Wednesday, December 27, 2006
One day he and I were sitting on the steps of the graduate school waiting for his car. He started reminiscing about attending U of M in the 1930's.
It is odd to me that, upon hearing of his passing, the one memory that stands out to me is this very casual conversation. I was finishing the Ph.D. program in Political Science and you might think that all I wanted to talk about was politics.
But today I'm happy that my lasting memory of Gerald Ford was personal (for him and for me) and not some innane discussion about some poltical topic that no one has cared about for twenty years.
Perspective is a beautiful thing.
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Part of balance means saying no. Or even NO!
Business owners tend to be doers and joiners. When someone drops a request on our laps, we tend to say yes. Whether its a client, a service organization, a church, or even our own business. When the world puts an abandoned puppy on our porch, we take it in.
But we all know that we have a tendency to do too much. We find ourselves on committees and members of clubs, starting new ventures, and joining others. At some point, we simply can't live up to all of our commitments.
The end of one year and the begining of a new year are a great time to review everything. This includes our commitments. And the degree to which we're over-extended.
When you're over-extended, several things are wrong:
- You're not living up to your commitments.
- Others are relying on you and you think you might be letting them down.
- Your business may be suffering due to inattention -- or attention to the wrong things.
- You feel stress because you "can't do it all."
In the big picture, you're spending time doing the wrong things. You're energy is bound up trying to figure out what you should be doing -- instead of doing something (anything) fruitful!
So why don't we stop? Why don't we drop some of these activies? The two primary reasons are guilt and habit.
Horace Mann said "Habit is a cable; we weave a thread of it each day, and at last we cannot break it."
There's very little we can do about our habits except to commit ourselve to change. Once committed, we must unravel our existing cable one thread at a time and begin weaving another to take its place.
Guilt is another matter.
Perhaps the best way to deal with guilt is to get some perspective.
Ask yourself: are you really obligated to (this cause/this committee/this organization/etc) simply because you have participated in the past? Probably not. So why do you participate?
- I find it personally fulfilling.
- I need a change from the other activities in my life.
- I enjoy the people/the project/etc.
- It makes me feel good/important.
- It helps me in my business.
- People express gratitude for what I do. I'm not taken for granted.
- Does it make me happy?
- Does it contribute to my physical or mental health?
- It is profitable?
- Other people expect me to be there.
- If I don't do it, who will?
- I made a commitment at some point.
- I started this and now a lot of people are expecting it.
- If I quit, I'll feel like a loser
Notice I added an extra line there?
Above the line are legitimate reasons to continue. Below the line are poor excuses to continue. Most of them involve you believing that the stuff won't get done without you. Sorry to tell you this, but you're wrong.
Some time ago I took on the job of program chairman for an organization because the president was over-worked and needed help. Two years later I found that I had taken on too many "outside" activities and needed to cut back. I felt that this one thing needed to be done by me because no one else would step forward.
Then I realized that was stupid. After all, the group existed for many years before I joined and has many members. Any group that relies solely on my participation for it's existence has a pretty weak foundation.
As 2006 comes to a close, I have removed myself from four major projects, organizations, or positions that took more from me than I got in return.
Part of me wants to feel guilty about that.
But I know that achieving balance means taking stock from time to time and deciding where to spend my energies. It is not selfish to take care of yourself. It is arrogant and selfish to think that communities, organizations, and projects can't survive without you.
When you re-evaluate and re-organize your commitments, you'll end up with more energy to dedicate to the remaining activities. You're time and talents will be more keenly focused and your contribution will be more meaningful.
So do yourself a favor: Re-evaluate your commitments. Put it all in perspective.
And have a happier, healthier, more balanced New Year!
Saturday, November 25, 2006
Yes, records. Old, plastic, vinyl, and much older materials.
I have about 2,000 LPs and about 1,500 78's.
In the days before everything was posted to the web or catalogs were available electronically, vendors used to send out paper catalogs. This cost them money, so they usually asked for $1 or $3 for a one-year subscription to defray the cost. If you ordered records, then they would send you the catalog for free the next year.
But if you didn't order for awhile, your catalog would come with a message written across the front:
"Do You Buy?"
It wasn't really a "communication" that required a response. It was more of a communiqué to let you know that you weren't going to get another year's worth of catalogs.
December is a great month for asking your clients the same thing: Do You Buy?
Most small consultants do not cull out their mailing lists/client lists very often.
The process is quite simple. We run a report in QuickBooks and sort all clients from highest to lowest sales. At the bottom of this list is the guy who bought a battery for $29.99 and the woman who attended a seminar for $49. Not far up from there is a group of people who think they're our clients, but really aren't.
If someone only buys labor, and only buys 1-2 hours a year, they're really not our client.
Some of these people are officially handed off to other consultants. This happens when they call us and we tell them that they really don't fit our model any more. We refer them to one of the consultants in our user group and everybody's happy.
Others haven't bought anything since we put them on the list of clients to be passed on. So they get a letter, nicely worded, that says that we can no longer support their needs. It invites them to call us if they need a referral.
Then the important house cleaning takes place: We take these folks (both groups) off our mailing list. Our newsletter, with materials, labor, and postage, costs about $1.50 each per month. But aside from the cost, I don't want these folks to call us.
They never have a big project, they'll never sign a contract, and they buy a new server every seven years whether they need it or not.
Too many of us spend too much time and energy chasing micro-customers. Perhaps it's because, when we start out, we need work. So we take what we can get. But over time you need to move past this. There are three primary reasons for this.
First, these customers take a lot more time than your "normal" customers. Before you can sell them something, including services, you need to come up to speed on their systems. Since the last time they called you, they bought an educational version of Office and installed in on the receptionist PC; they changed ISPs; and they bought three new laptops. Since you were not consulted or involved in any of this, you have to spend time that's normally not billable. And all that to get 1-2 hours of labor. In my opinion, this is not worth your time.
Second, your time has value. Yes it does. Now you need to start acting like it does. Your 2-3 hours spent getting an hour's wages out of this customer could be more profitably spent doing many things. You could read a good book. If you need recommendations, let me know. You could study for the 70-282 exam or another MCP exam. You could even give away your time to one of your larger clients. They'll love it. But make sure you let them know what you're up to. You could even give away your time to prospects via free network analyses that might turn to "real" jobs.
Third, you need to determine whether the client will ever be above the threshold you require for an engagement. Here's what I mean:
Major projects and all clients should have a threshold. If a client or project can't get over the threshold, then it's not worth your time. This might be a profit of $1,000 or of $5,000. Or, it might be some other messure, such as having one server, five workstations, and the intention of buying a new server.
It takes some getting used to. But you'll see that your top ten clients produce a huge percentage of your revenue -- certainly 80% and perhaps even 90%. The next ten clients product 90% of the remainder. And all the clients after that don't amount to 5% of your revenue. Look at them really hard. Let's be honest here. They keep saying they'll spend money. They're well-intentioned. Etc. Etc. But the truth is: these "clients" take more than their share of time and they return little or nothing.
So ask the simple question "Do You Buy?" If the answer is no, take them off your list.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
We have analogies in our business.
The other day I deleted a fold labeled "W2Kupdates" and had to defend my actions. "What if we need that?" You don't need it. Windows 2000 had four service packs. Add Windows XP and two service packs. That's seven generations. Vista will mean eight generations since your precious Windows 2000 came out.
The lane has merged. It's dissappeared. You're either driving on the side of the road or you need to get in the lane and drive properly. Eventually the side of the road leads to some obstacle.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
I have no argument with that, but want to recommend a variable you can add to your equation. In all businesses, there are owners willing to spend money and owners not willing to spend money. You need to find clients who are willing to spend money.
Some people say "I don't like lawyers" (or doctors or real estate agents or whoever) "because they don't spend money." I say there are lawyers and doctors and realtors who want to spend money and those who don't. The key is to differentiate between them.
One of the great books on building personal wealth is _The Millionaire Next Door_ by Thomas Stanley and William Danko. If your net worth is not yet a million dollars US, invest in this book. If you're in the $1-$3 million range, it's still a good read. If you're over that, take some time and write a book to share your insights with the rest of us.
In the meantime, here's an interesting thought inspired by the book. Stanley and Danko define what they call Prodigious Accumulators of Wealth (PAWs). This group is discussed at some length in the book. On a personal level, "the millionaire next door" drives a used car, prefers beer over champagne, has lived in the same house for twenty years, and avoids financing a personal lifestyle at the expense of a comfortable retirement. In other words, PAWs can be quite frugal.
So what makes a PAW a good client? One would think a PAW would be "cheap" and unwilling to spend money. And that's their tendency.
When do PAWs spend lots of money? According to Stanley and Danko, they spend money when they see it as an investment. So your success in appealing to these people depends on your ability to convince them that they are investing in technology.
This fits particularly well with a managed service model rather than a break/fix model.
