Purpose in the Pain

Today in my Bible reading time I ran once again across Jeremiah 29. There’s a verse in this chapter that is quoted time and time again as a promise to those in pain:

“For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord. Plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.”

The thing is, if you read this verse in light of the rest of chapters 28 and 29, the way it’s used in our Christian circles goes out the window. I wrote about this a while back after reading a book called Run with the Horses. God isn’t offering this promise just to console the people. He’s not telling them, “sit back and wait it out – I’ll rescue you soon.” In Jeremiah 28, a false prophet is PUT TO DEATH for offering a false hope that within a short while the nation would be rescued. Then, in Jeremiah 29, the direct context of this promise, God (through Jeremiah) directs the people to settle down in their exile, to go about life, to even pray for those who have taken them captive.

Most if not all of the generation Jeremiah is writing to will likely not see their redemption, for it is many years in the future. But they can prepare their children for it. They can pass along the promise of the Lord, they can continue living lives set apart to Him in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. They can pass along not only what God has promised to DO, but the very essense of WHO GOD IS, because all too often that’s what gets lost in times of disappointment and sorrow.

Let us not “forget to remember.” Let’s ensure that we’re retelling the story, no matter what our current circumstance, to those that follow us, and to ourselves. For it is in that remembering, that recounting, that reliving, that the truth of God’s promises is revealed, and his lovingkindness is truly shown to be everlasting.

Letting go of what's good to accept what's best

Yesterday I sat down to a meeting with one our larger clients to talk about planning for the future. We talked for a while about some upcoming issues that we’ve been working on for awhile and needed to get on the calendar. I’ve recently been able to do some on-target work for this client as we’ve developed some unique solutions, and it’s been good. The guy I report to at this company is a V.P. of sorts, and wears many hats. He’s H.R. He’s I.T. He’s Operations. In other words, he’s always on the move. While necessary for the business, the computer systems seem to have become much more of a liability or necessary evil to this company instead of an investment, an asset. This led us a few months ago, as we were starting to look for new lines of business, to offer up services to allow this guy to step back from I.T. and hand us the reigns… basically, to outsource their I.T.

We’re good at this. We’ve been doing it for years at our VERY biggest client that recently closed it’s doors. It’s “natural” for us, if natural means it’s something you do every day. But it’s not where we are wanting to go with the business. Should this opportunity come to fruition and we take over this role, it would require someone on site for at least 20-30 hours a week, an on-call structure that demands a large commitment from me and my staff, and, while it would be profitable and a nice amount of “guaranteed” income each month, it is not the kind of profitable and fulfilling work we’d like to found ourselves in for years to come.

“But it’s WORK,” my head told me. Pursue it! Chase it! Negotiate yourself into it. But we didn’t. We laid our offer on the table, several months ago, and it went largely dormant.

Yesterday, after my meeting with the I.T.-guy-slash-multi-hat-wearer, we went over to meet with the president of the company as well. All good; we do this from time to time; he’s a good friend and involved in what I do there. About 5 minutes into the conversation I got the “AHA” moment as to why we were meeting… here… today… “We’ve decided to hire a full time I.T. guy. We thought long and hard about the proposal you gave us, but in the end, this is the way we are choosing to go.”

I felt like I did the moment I did when I heard that my monster client was closing earlier this year. Not anger, but peace. Not stress, but relief. I could truthfully concur that their undstanding of where I was taking my company was not “outsourcing IT departments.” That’s not what we want to do. It’s good, but it’s not best. It’s something we COULD do, but not what we SHOULD do. In fact, should this opportunity have worked out for us, it would have tied our hands once again and kept us locked into a line of work we weren’t meant to be in.

It’s enjoyable to sit across the table from someone who’s just delivered what they it looks like they thought you’d think was “bad news” and be totally fine with it, even happy with it. I’ll still have work with this company… probably a lot of the same server and networking work I’ve had before, but not “big contract.” No “big commitment.” But that’s all good! Because that’s not where I’m supposed to be. I, and my company, exist to equip and empower small businesses to step forward as a company through the use of technology. I don’t exist to just maintain equipment, fix problems, and recommend purchases. Someone has to do that, but that’s not me.

