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Small Business: More Zen

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This is part two of a two part series, Zen and the art of small business.

Read Part 1

Always have quality control over your own work or the work of your employees before going to the client. While you might trust your employees and want them to have a good time at work, always have a review session of the work before it goes to the client. Does it meet exactly the stipulations of the contract? Are you giving good value or saying the same thing that every other audit company says, have a patch policy in place, have policies, or do you go down into the dirt and say, your patch policy is thus, and here is the latest way that it is being implemented. Your policies are dated 2000 and should be updated with the current views of the company. How far into the contract did you go, and did you give more value than they were expecting?

Save money forgo the office, with the technology that is available today there is little to no need to have an office. If you need to have a company meeting, rent the nearest local restaurant back room and have a meeting over lunch. If the companies insist that you have an office, then get one of those little 1 person offices just so that you have access to an office space if you need it. We have a one person office that we use as a computer room, mail drop, sometimes conference room and answering service, everyone works from home.

Doing Pro-Bono work, not getting paid for doing good things for folks has its rewards, but it is not a business model that is viable. Everyone will want to talk to you if you do free work, but free work does not pay the bills. It might build your reputation, yet it still does not pay salaries. If you give your folks 8 hours a week to do something they want to do, then pro-bono work on their 8 hours is fine. While those that want you to do free stuff might have great connections, if it does not lead to paid work, don’t do pro-bono as a business model. This is where the company needs to weigh if there is an opportunity, a realistic viable opportunity to do other work that will be compensated. Volunteering yourself is one thing, being volunteered is another thing. There has to be a brass ring with a check at the end of the pro-bono time period.

Venture Capitalists are the other fun folks, when you are in the idea stage, they will nod their heads, take your business plan and talk to you, but there is nothing there unless it is VC money chasing an already existent idea like social network sites. If you have an information security company, VC money just does not exist, or comes with so many stipulations that you have to ask yourself if the money is really worth it. You end up not owning your own company, even if your idea is the best in the world. Use VC money with caution, many people are forgoing it all together and financing personally.

The bank, they will happily take your money, they will do your payroll, and they will do a lot of good things for your company. Getting credit out of them, or getting some obscure service out of them can be very difficult. I hate to say this, but if you are financing your company, its better to go through SBA (Small Business Administration) loan services than deal with the bank directly. While the SBA is painful, it is not as nearly as painful as dealing with the bank for credit. As well, you might get a better interest rate from an SBA backed loan than you would off what ever line of credit that the bank is going to offer you.

Have a plan B and a plan C, plan A might be the best thing since sliced bread and the mouse trap, but no one may want plan A, or plan A may not be sellable now. Have a general reason why you are in business, but always have a backup plan, various lines of work that you do, various things you do to survive downturns in any vertical market you are working in. Diversity is important in any market condition.

Know that the good times will not last, plan on selling. The ultimate goal of any company resides with its owner. If your goal is to sell the company in 10 years for 10 million dollars, then make sure that your company is really worth 10 million dollars and that it is saleable. If you want to have a company that corners the market with the next great idea, then be willing to work towards that goal too. Always listen when someone pulls up with a dump truck full of money and wants to talk to you. You might just take the money, and start all over again, but this time with a better startup budget and better business skills. If you sell to start again, take the best employees with you as well.

Corporate Blogging is about the next best thing you can do in building out your reputation, but as with anything comes with caveats. If you let your employee’s blog, make sure that the corporate blog is always professional, read their work on line. Also have your employees have a disclaimer at the bottom that this is their personal opinion. Never let your employee’s blog about gigs, clients, personal problems. Corporate blogging should be about the company, the cool things it does, the cool things the employee is learning about, and how they apply them to customer needs. Corporate blogging is one of the best ways to develop buzz about the company, show case or show off company knowledge, and the more people that read the blog, the more the company name gets out there. As well, the employee is also working on their professional reputation at the same time; there are rewards there for everyone if done right. If not done right, the company could be in a large amount of trouble.

White papers are also excellent showcases on how the company solved other companies’ problems by doing a cool thing. These more formal communications should be written by a person who makes a living writing, hire someone who is knowledgeable on how to package white papers for distribution. White papers should be free unless significant investment went into developing it. If you have a report on the state of something, and its 100 pages long, it is no longer a white paper, it is a product, and should be sold as a product. If you have a 5 page synopsis on what your company did with some cool technology to help out a client, it’s a white paper. Charging for white papers is generally not a good idea unless you are as established as Gartner, Ernst and Young, or SAIC.

While none of this should be a surprise to anyone that works in or owns their own small company, these are all good things to know about upfront. If you have your own company and want to share your experiences, please respond to this thread, it will be great to hear what you have to say.

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Dan Morrill has been in the information security field for 18 years, both
civilian and military, and is currently working on his Doctor of Management.
Dan shares his insights on the important security issues of today through
his blog, Managing
Intellectual Property & IT Security
, and is an active participant in the
ITtoolbox blogging community.

Small Business: More Zen
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About Dan Morrill
Dan Morrill runs Techwag, a site all about his views on social media, education, technology, and some of the more interesting things that happen on the internet. He works at CityU of Seattle as the Program Director for the Computer Science, Information Systems and Information Security educational programs. WebProNews Writer
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