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Informal support network



Hi guys,

This is a proposal for an "informal" Debian support-for-hire
co-op organization.

The organization would be geared to service "incident" calls, received
via phone, email, fax, etc.  But once the initial referrals are made,
there is no reason each consultant can't establish more of a
'clientele' style relationship with the individual clients.

For starters, I think we can dispense with having centralized billing
and much of the other stuff that a "formal" company would have.  That
can be added later if the thing is actually successful.

Initially, I think we just need a unified marketing message, a single
web page, and a structure for referring incoming calls to the
individual consultants.

We could have this up and operating tomorrow if there was enough
support.  It's that simple (I think).

Here's a little plan:

 * Build a list of Debian consultants willing to participate.

 * Define the set of services we are going to provide - and tag a value
   on each of those.  For starters, don't worry about markup for the
   central organization/dispatch.  We could share the effort of making the
   web pages, and we could take turns answering the phones.
 
     - I'd suggest designating several classes of support:

       ie.  (this is just an example 'rate schedule' - don't take it
             seriously)

       'Basic 1' - installation support, hand-holding, this should
                    be low cost, and the high-end consultants
                    could steer clear of it - say $30US / hr
                    (perhaps this could be bundled with CDs)

       'Basic 2' - assistance with configuring specific packages 
                   $40US / hr

       'Samba 1' - assistance with configuring Samba - $50 hr
                   (only consultants with experience would do this
                    work)

       'DNS 1'   - setting up DNS servers - $50/hr

        ...

       'Kernel 3' - figuring out random Kernel crashes - possibly
                    doing kernel hacking - $200/hr

     - Note that this is a lot different that Bruce was suggesting.
       Instead of guaranteeing problem resolution (which is risky,
       and his rates were too low, and not time based) - we'll just
       bill by the hour to start.

     - It's fairly important, I feel, to have the same set of rates
       for the same class of work (but everybody doesn't have to do
       all classes of work).  The billing will be itemized based on
       the class of work.

 * Pick somebody to be the boss.  Since we won't be incorporated, and
   no money will be changing hands initially, the role of the boss is
   just to coordinate things, and to have the final say on who is allowed
   to be part of the network.  We need to be able to kick people out who
   aren't up to snuff, unfortunately.

 * Set up a schedule - each consultant would have to inform everybody
   when they are available to work - a week ahead of time.  They will
   be required to set the time aside - ie. they must be able to handle
   calls referred to them, or they will be kicked out.

   When working, we should have an IRC channel and private mailing list
   so we can communicate back-and-forth.

 * Choose people to answer the phones.  I'm willing to answer phones
   at my phone number from 10-4 Pacific Time.  We should have multiple
   numbers that a potential customer can call (with the schedule on the
   website).  There isn't an overwhelming need to set up a central phone
   number - and that wouldn't work well internationally anyways.

   With more people answering phones, we could have quite a range of
   overlapping time coverage.  I've got voice mail on my phone too, so if
   I'm away from the phone (or on it) - people can be referred to another
   number.

   We should attempt to be fair in referring the calls, which I don't
   anticipate will be a big problem to start.

   I've got a fax line too (mgetty -> email with .g3 attachments).  So
   I could forward faxes to everybody.

 * Make a web page, do some announcements, and get some links to the
   web page.

 * Money

    - client calls will come in, and they will be referred to the
      individual consultants.  Each individual consultant will be
      responsible for establishing a contractual relationship with the
      client and doing their own billing. (relying on the standard
      rates)

    - once one consultant has established a contractual relationship
      with the client - that consultant can farm out work (sub-contract)
      to the other consultants in the co-op network - at his/her
      discretion.  In order to provide unified billing, we'll do "adhoc"
      peer contractual relationships.

    - we can share forms, programs, contract forms etc. amongst ourselves
      so that we remain relatively consistent, and can share some of the
      work involved.

That's about all I can think of for now.  I must admit that this is
totally biased towards the way I would like to work - I'm more keen to
experiment with the concept (temporarily) rather than get involved in
some big fancy corporate setup.

Flame away...  :-)

Cheers,

 - Jim


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