Friday, July 29, 2016

SOP Friday: Organizing Your Management

As your business grows, you need to plan a few steps ahead. This is particularly important when you look at the overall structure of your company.

I know you've seen dozens of organization charts . . . and they all look somewhat the same. Still, you need to create YOUR org chart and then begin to make that vision come true.

As usual, most people don't think about the structure of their management team until they have a management team. As a result, they build something on the fly instead of creating something with intention.

There are two cold, hard realities that you need to address as you company grows. First, there's an absolute limit on the number of people you can manage directly. Second, the more of a control freak you are, the slower your business can grow.

Another reality (warmer and softer) is that the owner is the most important person within your company. That means the owner's time is valuable. The owner should not be wasting time doing work that can be farmed out for a small amount of money. The owner should also not be operating as the personnel department.

A few of these points are covered in this video, posted today:


How Many People Can You Manage?


The first big truth is that most good managers can manage fewer than ten people directly. In my experience is big corporations, education, and my my own companies, I know I can manage no more than 7-10 people. And the fewer the better.

It's not that people are hard to manage or that you get mired down in personal conflicts or anything like that. There's paperwork. There are reviews and goals and meetings. You have make sure payroll is taken care of. You also have to track vacation and manage time off and schedules.

And every once in a while there are conflicts and issues that need to be addressed.

Taking care of all that for one or two people is trivial. But when it grows to five, ten, or fifteen, then all this busy work takes a lot of time.

In a very small business, I think your first hire should be an administrative assistant (see a lot of my blog posts on this). Eventually this person will grow to be the Office Manager, handling the screening of lots of candidates and managing other administrative assistants you hire.

The next manager you hire will be your Service Manager. That person will run the service staff and manage the technicians. After than you might add a sales person. And if the sales organization grows, you might eventually have a sales manager. In this way, you staff can get to be fairly large and the owner only has a few "direct reports" to manage.


Don't Be a Control Freak!


When I started my first business I was afraid to delegate. Other people don't share my vision. They don't share my commitment. They don't have my mix of skills and pickiness. They do things differently.

I overcame all that in order to grow my business. Now I'm pretty much the opposite. When a new thing needs to be done, the first thing I do is find someone other than me to do it. Refusing to delegate puts an absolute limit on your ability to grow your business.

The other major limitation on your business is your willingness to let other people actually work for you. So often business owners hire people but maintain so much control that their employees never get to shine. Remember the lessons from Danial Pink's book Drive: Employees are motivated by autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Hire good people and let them amaze you at how good they can be. You can let go of the reins gradually if you want to. But you have to let go of them eventually. When you find a really good office manager or service manager, you'll happily hand them authority.

It's always still your company.

Grow your company with intention and create the kind of culture you want. Hiring managers helps you do more, make more, and enjoy it more. And with the right managers, your vision can take shape must faster!


Don't worry if you don't know your limits. Eventually they'll reveal themselves.

:-)


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Class Schedule Change - and an Amazing 4-course Deal!

We changed the class schedule a bit at Great Little Seminar. So if you're interested in any of our 5-Week courses, please visit www.GreatLittleSeminar.com.

We are also pleased to announce a great bundle that will take you through the end of the year:

All four remaining courses for only $799!


Save almost $200 when you enroll in the last four courses of the year at Great Little Seminar.

Includes:

  • Highly Successful Project Management - Instructor: Karl W. Palachuk 
  • Critical Habit for Success: Working in Real Time - Instructor: Manuel Palachuk 
  • Financial Processes that Make All the Difference - Instructor: Rayanne Buchianico 
  • Core Standard Operating Procedures for Small IT Providers - Instructor: Karl W. Palachuk 


Buy the bundle now for only $799!


That's 20 hours of education - plus massive amounts of handouts and downloads - for only $799.

This collection of courses includes all of our best instructors and the most popular courses we offer. The regular price for the four is $996. All courses are recorded - So even if you miss one or two, you can easily catch up.

Your satisfaction is always guaranteed.

