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More DConsult ideas... (long)

Hi everybody,

I didn't get much done much on the web site this week, unfortunately.

But I've had ideas popping into my head all week that I thought I'd
share in this really long email.

First off, I'm very encouraged by the line-up of people who have
expressed interest (see dconsult.ml.org).  With that many people, it
makes a pretty strong business case for me to devote quite a bit of
time to putting together a plan and some marketing materials.

If I spend a month putting things together (with some help) - I
imagine that we could have a very impressive set of services that we
would be able to deliver to our clients.

If it comes together the way I imagine it, I have quite a few friends
and connections with private business and government that would be
very interested in hearing the sales pitch.  I'd bet that many of you
are in a similar situation.  I think there is an awful lot of work out
there, and we may have the right recipe to get it.


I've been thinking about the organizational structure a bit.  I
previously called it a co-op, but it really isn't - because a co-op is
owned by it's customers, which isn't what we are doing.

I think it really should be structured more along the lines of a
non-profit "club" to start with, where every member has equal voting

That leaves things open in the future to move to a more-conventional
for-profit "company" style of organization, where every member is a
shareholder with differing amounts of shares and voting rights based
on how much equity they have invested.

If we go with the "club" model, we'll have to decide on dealing with
membership.  I think we should pick a point where the current set of
members constitute the "founding members".  After that point, any new
members accepted (or kicked out) will be determined by a vote.

Once we start doing "real" business - the organization will definitely
need to be incorporated.  Why?  Because if it is involved in
marketing, then it may be named in a lawsuit against one of the
independent members, and everybody would be liable.  If it is
incorporated, then the liability is limited.

I'd prefer it if we could hold off the point where we incorporated
until we were fully operational, and had our working relationships
sorted out -- because doing an incorporation costs several hundred
dollars, and restricts the ability of the organization to change.

Privacy Agreement

I haven't set up a private mailing list yet.  Before doing that, I
think we really need to agree on some "rules" -- and make sure the
members stick to them.

On the private mailing list, I want to be able to discuss things like
prospective sales leads, nasty things about certain customers, secret
plans, proposed contracts, etc.  Needless to say, we're on the
Internet, and stuff like that has the tendency to "leak" (which would
be bad).

So I think we should draft up a simple agreement that everybody can
agree to.  I guess it is a Non-Disclosure Agreement, but I dislike
calling it that (NDAs are typically contracts that are incompatible
with free software development).  When people say that they agree with
it, we'll add them to the list.

Eventually, we might want to develop a more comprehensive membership
agreement that we'll mail to everybody via postal mail.  Each member
will sign it and mail it back to me.  A signed agreement like that
will hold up a bit better legally.  This agreement might contain other
stuff, like clauses to restrict "poaching" of clients and employees
from other members.


Although the organization is geared towards hooking up the independent
Debian consultants, I think some of us aren't so independent.  ie. some
consultants already work for an ISP, or another consulting firm.

What do people think about that?  I personally don't have that much of
a problem with it.  Each consultant can have a link to the company they
work for (if they work for one).

Tracy Camp suggested developing a logo that each of use could put on
our respective websites.  That would be good - then we can have links
going both ways.

I'm not really keen on having "corporate memberships" though.  That
tends to muddify the marketing message, because then you sort of have
to explain how the various companies are intertwined.  I'd prefer, for
example, that a company that had four employees be represented by four
individual consultant memberships (and four votes).  Then we can focus
on marketing the skills of the individuals (not ignoring their

Perhaps we could even have consultants "on staff" that work for big
companies like Cygnus and Netscape.  I suppose that those companies
would have to buy into the concept first, of course - and use it as
part of their marketing plan.

The Web Site

As you probably have all seen, I did the first page of the website last
week (now at http://dconsult.ml.org/ ).

I'm not terribly happy with the name "DConsult" - that's why I haven't
run out and registered "dconsult.org" and "dconsult.com" (costs
money).  The logo I made is very disposable - I did it using script-fu
in the Gimp.  Also, I don't know if it sounds good (especially to
non-English ears).  Does anybody else have any name ideas?

I'm going to use SGML (XML?) to do most of the pages on the website.
The theory is that I will be able to use much of the same source to
generate non-web content (print brochures, manuals, etc.).

I'm going to try really hard to develop a system that makes it easily
to translate the information into multiple languages.  There will be
one primary English webmaster (me for now), and a designated
translator for each other language.  I plan to put everything into CVS
as well.  So when I update an english web page, I'll send an email to
each translator to update their web pages.  When all the webpages are
translated - we can install them to the production site.  We may not
want to translate some pages (ie. pages maintained by the individual

I am going to set up a private "staff" website as well, which will be
protected via a password (perhaps with cookies so you don't have to
type it in all the time).  This staff website will have stuff like the
archives for our private list, operational documentation, access to
the accounting system, databases, private schedules, interests, etc.

Similar to the "staff" website will be the "Private Client Login" website,
where clients can log in and see their private stuff, account balances,

I was thinking of building a "Debian Support Centre" website as well,
which would basically be a front-end onto my next generation dwww with
a customized stylesheet.  Via dwww, people will be able to view the
Debian mailing list archives, bug reports, package documentation, etc,
etc, etc.

