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2011 – My Year in Review

Man popping Champagne Cork into 2011At the start of every New Year I sit down and review the year that’s gone before me on a personal level, as well as set myself some goals for the year ahead. Those that know me will know I’m a strong believer in goal setting – and part of using goals as a motivator for me is reviewing my progress to help me stay on track (or re-adjust, accordingly) and celebrating successes.

So if all this is personal, why do I share it through a blog post? Well I’ve been writing this Year in Review for many years now – and whilst it started out, as many blog posts do, as a way of helping me clarify and summarise my thoughts – I now get a lot of feedback from people who say reading these posts helps them think about their own year and upcoming goals. An unintended but useful consequence of my ramblings! Smile

So with no apologies for the introspective nature of this blog post, here’s my year in review for 2011…

Work

On a professional level, 2011 was the most exciting year for me in recent memory. At the end of 2010 I sold my IT business and exited the world of Managed Services, and started 2011 with a totally clean slate – some rough ideas of what I wanted to do in mind, but mostly deciding to go with the flow.

January 2011 was a revelation for me. Whilst friends and family had encouraged me to follow my heart and move into Business Consultancy, there’s always that negative voice in your head that suggests that nobody will want to work with you. But then as word spread that I was a “free agent” the ‘phone started ringing with one exciting offer after another. By the end of the first quarter of 2011, I’d realised that things were going to be ok!

The regular stream of offers didn’t slow down, and so that first quarter quickly taught me a valuable lesson – learning how to say “no”. I’ve learnt to no longer try to help everyone and instead now concentrate my time helping those who demonstrate that they really want my help. As one of my mentors told me at the close of 2010 “Don’t try to boil the Ocean”.

My work took me into two areas, both complimentary to one another. I now act as a Business Consultant (or Coach, but I’m still uncomfortable with that word for the most part) to a dozen IT companies and MSP’s within the UK, helping them scale their business up through sharing my experience and industry perspective. I’m pleased to say that every single one of my clients is a pleasure to work with and I get a real kick out of being a part of their team. I’m sure this is a result of my limiting my time to only working with those who really want to work with me and saying no to those who aren’t committed.

The other area I found myself in was writing and speaking. In March 2011 I wrote my first commercial White Paper – “Protecting Business Critical Services – E-Mail” and I’ve spoken at a number of events in 2011.

Man WritingIf you’d have told me two years ago I’d be enjoying writing about Technology and business more than fixing PC’s and Servers, I’d have thought you were joking. But I do – writing blogs, articles, White Papers and the like for IT Vendors and the Trade Press are things I find very rewarding. Therefore in 2012 I’ll make more time for writing professionally.

Public speaking, on the other hand, I still find terrifying for the most part. I’ve presented at half a dozen UK Conferences and the like this year – on a variety of topics close to my heart. It’s not something I enjoy, but it pushes me out of my comfort zone so I encourage myself to do it. I still feel I’m not a good speaker, but I’m passionate about the subjects I talk about and in 2012 I will continue to make an effort to learn how to be Technically better at speaking too.

Talking of passion – on an Emotional IQ level, I’ve learnt to be much more measured in 2011 than before. It still takes a lot of work!

I probably still undervalue my time. And by probably, I mean definitely. I’ve observed that this isn’t unusual as just about every client I worked with in 2011 does the same. One for all of us to work on, but in 2012 I will learn to place greater value on my time.

For the second year running I was appointed a Microsoft SBSC Partner Area Lead.

Also for the second year running, I was nominated to the MSP Mentor 250 list, and for the third year running I was nominated to the Computer Weekly Social Media Awards – in not just one, but two categories.

In January 2011 I Got Freshly Pressed – which led to a huge amount of visitors to the blog. In fact, the readership of this blog doubled in 2011, and in some surprising areas. I’m now getting a lot of readers in France, Germany and the rest of Europe. My goal for 2012 is to work on improving the blog and integrating it as part of my business.

One of my goals for the first quarter of 2012 though is to create a separate business web-site aside from the blog. It should explain what I do and who I work with – as I know there are still a lot of people who ask me the question, “What is it you do now Richard?”. The web-site should help explain that and encourage people who want to work with me to get in touch.

