Thursday, November 29, 2007

Evil Plan: How to kill the most successful product in history

Recently, both Vlad (www.vladville.com) and Mark (http://sbsc.techcareteam.com/) have been blogging about Microsoft's misstep regarding hosted (non-)services and Comcast.

Here's my speculation about what's going on in the background:

Nestled deep in the dark woods of Washington state, in a cold and forbidding building at the top of a mountain, you'll find the home of the Microsoft Department of Scheming (DOS).

And in the Department of Scheming there is large office with tall, steel windows. There you will find a man dressed all in black, in a large captain's chair, petting a cat. He is chuckling to himself. Because, in addition to being the Vice President of Scheming, he is also a mole placed inside of Microsoft by a coalition that plans to destroy Microsoft from the inside.

This coalition consists of Google (the founding organization), Linux, Open Source, and Yahoo. Together they are known as GLOSY.

The logic behind their plan goes like this:

1) Microsoft Office, as it exists today, is an unstoppable force.

Office is not successful because of it's feature set. Wordpad does 98% of what 98% of the population will ever need to do with word processing. Wordperfect and Open Office do 100% of what 99.9% of the population will ever do with office products. Even Google Docs and Spreadsheets does a pretty good job.

So why are businesses willing to pay $400 or $500 for a copy of Microsoft Office? Because MS owns the mind share. Everyone uses MS Office. The only worries are about compatibility. The only concerns are about exchanging documents with ease.

Having another brand that's "compatible" isn't the same. MS Office just is the standard and it just works.

2) For competition to gain a significant share of this market, Microsoft will have to open the door to competition. There are really only two ways to do this. First, they can adopt a file format that is easily opened by any program and saved seamlessly. If business owners can be convinced that any office system can open any file from any other office system, then Microsoft's dominance can be assailed.

Action Item: Get Microsoft to move to .xml file formats.

Second, if biz owners can be convinced that they don't need to "buy" the software, then they can use it on a month-to-month basis and always have the latest features. If this mindset prevails, it will be easy to provide cheaper alternatives that "just work." One month, a business owner will use a non-Microsoft product and it will just work. If the coalition is good at marketing, business owners won't even know that they're not using a Microsoft product. Once this happens, it's a commodity market.

Action Item: Get Microsoft to offer office products over the internet for a subscription fee.

3) The greatest challenge to making all of this happen over the internet is the realiability of the internet connection. The second greatest challenge is to provide adequate customer support during the important transition phase. For Microsoft's online software service to work, they need to choose the right partner. GLOSY must do whatever is necessary to make sure Microsoft chooses poorly here.

Action Item: Get Microsoft to partner with an unreliable cable company whose customer service reputation is among the worst in modern memory.

4) Changing the business owners' mindset will take time. Years. They will need to see a variety of examples where online document handling works. Once they use Wordpress (whether they know it or not) and other online editing tools, their mindset will begin to shift. The explosion of blogging should help considerably on this front.

The industry must go through a period of confusion. At the end of it, business owners will go to a web site, edit a document, send it to a colleague, and never know what program they used.

Time and confusion can only be had if Microsoft agrees to the action items above. These will result in a 1- or 2-year period in which customers won't "get" what's happening to them, Microsoft's delivery will suck out loud, and the GLOSY community will be able to go through at least two generations of products.

By the time Microsoft figures out how to deliver their products in sufficient quantity and quality to deserve a piece of this market, they will no longer dominate the market.

5) Next item: Get Dell of offer the following choice.
- Pick an office product
- -> 100% Microsoft-compatible GLOSY docs = $10
- -> Genuine Microsoft Office Professional = $400

- - - -

The man with the cat walks to the window and gazes out. He chuckles to himself. He won't stop until Microsoft is worth a Million Dollars!

- - - -

Why is Microsoft playing someone else's game when they don't need to?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sale's Over

Sorry it didn't last long. The big damaged goods sale on The Network Documentation Workbook only lasted four days.

