GEEKNOTE: None of us can be experts at everything. Like it or not, we need to concentrate on what we do best and seek the advice and counsel of others for things we are smart enough to admit we don't know anything about.
In my case, I'm a geek. I know that and I'm comfortable with what I am. I'm very good at what I do, but I don't understand the subtleties of the law, accounting, or other specialties. I seek out legal help when my company needs a contract, and I turn over our financial records every year so that my trusted accountant can review everything and create our annual tax returns. I also talk to my family physician before doing things (eg. Specific exercises at the gym) that may effect my health. I trust all of these people to steer me right and I have no problem paying them for their expertise. They are my trusted advisors.
My customers depend on my advice regarding computers and technology. For many of my customers, I am their trusted advisor on all things geek. When some of my customers get into trouble it is often because they either try the “do it yourself” route or because they miss the interconnections between various aspects of technology and they simply don't know the right questions to ask.
A case in point: We have a customer that got talked into moving their Internet connection from a very fast Roadrunner connection to the part of the T1 that they weren't using for their phones. It all sounded very attractive and promised to save money, but the net result was that their Internet connection went from 50 meg down and 5 meg up to 0.5 meg down and 0.5 meg up. Ouch. The customer had considered telephone service and Internet service as two separate items and made a decision to do something suggested by the phone company without looking at the overall “communications” picture. Had they asked us before acting, we would have explained why this was a very bad idea in their situation. We will be moving their Internet connection back to Roadrunner this coming week.
We have had other customers who have ignored our recommendations regarding backup procedures or anti-virus protection and then come to us to clean up the mess they created.
I had to do a complete wipe and OS reinstall on a machine Friday after the customer went the “do it yourself” route cleaning up a viral infection. I could well have cleaned the machine up easier and for less money if he had brought it in when he first noticed it was infected, or better yet, let if he had us recommend an AV solution that would have actually worked to keep his computer from getting infected.
I foresee a train wreck down the road as one of our business customers advised me last week that they are basing their anti-virus software decision solely on price and won't be renewing the AV solution we recommended that has kept their machines clean for the last year. Cheapest isn't always the least expensive solution. The question is not if, but simply when I will hear that they have had a viral outbreak on their network.
Finally, I had two customers who came to me after someone offered to get their websites to the top of the search engines for a fee of $500. One of the two customers spent the money and has precious little to show for his investment. The second customer came by the store and I showed him that he was already showing up third on Google and I told him to save his money and not waste it on these con men. We spent the remainder of his visit talking about things we COULD do that would actually keep him near the top of the search engines and wouldn't cost him anything more than he is currently spending, other than a little bit of his time.
In each case, these customers either benefited, or would have benefited, from treating us as a trusted advisor and talking to us before making potentially expensive decisions. Much like most of the doctors, lawyers and accountants I know, I'd far prefer to help keep you and your company out of trouble rather than spending my efforts to perpetually clean up problems that could have been avoided.
This isn't just about selling you something either. I may well NOT sell the technology product or service that you need. That is okay. I know reliable folks who do and will treat you right, or they will catch it from me.
If you or your company has an outside geek that you use, then make an appointment to sit down and chat with him about your situation and map out a strategy to get you from where you are today to where you need to be three and five years out. When to replace old computers, when to upgrade your network, your web presence, and what sort of connections you need to the rest of the world should all be part of the discussion. The biggest advantage of this is that you can better budget what your computers and network are going to cost you. It may seem more expensive than what you are currently spending, but avoiding the downtime associated with failing hardware and preventable problems will almost certainly save you money in the long run.
If you don't have an outside geek that can fill the role of trusted advisor, then you need to find one and put them on retainer. This is true both for individuals and companies.
Offer to send your geek a monthly or annual payment so that you can feel free to pick up the phone and call them whenever you have a question. The retainer might well include periodic checkups for your computer hardware and even real time monitoring of your computers and your network and preventative maintenance so that new problems can be solved while they are still small and inexpensive to fix.
If you combine the geek on retainer as your trusted advisor with multi-year hardware warranties, you can nail down your technology budget. I had a finicky machine on my bench this past weekend. It's over a year old, but it had a three year warranty, so the cost to the customer for me to figure out what was going on with it and fix it was zero.
You need trusted advisors for every aspect of your business, including how to make the most of your investment in technology.
This week marks the first anniversary of GEEKNOTES. I would like to thank my family, friends and customers, as they have been the inspiration for most of these articles. Without all of you, I couldn't possibly have come up with new ideas each week. Thanks also to everyone who has posted comments here or sent me email messages of encouragement. Finally, thanks to Alex and AOL for giving me the opportunity to write for Patch. It has been a lot of fun, and I'm already working on new ideas for the next year's worth of articles.
Feel free to drop me a note or leave a comment here if you have any questions about your computer or your office network.
Rob Marlowe, Senior Geek, Gulfcoast Networking, Inc.
(Rob also serves as deputy mayor of the City of New Port Richey. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent the position of the city.)