Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Our Enemies' Friends Are Our Enemies, and Other Fallacies

In the Cold War era The U.S. and several other countries made some very big, incorrect, assumptions about how the world worked. The major assumption was that it was "us" against "the Communists." But the Communists included two major factions (Soviet Union and China) who had very different views about Communism than each other. They hated each other. In fact, we now know that they almost had a nuclear exchange at one point.

But we were blinded to the relationships between "our enemies" because we made two major assumptions:

1) Our friends' friends are our friends.

2) Our Enemies' Friends Are Our Enemies.

A great many resources, anger, frustration, and human lives were lost because of these misunderstandings.

Luckily, our business lives are not so dramatic. But we tend to make mistakes that are just as fundamental. Let's substitute competition for enemy.

If I put on a seminar, do I compete with SMB Nation? I hope most people will say no.

If I post a podcast, do I compete with the SBS Show? Again, I hope most people will say no.

If you write a book, do you compete with me? No.

If I open a computer shop across the street from you, do we compete? Again, no.

Restaurants and gas stations have figured out something that SMB consultants haven't. Where's the best place to open a restaurant? Across the street (or in the same complex) as a successful restaurant. Best place for a gas station? Across the street from a gas station.

Think about the world of the web. Amazon isn't really Amazon. It's a collection of Borders Books, Amazon, Toys R Us, the Discovery Channel, etc. In other words, it's a place to go for a whole variety of stuff. Their goal is that you'll always check Amazon, whether you're looking for magazines, pet supplies, cell phones, or anything else.

Attitude Shift
I offer remote technical support. I can do virtually anything remotely. So why am I a "Northern California" consultant? I could compete head to head with you by simply cold-calling into your market instead of mine. In calendar 2006 we expanded our Bay Area presence dramatically. Some of our top ten clients are now a three hour drive away.

Does it matter? Are Bay Area consultants shaking in their boots? No.

As I've told the members of our local SBS Partner Group, I don't see anybody in the room as competition. In twelve years, we've never faced off against any of them for a job.

We have, however, hired some of them for jobs.
And we've been hired by some of them.
And we've referred clients to them.
And they've referred clients to us.
And we've banded together to host events.
And we've educated one another.
And we've helped each other.
- We've helped each other find products and prices.
- We've helped each other in crises.
- We've helped each other find vendors and answers.

And so forth.

So, in the big picture, are we competition? Yes. Does that mean we can't be friends? No.
Some consultants want to only listen and lurk. They don't want to participate because they're afraid someone will steal their ideas and their clients. Those consultants are limiting their own success.

To all those consultants I say: Come join the party. There's a bunch of money, comaraderie, and opportunity over on this side of the room. Visit three partner group meetings and see what you find. I think you'll stay.

And you might even come away with a cool souvenir. It won't be a Soviet Army watch, but you might get a T-Shirt!
In addition to your local partner group, consider other "professional" organizations: SMBTN (http://www.smbtn.org), Mobilize SMB (http://www.mymspsn.com), ICCA (http://www.icca.org), ASCII (http://www.ascii.com), the new MSP Partners (http://www.msppartners.com), or whatever Vlad comes up with next.

Bottom line: There are many organizations that help us all to grow as individuals and profitable companies. Join, participate, get involved!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Microsoft Response Point

Just got off the Phone with Harry B. Here are the hot links to the new Phone System -- Response Point -- announced by Microsoft today.

Web cast scheduled for Thursday 3/22 at 1:00 pm PST
Details: Go to the Small Business Summit Site and visit the web web cast labeled "New Product Preview" by Xuedong Huang. That will be Response Point

Start Here for Small Biz Summit: http://www.microsoft.com/smallbusiness/hub.mspx

Press release is here:

Response Point product page is here.


I'm having a conversation with someone at Microsoft this afternoon. Look for details in the next issue of the _SMB Partner Community magazine_.

If you're not a subscriber, go to www.smbnation.com.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Modeling Your Business After Millionaires

One of the best pieces of advice you can take is to look at successful people and model their behavior.

And, for whatever reason, we in the United States look to people who have achieved a net worth of a million dollars and say that they are "successful."

I take issue with that definition of success. Money is a result of success. Money is not success.
Success means reaching your goals. And that involves happiness and friendship and many other things besides money.

Having said that . . .

In the world of business and finance, the mark of a net worth of a million dollars is still worth paying attention to.

And here's something to think about: You get to work with millionaires all the time. Tune in and learn. Who are these millionaires? Your clients, of course!

I don't know why most people haven't realized this. Most of your established clients have that "magical" net worth of a million dollars. Think about it. Lawyers and doctors; real estate agents and insurance brokers; professional consultants and construction contractors.

You never know who's over-leveraged on their finances. But as a rule, when you've got a client with 20-30 desktops, and they've been in business for ten or more years, it's a sure bet that they're worth at least a million.

And whether or not you're already in that situation yourself, you have a lot to learn from these millionaires.

How do they act? Are they nice people? How do they organize their day, their life, and their desk? What are their spending habits?

While every person is different, and people of different temperments can become wealthy, you will find many similarities between them. Tune in and learn.

Many people who work for large corporations look down their noses at small businesses and SMB consultants. But most of those people are middle management and never interact with millionaires, except perhaps their boss or her boss. They haven't considered that many of the people they look down on are also wealthy: small business owners.

You really do have a great opportunity here. If you want to find wealthy people, so you can model their behavior, then you need look no further than your own clients. And chances are, if you're a small consultant, that you are actually on very friendly terms with these people. Take them to lunch and take an interest in what they do and how they do it.