For the first time in a while, I’ll have the opportunity to look into the future with my contact, with their new IT guy, and PLAN ahead. To look at I.T. as an asset, instead of a liability. To find areas in their organation where I do have something unique to offer, and where what we offer truly IS valuable, special, and worth investing in. I’m looking forward to it.

So anyways… that’s my life lesson / reminder from a business encounter. I’m finding more and more of these, and I’m loving it. What I do each day is becoming less and less of an obligation, of a job, and much more of something I’m meant to do, something where I have a role to play. And as I encounter this, as I explore this, I’m discovering that in order to say YES to what I could do, I will at times need to say NO to what I could do. In order to say YES to what’s best, I may ned to say NO to what’s good.

How true is this in the rest of life? Oh, so very, very, very true. I’ve seen it popping up in what I do or don’t do at home, what I get involved or back out of in at church, the friends I invest myself in and those I let go, the hobbies I throw myself into and the ones I toss in the trash can regardless of their initial investment.

I have much to learn in this area. There are lots of things that I need to let go. There are others I could ditch so easily that really wouldn’t make a difference. As I continue to explore what I’m here for, I am coming to understand it very well may not be some “big” thing. It may not any “one” thing. It may just be to live my life, to find where I am to give to the world what I have to offer, and to give it wholeheartedly.

While letting things go is tough, there’s another side of the coin as well. I have to jump fully INTO what I AM supposed to be doing. This may mean doing things in ways I’m not used to, taking steps to achieve goals that don’t seem all that enjoyable, but are necessary to do in order to achieve what IS enjoyable. As I say often, the journey often IS the destination, as as I look at my entire life, all the little steps, in light of the big picture, the big goals, the huge dreams, it all begins to fall together… not into a completed puzzle, but into one where I’m starting to find pieces that fit together, then big blocks of those pieces, then a key corner, then the entire outside boundary… and soon, it all starts to come together.

More Precious Than Life

I am continuing to read John Piper‘s book, Don’t Waste Your Life. Today I read a chapter entitled “Living to Prove He is More Precious than Life.”

It just so happens that I’m also embarking on a portion of my “being coached” adventure that necessitates me setting a stopwatch for every 15 minutes and then categorizing what I have done for the previous quarter hour… every 15 minutes, All. Day. Long. And I have to do this for 5 days in a row.

Want a way to self-examine yourself to see if you’re wasting your life? Write down what you do every 15 minutes from midnight to midnight for just one day in a row… let alone five! The feeling I’m getting right now is not one of wasting my life, but it’s also not one of using it to it’s fullest. As I look at my morning so far, it’s quite scattered, from taking care of myself and family to eating to returning emails and phone calls… it wasn’t until around 10:00 that I settled into doing one thing for more than 15 minutes. And it wasn’t until noon that I took a break to actually breathe and say, “where am I?”

Don’t Waste Your Life. How many of us are happy with the true quality our lives? Not the amount of income reported on our taxes, not the strength of our bodies, and not even the amount of time spent with our family watching “quality TV.” How can we “know” that what we’re doing is worth living for, or better yet, worth DYING for? This chapter I just read was all about sacrifice… and not sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice, but sacrifice for the sake of something truly WORTH something. I liked this line toward the end of the chapter:

The greatest cause in the world is joyfully rescuing people from hell, meeting their earthly needs, making them glad in God, and doing it with a kind, serious pleasure that makes Christ looks  like the Treasure he is.

How true is that! And when compared to a life of being nice, obeying rules, going to church, and maintaining a good reputation, how much more EXCITING is that? Instead of going through life trying to squeeze everything in or make sure this gets done and that doesn’t, one can truly LIVE for something.

Mark Sturgell, my coach, encouraged me last week to boil my priorities down to 5 things. Here’s my initial list:

  1. Growing closer to God.
  2. Understanding myself.
  3. Growing close and caring for my family.
  4. Helping and encouraging others.
  5. Being free to live my life.

