Career Opportunities

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A weekly ComputorEdge Column and Podcast by Douglas E. Welch

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July 16, 2004

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Each new season brings a new initiative here to the Career-Op offices. Summer takes us away from the beautiful outdoors – at least for a little while – and into the wild and wooly world of statistics. Perhaps it was the act of helping my wife with the statistics for her Master’s thesis, but I got a sudden urge to know a little bit more about my clients. There is career gold to be mined in those hills of data, but only if they spur you to new projects and the betterment of your career.

A host of information

Every job, whether inside a large corporation or a freelance career generates a large amount of data. Your job is to turn that data into information; information that you can use to build your career or your business. Too often, though, we ignore the data that surround us in favor of the day-to-day struggle to survive. If you aren’t collecting, and then analyzing this data, you need to begin today.

One of the first thoughts that crossed my mind, when the statistics bug bit, was the median age of most of my clients. I knew from anecdotal information that I had a lot of older clients, but I never realized how many. My rough statistics at the moment put the number of older clients (age 50+) at well over 90%. Hmmm. That brings some immediate issues to mind. Why are my clients older? Do younger people not need as much assistance with computers? Where are my new clients going to come from? How do I attract younger clients? How do their needs differ?

I have filled pages of my journal with questions like these (and some answers) since I began thinking about these statistics. This is the best reason to start gathering and analyzing statistics in the first place. They generate questions. Not just easy questions, either. They generate questions that will take some hard thought. They might even lead you down entirely new career paths, if you let them. Don’t be afraid of what the statistics might tell you. Be afraid of ignoring their inherent message.

Better service and support

Another immediate effect of my statistical burrowing was an increase in the level of service and support that I am offering my existing clients. At one time, I had a basic understanding of what equipment each client used. This one had a Mac; this one a PC; a laser printer here and an inkjet printer there. Over time, though, these records had fallen dreadfully out of date. This was especially true if I hadn’t worked with the client in the last several months, which often happens.

Now I am re-developing these records, classifying clients by the type of computer, operating system, internet connection speed, network equipment and even whether they have a digital camera. I am now taking a photograph of each client, sitting at their computer, of course, as a visual reminder of them and their office setup.

This data allows me to quickly remember details when a client calls with a question and also allows me to send directed email notices to them when security issues are found or software is updated. For example, most of my clients use Linksys routers to share their broadband connection. When new firmware is released by Linksys, I can contact each client, assist them in installing the firmware on their own or schedule an appointment to do it on-site.

Not only do I intend to continue updating this basic information, I am now always looking for additional items to track. As new technology enters my client’s office and homes, I will have a basic record that can assist me in doing a better job. This same information keeps me aware of older hardware and software, as well, so I can recommend upgrades and replacements in a timely fashion.

The fin al step in the equation is a new system of to-do and follow-up items in my calendar program. Every single client has, at least, one pending to-do, even if it is only a general follow-up call once a month. This new list keeps me apprised of these pending items and allows me to suggest solutions to my clients in an on-going fashion. This helps my clients and, from a business standpoint, it gives me a tool to drive business and helps to counteract somewhat the “feast and famine” cycles that effect independent consultants.

Gathering data is not difficult if you do it each and every day with every call and every client. Turning this raw data into information can be somewhat more difficult, but the benefits to your clients, your work and your career are immense. It only takes a few minutes with your data to start generating new thoughts and new ideas about how best to serve them both.

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