Consultancy Archives - Cloud Genius Ltd
The Cloud (Genius) is expanding

The Cloud (Genius) is expanding

As we experience one of the hottest spells in recent history. A little bit more cloud might be a welcome thing.

Cloud Genius is now approaching its 10th birthday. It was founded in December 2011, but its first Salesforce Implementation at Voluntary Services Lewisham was a little before that, around now! That was in the days when I lived in Hither Green, within a short bus journey of VSL HQ.

The news at Cloud Genius is that in recent months we have taken on two extra folk. Sri and Keerthi help expand our ability to help our clients and do development work. They both have a list of qualifications as long as their arms and are making super-strides in progressing the development of our clients organisations. These include: Resource, Mitzvah Day, Institute of Welsh Affairs and many others.

Shortly we are to announce our new pre-sales engineer. He comes with an impressive line-up of charities that he has helped. Turning their admin nightmares into carefully honed machines… that let them get on with achieving the aims of their organisations.

So, the real question is, ‘How should we celebrate our 10th birthday in December?’

You can email birthday@cloud-genius.com with ideas.

Thanks!

Mind Your Language!

Mind Your Language!

It is a common misconception that in order to talk with technical people, you need to talk their language. It’s wrong and it’s dangerous and it’s expensive… let me explain.

This might feel painful, but you will understand more of the process at the end.

When you are talking to a (good) consultant they will have a breadth of knowledge about their specialist area. They also want to find the best solution for you within your budget. Let’s use cars as an analogy. Everyone knows about cars?!

You sit at home and you know that the ‘best’ electric car is a Tesla. 

You also know that you want to carry a lot of luggage, so you want a Tesla Cybertruck

You go to your car consultant and tell them to source you a Tesla Cybertruck in green. A friend down the pub/coffee shop/round the water cooler had told you that you wanted a green car.

You live in a difficult area, so you also want strong windows. (See this video if you want to see why this is a funny request.)

Your consultant explains to you that that Cybertruck only comes in bare metal and there are ‘issues’ with the windows.

At this point there are typically 4 responses. The potential customer:

1) Mutters about how useless the consultant is in not being able to source a green Cybertruck. Cost zero, but time wasted… which is money.

2) Splashes the cash for a Cybertruck ($70,000), and then paints it green. Cost >$70,000

3) NHS response: there are no products in the market that 100% fit the list of requirements, so employ a very expensive set of consultants to set up an Electric Vehicle research department, a manufacturing facility and end up with something way over budget, that doesn’t work and another NHS funding fiasco is born. (Thinking in a few years the NHS can achieve what it took Tesla 10 years to achieve.) Cost millions and millions and millions. Rinse and repeat. I worked in the NHS in the 80’s. They were doing it then, and they are still doing it in their IT systems.

4) Continue to engage with the consultant…

At this point, a consultant should ask.

WHY?

Why do you want a Tesla Cybertruck in green?

You start to explain that you want to be part of the ‘green revolution’. You discuss this further with the consultant and they explain it is about using energy responsibly and from renewable sources. You like the idea of this. They explain how by choosing the right car you can significantly reduce your running costs.

They ask you about the sort of trips you do. You tell them your driving is around the city. It is just you who ever uses the car. By ‘luggage’ space, you mean enough for 3 bags of groceries every week. So they are just about to suggest a Renault Twizy. A ‘car’ for 1.5 people with a very limited range. Job done… and you have exactly the WRONG car.

In a flash of honesty, you also explain that you also like to make trips of around 200 miles on these trips you need to comfortably fit 2 adults and 2 children in the car. A Twizy would not have been right, at all! In this case the consultant might suggest a Renault Zoe – a car with great range and good seating. You decide that now you have a green car, you would like the paint job to be black.

(When the consultant asked the question, ‘Do you EVER do long trips?’ the temptation is to say ‘no’ in order to save money. In this case, it would have been a costly mistake that the consultant would probably have been blamed for. Try to answer honestly. If you do long trips, but rarely, the answer might be to buy a Twizy and use the money saved to hire a vehicle for the rare times you do very long trips. See how variations in your answers can vary the proposed solution.)