 

Community

After exiting my IT business in 2010, one of the goals I had was to dedicate some of my free time to working on business, social and community improvement.

Earlier this year I was honoured to be voted in by my peers as Chair of the CompTIA UK Channel Community, bringing together IT Solution providers, Vendors and Resellers to work on the betterment of the UK Channel. We’ve made good progress and I look forward to doing more to help CompTIA raise levels of professionalism in the Channel in 2012.

I hope I also help the SMB IT community through my blog, and it’s through my blog that an unexpected opportunity to help my local community came up.

After reading my post “It’s All About Communication”, my local Police Force, Birmingham South Police, approached me about helping them with their Social Media strategy.

Birmingham South PoliceSince that time I’ve really enjoyed working with the team at Birmingham South Police, and I hope my input has been valuable to them and in turn, has helped my local Community in Weoley Castle.

The work has also given me a better understanding of how modern Policing works, and I’ve a great deal of respect for the work West Midlands Police do to keep our streets safe.

I was also presented with an opportunity to join Sgt. Tim Evans in a car patrolling Birmingham South and live Tweet an afternoon in the life of a Police Officer. What an experience!

In 2012, I’m committing to continuing my work to support Birmingham South Police – as it’s both rewarding and a pleasure.

 

Travel

On the travel front, I tried to cut back on the amount of time I spent on the road in 2011. I had mixed results with this goal!

I passed on every opportunity to go Stateside in 2011, and genuinely loved being in the UK to spend more time with friends and family to celebrate birthday’s and other occasions – something I’ve missed over the past few years.

I did jump at the opportunity to do some work in Milan, Italy – somewhere I’ve never visited before – as well as Utretcht in The Netherlands. Both enjoyable trips.

But whilst I minimised my foreign trips, I spent a lot of the last quarter of 2011 on the road, in hotel rooms, living out of a suitcase. I struggled with this and 2011 was the year I went from finding travel a chore to regularly dreading it. As somebody who previously loved flying (I can still remember the take off and landing of an aeroplane being a thrill!) I now instead have sweaty palms and find it difficult to relax before and during a plane journey. Even longer car and train journeys seem a pain I want to avoid. The knock on effect on my productivity when I return to the office has been a constant challenge. I’ve countered this somewhat by making sure I travel First Class and thus in greater comfort wherever possible, but in 2012 I want to start enjoying travel again. Suggestions welcome!

With my increased travel, often to the North-West of England, one thing I did come to appreciate again was my 2nd property in Lowton, Cheshire which I’d previously come to think of as something of an Albatross around my neck. I’ve come to appreciate once more that it’s nice to have a base to work from instead of living out of hotel rooms when up that part of the world – of which I am, often. Therefore, one of my main goals for 2012 is to improve the house further to make it even more comfortable.

 

Health

Looking back, one of my main goals for 2010, and 2009, and 2008… was to lose weight. I’d never achieved this, but in 2011 I didn’t focus on losing weight but instead of increasing my energy levels to do more of the things I enjoy. The result was I had lost 2 stone by my birthday in September 2011…

… and unfortunately by December 2011 had put a stone in weight back on! Remember all that travel I mentioned? Well I found it really, really hard to maintain a healthy lifestyle during that time. If travel is going to be unavoidable, in 2012 I want to find a way to travel whilst maintaining my health and fitness levels.

 

Relaxation

Ric and Dave at Oktoberfest 2011Of course, one trip in 2011 contributed to that waistline expansion, but I’d do it again! The GG and I visited Paris, France and then caught an overnight train to Munich, Germany for Oktoberfest where I celebrated my 35th birthday around some really good friends. I loved this trip – Paris was beautiful, and the Germans certainly know how to drink beer and have a good time!

Another of my goals for 2011 was to spend more time with friends and family. I made a conscious effort to do this, and I also made some new and very close friends in 2011, all of which rewarded me with some great memories.

Owen playing SubbuteoFrom the “he couldn’t get more geeky, but somehow he’s managed it” category – in January 2011 I decided to build myself a Subbuteo Table Soccer pitch, and shortly afterwards both I and a load of my long-time friends had re-kindled our childhood love of little plastic men. After a twenty year hiatus, the Weoley Castle Subbuteo Club was re-formed and we have had an absolute blast, even entering a few tournaments where we did our best to avoid finishing last.

