Sunday, May 04, 2008

Sorry I've left folks hanging

Sunday's as good a time as any to catch up...

So here's what's going on. I had an employee leave on tax day, in the middle of a project. No warning. It left me behind the proverbial 8-ball. So I have been doing extra work to try and catch up, and repair the damage done by all the things that were hanging. It's caused some problems with customers (who have generally been very understanding, though), and it's left me in a position where I have to really think a lot about the direction this company of mine is headed in.

So far, I've been growing fairly organically. As the business has grown, I've added people to help. I start them as part-time for 3 months or so, and then move them to full-time if their skills and the business are a good match. It worked OK, and minimized risk. But here's the problem with it. I am the best employee (overall) I can afford to buy. Each of the people I have here possess skills, and in some cases they can do individual things better than me (good example - Joey is much better than me at Daylite database management). But I'm the best rounded of them, and I also know the most about things like servers and cross-platform integration. I also am the face of the company (it's got my name on it), and so I have to go get most of the business. Besides those, I'm the manager of everyone else's time and resources. Wearing all three of those hats is tough. And I feel like I've lost track of too many of the balls I need to keep in the air of late, especially this last month.

So here's what I'm trying to do for now. First of all, I'm trying to shut the doors as much as I can to new business for a while. I'm overwhelmed with what I have now overall. I am looking for a part-time person to help on the PC side and replace the one I lost. They will need to be fairly advanced in skills. I have to be able to trust them to do a lot of work and it'll take a while for me to get to that level of comfort.

Second, I'm cross-training the people I have as best as I can. I need to make folks better and more interchangable.

Third, I'm now putting more of my time into seeing the projects in-person and doing the work myself. If I'm not out getting business I can spend more of my time taking care of what I already have.

Fourth, I'm getting more aggressive on expenses. I figure if I can cut some of my other costs down internally, I can make my exisisting price structures work better and withstand any slump in business that comes from not recruiting as much new work now. If existing clients slow down I want to be ready for that eventuality.

Fifth, and most importantly, I'm re-evaluating everything. I can't work on my own, because then I get zero time to myself and very finite earnings. I can't grow and run a big organization because I don't have the patience or the skills to do so - and I want to keep doing engineering work myself. But maybe I don't have to be on my own. Maybe I could take on a partner, or join up with another company, or something of the sort. Maybe I could look at my fee structures and raise prices or go to more project-based work. Maybe I could tinker with the business model. I don't know for sure at the moment, and chances are I'll keep on this way but just get things in order. But I'll look at everything. Priority one is to keep the customers happy. If I can do that all else should follow.

Home has been better. David had a birthday party today, at the Beverly Y's Sterling Center where they do swimming and gymnastics. 2 years ago, one of his preschool friends had a party there and David went and had fun, but was nervous about things. This year was a complete 180ยบ from the other party. What a difference 2 years make between a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old. He was experimenting with everything, vaulting, trying equipment, and doing flips on the mat. And almost all the kids were like that. A pleasure to watch (although nerve-wracking at times!). We gave his friend Olivia a ride to the party with us, and she really enjoyed going with us.

After a years' worth of nagging from Jane to get a new camcorder (ours broke a couple of years ago), I went out this morning and bought one. I got a little $170 model from RadioShack that takes 720p video. Pretty spiffy for the money, though it is solid-state only (I put an 8GB SDHC card in it - good for 4.5 hours of record time), uses a CMOS sensor, and has a relatively cheapie lens (digital zoom only). On the other hand, it's tiny, fits in a pocket, and is Good Enough for things like parties and weekend trips. If I shot tons of video I'd want something else, but it's great for what we need. The files are basic QuickTime format, and it mouts as a USB drive on the desktop. They include Windows software for those of you cursed with no Mac.

Final note for now: Kyle Busch is a very talented race car driver. He's also a menace. Little E wasn't the first person he punted and probably won't be the last.