After all, think about how you place these services. Break/fix work fits particularly well with clients who are willing to react to problems rather than pay for pre-emptive support. Pre-emptive support -- managed support -- is an investment in the future. It is for business owners who see a bigger picture.
With your current clients, you probably have a sense about whether they're prone to viewing technology as an investment or simply a purchase. For prospects who are not current clients, think about the kinds of "surrogate measures" you can find to determine their attitude. You're looking for someone who saves money as a general rule, but buys a higher quality product when the long-term finances make sense.
One other tool is the technology roadmap. See http://smallbizthoughts.blogspot.com/2006/10/technology-roadmaps-for-clients.html
I believe that, if you can get a prospect to buy into the technology roadmap process, then you've found someone who can see technology as an investment.
In the long run, this will be a great client. They won't be every new toy that comes along, but when it's time to buy a new open license agreement, they'll be onboard.
Important note on technique: Add the following phrase to your vocabulary. "We don't recommend every update just so you can have it." Consider when and how YOU would view technology investments in a given situation.
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
By that I mean that you can give away your time with no ill effects on your business. The most common scenario is when something goes wrong. Suddenly you're on the SS Minnow and your three hour project goes on for a long, long time. You might give away ten or twenty hours in order to make the client happy and "do the right thing."
Companies with employees can't do that.
If I send a tech out to do a one-hour job, it needs to be a one-hour job. If it takes two hours, I'm barely ahead. At 2.5 hours I'm losing money. At three hours, we have a serious problem.
In addition to the cost of labor (including workers comp, medical, dental, etc.) you also have lost availability. If a tech takes three hours and we bill one, we have also lost the ability to bill at least one hour to another client.
Do that every day times X number of technicians and you'll go broke in no time.
So we have some hard, fast rules about time.
1) You never work on any project for longer then the allotted time without contacting your manager.
2) You never troubleshoot unproductively for more than 15 minutes without calling someone (manager, another tech, etc.)
3) After 30 minutes of troubleshooting (even if it's productive) you start a troubleshooting log. The log is simply a notes page with 15 minute increments. Stop every 15 minutes and write down what you've been doing. We need to know where you've been and need to be able to document the process AND make sure another tech doesn't come in and duplicate your work.
4) After 60 minutes of troubleshooting, we call the relevant vendor (Microsoft, Veritas, etc.).
5) Some jobs we know we eventually fix, but we set limits in order to be as productive as possible. For example, in a data recovery project. Client is willing to pay for two hours. Do what you can within the limit. But do NOT put out ten hours of heroic effort. The client has already determined the dollar value limit for that data. If you hit a dead end, go back to the client and discuss.
Our business tends to be dominated by bulldogs -- we sink our teeth into a challenge and don't let go until we've wrestled the problem to the ground and we come out victorious. Great. Go buy yourself a cape. But just stop losing money. If the client isn't willing to pay more than $300 for a project, stop, bill the client, and move on to the next project.
YES it is very dissatisfying to leave a series of un-done challenges behind you. Go to therapy if you need to. But get over it. You don't have to win every battle at any cost. Because the cost might be your business.
Sole proprietors take note. You think this time is free, but it's not. In addition to being a really bad habit, you are also giving up the opportunity to make money with the time you've been giving away.
We all know that somestimes you don't make money. Fine. Actively work to keep those times to a minimum.
But you also need to be loyal to your clients. After all, this is a relationship.
One of the things that separates small service firms from many other companies today is that we do have this relationship. You don't have a relationship with Home Depot, Staples, Best Buy, or Sears.
If you think about it, one of the great frustrations about "customer service" in the 21st Century is that you think your money should buy a little commitment from the big company. But the big company doesn't care and no one inside the company is paid to care.
I recently had an argument with Verizon Wireless because they wouldn't give me even one penny off of a $600 purchase, even though I've been a customer since before they WERE Verizon Wireless and I spend $300/month, plus another $1,000 per year on equipment. I pay the same price for a phone as some punk off the street who's going to pay $19.99 a month and never spend another penny.
It seems like a small thing, but it's not. I've spent tens of thousands of dollars and my business should be more valuable than some stranger.
But it's not.
I would be foolish to think that I should have any loyalty to Verizon Wireless. After all, Verizon Wireless has no loyalty to me.
The result, of course, is that I'm slowly moving phone lines to other carriers who give me the right coverage at a lower price. Thomas, for example, doesn't need to travel all over the country. So the local carrier's "all you can eat" plan is perfect for him. Manuel only needs Northern California. And so forth.
We had a "test" recently within our own business. You need to watch out for this.
An employee of one of our clients called to ask about setting up a domain name, how to handle email for a one-person company, buying a fax machine, etc.
All of that would have been merely interesting except that she said "I'm going to be leaving at the end of the month. Please don't say anything."
Alarm bells go off when an employee says "Please don't say anything to my boss." Our loyalty has to be to the company with whom we have a contract.
The last thing I need is for "the boss" or owner to call me and say "You knew about this and you didn't tell me?" I can't lose a loyal client because my company wasn't loyal to their business.
Unlike large, faceless companies, we can't afford to treat our clients as if we don't care. We need to care very much and to make sure we handle them properly.
We're not spies for our customers. We've been asked to do that and we don't. In fact, we ended up dropping the client who asked that because that attitude reflected some other unpleasant attitudes.
But there's a legitimate red flag when an employee says "Don't tell the boss."
Here's another example.
A little while back I got a call from one of my oldest clients. She said they were having financial problems. They were going to be having problems for a couple of years. As a result, she can't make her commitment under the service agreement and can't really afford the monthly payments. She asked to be released from the contract and to not be dropped as a client.
I told her that was no problem and that we'll help them manage their technology money for the next two years. And when the money starts flowing again, we'll be here.
One-sided loyalty is really irrational. Why should a client be loyal to you if you're not loyal to them?
It's true with all relationships. Why should you be loyal to a vendor who is not loyal to you?
So, don't think of Customer Loyalty as merely customers being loyal to you. Reciprocate.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
It seems many applicants are not really interested in getting hired.
I know it's very difficult to be out there looking for a job and getting no response. But let me tell you, it's also difficult to be looking to hire and to dig through mountains of "spam" applications.
Hiring is difficult. Keeping that in mind will help you get past the first few hurdles. When I go through the hiring process, I have to cull through hundreds of horrible, unqualified resumes. Then I ask for appointments and 60% of the applicants don't respond. I make interview appointments and 25% don't show up. I make second interview appointments and another 25% don't show up. It's difficult and depressing.
The first time I look at a resume, I plan to spend less than ten seconds per applicant.
In a perfect world you, the perfect candidate, will apply to us, the perfect company, and we'll be together forever. In the real world, your perfect application comes in with 200 others, most of which are garbage, spam, unrelated, or unqualified. In a batch of 200 resumes, I'm lucky to find ten people who are qualified and don't turn me off immediately.
Don't fool yourself into thinking you have an equal chance. Your first goal is make sure I don't throw away your resume. After that, if you're one of the ten, then you'll have an equal chance.
Here are some tips. Please take them seriously.
When the job says $X/hour firm, don't ask for the moon. If you're really worth $60,000, that's great. Don't apply for the $9/hour admin job. Do you expect me to say "I was looking for someone to file contracts and fill my car with gas, but you can do so much more. I'll pay you three times the salary." It's not going to happen. If I need an entry level tech, I'm not going to move from $20/hr to $40/hr because you have lots of experience.
Seriously. Read your resume. If you send me a resume in a Word doc and it's got red squiggly underlines all over the place, I'm not even going to look at them long enough to make fun of you. I'm going to close it, delete it, and move on. This takes me one second.
And have someone else read your resume and cover letter -- aloud if possible. "Your excellent add caught my intention." Delete.
If the job announcement says "Microsoft Certification Required" and you don't have it, do not apply. Period. You will never get a chance to tell me that certifications are meaningless and you know brilliant, talented people without certs, blah, blah, blah. Your opinion on this subject does not matter. If the certification is easy, stupid, and meaningless, then go get it before you apply. If I say you have to have a license or certification, then you have to have it. Period.
Along these lines, don't bother starting your cover letter with an explanation of why you're not qualified. Nothing personal, but I've got a stack of resumes and most of them aren't qualified. Go get qualified. If you need a clean DMV, stop driving like an idiot and come back in three years. If you need a professional license, go get it.
Your tech school is not doing you a favor if they tell you that passing their class on MCSE training allows you to use the title "Associate degree in MCSE A.A.S.S.X.Y.Z." There is no such thing and whatever it is, it's not an MCSE. If you have an MCSE, say "MCSE, acquired June 2006." Similarly, if the only place I see MCSE is a bullet point under XYZ Technical Institute, I'm going to assume you took the prep class but not the exam. If you have a certification, say so.