I guess there's a pent up demand for either 1) that book, or 2) half-price books.

Anyway, just wanted to get the word out that the sale's over. So, if you paused, you know for next time!

Thanks, all.

-----

If you're looking for great Christmas gifts for all of your employees and clients, check out Relax Focus Succeed(R) -- A Guide to Balancing Your Personal and professional Lives and Becoming More Successful in Both.

Only $19.95 from now til December 31st.

And we have discounts available:

Buy 5 or more, receive 10% off
Buy 10 or more, receive 20% off
Buy 100 or more, receive 30% off

Orders of 500 or more must be placed by December 5th to be delivered in time for Christmas.

Check it out at http://www.relaxfocussucceed.com.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Fix This Feed's Dates in Outlook

From time to time someone mentions that the Blogger feed for this site puts the same date on every post, so posts are not viewed in reverse chronological order.

This has been a known issue for some time.

Well, Thomas Wie engaged me regarding this topic over the weekend. So I poked around and found the fix.

First, get rid of the old Atom/xml feed.

Second, use this feed:

http://smallbizthoughts.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default?alt=rss

which forces RSS, which is what Outlook uses.

Thanks, Thomas.

Feedback welcome.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Right Way Wrong Way

Here's a bit of philosophy for you:





I was filing through some pictures from a recent trip and came across this sign from the California woods.

I was going to point out some brilliant and witty observations about doing the right thing and how it can become the wrong thing . . .

or about how being on the right course can become the wrong course . . .

or about how being on the wrong course can become the right course . . .

But it's too perfect as it is.

I leave you to your own conclusions.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Network Documentation Workbook - limited time offer

As you may know, our most popular product, The Network Documentation Workbook is approaching "end of life."

So we have about a hundred brand new books to sell, and then we're done with it.

BUT we also have about 40 damaged books. Only the covers are damaged. Other than being a bit tattered on the outside, the inside is perfect. Includes the CD, of course.

These are a spectacular deal right now, while supplies last.

These damaged books are available at half price: Only $45 each.

Order now. When these are gone, they're gone. And then we're back to the full-price books that remain.

-----

If you've ever considered buying The Network Documentation Workbook, and put it off for some reason, this is your chance.

Check it out at http://www.greatlittlebook.com/products.htm

Happy Holidays Around the World

I love statistics. That's one of the fun things about looking through web logs (good times).

And poking around in the logs for this blog, I find that I have a very international audience. In fact, 57 countries are represented. Here they are in order of most visits:

    United States
    United Kingdom
    Australia
    Canada
    New Zealand
    India
    Greece
    Sweden
    Belgium
    France
    Dominican Republic
    Netherlands
    Ireland
    Spain
    Philippines
    Israel
    Czech Republic
    Brazil
    South Africa
    Norway
    Finland
    Singapore
    Germany
    Japan
    Portugal
    Malaysia
    Hungary
    Mexico
    Puerto Rico
    Switzerland
    Argentina
    Russian Federation
    Poland
    Turkey
    Serbia And Montenegro
    Panama
    Kenya
    Mauritius
    Thailand
    Austria
    Ecuador
    Moldova, Republic Of
    Kuwait
    Slovenia
    Slovakia
    Qatar
    United Arab Emirates
    Romania
    Estonia
    Bulgaria
    Indonesia
    Denmark
    Latvia
    Italy
    Lithuania
    Morocco
    Hong Kong


We're in the middle of a big U.S. Holiday here. Many nations and peoples have celebrations of Thanksgiving for their blessings. This is ours.

So I take a little time to thank everyone in the SMB community for their work at home, in the online communities, at the conferences, etc. The community continues to exist only because of the actions of its members day in and day out. And it truly is a worldwide community.

I thank everyone who has supported my efforts with books and other things over the years.

-----

Now through January is my favorite time of year. We get to slow down a bit, focus on our families, evaluate the year passed, and prepare for the year ahead.