:-)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Check Out the Course: Project Management in Small Business

We have a great class coming up next week: Project Management in Small Business.

This 5-week course is based on the methodology in our book. In fact, tuition includes a copy of the book and all associated forms - plus lot of other handouts.

All classes are one hour long and are recorded in both webinar and audio formats.


Check out the promo video!


This course will cover the most important aspects of project management for small business. It is intended for computer consultants, VARs, and managed service providers. Whether you sell projects on a Time-and-Materials basis or flat fee, it is critical to manage them successfully. Successful projects are more than simply profitable. Successful projects make you look good. They make the client more productive and potentially more profitable. They help you build a positive relationship.
This course is intended for consultants who are new to project management as well as those who have been running projects for years and would like to take a serious step up to a the next level of professionalism and profitability.
This is an intensive teleseminar course over a five week period. All assignments are voluntary, of course. But if you want feedback on assignments, please complete assignments during this course and email them to the instructor.
project managementTopics to be presented include:
  • Different kinds of project management; What’s best for this job?
  • Tools to Use for managing your projects
  • Documentation at all stages
    • Pre-Discovery Process
    • The Discovery Process
    • Documentation and Communication
    • After the Project
  • Checklists of all kinds
  • Project Planning, Quoting, and Selling
  • Why Projects Go Wrong
  • The Scope is Everything
  • Closed Loop Project Management
  • How an Ant Eats an Elephant
  • Managing Projects in Your PSA
  • Microsoft Project
  • Client Training
  • The Evaluation Process
  • Managing Time / Managing Employees
  • Outsourcing Options
  • Creating Repeatable, Successful Projects
  • Building an Action Plan that works

Overview of the Course
Week One:     Introduction / Setting the Stage
Week Two:     Project Planning, Quoting, Selling
Week Three:   Closed Loop Execution
Week Four:     Repeatable Success
Week Five:      Implementing Your PM Process
Includes five weeks of teleclasses with related handouts, assignments, and "office hours" with the instructor.
This course is intended for business owners and managers. It is particularly useful for the Service Manager or Operations Manager.

Register Now

Friday, July 22, 2016

Hiring Process Overview

Just posted a video on the ten steps we take to hire a new technician. Or almost anyone, really.

Ten steps might seem like a lot, but it's not. After all, you need to ...

1. Define the Job
2. Post the ad and collect resumes
3. Sort resumes and find good candidates
4. Hold a quick one-minute interview
5. Have an interview by the owner/manager
6. Have an interview by one or more technicians
7. Take the candidate to lunch (interview)
8. Give the candidate some homework
9. Score the candidate and compare scores
10. Make an offer

Of course I go into some detail here.




You might not use this exact process, but you should have SOME process. If you don't define it now, you'll just fumble around when it's time to hire someone. Our experience is that when we follow the process we get good employees. When we don't follow the process, we don't get good employees.

Define a process that makes sense for your business!

Please subscribe to my SOP YouTube Channel!

:-)

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Y$10K - Don't Panic!

Reminder: I've set up a page to index the Y$10K blog articles. You can find it at http://www.smallbizthoughts.com/events/Y$10K/. Articles are listed in the order written, so you can start at the top and work your way down if you want to catch up.
 - - - - -

I hope you've got at least a little money in the stock market by now. See my "Quick Primer on Investing" blog post. If you haven't started yet, you can get going right now. See also the post on buying advice within your stock account.

Again: Standard disclaimer. I'm not a financial planner. Blah blah blah.

- - - - -

Today we're going to talk about the day you dread as a new investor: The day the stock market drops 10% or 20% all at once. (You never completely get over this dread, by the way.)

But you can prepare for that day by having a strategy. And when the day comes, you need to execute your strategy and NOT PANIC. Here are the key lessons from those blog posts that you have to remember when the market suddenly goes south:

1) On any given day, any given stock (or the market as a whole) can go down 10% or 20% or 30%.

2) The stock market eventually always goes up.

3) Don't track your stocks too closely.

4) Do not start "playing" the market.

These are extremely important when the market goes down. They will allow you to "keep your head" - and your money!