Tune in and learn.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

I'm speaking at SMBTN. Join me and save $200.

Big News:

It's official. I'm going to speak at SMBTN's Summit next Friday 3/16.

This will be a quick 1.5-hour seminar on "Good Form Consulting."

New material and (I hope) a perspective that will make your company more profitable.


Register today at http://www.smbtn.org/activities.htm---> Don't forget to use your super secret registration code to receive a $200 discount. That code is SMBKARL07
--> I'm told you can share this code with all your friends and neighbors.

Topic: Good Form Consulting

A Round-Up of Best Practices for Organizing and Running an Efficient and Profitable SMB Consulting Practice

Proper procedures and and consistency are key elements in growth, reproducible success, higher profits, and more personal time with your family!

In this 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.

For more information on this seminar, please visit http://www.greatlittlebook.com/Seminars/GoodFormConsulting.htm

See you there!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Discount for SMB Summit - $200

I don't normall cross post with my email list (which you can find at www.greatlittlebook.com).

But when there's $200 on the line, what the heck.

From Jim at SMBTN.org:

Thanks, Jim.

After much discussion, Jim Locke has agreed to give a great last-minute discount to the SMB Summit.

Here's what you do to Save $200:

Go to http://www.smbsummit.com.

When it comes time for checkout, you'll be asked when you have a super secret, executive code. Enter SMBKARL07 And your $200 discount will show up at checkout.

Tell your friends and neighbors.

I've talked to people all over the U.S., and even Australia. This will be a great event for meeting and greeting your fellow SMB Consultants.

SMB Summit is March 15-17 on the outskirts of Disneyland. Includes business, technology, and "solutions" tracks. Check it out. If you join SMBTN you get even more discounts.

Disclaimer: I am not being paid to get you to sign up for SMB Summit. But let's be honest: if you save $200, you could buy me a beer and have lots of money left over to buy a book or two!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Real Value of Managed Services

Here's a cautionary tale you can use as you see fit.

Once upon a time there was a client who signed up for managed service. But, Lo, he was not completely convinced of its value.

"You apply patches and come in remotely. How do I know you're working for me?"

And then one day his drive array gave him problems. And many hours later . . . Dell couldn't help . . . and Microsoft couldn't help . . . And everyone said the drives were dead and the data was gone.

But his Noble Outsourced I.T. Department came to the rescue. And many hours later, the system was back up, firmly convinced that it was just one minute after it went down. No data lost.

The only charges were for after-hours labor, requested by the client.

But, alas, all was not well. For this system has three line of business applications, and the vendors do not always behave. One, in particular, is fond of connecting to the server and making changes that affect other applications. Changing the SA password. Things like that.

So Mr. Rogue Vendor takes this opportunity to uninstall .net 2.0 and install .net 1.0. God only knows why. But the result is that the Noble Outsourced I.T. Department thinks this is fallout from the disaster recovery and proceeds to spend time making the basic processes (like sharepoint) work again.

The bottom line: Rogue vendor takes random action. Noble Outsourced I.T. department doesn't know what has happened and has to spend unbillable time fixing things. The loser vendor has created a situation where he can waste an unlimited amount of the Noble Outsourced I.T. Department's time (money).

And so, the Noble Outsourced I.T. Department wrote a letter to the client and informed him that there would no longer be any managed services available on the server until the client enforced the service agreement -- and made it very clear that all vendors must submit to management by the Noble Outsourced I.T. Department.

At this point, the client panics. Remember, he has just experienced invoices with many hours "covered by managed service agreement." There are emails and phone calls. Client can't stand the thought of paying by the hour for tech support.

"What do we have to do to get our server back on the managed service agreement?"

And then the Client's loyal and somewhat maniacal management consultant calls. "How can we get back on managed services? What do we have to do? I'm sure we can work this out. I'll have my people call your people. Exactly what do we need to tell Rogue Vendor so that we can get back on managed services?"

Deeeeeep Breath.


So the next time Client asks what he gets for his monthly cathedraticum, we can say "You get total and absolute support. But you gotta play by the rules."

Side note:

Click. Five minutes pass. Tick tick tick.

You've got email! From Client's loyal and somewhat maniacal management consultant. "I'm sure we can work this out. Otherwise we have to re-evaluate our relationship with Noble Outsourced I.T. Department."

Uh, yeah. Tip to dude: Don't plan on winning any poker tournaments.

Pick one: either pee all over yourself begging to get back on managed services, or threaten to cut us off. Don't do both.
The lesson for client is: A managed server is cheaper than break/fix support. In the long run, managed services will be cheaper and provide better service.

The lesson for the consultant is: Hold your ground. You absolutely have to manage LOB vendors. Otherwise, they have unlimited rights to force you to waste time cleaning up after rogue vendors who never make a plan and break more than they fix.

My friend Erick Simpson addresses this as a key point in your managed service business. Buy his book here: http://www.smbnation.com/smb%20books.htm.

Many consultants are afraid to give up big sums of money or big clients. But the truth is: If you have a relationship that causes you to lose money, you need to change it. Either get out or change the relationship.

Obviously, the first choice is to write a letter stating that the relationship continues. This one little thing is changing, but the big picture remains the same: The client will still get great tech support at a reasonable rate. Once you get rogue vendor under control, you'll put the server back on managed services.

Service is a beautiful thing. But at the end of the day, you're in business to make money. Don't stay in an unprofitable relationship. Establish guidelines that make sense and be willing to enforce them.

Send questions to Erick, not me. :-)