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Who do you know?

We’re starting to ramp up our sales and marketing efforts. As part of this I recently wrote up a really basic overview of our ideal prospect for the Pod (our Smart Dolphins team). While this exercise might seem overly simplistic, I think it is helpful for clarity and for focusing our efforts. It is also helpful when asking others for referrals, which is what I’m just about to do here…

Who do you know who is a decision maker or someone of influence at a company that fits our ideal prospect:

Our ideal prospect is a business owner or decision maker with 20 to 50 employees and no internal, dedicated IT resources. Their business is service-based and the employees rely heavily on their computer technology to be productive and profitable. They have felt the pain of a shaky network and a weak IT service provider and can understand the bigger picture costs of their IT network. They are ready to do things right.

The greatest problem our ideal prospect faces is the cost, headache and lost opportunity of IT problems and risks. Their existing solution is inadequate and was pieced together over many years and by under-qualified service providers. There is a lack of control and a lack of confidence and trust in their current IT service provider. They are now having trouble growing their business and there is serious risk of business loss. It is time for a change.

We had some debate internally about this ideal prospect. While it can be very helpful for a prospective customer to be in a great deal of pain and agony so that they more easily see the value of what we bring, it can also be equally as good, and in some ways better, for a prospective customer to just “get it” without having to go through the pain. There are lots of people that know prevention is the best cure. Some of our best customers are companies that invited us in initially “just to see what else is out there” because they weren’t thrilled and enthusiastic about their previoius IT provider.

In my experience, business decision makers (in particular, in Victoria) are not receptive to forceful sales methods (i.e. cold calls, etc) and they tend to ignore indirect marketing (advertising). They can be reached most easily through referrals from our mutual contact network. At least 9 out of 10 of our customers came through a referral. That brings me back to you: is there someone that comes to mind when you read this description?

Of course, we appreciate any referrals. They don’t  have to be an “ideal” match, but hopefully this gives more flavour to the type of company we are and who we typically provide the most value to.

Can you make a connection to a company that might be a good fit? We can assure you that we would do all we could to make you look good (in the hopes you’d refer us again). Thanks for helping us to continue to grow!

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A new year, a new email folder

I’ve been in business and (not surprisingly) using email for over 10 years. Let me assure you, I have participated in libraries-worth of email in that time. I necessarily make good use of email folders and have found a useful way to organize things (perhaps a good topic for a future blog post). My idea to share with you today, is that the new year is a good time to “start fresh” with a fresh set of email folders.

So instead of forever continuing to just use the same mass of folders, I create a new root folder at the beginning of every year. Usually your folders are listed alphabetically, so to list the new folder at the top, I’ll prefix the name of the folder with “01 – {year}” and renumber the prefix of the older folders from years past. EmailFoldersI typically keep two or three years open within Outlook and archive anything older on to a CD/DVD. So this strategy has the added benefit of lightening the load on your email infrastructure.

I also find a mental benefit of starting fresh too. A sense of renewal. A clean slate.

Give it a try and let me know what you think.

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Love for my Kindle

Last month, I wrote about “Readability for Easier Reading” and mentioned that I often use Readability in conjunction with my Kindle. I thought my Love for my Kindle might be of interest to some tiny portion of the world and make for a good Blog topic. Let’s see.

First, let’s start with the basics: what is a Kindle? A Kindle is Amazon’s version (so just one of many) “E-Readers”, which are devices that are basically engineered specifically for reading electronic documents (usually books). They vary in size a little bit, but they are typically the size of a very thin paperback novel. Not surprisingly, the Internet has all sorts of information if you want to know more about the basics.

Why? You might wonder why not just use a computer and in particular a laptop for the task of reading electronic documents. After all, Amazon will gladly sell me my next book in electronic format, regardless of whether or not I own a Kindle. I can install Kindle software on my laptop and save myself the cost of this extra device. Why bother?

KindleI’ll jump to the meat of my reasoning by using an analogous question: do you have both a kitchen table and an office desk in your house? Why not simply use the kitchen table for the things you use your desk for (or vice versa)? Both essentially do the same thing: use a flat surface and four legs to hold stuff up off the ground. Why bother with both? The same logic applies to why I have a Kindle. Just because something can have multiple uses, doesn’t mean it should. A Kindle is meant for reading. Reading a book is a much different activity than responding to email or surfing the web.