A Correction is Coming!


How do I know that? Simple: A correction is always coming. I personally suspect that we will see a correction before the November Presidential election in the U.S. due to the rise of uncertainty. But I could be 100% wrong. The correction might come in December, or in 2017 or 2019 or 2025.

Realistically, we will probably see a correction sooner rather than later. Why? Primarily because the market is at all-time high levels. The market has a tendency to "test" itself. Is this a bubble? Are these high prices based on reality, or on empty optimism? No one knows for sure until something triggers a sell-off.

Remember: The market as a whole is a large fiction. We believe Amazon stock is worth $750 or $800 per share because a lot of people are willing to pay that. If tomorrow people are only willing to pay $500/share, then that's what it's worth. We like to think a stock price is related to estimated future earnings, but sometimes it's just not.

So here's what happens: Some event or news triggers nervousness and stocks begin to sell. Why? Well, with the market above 18,000 they want to lock in their gains by converting to cash. Once enough people sell a stock, the price drops. More people sell now, worried that they'll lose money, and the price goes down more and more.

That's why you can't panic.

Most of the time, corrections such as this are tests. After a day or two, these stocks are simply considered "on sale" and people begin buying them again. After all, if I think Amazon is really worth $800, then I'm going to buy all I can at $500, $600, and $700. So now buyers rush back in, driving prices back up.
From finance.Yahoo.com, obviously

If you invested in a stock market fund that follows the DOW when I posted my blog in January, you bought the market at about $15,700. Today it's at $18,500. That's an increase of about 18%. Let's put that in perspective.

If you are hoping to gain 10% on your investment this year, you would expect about 5% every six months (without any compounding). So you might expect your investment to be at about $16,500 right now.

If there's a correction and the market drops ten percent from it's current price of $18,500 it will go down to $16,650. You'll still be ahead of where you thought you'd be!

If there's a correction and the market drops twenty percent from it's current price of $18,500 it will go down to $14,800. You'll be down from your purchase price. But you'll still have half the year ahead of you.

Remember the rules from above. Markets go up and down. But they always go up in the long run! So don't panic and don't sell when the correction comes.

Here's the simple formula that allows you to ignore your stock portfolio when a correction happens: Don't put money in stocks if you're going to need it in the next 1-2 years. Really. That's it.

Once you get enough money invested, a Certified Financial Planner will help you create a tiered approach to investing. So you'll have investments you expect to need in five years, ten years, twenty years, etc. From time to time, money will need to be moved from one tier to the next. Longer-term investments can be riskier because you have a longer time to recover. That means they have greater growth potential.

So if all the money in your stock investments is money you won't need for three years, you can sleep soundly at night when the market drops suddenly and recovers slowly.


The Good News About a Correction

Remember I said that a correction is a test to see whether the market it too high? Well it's also a test to see how solid the "floor" is underneath the market. The market might drop down and then climb a little, then drop down more and climb more. It will do this three or four times because investors feel confident that it just won't go down any more.

When that process is finished, it's literally like a climber who is convinced that his foothold is solid and he can begin climbing confidently again. Very often in this scenario, the climb can be very steep. So the reward for simply ignoring your investment is that it bounces up very well after the bottom of the market has been thoroughly tested.


Note on Volatility and Timing

Just a few quick words about treating the stock market like a game: Don't.

In all that up-and-down activity during a period of correction, testing, and renewed growth, some stocks will stay down for a long time. I remember when Xerox stock dropped dramatically in the mid-1990s and didn't recover for a decade. So individual stocks are pretty dicey for small investors.

You might be the smartest person you know about money and stocks. But if you're reading this, I assume you're not a financial planner. So there's no way you're going to out-smart the market. Most financial planners can't, and they do it for a living. By the time you figure out what the trend is, the professionals have either safe-guarded all their money or made big gains. You see the result of that and follow suit.

Making the "right" move one step too late will always leave you chasing the best informed investors. So don't try. That's just my opinion.


Final note: If there's a big correction between now and November, you may point to me and say I'm a genius. Or Google "Is a stock market correction near?" and say that I was stating common sense.