Oh, and that problem with the ‘difficult’ area… you still have room in your budget for an armoured garage and security system 😉 On the other hand, it might be cheaper to move.

That all said, I have no associations with Tesla or Renault. My expertise is in Salesforce… I love it when people tell me what they are trying to achieve, and their budget. I can often save them money and get them something better than they asked for.

When a proposal comes through, the temptation is to scrimp on the section that says, ‘training’. Your people will pick it up. (Like they still don’t know how to use styles in their word processor, after 25 years?) Would you really want to be driving around in a car with an unlicensed driver? Oh! The stories I could tell.

Talking of training… we have some free training coming up… see our front page for details.

Help! What is a CRM and how do I choose one?

Help! What is a CRM and how do I choose one?

One of the bigger, if not the biggest business decision is purchasing a new CRM system. (Customer Relationship Management system)

This information is not Salesforce specific!!!

While I do consult on Salesforce, this guide is deliberately about what a CRM can do for your business or charity. It is not about Salesforce!

So, grab a cuppa, sit back and watch the video. It’s about 20 minutes long.
At the end you should know what to consider before looking for a CRM system.

Good luck!

Spreadsheets are enough for my business – move on

Spreadsheets are enough for my business – move on

Spreadsheets are wonderful. I have a load of them. Everything from personal ones that calculate my kg weight in stones and pounds (apologies to US readers) and my BMI through to things that help me calculate budgets and so on.

I even have transient data in them, when I am doing data imports, etc.

I do not run my business on them.

When I say this to fellow small business owners, I often get the response:

Of course you are against spreadsheets, you use CRMs all day.

I then show them my mastery of spreadsheets. For instance, if you have a first name and last name in one field of a spreadsheet there is a (relatively simple) formula to split them into two cells. I have seen people who live in spreadsheets doing this work manually… for thousands of entries.

I then show them how you can copy this formula to their entire spreadsheet with a few clicks.

To finish, I show them how you can autosize all of the columns in your spreadsheet in one single-click and two double-clicks.

I do not claim this as high-level mastery… but it is often what those same business owners are capable of.

They then show me how they keep all their accounts in a spreadsheet

I know that even in my small business, it causes ‘problems’ if I send out two invoices to different customers with the same number. I often use a laptop on the road and a desktop at home. Sometimes the sync isn’t as fast as I would like, so I would risk the spreadsheet getting out of date or corrupted.

Heaven knows what would happen if I had my accountant accessing it at the same time. (Did you know that AT LEAST as far back as 1995 you can put Excel spreadsheets in ‘multiuser mode’. You lose a few features, but you can safely have multiple people accessing it!)

So, for my accounts I use a simple, online accounting system. It auto-numbers my invoices. It automatically sends out my regular invoices. The data is held securely and, even better, my accountant can access it without bothering me.

People who run their business in spreadsheets are keeping personal data on their PC.

Why would this bother me? Well, I can ethically get into a laptop or PC in a few minutes by bypassing the password. There are legal, ethical tools on the internet to enable this.

I can even do this on enterprise servers. How? Microsoft document this process on their website. It is not illegal (as long as you have permission) and the information is freely available.

I have done this for clients when they were stuck. ‘Breaking into’ a corporate server took me about 15 minutes… and I was being slow and careful.

If I wanted the ‘quick and dirty’ way, I would just take the hard disks out and shove them in my disk reader. A process of a few minutes.

There is a preventative measure you can take and that is to encrypt your hard disks. When I ask small business owners, ‘are your hard disks encrypted’ they tend to look at me blankly. Basically, if they lost their laptop someone could be reading their data in under a minute.

This is the ethical, computer tech way of accessing data.

Cyber-criminals attack your computer while it is switched on. Disk encryption is no protection against this type of attack. For recent attacks most anti-virus/anti-malware software is useless. (With certain caveats.)

That is not to say that disk encryption is useless. It does protect against loss of laptop or theft of desktop in a burglary. I does not protect against many types of malware attack. 

