Making Rain

I am heading to a meeting for a networking group called Rainmakers tomorrow morning. It’s been a few years since I’ve done anything specifically geared toward networking… what I’d often look at as meeting new people I might have a chance of doing business with in a kind of random, haphazard social setting. The last group I was part of seemed to evolve into simply a social setting with little emphasis on trading referalls and trying to help each other, and from those that I’ve talked to that have used Rainmakers, it is much more deliberate and focused.

I am looking forward to this meeting. It is actually another step in the first goal I set for myself as part of my business/sales/life coaching process, and it’s fulfilling to see that the day is right around the corner. I still don’t know what will come out of it or what exactly to expect from the meeting tomorrow, but since that is out of my realm of control, I have decided that I am ok with not knowing, and coming up with expectations for myself instead of what I will find there. Such is the purpose for this writing. I have some key questions about mysef I want to have written down. Not written down so as to have cue cards, but written down so as to actually knowing the answer I want to give, and then being able to personalize that answer should I be given the opportunity to tomorrow. And from what I have heard from the leader of the group, I will have that opportunity.

So here we go. The first set are preparing myself for questions I will probably be asked, even though I have a goal to keep talking about myself to a minimum at this first meeting; I want to learn about the group, learn about the people in the group, and present myself as a person interested in discovering more about the people that I meet, along with their respective businesses, niches, and forward looking views.

Who are you?

I’m Chet Cromer, husband of Erin and father of Colton (4) and MaKenna (brand spanking new). I live out in the country about 25 miles southwest of Plainfield, but spent most of my early years growing up here and in Mooresville. I’m in a season of change in my business, as we encounter some opportunities to both find and server additional customers. I enjoy helping others develop their full potential, be it in their personal life or as a business owner and forward thinker. I enjoy doing outdoor work, spending time with my family, and working with youth in my church and local schools.

What do you do?

This one’s a bit easier now that I’ve written about it.

I help organizations reach their full potential by harnessing the power of technology and information available to them. I provide unique solutions to unique problems that integrate the complete technology system: The network, servers, PC’s, existing applications, and ultimately, unique software solutions.

That’s still a pretty long answer, but it’s thorough enough for now. The word unique is still overused, but this covers most of it. We aim to piece together the technology puzzle. We consider some of the key pieces to that puzzle to be:

  • Existing hardware and software
  • Already accessible data
  • New hardware and prepackaged software
  • Personally designed software
  • Handcrafted websites
  • And possibly most importantly, links between all of the above. So many pieces of the puzzle come to us as disconnected pieces. We aim to “see to it” that our customers are fully empowered with the technology available to them, including any special links we may be able to develop between these pieces of the puzzle.

What type of clients are you looking for?

I am looking for forward-thinking businesses with a willinness to step back and look at where they are and where they want to go, and how the technology they currently have is either helping or hindering them from getting there. We are most effective at discovering and providing solutions when permitted to work with various layers of staff, which enables us to get the big picture all the way from management to employee to the customer.

To discover opportunities with a potential new client, we like to sit down and talk about the items mentioned above, and then do a survey of what is both already available, what may be accessible with little effort, and what else may be needed that is affordable and cost-effective to add. We look at hardware, software, networks, and even non-technology items to help our customers develop a framework for what’s possible, not just what’s out there right now.

What types of clients do you already have?

Our largest base of clients are franchises from one of the nations largest privately owned businesses, Enterprise Holdings. While Enterprise itself is a huge corporation with over 65,000 employees, we work with their privately owned franchisees, who may have anywhere between 10 and 300 employees. We help these much smaller companies utilize the relatively small amounts of information made available to them by the coporation and leverage it by creating custom designed reports and tools for efficiency and access to data they could otherwise not obtain.

We also work with a variety of local clients, both brick-and-mortar, as well as web-based. We provide both basic IT support and services, as well as server and network support, custom software and web development, and forward-looking IT planning services.