If the correction doesn't come, then look for one in the six months after that. Or the six months after that. It has to happen eventually. Whenever it does, you can say I predicted it.

:-)

Friday, July 15, 2016

Nuking and Paving - What's Your Policy?

I just posted a new SOP video on Nuking and Paving. That's when you format a hard drive and totally re-install everything on a computer. (A modern alternative is to simply remove and replace the hard drive so you can get an extra terabyte of storage and then reinstall everything.)

When do you Nuke and Pave? What are the factors to consider?

And most importantly, how does this policy affect your profitability?

Watch the Video:


A few factors to consider are the skills of the technician, the cost to the client, and the promises you've made in your contracts.

Some problems are simply not fixable - but 99% are. Some problems are just too expensive to fix. But you have to figure out what "too expensive" means to you and the client.

Feedback welcome.

:-)

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Seven Chakras of Managed Service

The Seven Chakras of Managed Service


The chakras are the energy centers for your managed service business. Through them flow the vital energies that keep your business healthy and profitable. You must put your attention on each of these in turn so you can maintain a happy, healthy, and vibrant business.

Here's a quick summary:

The Root Chakra is at the base of your business. It includes the fundamental understanding between you, your clients, and your employees. It is manifest in the trust you all feel within your relationships. It is visible in your service contracts, spoken words, agreements to serve and to be paid fairly. This is also the core of your promise to take care of the client by taking care of their network.

The Sacral Chakra is the center of your creativity. It represents your commitments to new technologies and techniques. It is manifest in your commitments to learning, training, and sharing the knowledge you have about how things should be done and how service should be delivered.

The Solar Chakra represents wisdom and power. This is the home of your commitment to monitoring client systems, establishing alerts, and a constant awareness of their system health. This is also the source of your enlightened preventive maintenance, as opposed to a baser practice of waiting until things break and a client is in pain before you provide assistance.

The Heart Chakra represents loving and healing. It is manifest in your patch management, monthly maintenance procedures, backups, and constant testing. All the actions you take to systematically improve the health of client networks spring from this chakra.

The Throat Chakra represents communication, both within your company and between your company and your clients. This communication has many facets. At the most formal level, it is manifest in your Service Board, your ticketing system, your standard operating procedures and email templates. At a more informal level it is seen in your meetings, phone calls, emails, and personal interactions. Good communications make relationship flow in a positive direction.

The Third Eye Chakra represents awareness. This is the "big picture" view you take of client relationships, the long-term plan for your company, and the long-term planning of your client's network infrastructure. It is manifest in quarterly business reviews (road map meetings). The ultimate manifestation occurs when client sincerely see you as part of their team and a vital piece of their success. When you achieve that, you are no longer an outsider providing help on a temporary basis.

Many companies never achieve this level of awareness.

The Crown Chakra represents your guiding philosophies about business. These include a commitment to quality service, a commitment to working with good people, a commitment to good employee management, and a commitment to positive culture. An efficient and profitable business is a wonderful thing, and made even more valuable by the daily opportunity to work with clients, employees, and vendors who respect and enjoy each other.

It is a simple but powerful framework. Success in balancing these elements requires constant vigilance. Some days are more successful than others. But you get to start over every day!

Namaste.

:-)

Friday, July 08, 2016

Video: Sample Client-Facing Presentation on Safe Computing

My latest video is a sample presentation. The core presentation is thirty minutes. There is a quick introduction at the beginning and note at the end for technology professionals. The middle section is exactly what I present to clients.

See that video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSRkV4XylRg


Please "Like" this and share it with other technology professionals.

I have zipped up the PowerPoint presentation in both PPTX and PDF formats at http://smallbizthoughts.com/events/Palachuk-SafeComputing.zip. Feel free to download that file. You can edit the PowerPoint and customize as you see fit.