If I'm advertising for a desktop or helpdesk technician and your cover letter begins with "I'm seeking a position as a programmer" I stop reading and delete. If your speciality is Oracle databases, I don't care. My assumption is that you're spamming every remotely-technical job with your resume and generic cover letter. If I'm not looking for a programmer, don't say programmer. And if you think I'm going to keep this on the shelf for the day I do need a programmer, you're wrong.
Color and Cuteness.
Green and pink resumes with floating balloons and cuddly teddybears.
What are you thinking?
Think about how you name your resume.
I won't reject someone whose resume is "resume.doc" or "currentresume.doc." But if your resume is "Johnson Resume.doc" it will make my life easier. And I'll know that you have some common sense. If I were to search my archives for "resume.doc," I'd probably get 10,000 hits. But even with the name Johnson, I'd get very few hits.
And don't name your resume somthing cute like "The best technician at any price.doc." Cute works after you've made the first cut. Before that it's just annoying.
I have nothing against people who live in other cities or countries. But please read the job description. If you live in Iowa and want to work for me, driving to client offices in Sacramento, then you have to move to Sacramento. If you live in Bangalore and the job description includes stuffing envelopes in Sacramento, you can't telecommute. Why do you waste my time?
Sending Links rather than the Resume.
I've never clicked on 4freeresumes.com. I don't know what's there. And I'll never find out. 1) I work hard to make sure none of my clients click on unknown links that show up in email from strangers. You think I'm going to break this rule myself? 2) Don't make me work any harder to see your resume than I work to see someone else's resume. Delete.
Attaching irrelevant files/info.
When I open your email and you've accidently included listings for all the jobs you're applying for, or letters to other employers, I'm never going to write back and tell you that you made a mistake. By the time I realize what's gone on, you've wasted two minutes of my time, which is more than I've allotted to applicants at this stage. Be careful. Go slow. If you put a bunch of crap in my inbox, I'll just delete it. Sorry.
At this point, your requirements are irrelevant. Remember, your first goal is to make it through the pile of 200 and onto the pile of 10.
If you need every third Thursday off, save it for after you've been offered a job, or if you get asked about it in an interview.
If your religion requires that you don't work overtime, save it for after you've been offered a job, or if you get asked about it in an interview.
Don't ask about benefits in your cover letter. Even if we offer everything you need, this is not the place to bring it up. My reaction will be "This doesn't taste right." Delete.
Don't apply for unrelated jobs.
When I post for an administrative assistant and a technician, I reject applicants who apply for both. These are totally different jobs, one part time at $9/hr and one making $50,000/year. Decide what you want to do with your life and get back to me.
Don't brag so much that you make me look bad.
When you say "Don't be intimidated by my skill level . . . I can bring extensive knowledge to this low level position," I'm not impressed. Similarly, don't promise that you can bring a new level of organization to my company unless you actually know something about how we're organized. Remember, if the phrase "Forget You" floats through my mind, I press the delete button and you are forgotten.
Explain large time blanks.
If your most recent job ended a year ago, that's a major flag. I actually go looking for an explanation of this. Took time off for a kid? No problem. Worked in an unrelated field for a year? Probably okay if the rest of the resume is fine. But you have to understand that every employer will want to know about that big blank. Rather than giving an excuse to reject you, just put some explanation in your resume.
The bottom line: This isn't fun for you and it isn't fun for me.
Look good and professional. Don't waste my time. Don't do things that will get you rejected right off the bat.
And I wish you luck in your search. Getting the right job can make your life truly enjoyable. And that's the way it should be.
Friday, October 06, 2006
Let me start with the end of the story, because you know it so well: She's not willing to spend one dollar on the most important application in her business.
We've all seen it.
She has an old DOS and FoxPro application that only runs on Windows 98. Won't run on 2000. Forget XP. Vista? Hahahahahaha.
It's on a failing laptop.
- Upgrade the application. Too expensive.
- Find a legal copy of Open License w98 media and sell her five licenses with backward compatibility. Too expensive.
- If we can find a legal copy *somewhere* (e.g., unused oem pack), load it onto a new pc. Too expensive.
- Load it onto some old piece of crap from Ebay. Too expensive.
STOP. You entire business relies on this one application. From what I'm hearing, you're not willing to spend even $100 to address the problem?
What the . . . ?
Reality check. It's time to sit down with the client and take a look at the big picture.
Reality check for you, the SMB consultant:
Are you doing the same thing with your business?
Because I sell a pricey book, I seem to be involved in a lot of conversations about the value of expensive books and tools.
For example, Erick Simpson's new (and excellent) book on Managed Services.
Whine: I don't want to spend $100 on it.
Slap: Stop. You're considering revising every single aspect of your company around managed services. You're going to revise hiring, staffing, hours, contracts and subcontracts, compensation, pricing, packaging, the kind of services offered, etc. Everything. Every little thing from "Hi, my name is" to "Thank you for your business."
And you're not willing to spend $100?
What the . . . ?
We can stumble along in the dark figuring this stuff out for ourselves, or we can turn to someone who has already done it.
Remember your personal Big Mac Index: How many hours of labor do you have to sell or save to pay for this? One. If you said two, raise your rates.
Expensive Programs are similar.
Here's the analogy from your own business.
When one of your clients has a major problem (e.g., exchange server is down), then they'll spend any amount of money to get the problem fixed. The same is true of hard drive failures, internet outages, and failing switches.
The more urgent the situation, the more money they're willing to spend.
The more they need information they don't have, the more money they are willing to spend.
You're the same way.
The more urgent the situation, the more money you're willing to spend.
The more you need information you don't have, the more money you are willing to spend.
Example One: Ken Thoreson and Acumen Resources
Example Two: Robin Robins Technology Marketing Toolkit
Ken's systems for hiring and human resources are spectacular. But they cost a lot of money.
- When you hire your first employee, you don't need it and can't afford it. But somewhere along the way, before you hire your tenth employee, you're going to need a _system_ for making sure you hire the right people -- and keep them.
If you can gain the knowledge you need gradually over the years and put a system into place, then you're set.
But if you're like the rest of us, you'll suddenly find that you're spending hundreds (or thousands) of dollars a year stumbling around trying to figure out where to find the right people, how to hire the best, and how to stop wasting money with hires that don't work out.
Your system is down and you'll spend whatever it takes to make it work.
Now, you can take yourself to school and learn this stuff.
Or you can lay down some cash and do a quick learn. You probably won't do every little thing Ken recommends, but you WILL get a great big step up.
That step up will pay for itself. Really.
Robin Robins' toolkit is also expensive. But the argument remains the same. She's figured out how to sell the products you sell to the clients you want.
- Not everyone wants a "system" for selling. But growing consultancies have to have a system of some kind. You either build yourself or buy it.
Does Robin Robins have a deep dark secret that only her subscribers know and they can't tell under penalty of death. Maybe.
No, of course not.
Her programs are filled with a huge amount of education and common sense, and topped off with a series of proven techniques for marketing in our space.
You could build this yourself. You could spend huge amounts of time, take classes and seminars, read every sales book you can find, and distill it down for our market space.
But if you need a marketing program fast, then you're willing to spend the money.
You won't live long enough to try every campaign idea Robin has in her toolkit.
Again, you may not use everything here. But you'll have a big step up.
How can these tools be worth $1,000-$1,200 ???
Well, that's pretty simple. 1) When you need it, you need it fast. Urgency=willingness to spend. 2) A good kit gives you enough information and tools to pay for itself in short order.
In the case of Ken's system, look at the costs of hiring, firing, posting, sorting through resumes, etc. It makes me want to scream. I hired a guy last year that cost me about $1,200 to hire, plus weeks of unproductive labor as he was trained, plus training materials and exams. Not counting his salary, he cost me about $5,000 in three months. Then I fired him.
Thanks to Ken, I know how to avoid that forever in the future.
The case for Robin's toolkit is much easier. How many new clients does it take to pay for the toolkit? I hope everyone responds "one."
When I look at the smallest client we've gotten from a Robin Robins campaign, I see a company with one server, three desktops, and two laptops. Their initial job grossed about $10,000. Since then we've billed additional labor. They've signed a contract and will be with us for many years.
The same is true for many tools. We tend to be like our clients. I can justify a $200 phone, but I'm not willing to buy Beatrice's book on Making it Big in Small Business. Gimme a break.
Be what you ask your clients to be. Create a budget. Put training and books in the budget. Add tools for H.R. and marketing. If you don't have a CRM system, AutoTask, or ConnectWise, put that in there. Same with your managed service software, whether it's Shockey Monkey, Kaseya, or LPI.
I know this is a lot of money. And most people can't do it all at once. But the equation is pretty simple:
You have to either build the stills and build the tools, or you have to buy the skills and buy the tools.
My definition of "managed services" focuses heavily on being the outsourced I.T. department for my clients. As such, we try to help develop the budget, the policies, and the 1-, 3-, and 5-year plans for the "I.T. Department." Basically, if they have a big business plan or binder, we provide the I.T. section that slips into place.
