One of the cool things about friends is that when you say something stupid enough they will never let you live it down. Such is the case with Andy Goodman, who is probably well on his way to print tshirts with the riffraff logo on them. Susan, I’m sure, is not far behind with the buttons, business cards and anything else VistaPrint has on sale. I’m going to be hearing that stuff for a long time to come.
But its interesting to see what those that aren’t in the friend squad are seeing in this. Susan and I often talk about the SMB community, and the real part of the community that actually shares knowledge and feedback, not the one that pretends to do it to sell crap. What we always get into a fight over is the riff-raff, the newbies, the people that for whatever reason choose not to play in the game.
Susan’s point is that because she was once on the outside, she wants to help those that are still on the outside get it. She, for better or worse, tries to see the good in people and believes everyone is in this for the same reasons she is and just needs to be shown the way. People come to Susan and say – HELP – and she does. Sometimes directly, sometimes with a 2×4.
I on the other hand have spent enough years dealing with partners directly and see the world in a very different light. Because of the global reach and what we do I get to talk to all sorts of partners, all kinds of people, at all stages of their business. Young and old, starting up or retiring, growing or pacing or selling or slowing – I’m a whore, I’ll sell software to anyone. I group “the community” into three groups: “I get it”, “She looks good, from a distance” and “Screw it”.
“I get it” goes to conferences, blogs, video blogs, goes to user groups, shows up at TS2 events, communicates feedback not just of their own, recommends solutions, true IT business.
“She looks good, from a distance” is your run of the mill businessman who is far too serious for this “we’re stronger together” nonsense. S/he looks at the community as a good medium to sell into, leverage, possibly get some exposure but always conscious of the returns and making sure they are far greater than the input.
“Screw its” is your average SPF crook, used car salesman turned Microsoft Partner, Action Pack reseller or in some cases just an IT guy who thinks he’s right and the entire world is wrong. Never going to look at the community, not interested.
Guess which ones I hang out with. But, it would be unfair of anyone who is reading this blog to assume that the “screw it” is a minority. This is why I begged Susan Bradley to come out to WWPC, so she can see what the majority of the partners out there do, so she can gain appreciation for why Microsoft is the way it is. Follow the money. Who do you think brings in more money to Microsoft, the guy thats absolutely driven to make as much of it as possible or the one thats trying to help those around him? Now, who do you think Microsoft gives more crap about – the guy that is bumping up revenue numbers or the guy that makes the product get a better reputation? Before you try to answer that one let me remind you that everything is for sale, always. Reputation, it so happens, in currently on sale as a part of our July special!
Now for the really interesting stuff..
Successful small businesses (not just IT providers) are successful because of the entreprenurial spirit and hard work. One man, ten, 20, herd of cows, doesn’t matter – they are successful because there is usually one or two people that keep on pushing the whole thing forward.
Most of those “businesses” are established things that require things like credit lines, office space, plant and staff to succeed. The failure rate in the IT segment is far higher because there is 0 barrier to entry. More often, there is 0 cost to entry. So what kind of stuff does this bring into our profession:
Who targets riff-raff? Vendors. Why? Easy money, desperation to grow, buying solutions on optimistic advertising alone – Buy my tool and you will make it! And they do! IT provider newbie is the software vendors wet dream, a large pinata of cash just waiting to be smacked. This is also why Microsoft pushes so hard with freebies into that sector, with events, free software, free tools, action pack. Buy and sell our stuff!
This is where it gets ugly… and this is where virtually 99.9% of my friends, partners and even staff disagree with me. I want nothing to do with those guys and girls because they make horrible partners. In case you’re wondering, at OWN we sell partnerships, not neccessarily products and services. Everyone buying from us probably only sees the products and services, and they rightfully suggest that I ought to hug and love every single newbie with a wad of cash so we can take them to the cleaners.
Unfortunately, thats not what my business is built on and we don’t take advantage of people. We also know, both from personal experience and from statistical breakdowns, that most IT providers disappear about two to three years into it. Why? Job offers. They realize they can’t make as much money on their own. They realize they are working way too much for way too little. The ego gets impacted because one of their customers tells them to go for a walk. There is a number of reasons for one or the other.
I am after the folks that wake up that next day, look in the mirror and say “You know what… fuck them, I’ve made it this far and I’ll be damned if I’m going to quit here.” At that same moment they sit down, break down where they make money and where they lose money, they flip the page and find out how to make it out of their hole. That is where I work with people, that is where successful partnerships happen, that is where successful businesses are built. On survival. On perseverence. On unwillingness to quit when its the absolutely worst day of your friggin life.
This… is where the world disagrees with me. Thankfully, I care very little about the world because the world didn’t put me here, I did. And I wake up every day looking for a better way to build partnerships that make sense, help a guy with his SBS box at 4 AM on a Sunday morning when he IMs me in bed and tells me he is ready to set the box on fire, why I drop everything to help a guy who just destroyed his network. Thats the partnership and the backing I bring to the people that we work with. Thats also why I’m not IBM or Unisys with a platoon of overreaching consulting services, because I have a focus. And my focus is not pretty. If I had a $1 every time Amy told me I am supposed to hug every new partner on the oft chance that they become successful one day, if I had $1 every time Susan told me I am supposed to be supportive and motivating and encouraging of everyone because that is how people join the community and start contributing…
and…well… no, no, thats not how it works. People become successful and become contributors because they decide to. Because they want to. All they need to do is see the way. And they don’t care what I, or Susan or Amy think or say.
Doubt that? Why do you think its so hard to get anyone to do anything? Because its all about letting others make the decision on their own, it is never about telling them to – because when they ultimately do decide, they may decide in a different direction.
But I could just be making all of this stuff up…. My entire job with this blog is to open your eyes to there being more. Whether you decide to believe it or not is up to you. Think about it.