I pray that you will all be blessed in the months and years ahead, both in your business and personal lives.

We're all in this together. Let's work to make our community stronger, and to help each other to be successful.

Now let's go enjoy the "Holiday Season," as we say in the U.S.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

What are we worth to Microsoft?

The big opening presentation at SMB Nation included this announcement:

For the just-completed fiscal year, Microsoft license sales by, and as a result of SBSCs, reached $100,000,000.

One hundred million dollars (US).

Yeah. Cheers. Whoopeee.

Now, on the way to the conference center, you pass a building with a 50 foot tall banner hanging down -- an advertisement for Halo3.

Halo3 was released three days before the conference started. By the time we got on the airplane to fly home, Halo3 had sold $300,000,000 worth of product.

We always hear about how rabid the Apple users are. They're the most vocal 4% on earth.

But the truth is: A whole lot more people Love Microsoft, Love Windows, and Love Office.

And even though the media like to play up the whole "evil Microsoft" and "everybody hates Microsoft" crap, it's just not true.

Anyway, the point is: Lots of people love Microsoft products.

Perhaps Microsoft has finally decided that they have so much good will that they can simply alienate a segment of the population with no long-lasting ill effects.

The not-so-secret secret is that you can make a lot more money selling directly than you can through the channel. And, truth be told, a whole lot of people are eager to lay down the Visa card and buy direct.

Once the resolve to be a channel-only vendor is broken, things can never go back to what they were. But how does MS get the ball rolling?

They can't start by going direct-on with their most profitable Gold Certified partners. That would be stupid.

And they don't want to go against their nicely-profitable Certified Partners. That would be silly.

Those targets will come later.

So a quick dip into direct sales will have to be focused very clearly on Registered Partners.

Hence the deal with ComCast.

-----

In the end: What are we worth to Microsoft?

We -- the SBSC community -- bring resources of good will, software recommendations, and the occasional channel sale.

But truth be told, we're a bunch of small business owners serving a bunch of small business owners. Small x small = small.

Very few of us can brag about one million in Microsoft licensing sales.

Let's see . . .

Halo = $300,000,000 in a week.
that's $ 42,857,142 per day
and $ 1,785,714 per hour
or $ 29,761 per minute


SBSC = $100,000,000 per year
which is $8,333,333 per month
or $1,923,076 per week.
that's $ 274,725 per day
and $ 11,446 per hour
or $ 190 per minute


Stop: How many dollars worth of Microsoft licenses did you sell in the last twelve months? One minute's worth? Two minutes' worth? Three minutes' worth?

On the Halo scale, my firm will finish the year in the range of 3 or 4 Halo sales minutes.

So I'm not confused about my value to Microsoft.

All of my value must therefore be tied up in good will and software recommendations, because it's not in channel sales.

-----

Don't be sad.

This is neither a good thing nor a bad thing. It's just a thing.

I would venture to guess that almost everyone who reads this is a fan of Microsoft.

Somehow, somewhere along the way, Microsoft has earned massive amounts of good will in our community.

It's not just the SBSC program, which is so spectacular that it is actually irrational to not participate.

Microsoft has worked for years and years to develop great programs, great software, and great training geared toward our space.

So Microsoft's Bank of Good Will has many deposits.

When they make a mistake, there's a little withdrawal and the balance goes down. But they can survive some pratfalls based on current deposits of good will.

But let's not forget that Microsft is just another vendor.

They do things right. They do things wrong.

They do things that are in your best interest, and they do things in opposition to your best interest.

Where they are channel friendly, you should jump on board. Where they want you to lead your own clients to Live Office and Live Meeting, then you should walk away.

When they offer free training and resources, take it. When they want to sell training and resources, buy what brings value to you.

-----

At the end of the day, the micro-consultant (SBSC, not Certified Partner, not Gold Partner) has one primary value to Microsoft:

- You are their goodwill ambassador. You are their "unpaid" sales force.