Here are some notes from a recent client visit to show the type of things we cover:
- Client has been buying whatever (brand name) PC strikes his fancy. We want to add some consistency to this. We'll explain that a few dollars here and there will be saved by reduced costs over time.
- Client uses office licenses but wants to move to the latest versions of several programs without a huge outlay at once. We'll discuss Office licensing options but make no decision until we've reviewed other factors.
- Client thinks they want to move to Vista but doesn't know why. We'll explain the hardware hurdles and propose a plan to move to Vista gradually. We'll talk about OEM vs. upgrade license. And defer decisions . . .
- Client has Server 2003, Exchange 2003, SQL 2005. And 35 employees. With partners and reps accessing the system, they may need more license. We'll talk about growth for the next three years. Part of me wants to see them on SBS, but they already own most of the tools in current versions. We'll talk about costs on this. Try to explain that R2 will allow them to actually use SQL and Exchange on separate boxes if the choose, since they already own those servers. Again, we'll defer a decision.
- Client is very excited about SharePoint. Again, SBS looms large. But putting current system on SBS is about $6,000 plus lots of labor. SharePoint would be about $7,000 plus a little labor. Have to evaluate the desire for SharePoint vs. this cost.
- One more factor: Client uses Citrix to get to the desktop. This cost would go away with SBS.
- OK. So back to office. With Open Value, we can get desktop licenses for office SBE, Windows, and SBS cal in one big lump for about $44,000. This can be spread over three payments for a few extra thousand dollars.
- Timing is important. If we buy office or SBS today, for example, some kind of software assurance is a must. If we buy office the day after 2007 is released, I cannot in good faith sell a two year S.A. because there's no way the client will ever see the next version (sorry, Eric).
As you can see, all of these decisions are interrelated. And they all involve lots of money and labor. And timing matters.
MOST small businesses make these decisions one at a time, trying to save the most money on each purchase. The result is that they spend more money as time goes on. All of these decisions are inter-related, and they should be governed by a single "Roadmap."
Reality check: This client will not be using Server 2003, Exchange 2003, or SQL 2005 in three years. January 1, 2010 all of this will be very old technology.
And we can't push upgrades just to push upgrades. If Microsoft gave these folks everything they wanted for free, they would still have the costs of my labor plus downtime per desktop and potential downtime for servers just to install it all. So we don't push every update that comes down the road.
No matter how you slice it, this client is looking at a minimum of $200,000 for tech support over the next three years. Probably closer to $250,000. They can be disorganized and spend more, or they can coordinate it all into a grand scheme and spend less.
We meet with this client once per quarter. 1-2 hours to discuss things at the highest level. Specific issues like response times and why Jane can't change her Outlook signature are left for another meeting. This meeting is designed to build a technology Roadmap. In the next three years we'll only have 12 of these meetings, so they need to be very productive.
Here's what we're doing this Fall:
1) We're holding a Technology Roadmap "Summit" for all of our clients, even those not eligible for the quarterly freebie. We're providing coffee and muffins. We're presenting the roadmap concept as something _they_ should do. But, of course, if they want help they'll call us.
2) I ordered ten copies of Patrick Colbeck's little book "Information Technology Roadmap for Professional Service Firms." P.J. will arrange a discount if you buy five or more copies. Anyway, here's the plan:
The first five copies are for me to distribute in the next few roadmap meetings I do with clients. The other five are give-aways for my seminar.
I'm basically test-driving Patrick's theory that my clients will read the book, bring me some questions, and be softened up to the whole process. The book is very good from a techno-goober perspective and most consultants could learn a thing or two abou technology planning. I do have to say that the font is way too small for most of my decision-makers. And the flow of the discussion may be above the commitment level they want to put into the process.
But the bottom line is, I don't care if they read it. It's a great give-away and provides a wonderful intro to many concepts I never get a chance to discuss with clients. So I can rely on the book and present the material even if the client hasn't read it. Perhaps it may pique their interest and they'll read the book. No matter how you slice it, I don't have to sell much product to make this $29 investment pay off. With ten give-aways, I need to sell less than two hours labor to break even.
Haven't seen the book on Amazon yet. As far as I can tell, it's just available at smbnation.com.
3) Follow up will be to take the best roadmap example I can find and anonymize it for use in advertising to future prospects.
Your first objection: Wow! that's a lot of work. And you give it away. You're an idiot.
Answer: Maybe I'm an idiot. I charge clients who are not under contract. This $2,000 value is now available for the low-low price of $999. But very often they sign a contract in order to get this for free. Also, remember that I'm not a sole proprietor. This is hard work and requires that you step away from the help desk. It may be very difficult to implement if you're still in the trenches. My job description is to do sales, marketing, and general B.S. -- mostly not billable.
This idea's not for everyone. If you can swing it, you should give it a try. If you've ever had a "difficult" discussion with a client because you over-spent a budget you didn't know they had, then you should definitely give this a try.
The first draft of this disappeared when I hit spell check. So here's the revised version, drafted in UltraEdit and pasted to Blogger. Lesson learned, I guess.
Just an FYI:
I had a minor foot surgery yesterday, so I'm spending today on the couch with my foot up. Thank goodness for laptop computers and wireless networks.
As a result, I'll be catching up on some posts I've been meaning to finish.
I keep drafts in a folder called Blog Fodder. We'll see if we can empty that out.
< begin boring details you probably don't care about>
I had a neuroma, which is a nerve gone bad. Swollen all the time and very painful. The goal of the surgery was to remove that nerve.
On Tuesday I went in to have this done under local anesthesia but they couldn't get it numb enough to do the operation. But it hurt like crazy because they poked my nerves full of 40cc of lidocain. About twice the norm, and enough to swell up the foot. So that hurt for about eight hours.
On Wednesday I went to the general quack to make sure I was healthy enough to go under general anesthesia. OK.
On Thursday I had the surgery about 4:30 PM. No food since 10 PM the night before. I was starving. Needed to lose the weight, though.
That surgery went fine and my foot feels okay. No more post-op pain than an average day with the neuroma. So I'm not taking the pain meds they gave me. Did some major meditation last night and today. That helps.
< /end boring details you probably don't care about>
The bottom line is: I have to spend the day with my foot up doing nothing. So I'll be posting to the blog so I can catch up on stuff.
Money is requested in lieu of flowers.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
So my good friends at Microsoft built a huge, successful sales system for Gold Certified partners looking for enterprise customers.
Which is cool.
Then, after they proved that the system worked, they retooled the whole operation for the SMB space.
While not 100% on target, this new system is a butt-kicking 95%. What more can you ask for?
The longer description is here: http://finance.groups.yahoo.com/group/sacsbug/message/510
The summary is thus:
- Two days of in-class training
- Three one-hour Live Meetings designed to apply the MSS techniques to specific offerings (e.g., Vista, office, sbs).
- Meetings with your PAM re: MSS
(KP note: Since most people in our space don't have a PAM, this doesn't apply to them. With luck, you'll have a community PAM such as our excellent Suzanne Lavine in NorCal.)
- Two additional meetings with instructor for tune-ups and check-ins.
For $99 !!!
OK, so who wouldn't drop a hundred on that? I'm sure once they've proven the concept and rolled this thing out more broadly it will be more expensive, but still a pretty good deal.
Day one was awesome. Boooooty-kickin. I had some points of discomfort which basically amounted to "Things I know I need to do, but I'm just not doing for some reason, so I want to be left alone. Get off my back."
Day One was also filled with the "system" called MSS.
Everyone says they hate role playing. But let me tell you, a few people really love it.
This system - any system (Robin Robins, Brian Tracy, Zig Ziglar) requires you to create a flow sheet to take you through a sales cycle. You need to practice this a lot to become "natural" at it. So role-playing gives you a kick-start on that.
The class includes a 164-page spiral bound handout. A bit repetitive, but I'm getting over that.
The funny thing for me is that there was no "interview form" you can take into a client and walk through the process. I'll have one soon. :-)
Day two was also very good, but got into a few things my company avoids like the plague, including:
1) Bidding on an RFP at the last minute when the prospect is really just gathering additional quotes so they can say they did due diligence and then give the job to their preferred vendor. I'm sure this happens in businesses with 4,000 desktops. In my space, we just walk away.
2) Giving things away in order to make the sale. My initials are not CDW. I don't bargain on price. Walmart and Best Buy are always going to sell for less.
Having said that, Day Two gave me an awesome strategy for dealing with gives and gets. Here's a peek under the sheets:
1) NEVER give until you get. No, really. Tell the client "Hey, put some something on the table." If they don't offer, you suggest.
Can you sign a two-year deal?
Can you agree to give me referrals to your top ten clients?
Would it be possible for you to buy the training as well?
2) Once they give, then you give.
If that's possible, I can throw in a shiny number two pencil. Be careful. It's sharp.