We have developed a reputation as great “connector” between business-data and geographical information. For example one of our customers has employees constantly travelling throughout the state of Indiana (and soon, additional states) handling service calls and tickets based on a map-based “ticketing” system. These employees no longer have to come into the office each week, no longer need to report in each day on where they are or what they’re doing, and are able to utilize their unique software solution for almost everything they do each day.

NOW…. ON TO THE GOOD STUFF… Perhaps I should think through some of these for myself, but I think dealing with the first few things is enough for my pre-thought-out answers.

How’s business been for you over the past few years?

Have you found ways to cope or even capitalize on the economy?

How can I learn more about you and your business?

What’s your family like? What do you do when you’re not working?

What keeps you awake at night?

What’s a day in the life of <insert name here> like?

What’s your favorite part of the week?

Wow… this whole planning, goal setting, and future looking stuff is really enjoyable. It’s easy to get excited by it, but also easy to get discouraged because “nothing” has happened from it yet. But “nothing” is not the truth. There may not be money from it in the bank yet, but the attitudes and habits that are beginning to change ARE productive, WILL produce results, and I can’t wait. I’m looking forward to this meeting tomorrow, and can now print out this post and put it in my action plan as it’s taking care of some other tasks I needed to accomplish.

Social Development – Goals and Priorities

Below are initial Goals and Priorities for the Social Development Section of my Action Plan. These are developed from my Social Development Self-Evaluation and Where I Am Now thoughts, and are idea-generators for real-life goals I may pursue. I still haven’t figured out how to totally prioritize these or “pick” which I will work on first. I suppose that I do that very thing in the last column, but still, with all the goals I’m setting in a variety of areas of my life, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Oh well. I’ll just have to pick one anyways, I suppose.

This entire process of setting goals, while it takes time, really helps crystallize. Now I just need to make it an actual priority to make a goal an actual priority instead of wading around all this work!!!

Category Goal Priority
Become comfortable with incomplete thoughts   3
Gain Confidence in unfamiliar group social settings Place myself in unfamilar group social settings. Go into the event with a good answer to the question “what do you do” and be prepared to meet new people with 2-3 specific questions on a personal level. 1
Keep / Guide / Place conversations on the intended / relevant topic When leading a discussion, have an outline of key points / direction to take discussion. Review the outline immediately following the discussion and make notes on successes and areas where improvement is needed. 4
Become more familiar with relevant current events Find a relevant news source for local, and national news and review it on a regular basis 5
Become more famliar with events in the industries of my clients Pay attention in conversations with clients about their large customers, new technologies, or industry happenings, and then set up Google Alerts for these items. Review the items once a week, forward interesting information to clients to display interest, and make notes in their client file. 6
Develop conversational skills that incite responses Intentionally ask questions that do not have a Yes/No answer. For close friends, develop a question other than “how are you” that will incite a genuine response, and also develop my own genuine response to that very question that will stimulate conversation. Possibly, even consider the question at the beginning of every day, affirming how I am, who I am, and what I am here for. 2

Social Development – Where I Stand Now

Much has changed in my social life over the past four years. Through some events and crises in my life at that part of my life, I was confronted with a side of myself I’d never really wanted to know – immaturity that showed up through self-imposed isolation, avoidance of confrontation, and even dishonesty through lack of true communication and openness. It’s hard to imagine what life would be like now if that year had not occurred, and while it was not centered around social relationships, they were impacted tremendously.

Throughout most of my life, my closest relationships have consistently been within the realm of my local church. While this is still true in many cases, the fact that I see these people on Sundays no longer defines the breadth of the relationship. Most of my close friends, be they from church, a shared ministry, or a common interest/activity, are close because they are actually my friends, and not just because I see them on a routine basis. I now find myself frequently making lunch appointments with no particular agenda, not even to “catch up.” I now have friends who just like to be with me, and I with them.