I feel a need to further refine those, and will walk down that road in the near future. The top several things on that list are kind of “defaults” for me, unfortunately, and I want to totally change that so that the things that are most important to me become things that actually get my attention. I don’t want to wind up at the end of life, or at the end of my 30’s, or at the end of this week, look back, and wonder…what was THAT all about? Did I accomplish ANYTHING worth while? The more and more I learn about what is important to me, the more and more I’m wanting to do what is necessary to become that person, to be that person, and to accomplish the things God has both asked me to do, and that I know he will empower me to do.

Piper discussed the way many of us live our lives as if the world is at peace, and not as if we are engaged in all-out-war against the devil, the world, and even our old selves. He called this an “avoidance ethic,” and it hit home with me as to the way I used to approach things like conflict, confrontation, vision, dreams, and just about anything important in life. (and still do both in weak, rushed, and lazy times of my life). I like this comparison he made:

Peole who are content with the avoidance ethic generally ask the wrong question about behavior. They ask, What’s wrong with it? What’s wrong with this movie? Or this music? Or this game? Or these companions? Or this way of relaxing? Or this investment? Or this restaurant? Or shopping at this store? What’s wrong with going to the cabin every weekend? Or having a cabin? This kind of question will rarely yield a lifestyle that commands Christ as all-satisfying and makes people glad in God. It simply results in a list of don’ts. It feeds the avoidance ethic.

The better questions to ask about possible behaviors is: How will this help me treasure Christ more? How will it help me show that I do treasure Christ? How will it help me know Christ or display Christ? The Bible says, ‘Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God’ (1 Corinthians 10:31). So the question is mainly positive, not negative. How can I portray God as glorious in this ation? How can I enjoy making much of him in this behavior?

What a challenge that is to me. Instead of avoiding conflict and pain, I can be pursuing glory and praise. Not my own, but of a cause far greater than my own. Throughout the chapter, Piper made references to the men who fought at Iwo Jima, their sacrifice, their losses, and their ultimate victory in the very face of defeat.

Oh, God, I don’t want to waste my life! I want to live a life full of energy and dedicated toward serving and displaying you, of bettering the world through the influence you’ve granted me, and by loving those you’ve brought into my life in a way that challenges them to respond to your call as well.

 

Where I want to get to with my business

I spent the last 90 minutes out on my deck… first doing some reading, and then doing some pacing, talking out loud, and the occasional pullup as I talked through some real stuff. And I realized some things:

5 years from now, I don’t want to be doing what I’m doing right now. In fact, I’d rather not be doing what I’m doing right now, RIGHT NOW. But as I think this through, I believe this is a transition period, not just for the sake of income, but for the sake of transitioning my company to what I want it to be, and to do.

It all seemed to start with some “I want to” and “I don’t want to” statements, such as:

  • I want to care for my own products, not someone elses. 
  • I don’t want to be fixing servers, repairing firewalls, or rebuilding spyware infected computers as part of my business.
  • I want to create “core” solutions and customize them to different markets/niches, and then maintain them. Not administer them. Maintain them. Take care of the customers, and the product.
  • I don’t want to be doing service calls, help desk calls, or “whatever you need IT” calls for products not related to the core of my business.

My initial thought is, well, that’s changing most of what I do each week! YES! I spend so much time each week chasing problems and developing quick little fixes that I don’t have the time or the energy to focus on the solutions I can provide to solve the bigger problems I know about, but simply can’t develop effective solutions to.

As I thought this, I came up with some more.

  • I don’t want to just be a software development company either.
  • I see several core products – 2-3 for starters, maybe 4-6 in the future – that I want to build, “niche-ify,” and then provide (sell/market/network) to various areas.
  • I want to develop a network of support that can support these products, both by recommending hardware and other IT services that don’t “fit” into what we do.