In 2012 I’m going to continue to make a conscious effort to spend more time with friends and family!

 

Education

Another of my goals was to continue my Professional Development in 2011. I’ve had the good fortune to be able to work with a number of incredible mentors this year, and now have a regular business coach who I find rewarding to work with.  In 2012, I will continue to seek out opportunities to work with positive and successful individuals who are willing share their expertise with me.

I recently wrote a blog post about the benefit of reading books, and one of my goals in 2011 was to read more. Thanks to the Amazon Kindle, I’ve read an awful lot more – which has helped me learn and grow as an individual.

Additionally, one of my goals for 2011 was not only to read books, but to write one and become a published author! I’m pleased to say that in 2011 I was approached by a publisher, and with some hard work and dedication, in the first Quarter of 2012, I will become a published author! It’s a Technical Tome, so not bed-time reading, but I’m looking forward to getting it out there. A huge thanks to a really great influencer in my career, David Overton, for setting me on the path to this goal!

 

Conclusion

I had a stand out year! It sometimes didn’t feel that way because all the media headlines were about doom and gloom as a result of the financial recession across the world – and as a result it’s easy to “feel” as though things are terrible and are never getting better. But one of the benefits of regularly reviewing your personal progress and celebrating your successes is that you are conscious of how well you are doing anyway!

I’ve already laid out a number of my personal goals for 2012 above, and I have set myself many more personal targets both big and small. For me the bottom line is consistency – to keep heading in the direction that I’ve started on and to stick to it.

Thanks for reading my blog in 2011, and I hope to catch-up with as many of you in 2012 as possible! Please don’t be afraid to get in touch!

 

Birmingham South Police – Tweet-a-thon 2

Birmingham South Police Tweet-a-thon 2 PosterIt was in January that I wrote a blog post entitled “It’s All About Communication” that described how my local Police force, Birmingham South Police had been hugely successful in using micro-blogging site Twitter to engage with the local community with the goal of educating on what West Midlands Police were doing to keep the streets safe, and to engage with members of the public who wanted to know more about many aspects of modern Policing.

As a result of the impact of that blog post, I was approached by the Superintendent Tim Godwin and the Community Partnership Team at Birmingham South Police to see if I could help them understand the further opportunities Social Networking can offer the Police for building relationships in the local community.

Since then I’ve been thrilled to be able to work with Birmingham South Police (BSP) as I see it as a real opportunity to help implement positive changes in my local area of Weoley Castle – the area I was raised in, started-up and ran a business in, and still live in today.

Interacting with the Police

Like most, the only interaction I’ve really had with the Police in the past was when something negative had happened to me – it’s the nature of the Police’s work that you’re not going to call them for assistance when everything is alright! But since I’ve been involved with BPS, it’s been a huge eye opener for me to see the work that they do – and the genuine success stories they’ve experienced in effectively partnering with the local community to tackle crime.

But as I spoke about in my original blog post – like many organisations and businesses in the service industry, it’s not enough that the Police do a good job – for people to understand and “feel” happier they need to communicate what they are doing that benefits their “customers”, and why.

Tweet-a-thon

Screenshot of Birmingham South Police Twitter feedWhich is why I think Birmingham South Police holding a 24-hour Tweet-a-thon for the second time (or, as it’s being calling – “T2”) is important to raise awareness of the good work that they do to keep people safe and to lower crime rates.

From 7am tomorrow, Thursday 7th July, the Birmingham South Police Twitter feed will be regularly updated in real-time with details the hugely wide ranging jobs Police Officers and teams undertake during a day and night. Trust me when I say it’s a real eye opener – and I’ll bet that like me, you didn’t realise half of the work that the Police do that takes place in a typical day!

You don’t need to be signed-up to Twitter to view the Tweet-a-thon – just visit http://twitter.com/#!/bhamsouthpolice or visit the Birmingham South Police Facebook page for more details.

If you are signed up to Twitter, then you can follow all the action by following Birmingham South Police or using the Twitter Hash-Tag #BST2.