As I went through the social development evaluation, a few things did become apparent to me. I think  I’m generally a decent person to be around, but there are still situations and times where I “shut down,” or “crawl into my shell.” As I looked at the times these occur, they seem to be in places where I am not 100% comfortable with my opinion or what I have to say. I seem to be completely fine as an uninformed person in the conversation where I’m learning or questioning, and also fine when I AM informed, have an informed opinion that I can support to offer, and so on. Where I’m not comfortable, however, is when ideas are bouncing around, and I simply don’t fully know where I stand, or I can’t keep up fast enough to fully have a developed and explainable thought. I don’t seem to be comfortable with my spontaneous self.

I’ve found this part of my life is already being worked on in several areas. One of the simplest is a kind of strange one, but it has worked for me. I’ve come to phrase this to myself as “not being comfortable in my own skin.” I seem to take myself to seriously, to think I have to have a conversation under control to participate in it. I’ve since taken up making funny faces, or at least smiling, to get a reaction out of certain of my friends, or just to respond to their own smile or funny face. I want to laugh more. I want to hug more. I want to simply be comfortable with who I am, where I am, right here and now.

The primary weaknesses I noted were in areas where I’m unfamiliar, yet there is an unspoken expectation (to me at least) to have something to say. Things like a networking group, or a small group discussing politics, or even teaching a subject where the subject matter to be discussed doesn’t totally match up with my own beliefs or thought process. I also see difficulty in transitioning / guiding conversations to a substantial topic that needs to be discussed or kept on topic but just won’t come up or stay focused.

I do find that through the past several years, I have developed strengths in reaching out to my friends. Whether it’s through things such as inviting them to / buying lunch, thinking and purchasing a book for them, sharing my own undeveloped thoughts before they’re fully figured out… so much has changed in this area that I haven’t taken much time to look back on it over the past several years.

I’ve come to believe in specific delegating; of empowering people by both letting them come up with ideas and then be the catalyst to turn those ideas into actions. I’ve been told I am an encouraging writer of notes, and that my teaching / discussion leading skills are both down to earth, practical, and try to focus on a key concept or two.  I also believe and enjoy helping others crystallize their own thoughts, perhaps offering suggestions here and there, but not doing their thinking for them, even if they don’t “get it” right away (or ever). I enjoy positions of leadership where I can facilitate conversation and discussion, but not necessarily drive it.

As previously mentioned, my escape from social situations I don’t want to be in is to shut down, to isolate myself. I may not necessarily appear unfriendly, but at the same time, I stop seeking out conversation, and I move into short-worded answers that don’t toss the conversation back to the other person/people.

One specific instance in which I’ve seen my social skills improve as I would like them to is in my church softball league. Over the years, I’ve gone from simply playing my best and doing what I’m told to tryin to encourage my other teammates, shouting what’s going on or needs to be done, and even making a few bad base-coaching decisions resulting in outs or my own being yelled at, but I keep going now. I’ve chewed out members of my own team for discouraging remarks they’ve made, and also talked to them in a more controlled setting to try and help them not only see where they’re tearing the team down, but also ways and opportunities they have to put that influence to good work instead of bad. There is still work do be done in following up in some of these areas, but I feel I am becoming more consistent in my ability to say what I think without constantly pre-evaluating my thoughts as to how it might come back and hurt my feelings.

What Do You Do? (Part 1?)

One of the projects for my Sales Action Plan is to identify my business’ niche. What we are specifically here to do, and who we are specifically here to serve. I’m tired of answering the question, “What do you do” with the generic answer of “I do IT work,” or, “I do anything computer related.” While deep down I think I know my passions in the industry and what our company is uniquely positioned to do, I have never put that down into words. Now is the time. In this post, I want to do some writing to answer the question, “What do you do?” I want to describe our Ideal Customer. I want to crystallize our unique place in the land of business, IT, and solutions.

What Do You Do?