The basic flow of the video for clients is:

- Intro

- Overview of viruses, the current "crypto" threat, and social engineering

- How we apply layers of security with firewall, anti-virus, patch management, and human behavior (policies)

- Being safe with email (delete, delete, delete)

- Being safe with browsing and pop-ups (Alt-F4, Alt-F4, Alt-F4)

- Extensions, file types that can execute code

- Why no one operates at a local (or network) administrator

- How to install programs, etc. with elevated privileges are required

Please enjoy the video . . . and I appreciate any feedback you have.

:-)

1,500 Blog Posts . . . And Counting

I started this blog in early 2006 - more than ten years ago! Hard to believe, but this is my 1,500th blog post. Some of those are pretty short, but most are not.

The Office We Moved to In 2006
The world has certainly changed, both for me and the for the IT consulting industry. The whole "Managed Services" movement was just getting started. In fact, back then we didn't have standard terminology for RMM, PSA, or even managed services itself. In 2006, the world of SMB IT was dominated by Small Business Server and Harry Brelsford was the Johnny Appleseed who had populated the landscape with SBS sales as well as user groups.

I believe there have been four generations of computer technology in small buisness and a fifth is around the corner.

The first generation was the introduction of grand-scale computing. This, is, businesses were able to buy time on shared computer services. Almost none owned an AS400 or HP-3000, but there were services that allowed them to get jobs done as needed.

The second generation was the introduction of truly small, "personal" computers. They were either not connected in any way, or they were occasionally connected by modem. Toward the end of this stage, some companies were being connected more often and by more means, such as Compuserv. This led inevitably to the third generation - networked computers.

That third generation is where SBS flourished. Companies were introduced to the idea that they could have a "server" in their office and use it to control data and services across their office. With the explosion of Internet access, connecting became more important and valuable every year. That's about where we were in 2006.

The fourth generation of small business computing evolved with the growth of hosted services. Beginning with spam filtering and backup, we gradually started moving clients away from the servers we'd sold them in the third generation.

I would typify the fourth generation - the current generation - as a hybrid model. There's plenty of on-premise equipment and will be for some time. And while we continue the trend of moving more and more systems to a hosted environment, we're also seeing the establishment of the next generation. That will be a cloud-only world for small business. We are late enough in the fourth generation that I believe a vision of the fifth generation is very clear.

The only reason the fourth generation is lasting so long is simply due to an abundance of technicians who don't know any other way to do things, are not themselves sold on the "cloud," and are not proposing changes to their clients. Those technicians are mostly aging and retiring.

I should note that each generation is defined by having about 80-90% of businesses living with a specific set of technology solutions. There will always be businesses without computers. There will always be businesses that use time share, have no network, and manually move data from one machine to another. And there will always be businesses with servers and data storage onsite.

The most enduring piece of technology since the early 1980's has been the basic desktop computer. It looks essentially the same. If you look at the early IBM PCs and compatibles such at the Zenith 100-series, you see all the core functions of the desktop computer. The screen have changed. The keyboards have changed (though maybe not for the better), the processors have changed, and the peripheral inter-connections have changed.

But the function of the desktop remains essentially the same. People have their own little computer. They use it for word processing, graphics, and other "production" work. They store data somewhere. Work can be shared. And most of the time, you can get work done even if connections to other machines are interrupted for a period of time. And you can print out your work!

Maybe the sixth generation of SMB technology will do away with the desktop and printers, but I doubt it. Some technology is permanent. Or at least it's 100-year technology and not 5- or 10-year technology. The telephone appears to be permanent technology. The wired versions lasted 100 years. Automobiles appear to be permanent technology. The gasoline version lasted 100 years. And I believe the individual desktop computer will be permanent technology. We're about 40 years into that.


So . . . this little blog has been around ten years. It has seen the evolution of managed services and of cloud services. It has seen the end of the third and the beginning and middle of the fourth generation of small business computing technology. To be honest, I hope I've had some influence on what those emerging technologies look like.

Whether I or this blog will be around another five years remains to be seen. But I'm certainly going to try!

Thanks for reading and sharing this blog.

:-)

Thursday, July 07, 2016

How Do You Train Clients to Use the Ticketing System?