If you can do that, we can agree to do quarterly trainings that cost us almost nothing and introduce you to new products.
If you can agree to the training, then we can add an additional _x_ hours of support at no additional cost.
3) Signing today (right now) is not a "get." The deal's the deal. If you're at the point where you expect a deal, signing it is not something to be rewarded.
Day two gave me the awesome list of what the buyer is doing to mess with your mind. This is NOT generally the SMB buyer. But when I get in front of a sophisticated, TRAINED buyer, I feel confident I'll kick his butt.
Microsoft is using us and others in NorCal as Guinea pigs. They're measuring us very carfully. Sales funnels, urine samples, etc.
When they're done with NorCal MS is going to retool the MSS project for broader distribution.
When this comes to your town, DO IT. Got a good excuse? Tough. Do it anyway.
Our usergroup had NINE people registered out of a class of 20. Just missed a quorum.
It's not perfect, but we have a ton of work to do between now and November.
When this comes to your town, just do it.
Even if they don't continue the ongoing evals, just do it.
If the MSS program is not coming to your town, but some other great, well respected sales system is: do that!
Sales training is great because it gives you one more push. So, you know what you should be doing. Good. But most of us know what we should be doing and we just don't get around to doing it. If this training doesn't motivate you, perhaps the next will. Sometimes we need to hear the same message several times until it clicks.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Microsoft is testing a new sales training program on Microsoft Solution Selling and I attended the first two days yesterday and today. The class is very good.
But I'm not writing about that. Stay tuned.
An interesting thing happened at the beginning of the class. The instructor asked everyone to give their names, their companies, and what they wanted out of the class. He tried to write these on the board.
But SMB Consulting is filled with unintelligable names. The room was not very large, but the instructor had to keep asking for clarifications and spellings. Is it tech or tek? -best or -vest? -bit or -bits or -bytz?
Out of twenty names on the board, three were clear and easy to understand the first time. Luckily for me, KP Enterprises was one of them.
Another classmate and I noted what a spectacle this was. The room was full of people who couldn't easily communicate their company name -- to someone who works with technologists all the time.
Now it's possible that Northern California has just way too many unintelligable company names. But I doubt we're that far off the norm.
So what's with computer consulting names? If we want to be professionals, we need to be aware of the kinds of companies that have respect among our clients. Perhaps not as formal as lawfirms. But certainly not so playful as to be childish.
Can you imagine lawyers with names like Legal Dudes? Or accountants named Moolah Wizards?
Way too many consultants have names that are made from a random selection of two or three of the following:
chron / kron
commu / commo
log / logy / logic
sys / sis
Tech / tek
-tech as in normalword-tech: (e.g., tabletech, fireTech, WindTech)
Plus we see a lot of cutesy or smart-ass names, such as Guys, geeks, and gurus. Can you imagine going to Dental Gurus?
If you're just forming a business, or reformulating your business, try to pick a name that sounds business-like. Ideally, your business name should state what you do. Computers, mobile, networks, and business consulting are fine. Partner names are great (e.g., Johnson and Andrews), as are local landmarks (tower, lake, Sierra, valley, etc.).
Here are some more good names:
_____ and Co.
_____ Technical Resources
If you already have a business name . . .
well, I don't know.
It may be worth doing some very difficult and very honest research. Is your name costing you business? If so, it's costing you money and has to go.
If you resist because your ego gets in the way, then you have to decide how much your ego is worth. One of the guys in my SBS user group has changed his business name three times in the last twenty years. Note that he's still in business after twenty years! He never lost a client because he changed the business name.
I have high hopes that our field will become more professional over time. Perhaps a byproduct of that will be the gradual dissappearance of gurus, geeks, and cyber-goobers.
Just my opinion.
Sunday, September 10, 2006
I thought I knew everything he had to share on the subject.
As a friend, I assumed that he would tell me everything he knew.
Then I picked up his book.
When I got to page 23 I put it down.
I went and got a pen. Then I picked up the book again and started reading it over from page one. By the time I had made my way back to page 23 I knew that there was a lot about Erick's vision that I had not understood. Like the whole, huge, monster program that goes beyond the simple message "Managed Services good; Break-Fix bad."
After fifty pages I realized that I just missed breakfast.
This book is _packed_ with great information.
LESSON: Don't assume that you understand someone else's vision, model for success, or even standard operating procedures. Ever. Even after 10 conversations, or 20, or 50.
Maybe Erick didn't betray me. Maybe I tricked myself into thinking that we were doing the same thing, or had the same model.
I can't wait to finish the book.
More to come.
Your take-away: Go buy The Guide to a Successful Managed Services Practice by Erick Simpson.
But wait. Did I write a book on service agreements? Yes. So why am I telling you to go buy Erick's book?
Simple. Your job is to work to improve your business. If you buy two books that specifically address how to be organize your business and be successful in your market space, you will have two perspectives on how to make yourself and your business more successful.
After all, over the next few years you know you'll buy several big, fat books on servers, SQL, Exchange, etc.
It is absolutely worthwhile to spend the price of two little books to focus ON your business.
Just do it.
Saturday, September 02, 2006
KPEnterprises and Rack Networks Announce Merger
September 1, 2006 – For Immediate Release
SACRAMENTO, CA — KPEnterprises Business Consulting, Inc. and Rack Networks, LLC, announced today that they have merged.
Clients of both KPEnterprises and Rack Networks will continue to enjoy the same industry-leading services they have come to expect. The combined entity will operate as KPEnterprises Business Consulting, Inc.
"The merger is great for us and for our clients" said Karl Palachuk, President and founder of KPEnterprises. “Our combined companies can now offer a richer variety of critical services. KPEnterprises has been strong in the areas of automated services and outsourced I.T. Meanwhile, Rack Networks brings a higher level of experience in hosted services and computer forensics.”
“We are very pleased with the opportunities to move forward with a more diversified client base and better tech support tools,” said Nicko Demeter, CEO and founder of Rack Networks. “One of the things you always look for in this business is an interesting challenge. With our combined efforts, we now take on much larger and more challenging projects than either company could do alone.
Palachuk will continue in the roll of President at the new KPEnterprises. Demeter will assume the roll of Director of Operations.
The merger is expected to be completed by the end of September. The terms of the deal were not released.
KPEnterprises is Sacramento’s premier Microsoft Certified Partner, and one of the first Microsoft Certified Small Business Specialists in the world. They provide “outsourced I.T.,” general network design, and cutting-edge technical support in Northern California. For more information, please visit www.kpenterprises.com.
About Rack Networks
Rack Networks, based in Gold River, CA, provides desktop support and more. They provide hosting services for several businesses in and around the Sacramento Valley. In addition, Rack Networks has an excellent reputation in the area of computer security and forensics. For more information, please visit www.rack-networks.com.
In addition to providing excellent technical support, KPEnterprises has been a key member of the technology community in Northern California for more than ten years. KPEnterprises has “partnered” with other technology firms to bring the Sacramento Business Technology Seminar Series to Sacramento on October 25th, 2006. For more information, please visit www.sacbiztech.com.
Monday, August 21, 2006
Here are my thoughts on working for a living and what's reasonable. Take it or leave it.
First, and most importantly:
You have to balance your work and your life. And, just like everything else in life, this balance changes over time. It changes as you get older, it changes as your job evolves, and it changes as your personal life evolves.
"The balance" is different for everyone, so I can't say that you should do what I do. But I CAN say that working 16 hours a day is bad for your health, bad for your business, and bad for your personal life. If you're working those kind of hours, things are very un-balanced.
If you get in the habit of working too much, it feeds on itself and you feel that you can't get out: you can't change the way things are.
That's not true. Just decide to change. You can make it happen.
Second, let's look at how many hours are reasonable.
I'll start by saying that the 40 hour week is silly and not much of a starting place. It is the result of arbitrary government decisions, union negotiations, and lots of things you had nothing to do with. So where do we start?
In the U.S. today it is very reasonable to show up for work at 8 AM and leave around 5 PM. If you make the departure 6 PM because you're the boss, that's still reasonable. If you have a meeting for lunch, or work through lunch, that counts as working time, not time off. Thus, if you work 8-6 with no time off, that's 50 hours/week for the five-day work week.
Alternatively, if you work a solid 8-5 and put in the odd hour in the early morning or the evening, you still come up with a 50 hour week.
Working a few hours on the weekend brings this to 52-55 hours without really straining yourself or interfering with your family life.
Therefore, I believe working 50-55 hours a week is very reasonable as a business owner.
If you work 12 hours/day x seven days, that's 84 hours. That's not reasonable.
I try very hard to keep my hours under 50/week.
When I was a sole proprietor, I never scheduled an appointment before 9:00 AM. And I made sure I never planned to work after 4:30 PM, so I could be home by 5. I did work and hour or so each evening. But I've never done the workaholic 60-70-80 hour weeks.
