based law firms where it makes sense because of their specific workflow. Or because they're all using Microsoft-build phones and tablets.

If there's a great reason to move to Office 365, then moving to Office 365 it is. But was Office 365 (C) in the A + B equation?  Over 15 years, I've seen thousands of proposals from IT vendors (often referred to as MSPs) and what they pitch is exactly that, the A + B = C formula.  Which, done enough times, you're putting far more than $12,000 into someone else's pocket for no good reason.

If you really want to win big, tell me what you want to accomplish. More hours back to your employees so they can produce more?  More time back to you for work/life balance?  Freedom to travel and keep in touch with the office? Now those are fun problems to solve.

The Concierge Effect

Have a question?  Do you wonder if there's an alternative way of doing something that could be better for you? I serve a select group of very special customers who can call me anytime, anywhere, as part of my Personal Tech Concierge program.

Sometimes I receive a call like the one that triggered the 10-minute meeting. Other times it's a business owner and their spouse, standing inside an Apple Store asking if what they're being told by the salesperson will really work in their home.  My job, even if the call is 5 minutes, is to save my customer the dozens or hundreds of hours - and sometimes thousands of dollars) that will be wasted if something goes awry or if there are secondary unknown consequences.

I have taken their calls walking through the busy streets of Osaka, and while sitting on the beach in Southern California.  I've taken their calls while at a birthday party and in the middle of the night.  I take those calls when they happen because that's when it's important.  It's more than the 80/20 rule, it's the 99/1 rule.  That five minute call can make a 99% difference in my customer's life or business.  I take their calls because I love it. They're my favorite customers, passionate about their lives and businesses, and they know I'm passionate about serving them.

Are you looking for this kind of service for yourself, or your family, or your business?  If you are, connect with me and let me know how I can help you. I'm @jamescoleman on twitter, and you can reach out to me using the form at the bottom of the page here.

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P.S.S. I still have a few seats left for the first Switcher University class - which is 100% free and forever free. I'll be showing how to safely free up space on an iPhone, including where to look and what tools to use that almost no one knows about (and Apple can't talk about). If you register now you can take it anytime- even months or years from now.  Just register quick while it's still free.