I’m going to start general, and move to specific. For several years, my business card has described our business’ offerings as “Data Driven Software and Web Development, Networking, and IT Support.” While that’s very true, and possibly even appropriate for a business card, it hardly answers the question I’m seeking to answer. Those may be the end products and services we provide, but I want to be able to tell someone what we have to offer them: what problems we can solve, what ideas we can transform into reality, and what efficiencies we can turn into profit. So here goes…

I help organizations transform ideas into reality by harnessing the power of the information and technology to create unique solutions.

Too Vague and too wordy.

I want something that is more specific than ideas/reality and “unique solutions.” While there are a variety of technologies and industries we have worked with in the past, I don’t think specifically naming them is appropriate, but perhaps listing them here is:

  • Corporate / Franchise relationships through reporting, data transfers, and remote access to information via the web.
  • Map-based information that incorporates geographic information unique to the organization, such as a route.
  • Integrating 3rd party products including Microsoft applications via software hooks and customized programming.
  • Creating and implementing networks that provide anyone-who-needs-it access to whatever-they-need, including VPNs, Remote Access, etc.
  • Maintaining secure and up-to-date computer systems across an office network connected to the internet.
  • Harnessing the power of available information such as public info on the internet, data available through third party applications, downloads from private sources, or even data stored in other applications / documents that can be linked / read into another application.
  • Facilitating communication between computer systems in a sometimes-connected environment (unreliable internet, employees with cellular access roaming the state, etc.).

I take an organization’s ideas that seem roadblocked by technology and develop a unique solution incorporating data-driven software, unique network designs, and already-available hardware and software.

That seems a little more specific. It’s kind of long-winded, though… also a little negative – a lot of people aren’t roadblocked by the technology; in fact, they may not even see it’s full potential. That’s where I like to step in and say “yes, that’s a great idea… and we could make that work. It would look like this.” I like to discover their ideas, how they want the system to function within the realm of their way of doing things, and then provide a solution that is efficient, fast, useful in the scenarios in which my customers find themselves, and better than other solutions out there, especially solutions that can be bought off a shelf for a lower price.

I help organizations reach their full potential by harnessing the power of technology and information available to them. I provide unique solutions to unique problems that integrate the complete technology system: The network, servers, PC’s, existing applications, and ultimately, unique software solutions.

That’s getting somewhere. Some things I like in that are:

  • I like the word help. I am not someone you throw a problem and money at and out pops a solution. We work with our customers, discovering the real problem / need / want and then working with them to provide a solution that not only solves the problems and meets the needs, but that also fits into the way they do business.
  • Reach their full potential“. I like that because I also enjoy helping people reach their full potential in my personal life. I like seeing those who think they don’t have what it takes step into what they long to be – teachers, leaders, fathers.
  • I also like the word harness. I don’t feel that my company invents everything we do. We don’t do everything from scratch. We take much of what is already there and put it to work. In fact, that’s a catch phrase I’m thinking of… “We put your information to work.”
  • I like the phrase “provide unique solutions to unique problems.” It’s kind of vague, but emphasizes the way we treat each customer as its own entity, not as something we need to fit into a box WE define.
  • I like the word “integrate.” I think we do a lot of that – putting things together, finding puzzle pieces that will make a solution work without reinventing the wheel ten times over.

I see a few problems, too.

  • I think I may be over-using the word unique.
  • I think the list at the end is a little long. Perhaps useful as additional explanation, but probably would draw the focus away from everything else if someone had to keep track of all that.

Well, that’s a lot further than I was earlier today, or even earlier in the past six years. I’m sure I’ll be coming back to this, but this has been good. I’d welcome your thoughts, criticisms, or ideas.

Mental Development

“Don’t go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” This Ralph Waldo Emerson quote has been a favorite of mine for many years. Up until now, though, I always pictured it as me venturing forth into some great unknown, some grand mission outside of my little “realm.” It wasn’t until the past month that I’ve begun to see that the place where there is no path is actually many parts of my own life. I am in a time of transition right now, with work, with family, and above all else, in my personal life. I have entered into a coaching relationship with a brother named Mark Sturgell, and for the past month, have been learning that the dreams in the back of my head MATTER, that goals I might want to achieve CAN BE DONE, and that it’s not MAGIC. It is requiring a lot of hard work, but I’m already seeing the benefits in my confidence in who I am, who I was made to be, and what I was made to do.