Even now that we're a five-person shop, I work 8-5 because my service manager wants me to be a good example for the staff. Otherwise, I'd still be 9-430!
Because I am religious about putting my hours into our practice management tool, I can accurately report the hours I actually work each week. If I'm drafting a blog post at 6:00 AM on the patio while having my morning coffee, that goes into PSA tool. Same with paperwork on the weekend.
Here's the breakdown for calendar 2006 so far:
3 Weeks in range <= 40 hours = 8.82%
8 Weeks in range 41-45 hours = 23.53%
7 Weeks in range 46-50 hours = 20.59%
8 Weeks in range 51-55 hours = 23.53%
7 Weeks in range 56-60 hours = 20.59%
1 Weeks in range 61-65 hours = 2.94%
0 Weeks in range 66 + hours = 0.00%
As you can see, I've had three weeks with less than 40 hours. Two of those were in Europe, so that counts for something. ;-)
This would have been five weeks, but I spent the last two Saturdays painting our new offices with my daughter.
About 1/3 of my weeks are in the range of 45 hours or less. Just over half of my weeks are under 50 hours, and just over 75% are under 55 hours. The one week over 60 hours was a travel week, teaching seminars for myself and a training company. In fact, almost every week with greater than 55 hours was a travel week.
I'm not dismissing travel weeks in any way. They are time away from the family, time away from normal routine, and time away from the office. They're actually pretty darn un-balancing!
Working reasonable hours -- 50 or less -- is possible. It's also beneficial to your personal and professional success.
When you're trapped in the workaholic environment, it's hard to see a way out. But remember that you're the boss.
In my next Relax Focus Succeed newsletter, I'll discuss "Escaping from the Workaholic Environment." If you're interested in following this thread, you can subscribe for free at www.relaxfocussucceed.com.
Now I'm going to get in the hot tub . . .
Sunday, August 20, 2006
Some ideas spread like viruses. We've all seen examples.
"Everyone" had a Palm Pilot before you even heard of it. Soduko went from a cute newspaper filler to a worldwide phenomenon. You have to try it! Google hasn't been around that long, and they're already in the dictionary as a verb. Google it.
Seth Godin spells out the virus analogy. Someone uses a product or service and raves about it to his friends and associates. This is called sneezing. Some people only sneeze occasionally. Some people sneeze all the time. Some sneeze quietly, some loudly. Some sneeze to a small crowd and some sneeze to a huge gathering.
If you have the right audience -- a large but closely knit group and has a lot of inter-group communication, the virus can spread very quickly. This is especially true if a handful of "promiscuous sneezers" like the idea. As a general rule, these sneezers are not paid or, if they are, that arrangement is known to the community and they are effect at spreading viruses despite the fact that they're paid.
Let me give you some examples from the SBS/SMB consulting community. First, we really are a vast community with excellent communications. None of us communicates with everyone everyday, but news spreads very fast because most of us have at least half a dozen hooks into the community. These include personal email, yahoo groups, blogs, blog comments, conferences, etc.
Recent phenomenon: The SBS Show. Vlad did not "sneeze" the SBS Show. He created the show and posted it. Then he initiated the virus by telling some people about it, posting it. They had all just come back from SMB Nation and they were eager for more. So they were susceptible to the virus. They caught it and told their friends. End users (not just consultants) got drawn into the mix. And they told their friends. So now everyone has the SBS Show Virus.
Interestingly enough, one year ago today Vlad and Chris and Suzanne were not "promiscuous sneezers." But because of the SBS Show (among other things), they all are today. On August 12th I was honored to have Chris post a review of my Service Agreements book. He was literally sneezing to his blog readers. It may catch on, it may not. Not every virus spreads far and wide.
When Vlad returned from SMB Nation East, he sneezed all over the place. He went on and on about how much he loved that conference. He didn't just check the box that said "good conference." No, he sneezed all over Vladfire and Vladville.com. So I don't think there will be fewer than 350 people at the next SMB Nation East in 2007!
Who are the other sneezers in our community? Well, we all are. Viral marketing cannot succeed because a few well-known people sneeze. The product has to be good so that people use it, talk about it, rave about it, and tell their friends. But not just tell their friends. They use phrases like "You have to get this." and "It changed the way I do business." Even if all the well-known sbsers used a product, that doesn't make it a virus. A virus is easily spread. A successful virus infects a majority of the core community.
A Few Key lessons:
- There must exist a well-connected community to sneeze into.
- You have to have the right product.
We all use screwdrivers, but no one raves about one screwdriver you just have to own!
- The timing has to be right.
Maybe 2006 is not the right time for the SBS crowd to give two hoots about Storage Area Networks. But it's a great time to discuss Managed Services.
- Sneezers need to be honest.
You - the marketer - are taking a chance. Our community is very honest. If you drop some crap product on this crowd, you better be ready for serious push-back. The ultimate example is Microsoft: When they do something right, Susan and Jeff and every other blog sings their praises. But the next day that might all be gone. The power of a sneezer is related to the sneezer's credibility.
HOMEWORK -- Group Project
So all that's based on the online community. Your homework will consist of figuring out how to to this technique to market your SMB consulting business to your local SMB customers.
1) Go buy the book today: Unleashing the Ideavirus by Seth Godin and Malcolm Gladwell
2) Now, as a group, let's see how we can use this concept in marketing to the businesses in our communities that need to buy our consulting services. How can we get people to sneeze an SMB Consultant?
Don't wave your hand and say "That's all just word of mouth advertising. We do that." Bzzzzzzzzz. I'm sorry. Thank you for playing. That answer's worth 1 point (out of fifty). We're not looking for "I use xyz Networks." We're looking for raving fans who spread your name all over the place.
I welcome and encourage your feedback. Here or in email.
Sunday, August 13, 2006
Title: Good Form Consulting
A Round-Up of Best Practices for Organizing and Running an Efficient and Profitable SMB Consulting Practice
Register at http://www.clicktoattend.com/?id=110825
-- -- -- -- --
Disclaimer: If you want the deep dive into Managed Services, your time is better spent with Amy, Steve, and Chad at the Mobilize event. http://www.mobilizesmb.com/default.htm. That's a full-day workshop 9:30 AM - 4:00 PM. If you're considering managed services, do that workshop!
-- -- -- -- --
And now back to my announcement:
Proper procedures and and consistency are key elements in growth, reproducible success, higher profits, and more personal time with your family!
In this FREE seminar, you'll see one consultant's perspective on building a successful practice.
We begin with a review of the current market environment for SMB consultants. After that, we cover a variety of topics ranging from employee management to creating successful procedures. We'll cover personal and professional development as well as a bit on sales and marketing. We'll describe procedures at KPEnterprises (Sacramento's Premier Microsoft Small Business Specialist) and lead a discussion of other successful practices shared by audience members.
While there are some technical topics, this is primarily a business- related discussion. We will cover the how and why of technical procedures, but not dig into the details.
If there's one thing KPEnterprises does to be successful, it's develop forms and procedures. While we're not going to give away all our secrets, we'll show you some of our "best practices" with regard to using standardized forms for everything from network migratiion to weeding out yur clients once a year.
Please note: we will not be distributing any of our forms at this event. We will make the PowerPoint slides available to attendees.
Plan to Thrive. Because you can't thrive without a plan.
Don't miss the unique opportunity!
Register at http://www.clicktoattend.com/?id=110825
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
Before the Event:
Take care of your hotel and transportation needs. Do this well in advance. Don't wait until the last minute. Most hotels have a special rate for the conference, but this block of rooms will not be available too far in advance. For example, it is too early to get rooms for the next worldwide partner conference: Those blocks aren't open.
Similarly, hotels normally close off the special rate 30 days before the event. So, for example, it's too late to get the good rate for SMB Nation 2006.
Nearby hotels are sometimes a better deal anyway. Go to PriceLine.com or Travelocity.com and look for a deal. This is much easier in bigger cities. You can get unbelievable deals near large airports. At an "airport hotel" the hotels are all very close. Got to priceline and enter three stars and a ridiculously low price like $60. You'll be amazed.
We're all very lucky this year because Doug Geary started a Yahoo! Group just to keep track of who's coming and going, ride sharing, and "unpublished" parties at SMB Nation. See http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smbnation2006. Thanks, Doug. I owe you a beer.
Final note on prepping for the event: Don't blame the event organizers if you don't have a room or didn't think about airfares until the day you have to leave. Organizers are responsible for creating a forum for advertising where and when and whether you need a secret code to get a discount. After that, you need to take responsibility for your own details.
Attending the Event:
1. Don't attack the first Microsoft employee you see.
I don't know what it is with people. The first time they meet a Microsoft employee, they dump their latest problem or pet peeve on the poor soul.
MS: "Hi. I'm Microsoft Employee X. I'm in charge of choosing the T-Shirts for major SMS&P Mid-Martket vendor relations luncheons in the Northeast."
