Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Moving to wordpress

This blog has found a new home here:

I am starting to feel uneasy about Google and the way they have neglected taking any action on the UAE Community Blog since April 24, 2008 until now.

So, see you on the other side!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Cutting your losses with prospects

There is a certain point when you have to decide if the cost of doing business with a certain institute is conductive for the growth of your company. The truth of the matter is, many business relationships are better off severed.

We have been harassed by a company in Abu Dhabi to provide them with our services. We have done the face-to-face meeting, demonstrations, etc. We have even continued negotiations on the phone. They insist that our competition's prices are more competitive. We reaffirmed that we don't compete on prices and if they are cost-sensitive, they can very well go with any provider they please. It will not hurt our feelings! They kept on.

Then they continued to insist on another face-to-face meeting. This was followed by another short period of a trial of the services. This was followed by a string of nonsensical complaints.

Then, I've had a moment! For the love of everything that is good in this life, cut them loose! Why are we enduring this torture? The size of business is small (relative to other accounts). The prospect has no brand equity to leverage. Why are we wasting our time on this?

There are several reasons why you would find it necessary to put up with a prospect who is going to cost you a lot of time to maintain and pamper:

* Brand equity -- the prospect is a major brand whose business will look good on your portfolio, bringing you other business to offset theirs.
* High pay -- the prospect is willing to pay for your troubles. Quote high enough to cover having someone's time spent on them.
* More business, not profit -- if your goal is to get a larger market share, regardless of the profit (say, you have the funds to keep you going even if you operate at a loss from a few clients here and there)..
* Help you improve -- there are occasions when a prospect is demanding in a way that would force you to reconsider some of your own processes in order to optimize it. This type of prospect/client is a keeper.

Aside from the above, cut them loose sooner than later.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

kippreport -- serious or sarcastic?

I did not subscribe to the's newsletter, but I am receiving it anyway. I suppose it is more acceptable to spam people in this part of the world than it is in the west.

To be honest, I don't terribly mind it. However, I have been noticing that they have a strange mix of sarcasm and seriousness. It's sometimes refreshing, though I am not sure how well it would go down with the easily offended culture here. Take this for instance: UAE govt acts to stop locals emigrating. Hilarious stuff! A bit harsh, but gets to the point.

I don't know, but it sure made me laugh.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

CRM - What's that?

CRMs are a vital part of efficiently managing your customers. I am no longer surprised by the lack of deployment of such systems by most SME's here.

Most managers would shrug it off as something only large corporations use. They are very mistaken. That is rather unfortunate, as it is such a valuable tool.

When we first started, I didn't know why I would need a Customer Relations Management tool. I could name all my clients off the top of my head with most of their contact details. As we started grow, this exercise proved to be far more challenging. No, it isn't because I'm aging, it's because you shouldn't have to do it like that. Keeping contact details in an excel sheet or in an address book are also not efficient.

There are many solutions out there, some of which are free. I have grown to particularly like SugarCRM. Imagine being able to track every lead you generate, every call you made, every quotation you sent.. follow-ups, etc. Imagine being able to measure the time it takes to convert a lead into an opportunity (quotation) into a customer. Excessive? I think not. You don't have to do much more than what you normally do.

We have gotten to a point now where I can pull out an agreement or quotation we have with a customer, at any given moment from anywhere. I can see the entire process. I can see who the contact person was for which quotation, I can see the correspondence between us and them.. I can track everything!

Why stop there? I can also pull up information on our suppliers in the same fashion.

I would highly recommend that you spend a lot of time learning on how to make a CRM solution work for you. It's well worth the time and effort spent on it. Go ahead, try it!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Time to start packing..

Okay, so I've had it. It's been a good 2 year run. I have built a company from scratch. A profitable enterprise at that. I have had a lot of help along the way and I have learned a great deal in the past two years. I need to get out now.

No, there's nothing wrong with the business. It's going great. Our sales are on a constant growth mode and I am happy to see the profit margins continue to increase. I just came to dislike living in Dubai.

No, it's not the runaway inflation, or the extortion by the RTA (read: Salik) or DEWA or even the landlords. No sir. This, I consider to be part of living in a booming economy. Inflation will come, whether you like it or not.

So if you are interested in buying a services-based company, let me know. I will very soon put up the for sale sign for all to see. I'm getting the hell out of this place. I have given Dubai more than it deserves. If I could leave tonight I would, but I obviously have obligations that are keeping me here for the time being.

This is not a business environment for an entrepreneur.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Selling out to the Man

Since we began, we have been getting the occasional attempt at a negotiation to be bought out. A multi-national, a government agency and private investors were all at one point or another, interested.

This has often been at a time when I would have been more than happy to consider it my exit and move on to bigger and better things. Something out of Dubai. Unfortunately, none of them have yet to materialize.

In every attempt, I learn new things. The most important is this: Do NOT provide any information they could not gather on their own. The only time you can provide useful information is if/when they sign a non-disclosure agreement backed with a financial commitment. For example, you can say that your income is $X. They say, prove it. This means you now have to open your books. You say, fine, put $Y in an escrow account. If I prove it and you change your mind, you lose your deposit. If I don't, then no harm done and everyone goes back to where they were. Ideally, the deposit goes towards an agreed price to sell, granted that the figure you provided was true.

Many start-ups don't bother with audits, but they are more important than you may think. Even if you say to yourself, I only have 3 employees and no assets.. it's simple. No, it's not. An audit by a reputable auditor will allow you to throw around figures comfortably, knowing exactly what you have and don't. So, unless you come from an accounting background, budget for an auditor.

I have fallen to the trap of providing more information than necessary to people who were simply gathering intel. Thankfully this happened so early on that it doesn't matter now. However, it pays to have an exit strategy from the get-go.

This doesn't mean that you want to quit. It just means that you have to decide if this is what you want to do for the rest of your life or not. For a foreigner in Dubai, I hardly see myself wanting to give my whole life to a single country. An exit strategy is in the works!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Just how competitive to be?

We deal with clients from multi-nationals to government agencies to small-time companies who are smaller than us. Each of them pretends to be larger than they are. The multi-national claims to be the world's best. The small-time companies claim to have more business than anyone in their field.. and the government agencies.. well, they claim to be the most important branch of government.

The past month has been a marathon between clients trying to keep things in order. Everyone continues to be more and more demanding. As budgets decrease, work increases, demands sky-rocket! It really is odd. People want to pay less, because they are paying more elsewhere.. but they expect more work, more quality, etc.

So, I decided to have a look at how companies who do what we do. Well, let me tell you, Dubai/Arab world/Middle East-bashers. There is no comparison. We are far superior in service and quality than the best of the best in the west. This is from first-hand experience. Oh no, it is not just us. I am saying, even our competition, which are inferior in quality in my humble opinion, are superior to their counterparts in Europe and North America.

I wonder if the reason clients are so demanding is that we are too flexible? Perhaps we have to reverse the roles and become as stiff as our counterparts in the West? Are we doing something wrong?

I have read somewhere that one must be one step ahead of the competition. Not more. Being 10 steps ahead of the competition can spell disaster. Could that be the case?