More specifically, while a laptop is portable and convenient, it isn’t nearly as portable as my Kindle. I can more easily pack my Kindle on a plane or sit it on my bedside table. I can tuck my kindle in to a small space in my work bag. I can use the Kindle while simultaneously using my elliptical. To add to the convenience factor, I can fire up my Kindle in seconds while my laptop takes 5 to 10 times as long. These might seem trivial, but all these things are significant in my world.

Probably the biggest difference for me between my Kindle and a computer is the ease of reading. How many people out there still print electronic documents to avoid the eye strain of having to read them from their computer? The Kindle uses a technology that produces a reading experience for the eyes that is near identical as reading from paper. The Kindle does not have backlight like a computer has. This offers the added benefit of being able to read a Kindle in bright sunlight (but the disadvantage of not being able to read it without a light source).

Bonus Kindle Benefit for me: I have a self-admitted and self-diagnosed addiction to books. So, having the ability to carry around hundreds of books in one hand is right up my alley. I can also organize my library electronically. Of course, there are also the advantages of electronic media: easy and fast search, bookmarking, highlighting and sharing.

I love my Kindle, HOWEVER, I think the old school book as we’ve known until now still has a long useful life in our society. I kind of liken “real book”s to an expensive cup of coffee. We don’t need to buy expensive coffee, but Starbucks proves we still will. A business colleague just gave me a real book and I have to admit that it was a nice change to hold a real book again. And maybe I’m old fashion, but I love the look of a bookshelf full of books. Books are wonderful in any form.

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Technology Adoption Gaining Momentum?

Imagine what it must be like to be in the trade of providing businesses with absolutely magical tools and to have them go essentially unused. Open up Word and just scan the various menus – do you know what half of that stuff does? What about Excel? Have you ever opened PowerPoint? See what I’m saying?

I don’t at all intend to be condescending with that point. I understand. We’re human and change is hard. Learning new tricks is hard, especially when there are so many tricks to learn. Technology is overwhelming and it isn’t just limited to computers. I could also ask you to really examine your TV remote control and you’d have the same problem (You don’t know what half the buttons do). So we (the kind folks at Smart Dolphins) have always kept our expectations low for the average person’s usage of technology.

This is changing. I’m sensing that more and more people are really embracing technology instead of simply tolerating technology. It is becoming a business tool, instead of just a necessary evil. I have some tangible (yet, a little obscure) evidence of this trend that I’d like to share.

We launched our web-based customer portal a few months ago. The portal itself doesn’t have a ton of functionality to overwhelm the average person, but it does require some effort and a change in our clients’ behaviour. At this stage (we’ll be adding more “buttons” over time), the portal allows our customers to securely log in to the system and to work with two things (live within our system):

  1. Create, edit and review service orders
  2. Review invoices

The Customer Portal is a relatively slick system and could probably save most of our clients a lot of time by being able to interact with our internal system so directly and quickly. Because of my low expectations described above, I didn’t think our customer portal would get much usage. I know we have a few very technologically-keen clients (early adopters) that would use this tool, but I thought it would mostly go ignored. While in a perfect world, I’d report that ALL our customers are using it, I am excited to report that in this imperfect world we have over 25% of our clients using the system over the first few months. Yes, 25% is only half of half, but I sense this is the start of the “early majority” engaging and embracing in business technology. I think we’re starting to see technology adoption pick up speed. Exciting.

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Technology Complexity

Who said technology was going to make our lives easier? It most certainly makes our lives better, but I see more complexity now than five or ten years ago. This is likely the result of globalization and hyper competition which is fittingly fed by technology itself.

Ten years ago (maybe even five years ago) I worried about how the future might look for Smart Dolphins and our fit in the world. We had a new tech savvy generation entering the business world that would make our “specialized” technology knowledge and talents commonplace. We also see tremendous market pressures to improve technology and it seemed certain that the future would become technically much easier for businesses. I envisioned businesses simply buying a single box (or robot) that you just opened and it would do everything for you. Business life and technology specifically seemed destined to become simplified and easy.