Schmo: "WELL! Let me give you a message to send back to Redmond: Licensing Sucks! I bought a license once. What a hassle. I had to register online and enter a bunch of numbers and letters . . . Blah blah blah . . . worst experience of my life . . . and one more thing . . . and if that's not enough . . .."
Leave these poor people alone! The absolute best thing you can do at a conference is NOT make an ass of yourself. Introduce yourself. Tell a funny story, hope they remember your name, and be a person they will seek out when they recognize you in the hallway tomorrow -- not avoid you like the plague.
At the Worldwide Partner Conference a in July, I had an interesting experience. John Endter, from Nevada, and I sat with some partners from the MidWest and two Microsoft Folks for lunch one day. As we were doing "hellos" someone mentioned kids. I have a 14 year old. Someone had a 13 year old. 11 and 8. Newborn. Basically, we talked "kids" for half an hour. When one of the MS folks got up to leave, she said "This has been a real pleasure. We didn't get asked one single technical question."
These are human beings, after all. Be pleasant to them. Pick your battles. And don't pick a battle at a conference. If you have a legitimate issue, then in a few weeks you can email your new contacts. Don't dump the issue on them. Ask very politely if they know who deals with that sort of thing. Let them help you by guiding you to the right person.
Whatever you do, don't carpet-bomb every poor blue badge with some complaint they can't do anything about at the conference.
2. Make sure you have business cards. Take a hundred and don't act as if they cost a forture.
I know this is Vlad's pet peeve, so I didn't make it my #1.
Vistaprint.com will sell you a hundred really great professional cards for almost nothing. 2000 cards is only $49 -- unless they're on sale or you're a frequent shopper. I generally pay about $20 for 1000 cards. They're cheaper than scratch paper. They're cheaper than laser-perf cards (and people won't think you're homeless).
It's sad that anyone has to harp on this issue. Even IF it cost you $50 to hand out business cards for the weekend, just do it. Friends and colleagues and opportunities abound.
3. Go a day early and stay until the end.
Going early is sometimes iffy. But at the major events (e.g., SMBNations east, west, Europe) it's a no-brainer.
First, there are usually some great programs going on. Free seminars. For-pay seminars you can't get anywhere else. People meeting and gathering and talking about the business you're in. Many times I've met someone "the day before" who was only there for the pre-show and wasn't doing the "real show." And if I hadn't gone a day early I would have totally missed out.
Staying til the end. I went to a professional basketball game once (my daughter was in the half-time show). For those of you who don't know, basketball is a game in which the teams take turns running down the court and making points. After five hours of this mindless activity, a buzzer goes off and whoever has the ball last wins. It doesn't matter whether the game is lopsided at half time. It's always a 1- or 2-point game at the end.
And yet people leave early. WTF? There's literally one second of the game that matters. These people sit through hours of mind-numbing activity and miss the one second that matters.
Leaving a conference early is worse. Good things happen until the bitter end. After all, if you paid $500 for a conference, why leave at the $400 mark? The final-evening get-togethers are some of the best. This is especially true if you need the attention of a speaker. After the pressure's off and the lights are out, you can finally get some attention.
4. Work to find an agenda and search for "gems." Where you can't find gems,
- Get yourself invited to a focus group
- Make arrangements to do something with someone you want to connect with.
- (In other words, don't waste your idle time being idle. At least meet up with someone and spend your time talking business or pleasure with someone you've met.)
Some conferences post their agenda well in advance, even if it's a work in progress. This is good for you. Read the Bio's. Is this someone you want to connect with? Is it someone you've met online or exchanged off-group email comments with? Networking networking networking.
If you don't connect with people, then you're in a room with 800 (SMB Nation) or 8000 (WWPC) strangers. If you DO connect, then you're in big "user group" with a lot of cool people you've touched online and finally get to meet. For me, the content at WWPC this year was mediocre. But the SMB community was spectacular! It really was like a user group filled with people who really wanted to work on their business.
After the Event:
My good friend Vlad has some wonderful after-the-conference tips. See http://www.vladville.com/2006/05/welcome-back-postconference-followup-tips.html
Sunday, July 16, 2006
One of my rules of life is that I reduce stress by simply keeping my to-do list short. That sounds a lot easier than it is. I make a concerted effort to drop things off my list. This blog post got dropped for quite a while.
Now I have 48 hours before I leave town again, so I thought I'd post a quickie.
The Lessons of Interviewing
Just before the MS WWPC, I had the opportunity to interview someone for a service manager position. I started with a phone interview (just long enough to decide with the face-to-face was worthwhile). Then my current s.m. and I met the dude for lunch. In the process I came face to face with one of the aspects of my business that I had taken for granted.
On the phone I mentioned that this was a fulltime, 40-45 hour a week job. With rare exceptions, we don't work evenings, weekends, or overtime. The would-be manager was unsure about this. He said something to the effect of "Yeah. But you'll put somebody on salary so you can work them more." I said no, we really don't do that.
At the lunch meeting I was there on time and my s.m. was late (this gives me time alone face to face, and gives Manuel time alone when I leave). Candidate asked me how we schedule technicians since we never know what's going to come up on a given day. I explained that most of our work is scheduled and that very little "comes up" unexpectedly. I also explained that everyone works scheduled hours. He really didn't believe me.
"How can you schedule work," he asked "when you don't know what will go wrong?" I explained that our business wasn't built around what will go wrong. Virtually all customer requests are non-urgent. So while it might be nice to run out and take care of something quickly, that's more expensive than scheduling tasks and working according to a schedule.
After I left the meeting, Manuel reported that he was probed about overtime again. This guy just didn't believe that we knocked off at 5PM and spent time with our families.
The whole experience made me realize that we really are different.
We really do value balance between work and life.
And many businesses don't.
If your business is unbalanced -- and therefore your life is unbalanced -- you can't pull a switch next Monday morning and bring balance. You can't work on work and achieve balance. Similarly, you can't go on vacation and work at playing to achieve balance.
If you want balance, you have to work at balance. It's difficult. Sometimes it's very difficult. But you approach it like everything else:
- Make balance a priority
- Set aside time to think about it
- Consider how you can change things to achieve it
- Decide how you will measure success
- Evaluate, revise the plan, and do it again
Planned, organized work is less stressful, more productive, and more profitable. Don't make the argument that you're too busy mopping the floor to fix the roof.
Beginning is the easiest thing in the world. Just start telling people that you're going to start putting more balance into your life and your business. Start today. Soon these people will begin holding you accountable by asking you whether specific activities bring value to your business.
Let's be honest. You've probably tried it the un-balanced way. Give balance a chance.
Sunday, July 02, 2006
Amy, Chris, Chris, and I going to present some ideas from our own experiences with Managed Services, along with a question and answer period. I believe we're doing the show twice. July 10th at the Small Biz Symposium in Boston.
Don't know what I'm talking about? Check out https://partner.microsoft.com/sbsymposium for all the details.
I think the billing for the event will go something like this:
"Dramatically increase your utilization and profitability while increasing and retaining your customer base by offering proactive IT monitoring and management services." We make no promises about losing weight or better mileage. Other than that, we got it all.
The session will cover:
- How to get started
- How to position to customers, and structure the right service levels and corresponding billing considerations
- Personnel consideration and staffing up
- Tips, Tricks and Tools of the trade
Amy, Chris, and I all started out with different approaches to this business. So we each have a little different spin on how to get started and what to do with Managed Services.
Join us for a good time!
Saturday, July 01, 2006
Queenie dropped me a line. We exchanged a few notes about our schedules for the big Small Business Symposium on July 10th in Boston.
Don't know what I'm talking about? Check out https://partner.microsoft.com/sbsymposium for all the details. This spectacular event is all about--and all for--the Small Business Specialist community. So here's the skinny:
This is a brief outline of some of what Susanne and her crowd are presenting:
- How and what the UK & Irish community is
- Successes so far from the UK & Irish community (impressive growth, case studies from partners)
- Vendor relationships (with HP, MS, CA etc and how we can lobby them to build better relationships with us)
- Worldwide successes (video example of Nick Pieters and quotes from partners across the globe about their positive experiences from the community) as well as my view on what works and what doesn’t and why we are a strong network
- Where to go and how to join (SMB Nation, blogs, forums, events, sbsgroups.com etc)
- Why the community works and how it benefits everyone who is involved (both from a business and personal point of view)
- How partnering with vendors and joining programmes such as the Small Business Specialist Programme improve business practice
- Where to start to look (websites, forums, blogs, events, WWPC!)
And if Amsterdam, London, and Midlands taught me anything, they taught me this: You can look forward to a GREAT discussion that will be useful to all SBSC's, no matter what continent you're from.