Steven sent me a question: "How do you recommend training your clients to use the ticketing system versus just picking up the phone?"

Great question. If you've been reading for long, you know that I don't answer my phone and recommend you don't either. I also don't want clients sending me email, text messages, or tweets to get service.

Our preferred method is that clients use our ticketing system. There are three things we do to encourage/enforce this.

First, we train clients on our expectations. When clients sign up with our service - and from time to time thereafter - we give them a handout that describes how to enter a service ticket. See the illustration. We use the MAX Service Desk, but every system we've used has had a similar system. We have set it up so that it's very clear what to do: Click - Submit Ticket.

We also have a support email address that creates a ticket. Some clients love that. But see the note below. You need to enforce this.

We also give clients a description of what High, Medium, and Low priority tickets mean so they can decide which to use. And we encourage them to give meaningful titles to their tickets. "Larry's Computer" is not useful. "Larry can't access the public calendars" is useful.

Second, respond right away. The reason some clients don't like a ticketing system is that they don't feel heard. On the phone or with a quick email response they can feel that their request is getting some attention - even if it's not. So we've set the Service Desk to send us an email when a new ticket is entered. I then forward this ticket to the client with enough of a response that they know I got it.

Some clients complain that they don't think the ticketing system is working because they didn't get a human response. Sometimes they don't even notice that their system has already been fixed! But it doesn't matter. They need this communication piece so they get a sense that the system works. After you do this quick turn-around response a few times, then they believe.

Note: Responding is not the same as working the ticket. You might simply say, "Thanks for entering a ticket. I'll be working on this in the next 72 hours." (Then you better do it!)

Third, you have to be willing to enforce your process. Don't respond to emails sent as service requests. Instead, enter a ticket and be sure it's sent to notify the user. They'll see that you entered a ticket.

Phones are the same way. Your voicemail prompt should say, "For fastest service, please submit a ticket through our service desk or email support@company.com."

Do not respond to direct emails. Instead, create a ticket and make sure they are notified. BUT don't do it immediately. If you get a direct email instead of an email to support@, you need to wait at least 30 minutes before you enter that ticket. NOTE: This is much easier if you keep Outlook closed instead of open. That way you legitimately will not be interrupted by new email. Check your email once an hour and create tickets for clients who need it.

If you have someone who answers the phone, they are authorized to create tickets for clients. But they should not work the ticket right away! In fact, the best person to answer the phone is a non-technical person. When the client starts into a description of their problem, the appropriate response is, "Would you like to create a ticket for that or would you like me to?" Also, this person needs to make clear that the ticket will be worked "soon" but that all tickets are sorted from highest to lowest priority and from oldest to newest.

This person should also ask the question, "How urgent is this?" You'll be amazed at how often clients will say that it's not urgent at all. But it does need to be fixed.

So, here's the summary:

1) Educate the client on expectations and the system
2) Use the system so they see that they get excellent service
3) Enforce the system


- - - - -

Side Note on "Rules"

All these rules exist for a reason. It's not to be arbitrary. And your clients need to understand this.

With managed service, most problems are prevented. So you're no longer running around putting out fires. To be honest, virtually all problems are caused by clients doing things they shouldn't. So they're pretty understanding.

Also, when you talk to clients about these processes, 99% of them will say Okay. That's because they're reasonable people and these are reasonable processes. WE have decided for years that clients expect instant response no matter how small the problem is. In the past clients called because that's what we taught them to do.

Now we need to teach them something else.

The over-riding principles here are:

1) All work must be done from a service ticket. That means the ticket has to exist before work can begin.

2) All tickets are worked from highest to lowest priority and from oldest to newest priority. So oldest to newst Priority One; oldest to newest Priorty Two, etc.

3) You must track all of your time in order to verify the profitability of clients and contracts.

4) You should not have a system based on constant interruptions. The service board exists to help you create order and avoid chaos. Use it!

5) You have a duty to run a profitable business. Over-serving clients who didn't ask for it and don't pay for it is not a good strategy.

"The system" is designed to maximize client support and make money. That's a beautiful combination.

:-)