WRONG!

Perhaps a simpler future is still to unfold, but I don’t see it as the short term market equilibrium. Technology is accelerating and so is the pace of change. This period of massive innovation has created some wonderful products and improved our everyday lives. However, technology is lowering business barriers to entry every day and this is feeding the pace at which technology is creating a gazillion of competing, innovative options. The whole cycle is accelerating. The average business decision maker is left stunned when facing these wall-of-choices. Honestly, I’m in the technology business and my eyes glaze over a little when I think about the technology choices we have at our disposal. Furthermore, these choices are NOT luxuries. These same hyper-competitive forces are requiring smart business-technology decisions.

A little basic program to model the current world:
10 Add Innovation
20 Decrease Competitive Barriers to Entry
30 Increase Competition
40 Add Competing Innovation
50 Increase Choices
60 Increase Complexity
70 Go to 10

As worrisome as that is for all businesses to deal with (including Smart Dolphins), it is also comforting to know that Smart Dolphins has a critical role to play in this dynamic. We have positioned ourselves as a company that partners with our clients to take on this complexity challenge. There is clearly huge value there. There is a TON more we can do here well into the future. We’ve always played an important role in the business community, but I can now see that we are affirming our role as a linchpin in the world. THAT is why I am excited to get up in the mornings (albeit often, WAY too early).

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New Dolphin Hunt (Career Opportunity)

Christmas. Birthdays. Blue moons. These things don’t come around all the time. Career opportunities at the best dang company to work for on Dupplin road (hint: Smart Dolphins), they also don’t come around all the time.

Don’t believe Smart Dolphins is a great place to work? Here is what Jesse Smith has to say about the experience:

Smart Dolphins is a rare place. Everybody here absolutely loves their jobs, the company, and the atmosphere.

I have to constantly remind myself not to take it for granted, because it’s a rare thing for someone to be able to wake up every day and go to a place that is more fun than work a good portion of the time. We work hard of course, but we’re invested because we all feel like we’re building something great and love where the company is going.

We have just started our hunt for our next Dolphin (hint: employee) and we need your help to spread the word.

We’re looking for a well-disguised geek. In other words, we need someone who has the super powers of a geek, but isn’t outwardly an obvious geek in the stereotypical sense. We want someone who LOVES TECHNOLOGY AND PEOPLE and loves helping them to behave well together. We want an entrepreneur. We want a work horse. We want someone who is going to make Smart Dolphins a better place to work for everyone else here. We want someone who knows what protocol ping uses (bonus points for working in golf joke). We want someone who our clients will beg to have back again.

The person will likely have a hybrid role initially, providing both remote and onsite reactive technical support as well as new technology implementation. They will have a very diverse interaction with a wide variety of our clients. There is more detail on this career opportunity on our careers page.

“How much?” The pay scale at Smart Dolphins is “moderate” (how is that for vague?). We don’t service the royal family nor Fortune 500 companies. Our salaries reflect the reasonable budgets of our small business clients. We’re not cheap and early retirement will require Dolphins to be financially prudent. That’s all we’re saying publicly.

Our recruitment process is a little different than many companies. We like to start by having an interested Dolphin-to-be actually coming down to our office after calling me (Dave Monahan) to establish a good time to have an informal meet and greet.

Hopefully that is a good balance of enough information to allow you to help and not too much information that you stopped reading three paragraphs ago ;). Thanks in advance for your help with our Dolphin-hunt! And I’m sure the person we choose will end up thanking you if they feel like Ty Hedden:

Ultimately, working for Smart Dolphins means being able to do all the geeky things I would be doing at home anyway. It means getting paid to be myself and do what I love every day.

P.S. With this expansion in our Dolphin resources, we’re looking again to expand our client base. Can you think of a company that could use us? How about a professional (say a lawyer or accountant) that has had technology problems recently? Connect us and do us all a favour!

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YouTube Tech Tip

Just a quick post today: a Tech Tip.

There is this new website called YouTube.com. Have you heard of it? I kid.