Tweeting Live

As for me, I’ll be seeing the work the Police do in Birmingham South up close – I’ll be Tweeting from my own twitter account tomorrow live between 3pm and 5pm as I join Sergeant Tim Evans in one of the Birmingham South Police Cars attending call out’s in the area. I hope you can join me on Twitter to see how I fare, and Birmingham South Police to watch their “day in the life of” un-fold!

 

It’s All About Communication

Birmingham South Police Contact DetailsMy local Police force, Birmingham South Police, yesterday held a 24 Hour Tweet-a-thon to promote the fact that they were now using the social networking site, Twitter.

Tweets from Birmingham South PolicePosting Tweets throughout the day to highlight what the force was doing that day in my local area – which includes my hometown of Weoley Castle, as well as Quinton, Harborne, Edgbaston, Bournville, Cotteridge, Stirchley, Kings Heath, Kings Norton, Northfield, Longbridge and West Heath – there were reports throughout the day of crackdowns on crime including drug busts, road traffic accidents, suspicious activity reported by members of the general public and local businesses and even a lost puppy – all of which were followed up later on with news of how the incident was resolved (the puppy was found, safe and sound!).

I found the Tweets a fascinating insight into what my local Police force do on a day-to-day basis.

Birmingham South Police Facebook PageI wasn’t the only person who thought this – as the Birmingham South Police Twitter account shot up to over a 1000 followers throughout the day, and for those not familiar with Twitter, there was also a Birmingham South Police Facebook Page which also provided a mechanism to see what was happening and to provide feedback.

Now I know I’m not the only person who has at times bemoaned the fact that it “feels” there is never a Police officer around when you want one. I’ve heard this same complaint from neighbours and friends.

Statistics don’t make you feel safer

I’m also not the only person who doesn’t seem to find comfort in the fact that the Home Office announced that Crime figures had fallen 8% in the last Quarter. The statistic doesn’t make me “feel” safer.

Why is that? I think it’s because most people don’t relate to statistics, and instead go with how they actually “feel” based on what they observe.

I spoke to lots of friends and neighbours who had followed Birmingham South Police’s 24 hour Tweetathon yesterday, and without fail every one of them said something similar to “I had no idea of how much the Police do every day!”. From these conversations, I felt a sense of re-assurance and faith in the local Police Force that I hadn’t noticed before. These friends liked knowing what was happening locally – whether it directly affected them or not.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is – it’s all about communication, both giving people the opportunity to engage with you if they choose to do so, acknowledging them, and keeping people “in the loop”.

When I ran an MSP, I became very aware of the fact that we’d take clients on – it was typically when they ‘d been let down by other IT providers, their Infrastructure was in a shambles due to lack of maintenance, and IT was causing lost time and money on a day-to-day basis for their business. After we’d stabilised the situation with pro-active monitoring and maintenance, within months the client would often get to the point where they rarely needed to call upon our services to resolve problems – simply because the problems had ceased to exist. It’s at this stage that they started to question why they were paying for our services at all – after all, everything is now ok, right?

So the realisation dawned that it wasn’t enough to fix problems and proactive prevent others. The business had to be made aware of what we were doing for them, and how it helped them. We sent out Daily Reports, Weekly Summaries, and decision makers received Monthly Executive Summaries. On quiet days, we sent engineers to site to resolve problems that could be dealt with remotely – so we weren’t just a voice the end of a telephone. We regularly met with clients for Business Reviews – not just when there was a problem. Changes such as upgrades and patches were notified to the client in advance, along with reasons and timescales. Requests for support were followed up with regular e-mails and phone calls, both during and after.

Are you communicating well enough?

At times, the only complaint we got was that we “over-communicated”, and that’s a complaint a lot easier to deal with than having to to justify your continued existence to a client during a budget cut.

It doesn’t just apply to Service Delivery either. Ask yourself:-

  • Do your clients know about all the products and services you provide?
  • Do your partners and allies know about your latest successes?
  • Do your prospective clients really know that you can help them with their pain points?

Whether the regular Twitter updates are to continue from Birmingham South Police or not, I’m not sure, but based on the Tweetathon I think those involved at the Police force should consider the experiment a huge success – they’ve re-assured people, and there are around 1,000 local residents (effectively, their “clients”) who now feel connected and acknowledged by their local Police Force.

It’s an experiment that many of us in all walks of business and life could learn from.

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