Queenie says 2 PM on Business Skills Track 2
Sunday, June 18, 2006
Many things are not changing: For one, SBS 2003 continues to kick butt. More than it's share, to be honest. I was just talking with a client on Friday and we agreed: There is no greater value available to business owners today than SBS 2003. Period.
We'll have to see after June 30th who the new players are at Microsoft. Some people will get another year to work with other. Other folks are already moving to new positions. By the end of July we should know a little bit about who's who.
[Side Note: If you're going to the MS Intergalactic Partner Conference for the first time, it can seem a bit like a car sales lot. Everyone you meet says "I just changed jobs and I don't have any business cards. Here, let me write my email on this candy wrapper."]
Many old friends will stay. Some will move from one place to another. The solid rock of our community is the collection of user groups. They grow a little here and shrink a little there, but overall they grow larger and more numerous.
Several people act like Johnny and Jane Appleseed, creating new users groups wherever they go. If you're worried about how change at Microsoft will affect the community, your group, or your business, relax.
I think Microsoft will give the SMB space some significant resources for at least another year. It may not be focused like a laser beam, but it will be there. They've seen the numbers and they know how much money can be made on small business. When mid-market and enterprise businesses stopped spending, the SMB space kept chugging right along. But don't kid yourself. If the traditional market returns with a roar, Microsoft's attention will turn just as quickly.
Your Five Year Plan
Most of us, if we'll admit it, don't have a five-year plan. We should. We know we should. But we're trying to get through the day, the week, the month. But here's the deal with change.
Change is going to happen. Time is going to pass. You're going to change and your business is going to change. Think back five years ago. You probably got up in a different place, went to work in a different building, had different friends, and worked with different people. You certainly sold different software and hardware. Your relationship with Microsoft was different that it is today. You probably didn't belong to a user group, you'd never heard of SMB Nation or the SBS show. You'd probably never heard of any of the "well known" people in the SMB/SBS space.
It's not much of an exageration to say "everything" changed in the last five years. Guess what? The next five years aren't going to be any different. Change happens. Here's what a plan does for you. You don't have to be perfect. You don't have to "hit" every goal exactly. But if you know where you want to go and have some idea of what you DO and DO NOT want out of life (and business), then you have a framework for interpretting change.
Instead of being bounced around like a pinball, you will be actively participating in the world of change. You can mold your environment and yourself as opportunities present themselves. And opportunities always present themselves. People come and go, software comes and goes, and the business environment keeps "evolving."
If you have a vision about the future -- a five-year plan -- you can interpret change in light of that plan. You can share your plan with people. They may be suspicious or not very excited. But at least they'll know where you're going. And you'll be surprised at how willing people are to help you out, if they know what you want.
Where will you be five years from now? How different will that be if your favorite contact at Microsoft or SMB Nation is no longer there? I'm guessing you'll be just fine. In fact, I'm guessing you'll thrive!
Plan to Thrive. Because you can't thrive without a plan.
And to get started, be prepared for some changes between now and the end of the year.
I welcome your feedback.
Friday, June 09, 2006
No one is great at this. If you're lucky, you're good. Most of us (self included) are neither great nor good.
But that's not to say that the process of thinking about a "five year plan" is wasted. Any time spent speculating about the future of your business is time well spent.
The Summer Lull is a good time to spend some effort speculating. Here are a few random thoughts.
I don't know why, but human beings have this real sticking point when it comes to change. I'm not talking about resistance to change, but simply accepting that change happens.
SBS and the SMB community have enjoyed a GREAT couple of years. Our industry has boomed. The SBS 2003 product is an awesome, over-the-top, great product. Microsoft is just finishing a year of intense focus on the SMB space. Most consultants don't really grasp how much the partner-facing infrastructure at Microsoft was reorganized last year.
At the same time, SMB Nation has grown from 100 to 300 to 500. This year, SMB Nation "classic" in Redmond will have 800 attendees. They've already had SMB Nation Amsterdam and SMB Nation East this year. These conferences are truly gifts to the SMB community. But change happens. Can this growth go on forever? What's the next step?
Change is accepted more readily in the mid-market and enterprise world. In some sense, it's built in. July brings the Microsoft Intergallactic Partner Conference in Boston. Every year, Microsoft ties up end-of-fiscal-year by shuffling people from one job to the next. In another month, no one will have the same title except Steve Ballmer, and that's not a given.
Last year (It's hard to believe it was only eleven months ago.) MS introduced the SBSC program. WPC was an SMB-fest last year. Other than a CRM rev, the only new thing they had was SBSC.
It won't be like that this year. The Small Biz Symposium on July 10th is looking great. [See https://partner.microsoft.com/US/smallbusiness/smallbusinessoverview/ and click on the "Small Business Symposium" button.]
But this year MS is introducing a new operating system, 64 bit technology, a new office version, and R2's all over the place. We'll have our day. Then . . .
When the sun rises on July 14th, our little slice of heaven will no longer be in the big spotlight. We'll still have a spotlight, but it will be the little, portable spotlight. Even now they're loading the big truck so they can carry the big spotlight over to the Vista launch area. You know that big contraption with three spotlights circling in the sky? That's being carted over to the Office camp.
So, if you're still squinting because the lights have been so bright, you're about to get a taste of what it's like to to be out of the stoplight.
It will be very interesting to see what our little community looks like in a few months. It's grown up a lot in the last few years. It has matured. It's got some great spokespeople and a handful of icons. It will be interesting to see what the community looks like with more people but less buzz.
I welcome your feedback.
To be continued . . .
Sunday, May 07, 2006
Most people know intellectually what they need to do to be successful in their businesses. In fact, they can rattle off the "rules" of success all day long. But some people just don't sit down and DO what they know needs to be done.
I wish I could record every word I heard uttered at SMB Nation (Redmond, Amsterdam, and East) because there was just too much great advice for me to take in all at once.
- Here is some of the advice that was spelled out in the formal sessions as well as the hallways and at the breakfast table:
- Take control of your finances. If finances bore you or scare you, or you just don't have time, hire someone. Make that piece of your business go smoothly and everything else will go better as well.
- Rethink your prices. Today. Whether that means considering increases or service agreements, managed services, flat rate, or whatever. Do Not just let the hodge-podge of prices in your business continue without some overall structure that makes sense. KISS: Keep it simple. If you can't explain your pricing to another consultant (or a client!) in one paragraph, you're in trouble. If you ever want to grow, this area will need regularity.
- Rethink Growing. Growing doesn't have to mean that you hire ten people and become a fulltime administrator. You can grow by intentionally organizing your business around policies, procedures, and tools that allow you to provide higher quality service to your clients.
- Hire carefully. Fire quickly. These are two major areas of pain. When you hire on a whim you'll probably lose a lot of money before you either train the person properly or send him to work for the competition. Remember Brian Tracy's simple advice: the best time to fire someone is the first time the thought crosses your mind. This is a hard one.
- Rethink your clients. How can you weed out the ones that aren't good for you and find the ones you want?
- Work on being professional.
- --- Get your invoices out on time.
- --- Dress professionally. You should be as well dressed as anyone you're going to do business with today. Our industry is terrible on this score. You don't have to wear a tie or a dress and high heals, but find something other than a t-shirt and jeans.
- --- Make sure your "presentation" is professional. Buy printed envelopes, stationary, and business cards. With services like VistaPrint, the whole lot will be less than $100.
- --- Standardize your practices. Write it down! Begin describing everything you do in terms of "We like to . . .." Think back to conversations at SMB Nation when we all sit around and ask what the others are doing about this or that or the other thing. Just as you have an elevator speech for your prospects, you should have an elevator speech for your marketing practices, your training practices, your documentation practices.
I've met people (not at SMB Nation) who say they're working toward success, but they spend all their spare time watching TV or playing video games. If you fill your time with TV and video games, you'll be good at watching TV and good at video games. If you spend your time reading and thinking about your business, you'll be good at the business side of your business.
Read the E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber.
Read Making it Big in Small Business by Beatrice Mulzer.
Don't just pore through the powerpoint slides from SMB Nation and copy someone else. Develop YOUR habits of success. In Bea's book we learn many paths to success. The fifteen people she profiles have some habits in common. But more importantly, they each have things they do CONSISTENTLY. You need to pick a path, make a plan, and develop your habits of success.
Treat your business like a business.
If you want some tough love, here it is: If you're not willing to work ON your business and become more professional, then your business will decay and you will find it tougher to compete every year. Tune up your radar and listen. If you keep getting the same advice over and over, TAKE IT!
No one thing will keep you from being successful. No one thing will make you successful. Success comes from focusing your attention and your intentions like a laser beam, and from establishing good habits and becoming their slave (thank you, Og Mandino).
If you just wake in the morning and do whatever seems like a good idea today, then you better work inside a pinball machine because that's the only place where that behavior can lead to success.
If I forgot any major topics, please post comments.
For more sage advice along these lines, check out http://www.relaxfocussucceed.com/Articles.htm
Have a prosperous day!