Barry Saiff is an American-born founder of Saiff Solutions – a management consultancy based in the Philippines that provides technical documentations and other solutions.
Human Asia caught up with him recently.
Tell us more about Saiff Solutions
Barry: Saiff Solutions is a knowledge process outsourcer (KPO). We provide services such as technical documentation , illustrations, Visual Learning Ecosystem, motion graphics, marketing and strategy consulting – primarily to overseas clients.
Our biggest business is technical documentation – writing about technology. For example, you don’t need a manual to use an ATM machine. However, for one of our customers we have written dozens of manuals on ATM maintenance, troubleshooting, and repair. We write online help for software applications. We create detailed technical drawings to accompany some of the more complex written documentation we provide.
There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000 technical writers in the world. Any company that provides a product or service probably provides some kind of product or service documentation.
Most of our business is in the field of technical communications, which cuts across many, many industries. We are now branching out into other fields – such as educational media, video post-production, and marketing.
We provide complete solutions. We work with our customers to collaboratively resolve the complex technical issues that are involved in providing excellent customer experiences.
Around the world, there is a consistent issue: customer service doesn’t work well. Customers are not satisfied. Most people would prefer to find the help they need themselves, rather than calling a help desk. When they do call they are usually unsatisfied with the results. Smart companies are beginning to realize that, if they invest in improving their content, they can reduce customer support costs and increase customer satisfaction. We are a part of that story. We believe that our services provide a much better model for success in the 21st century, and can provide a much better future for the Philippines.
Why did you choose The Philippines to build this business?
Barry: The Philippines is arguably the most western-friendly culture in Asia. I myself am from the USA. Also, the cost of living in the Philippines is much lower than Singapore or Hong Kong. The wide difference in cost of living between the Philippines and the US, UK, Japan, Australia creates economic opportunity.
What have been the main strategies that have worked well to effectively position the company in the market?
Barry: The main strategy has to been to build Barry’s reputation in the technical communications field. We use webinars and conferences to connect with a broad range of potential customers. We provide useful educational content that helps this audience, via blog posts, newsletters, webinars, etc. We promote all of the above on social media. We have a professional web site and focus relentlessly on excellent quality, honesty, integrity, and customer service. We treat customers and employees as valued friends or family members.
Are your clients’ needs evolving in line with the rapidly changing business climate?
Barry: Contents increasingly must be “intelligent” in some ways – integrated into software, able to be manipulated by automated processes, etc. However, this is one of several “trends” that are very slow to catch on. A customer may be on the leading edge in some ways, but way behind the times in others. Generalities are often not that useful.
What new services are you planning to introduce in the future?
Barry: We have recently started doing animations and video editing, and web site content. We expect to soon provide e-learning modules and visual learning ecosystem (VLE) content.
Tell us about your business philosophy and what is it like working in your company?
Barry: We are committed to building a large organization in which everyone is treated fairly at all times. This is actually a radical idea. We are committed to quality and excellence. Our values are paramount, and are more important than hierarchy. We want employees to question and challenge management, frequently. We train people to be globally-competitive, which means they cannot be silent and succeed at work. All questions are welcome.
We provide frequent, participatory training in our values, basic commitments, and vision. We provide many types of training to our staff, including transformational education, which provides new skills to enable people to exceed their former limitations. To succeed at SSI, you must be willing to change, even to change behaviors that have been in your family for generations, when such changes are needed to do the best job. For example, sitting quietly and nodding your head, if you don’t understand, is actually very disrespectful. Even though you may have been trained all your life not to talk back to authority figures, that behavior can actually destroy our company.
Barry, please tell us about your background and career path.
Barry: I worked in technical communications for 26 years in the US before moving to the Philippines. I led teams of technical writers at six US companies, including GE, IBM, Oracle, and Symantec. I also did a lot of volunteer work, and raised over $2 million as a volunteer fundraiser for The Hunger Project.
Why move from a lucrative career in the US to something new? And what skill set did you bring from your previous career?
Barry: When I got into technical writing, it was something I found I could do that I could earn money for. I was in it mainly for the money. Over time I came to enjoy it and identify with it, and found that I was very good at it. I had many challenges with management at first. I had always wanted to be a manager and saw myself as a good manager. But I made many large mistakes and faced many difficult challenges in managing. I learned a great deal from all of that. I became committed to the possibility of more effective and more humane management.
Coming from the US, how does a different cultural perspective contribute to your business decisions in Asia?
Barry: One of the reasons we are able to do such a good job for our customers is that I a) understand their challenges because I’ve been there, as a Documentation Manager/Director, b) have excellent English writing skills. In some of the markets we serve, such as the US, there is zero tolerance for mistakes in written English. We excel over competitors in India, for example, because often there is no one involved in those companies who has excellent English skills. Filipinos tend to have a very high tolerance for mistakes in written English. Left unchecked, such attitudes would quickly destroy our business. Also, the attitude in the US, at least until recently. has been “anything is possible” and “we are the best.” This contrasts sharply with “pwede na.”
What was the one thing that in hindsight was the best decision you have ever made for the company?
Barry: Hiring my coach, Hunter Roberts. At the end of 2014, after three years of massive losses, I realized three things:
If we were to get the sales to work, something needed to change.
I was that something that needed to change.
I didn’t know how I needed to change.
So I began looking for a coach. I started working with Hunter (remotely over Skype – she is in Europe), in early February, 2015. By the end of March we had two contracts with very large customers, and since April 2015 our revenues have exceeded our expenses.
Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Barry: Focus at least 25% of your efforts and time on improving yourself. Find out what your blind spots are. Do not assume that you know what you need to know, or that you know yourself well enough. That way lies disaster.
Be careful whom you trust, for what, and how much. Be very careful with money.
Treat others as you would have them treat you. Don’t lie, ever. Nothing is as valuable as your integrity. You can make money without integrity, but that is unlikely to make you truly, deeply happy. If you are true to yourself, you can enjoy life and find enormous rewards in your work, whether or not you are making great money.
Learn to listen. Don’t give up on your vision. Don’t allow others to convince you to give up on your dreams. Persistence is more valuable than money, intelligence, talent, or skill. Have a vision. Write it down. Have goals. Write them down. Have values. Write them down. You will be challenged. All of the above will support you. But you also need human support. Find the people in your life who believe in you, who will support you no matter what, and spend a lot of time with them. Quickly reduce or eliminate time spent with people who don’t support you. Humans are social animals. You are not an island. Stay connected, always.
Visit Saiff Solutions at http://saiffsolutions.com/home/
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