The real Tech Tip: Did you know that you can move to different parts of a YouTube video by pressing your number keys on the top of your keyboard. Each number will correspond to 10% increments. So, for example, if you press 5, you’ll jump to 50% of the way through the video. I have found that I need to actually click on the video progress bar to ensure it has the “focus” before it works.

Thanks to Dan Gunn at VIATeC for passing that cool little trick along.

Anyone else have any cool Tech Tips like this?

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Readability for Easier Reading

I’m not sure you noticed, but there is a fair bit of information out there. Are you consuming as much as you could be? How much time do you spend reading web-based content in an average day? Wouldn’t it be a noticeable enhancement to your life to improve your ability to absorb this content?

ReadabilityCheck out “Readability”. This is a SUPER easy tool to use that coverts most web content into a more readable format. It will remove unnecessary content and format the main text to your liking; you can adjust the style, font and margin. The end result is it reads very much like the page of a book.

I love reading and I could (fittingly) fill a book about this topic (and plan to do so in future posts here). I like to use Readability and then print the output to a PDF. I will create a batch of these PDF documents from various articles over a few days and send those to my Kindle (a future blog topic, for sure).

It might seem like this is a bit of overkill for reading a couple of articles. Again, I read a lot. However, even just converting a page using Readability can save you a net of one minute per article. Perhaps over a week you’ve saved half an hour and over a year, you can read a fair bit more or even take a few extra days off with the time you’ve saved.

How do you improve your ability to absorb the fire hose of information coming at you every day?

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Save the Data

Data loss incurred by Canadian organizations has grown by 400 per cent since 2012. (http://bit.ly/1rVlxLC)

I’m sure I don’t need to use these scare tactics to educate the business community about the importance of preserving irreplaceable data. We’ve all heard it. Many people have lost data or at least had some kind of scare. So why is this risk still prevalent? I would suggest the majority of new prospective clients we “inspect” do not have an adequate, functioning data backup system for their business. Most businesses will have something that was put in place once upon a time, but too often it stopped working properly months or even years ago.

This phenomenon reminds me a little of seeing youth (or I guess anyone for that matter) smoke. They’ve heard their entire life that smoking will kill them and yet, they still took up the habit. I think it is human nature to understate our own risks. We have laws that state we shouldn’t drive and text, most people agree these laws are a good idea, yet our collective behavior doesn’t change that much. “It won’t happen to me.”

Smart Dolphins is not going to change the human psyche, but we would like to make a difference with the business risk of weak or failing backup systems. There are zillions of perfectly arranged ones and zeros at stake (sorry for the obscure nerd-humour interlude)! For the same reasons we have laws that make car insurance mandatory, we feel “backup insurance” should be ubiquitous. Take some time today to ensure that your organization has a solid process (which typically means a non-human process) in place that alerts you when your data backup system is misbehaving because it will with enough time.

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I Don’t Have A Cellular Phone

It was heavy, square, and obscenely over priced.

I vividly recall my family’s first cellular phone, the Nokia 101. The year was 1993,

This Hour Has 22 Minutes had just premiered on CBC, and Prince was changing his name to a symbol. Texting was not in our vocabulary, and those few people with an email address could not imagine sending an email from their phone.

This thing was a phone; it was only a phone. There were no apps, or GPS. No games, or listening to your most recent mp3 purchases. Referring to such a device as a cellular phone was bang on. Nevertheless, this incredible device left an impression on me. I wanted one.

Nearly 20 years later and I don’t have a cell phone. However, I never leave home without my iPhone.

“But Ty, you just said you don’t have a cell phone, what gives?”

Let me explain. I take care of email, read my favourite technology blogs, watch tv, and even control our computers at home through my IPhone. However, the one thing I do least of all is make phone calls. In fact, I almost never use it as a phone, and I spend a lot, and I mean A LOT of time on that thing. When I do make calls it is VOIP which bypasses regular cellular voice networks anyway. My cell phone is anything but a phone.

The way we use these devices has shifted radically. Current generation cell phones have more in common with PC’s than their cell phone ancestors.  The productivity that can be gained here is huge. An office in your pocket is a powerful thing.

How do use your have a cellular phone?

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