Also, each person will get an account on my machine, so you will all
be able to upload stuff - which other members of the "dconsult" group
can view and/or edit.  Some directories may be linked to the web/ftp

"The Kit"

In order for this to work really well, we really need to disseminate
an awful lot of information about each other.

I propose building an "Operations Manual" which will contain the following:

 * Information about the Organizational Structure and Rules/Contracts
 * Business Plan
 * Consultant Profiles:
     - Contact Information
     - Brief write-up on what sort of work is wanted
     - Resume
     - Picture (wearing a tie, or something dressy and professional)
     - Skill sets, affiliations
 * Client Profiles:
     - Contact Information
     - Which consultant "owns" that particular client
     - Background info
     - Project history
     - Payment history
 * Project Information:
     - Client
     - Scope
     - Proposal/Plan
     - Who did what
     - Status reports
     - Post-mortem
 * Financial Information
     - Billings per consultant/client/customer
     - Balance sheet for central organization

All this information will be online via the staff website.

I'd also print up most of this information on paper, put it in some
nice binders, and postal mail it to everybody.  Then I'd mail out
updates several times per year.  We could include other stuff in this
"kit", such as giveaway CDs, hats, shirts, customized mousepads, etc.

Accounting System

I'd guess that most contentious item I am suggesting is that people
should disclose their billings, and discuss their "sales leads" on the
private mailing list.  I think this would be really good to do,
because we need some feedback to identify where to focus our marketing
efforts.  It also impresses the clients when we can definitively say
things like "We had $250,000 US in billings last year".

I want to investigate setting up an accounting system.  Perhaps
GnuCash (formerly xacc) would work with some enhancements.  I want to
get something set up for myself by the end of the month anyways so I
can dump Quicken (my taxes are due on the 30th).

We could have a central system to generate invoices - but I'd leave
the Accounts Receivable (ie. collecting the bills) up to each
individual consultant.

I still believe that we should be able to establish a standard rate
schedule that we all can use (perhaps taking into account some
regional variations).  This could evolve over time.  Before anybody
quotes a price to a customer, they should run the estimate past the
people on the list, and we can all decide how to structure the rates.

If we can settle on a standard way of determining rates/charges - that
will make it much easier for us to work together.

Initially, we won't publish our rates - but there may be cases where
we may want to (especially for consumer-grade services).  We'll have
to figure out where we want to concentrate.


I think the simplest marketing strategy would just be to promote the
skills of each of the individual consultants.  The website would have
pages for each individual consultant, and would also categorize the
consultants by areas of skill specialization, industry experience,
geographic areas and languages spoken.

Think of it as a "talent agency" formula. Sort of like the movie
`Jerry Maguire' for computer nerds. :-)

We should get everybody to send a nice colour photo (via the mail) to
me, and I can scan them in and we can use them on the website, in
brochures, advertisements, etc.  One caveat - everybody should dress
up semi-formally (ie. wear a tie).  Even if you do believe in the
'hacker ethic' and disdain the corporate suit-and-tie image - you're
basically going to have to "sell-out" a little bit so we can present a
unified "professional" image.  If all your pictures end up looking the one
on Alan Cox's page ( http://roadrunner.swansea.uk.linux.org/alan.shtml ),
we may have some problems selling to the suits (Alan is cool though).

I'd like to see one person do the webpages for all the consultants, to
make them very consistent.  Also, we should all have the same format
for our resumes, etc.  This will encourage people to comparison shop
between the listed consultants, and pick the one that fits their needs

Also, on the web page, I've got a "Portfolio" section, which we should
fill up with an impressive list of clients and projects.  We should
also make liberal use of press releases and newsletters, and develop
many channels (via the Internet and locally) through which we can
distribute them.

Another thing worth developing is an easy-to-deliver 1 hour 'dog and
pony show' (a presentation) to introduce the uninitiated potential
client to the DConsult organization.

Beyond just marketing individual skills, we can also work on package
deals - like the 'support coupon' idea.

It would be a good idea to give away free Debian CDs bundled with our
consulting services - to drive home the point that Debian is truly a
commodity operating system.  It might also be helpful in certain
situations where companies already have a 'preferred supplier' for
consulting services - because then we can just masquerade as a vendor
with support.  We could put out an RFP (Request for Proposals) to the
various CD manufacturers to get a good bulk deal.

Once we start making a bit of money, it may be worthwhile for
everybody to chip in so we can do some legitimate advertising.
There's really not much substitute for doing that when you want to
build an image.  The Linux Journal would be a good place to drop an
ad, plus a few Linux sites (ie. slashdot.org).  If we had a larger
budget, we could advertise in some of the IS rags (ie. InfoWorld,
PCWeek, Computing Canada).

Anyways, I've got more ideas - but this email is already way too long.
Please follow up to the list, if you will, so we can get some
discussions going.  Also, try to keep the followups shorter than this


 - Jim

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