So what are these core products? These core “concepts” I’d like to develop? Here’s what’s on the list right now. One of these is brans spanking new from over the past few weeks, but especially today:

  • A ticket management solution for fleet and home-service focused businesses.
  • A knowledge management solution for connecting churches to public schools.
  • A goal management solution to provide electronic goal planning and organization, calendaring, task management, delegation.

Each of these “ideas” fits into the bullseye of what I want my company to do. Develop a core product, that can then be customized to various industries. I also notice that each one ends in “management solution.” This seems important. It’s the core of what we do, I think. We take “pieces” that the customer already has and help them organize, manage, and take care of them. Each of these solutions can further be focused to specific industries as we develop them. For instance, I have a client interested in a ticket management system for their contracting company that would be rather basic, but still specific to that industry in terms of work flow, billing, etc. I also have a specific geographical area interested in the knowledge management solution, a “way” the information would flow, and specific pieces we would build into it and then who we’d “market it” to.

And the goal management solution? This is one of the coolest. It’s something I think I need for myself on one level. I am making up all these goals and seeing others that need to be made, but simply putting them on a “list” one page after another doesn’t work for me very well. I need what I’m starting to call a list of “goal dependencies” for each goal, so I can see what it depends on, and what depends on it. I also need it to integrate into my calendar, my task list, and several other areas so that I can actually integrate my goals into the way my daily life works. I see this product as being marketable not only to goal-minded individuals, but also to business/life coaches, planning committees, high school sports coaches, corporations, and to anyone who wants to look at the big picture, break it down into bite size pieces, and then see what’s necessary to accomplish those bite size pieces, and so on and so forth.

As I look at these, I see an already-successful side of my business, that while not a huge portion of the business, is quite significant. I am the “IT Consultant” for a nationwide association of franchises of a large corporation, and I provide them a backoffice management solution that takes data “available” to them from the corporation and turns it into useful reports, tools, and other stuff they can actually use to run their business. This data is not easily available to them because of it’s format and where you have to go to get it, but I’ve developed a system that automates the capture and processing of that data, and then makes it very easy for them to get – to the point of it showing up in their mailbox every morning! This established line of business already brings in over $50,000 per year, and while it’s market is limited (even shrinking), it is a success story that I have accomplished in this line of work. It is very low maintenance on the daily side, solves numerous specific problems for our clients, and is well worth any money they spend on it.

I have another project right now I’m bidding on that is a customer and job-based image management solution. This one will take the “problem” of thousands and thousands of pictures taken on high-res cameras and automatically resize, store, and secure them so both the company and it’s clients can access their data when and where they need it. Again… they do their job, and we take care of the storing, managing, and presenting of that information back to them. They don’t have to worry about filing, resizing, organizing, or “taking care” of all that data.

These ideas motivate me! They drive me! Why? Because they fit into what I want to do with my life. I want to be free to take 2 weeks of vacation without worrying that one of the 20 servers I “maintain” will go down. I want to have systems in place that take care of themselves, and yes, while they’ll need maintenance and continual development, they don’t need babysat. That’s what I feel I’ve turned in to, and it explains both why it’s hard for me to justify raising rates to levels I’d like to across the board, and why I’m not satisfied. I’m tied down, I’m primarily doing maintenance and fix-it work instead of core solution development and then niche-ifying it.

So these are big-level goals for the company. There is a transition piece to it all, i’m sure, but that transition has to fit into the big picture, both for the company, and beyond that, for my life and those involved. I want to provide meaningful, useful, and ongoing products that are both self-maintaining and profitable, and that can be continaually added to to provide additional value to my clients and added markets to my company. I also want to keep things focused enough that they don’t become so generic that aren’t specific enough for specific applications. That’s why I like the idea of a “core product” that can then be further developed for specific industries or niches. It creates not only additional opportunities for us to reach specific “groups” beyond single user accounts, but also allows us to build onto what already exists for better pricing for future products.

That’s it for now. Had to get these thoughts down. The goal planning system is especially interesting to me right now, because I need some sort of scaled down version of it for my own life, and I want to integrate it with my blog, with my calendar, with the tasks I do each day, and with the relationships I build.

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.