One thing I’ve found over the years, and it’s rung true this past month, is that writing things down really crystallizes them for me. So I’m thinking of using my blog here to share, mainly with myself, some of the things I’m learning. Writing them down with a pen on a sheet of paper gets me started, but putting those thoughts into complete sentances, clean tables, and even before the public eye pushes me a little bit more.

Today I finished up a self evaluation on Mental Development. The mission here was to examine myself, to find strengths, potential strengths, and even weaknesses, in my mind, and in the way I think. I enjoyed this section, and will jot a few things down here that originally found their way to pen and paper.

Where I Stand Now

After completing a short survey and looking back on some past achievements / mental strengths, I was instructed to write a narrative form of “where I a stand now” as far as mental development. I was to use my imagination and enjoy my time. It was actually quite fun. Here’s the result:

It is apparent to me that I love to learn. Whether it problem solving at the office, developing a solution to a problem not fully identified, or finding better/best ways to get from one place to another, I love not just the solution, but what I experience and learn in the process of discovering that solution.

I seem to not necessarily be an idea man when it comes to original ideas and big dreams, but I can wade through the muddle of a project or even another life and find nuggets that both crystallize the concept and also make it seemingly doable. I enjoy and am good at getting to the heart of a matter, whether that means wading through personal opinions at a meeting or finding quotes that capture an idea in a book or conversation.

I enjoy being taught. Not just in the traditional lecture or discussion form, but in any way that brings me new knowledge and understanding. I can manage a lot in my head, but I do let it get a little too crowded at times.

I truly enjoy sharing these learning experiences with others, be it in a “eureka” moment or simply taking a big concept and finding where it hits close to home. I love seeing others come to realize that they too have what it takes to make their dreams become reality.

Mental Development Goal-Setting

The next step of the Mental Development process was to develop some goal categories, and after that, some goals to fit into those categories, and after that, to prioritize them. This got kind of tough, but in the end, it was extremely practical, doable, and encouraging.

CATEGORY GOAL #
Getting from Start to Finish Identify and implement a project-based method of finishing tasks that works for both personal and business areas of my life 5
Proactive Self-Improvement
Spend one hour a day, Monday – Friday, on my Sales Action Plan, and listen/read to my sales / self-improvement audio files at least 6 times per week. 1
Intentional and Purposeful Reading Plan
Spend time every day (30 minutes?) reading. Develop a place to keep 2-3 different books on different subjects so they are accessible to the points of time in my day when I have time to read. Schedule time to read as well. 2
Quality Family Time Make time each week to have adult conversations with my wife and talk about what is important to us, and learn how to set goals together, accordingly. Read to my children each day. 1
Develop and Exercise Writing Skills
Create a blog or journal entry each day on something relevant to my day. 4
Develop and Exercise Speaking / Teaching Skills
Find an opportunity to teach a group on a regular basis. 3
Seek Opportunities to Teach / Mentor / Train Individuals
Develop relationships with 1-2 specific men in my life, and seek out 2-3 specific youth as well. Make a point to add something to their life each week. 6
Develop Methods to Retain what I’ve Learned
Blog or Journal a small summary or tidbit from each day, before the day is gone forever. 4

I’m not sure if those are “good goals.” In fact, I have already have times that I have doubted they are. They seem too vague, or not related to mental development, or this, or that. But as I’m learning… If they are meaningful to me, that is what matters. And these are meaningful, stimulating, and enjoyable activities for me that would add to my life. I don’t have a clue how they’re going to “fit in” to everything else that is already going on and all the other areas I’ll be setting goals, but I think looking at these as things I can choose from down the road, or even right now, makes it all a little more doable and exciting.