If this is buzzing way above your head already, then you have answered the ‘why’ of why you should not be storing your business data on your local computer. It is a complicated subject and you do not have time in your business to work on this.

I am not here to convince my potential clients away from spreadsheets!

That sounds like a bold claim, but if people are ‘believers’ that a spreadsheet solution is sufficient then I do not have enough breath or, frankly, will to convince them otherwise. Where I have tried that in the past they tend to be suspicious that I am pulling a fast one to get them into a solution that does not involve spreadsheets. Every decision will have to be justified, repeatedly… and their mate down the pub says that I am just scaremongering.

I am fine with that. They are not in the required state of maturity to become clients.

I know that at every stage they will be trying to circumvent the safety measures I put in place. When they go down, they will be trying to bring me down as well. Like a petulant child they will spend their time trying to prove me wrong. Time that I could be using to help them improve their business processes.

Let me be clear:

I am not against people who use spreadsheets. My opinion is that they are not adequate for running a business.

So, I have usability concerns in terms of accounting. I also have security concerns when handling personal data. Frankly, the most compelling argument is that running a business through spreadsheets is so damned difficult. Keeping track of which spreadsheet holds the latest version of what, following arcane copy and paste procedures to create new invoices.

Why do a twenty stage process where any incorrect step can lead to disaster as opposed to a simple, single-click where the computer will hold your hand and guide you?

The point of online accounting and CRM systems is not that they are there to make things difficult. They are there to make things easy. Even for single-person operations this brings benefits that far outweigh their costs. It also means that if/when you sell your business or expand your business you have solid procedures in place that enable collaboration. 

Use spreadsheets to run your business if you want to stay small and vulnerable.

If you have an eye to growth, then you need something better, easier and more robust. You need something that will stand the rigours of due diligence and regulatory compliance. At that stage you need someone to help you take that next step. We are called consultants. When that nagging feeling that using a spreadsheet is not the right tool, come and talk. You will find that we are lovely and helpful. My job is not to convince you that spreadsheets are inadequate. That is your job. 

My job is to help you on your journey into a bigger, brighter world.

Growing the Business in Interesting Times

Growing the Business in Interesting Times

Did you notice that the last 12 months has been interesting? Rather like that curse, may you live in ‘interesting times’.

For me, it has been a time of re-engaging with my lovely, lovely customers. A year ago, I gave up my staff, gave up the office, started working from home (again).

What I realised is that I love being the ‘front-man’ for the business who works with customers and discovers what delights them. I also found out that there is a lot more demand out there than I could satisfy on my own. What to do?

Whatever Cloud Genius is, it is a small business. By that, I don’t mean that it is small-minded. We have our eyes on the stars! What I do mean is that I always want it to have that feeling where you are talking to someone real.

I know that asking you to submit requests through the support@ email has been a challenge, at times, for some. What happens behind the scenes is that it means you get served quicker. It means that subsequent emails you send are grouped together… so that when you ask? What has happened, we know. When we want to look at the issues you have, we know, too. It also paves the way for expansion. You may have noticed the use of the word ‘we’… it has already begun to happen.

In the last year, I have tracked down an excellent recruitment agency. (Believe me, there are lots of bad ones.) I have also begun to engage trusted individuals, who I have worked with over a period of 14 years. These are coming together to increase the capacity of Cloud Genius. At the same time, I don’t want to lose touch with customers.

The challenge: how do we maintain that small business closeness and flexibility, but also expand to give you a better service?

There will be a couple of changes. First, some of those help requests may be dealt with directly by other people.

Second, I am going to start up a ‘Lunch and Learn’ group. We had a trial this month (March 2021). The sharing of information is going to happen monthly, on a Thursday, for 45 minutes at lunchtime. Of course, we will be using Zoom. It gets rid of travel, need to hire venues and gets rid of travel time. These are going to focus on different aspects of Salesforce. You guessed it, the customers get to name the topic. Look out for an email, soon!

This article will also be published on Medium… if you slide over there, you will have an opportunity to comment!