Microsoft pays you with free software and free training, with special programs here and there.

What are you worth to Microsoft?

You're worth the cost the PAM program and the SBSC program, plus the PAL program, a couple of the MVP programs, the training, and the go-to-market campaigns. Oh, plus hands-on-labs, TS2, Connections, MSDN events, the MAPs program, and the big orange/green truck.

I'm sure I'm forgetting some!

Microsoft is still making plenty of money on us. But they are also continuing to make deposits in that bank of good will.

-----

Nothing has changed.

Run your business in a manner that makes money for you. Where your interests coincide with a vendor, use their resources. Where they don't, go do your own thing.

Microsoft is just another vendor doing their own thing.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Microsoft, oh Microsoft. Why have you abandoned me?

Lament of the Abandoned Technician
----------------------------------

Befuddlement reigns in the land of the SBSC.

My good friends at Microsoft have courted me for two years. They have bestowed upon me new certifications and lopsided badges of blue. Lo, they have offered special promotions to me, and granted to me a special zip code finder-thingy that never quite worked.

Verily, I tell thee. I have been loved.

Now comes word that I shall be foresaken. My clients shall be wrenched from my bosom and served alongside pay-per-view by a minimum wage cable-puller with tan lines on his butt crack.

Microsoft, oh Microsoft. Why have you abandoned me?

Have I not done thy bidding? Did I not buy the books and pass the exam? Did I not attempt to pull up mine own self by my bootstraps?

When you plastered Harry B and Level Platforms all over thy pages, did I not visit them? When you launched SMB symposia, did I not attend? On newsgroups and blogs and in emails, did I not heap accolades upon thee?

Why, then? Why have you now abandoned all pretense of friendship and planned to steal my loving clients?

Why have you conspired with a foolish provider to take from me the clients I have earned, and to then provide them with interrupted service and applications that fail?

Do you not see that I am your Partner? I have met thy requirements. I have used my mouse and clicked upon my acceptence. I have accepted pennies to thy dollars.

What say you?

I shall provide the service? But what service have you left me?

What say you?

I shall provide planning and strategy? That self-same client will rely on me for a vision of the future?

Surely this cannot be, for I am not a business consultant.

My lot has been that of a technician only. I speak of servers and switches. I understand registries and "hacks." Mine is not the world of strategy and fine-tuning.

I have not made a role for myself to play. Surely, my old beloved friend, you will tell me what is left for me to do.

Tell me, dear friend Microsoft, what would you have me do?

For, surely, you cannot abandon me.

Microsoft, oh Microsoft. Why have you abandoned me?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Microsoft's Misstep is Your Last Warning

Normally I don't get to say "I told you so" for about ten years. But in this case, I get to say it after only four months.

See http://smallbizthoughts.blogspot.com/2007/07/wpc-notes-saas-i-mean-software-plus.html, wherein your intrepid reporter predicted what Microsoft sees in your future:

- Hosted MS Server
- Hosted MS Office
- Hosted MS Services

Your clients will buy everything directly from Microsoft and your job will be to show them how to use Outlook.

Microsoft confirmed this last week: http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2007/nov07/11-14MSComcastPR.mspx.

The really nasty, over-orchestrated thing that bothered me at that keynote speech is that Kevin Turner went on and on and on about how Microsoft loves the channel, and Microsoft is built on the channel, and Microsoft will always support the channel. "Now here's Steve Balmer to make clear that Microsoft couldn't care less about the channel."

After one slide, Vlad and I just looked at each other. "I guess it's over for us."

Conclusions:

1) The bad news is that Microsoft is going to work really hard to take all of your pesky 1-10 user clients away and give them to Comcast.

2) The good news is that Microsoft is being completely open about this. They're not lying to you or deceiving you in any way. They're looking you straight in the eye and taking your clients.

3) The really good news is that they've picked a really bad ISP to partner with.

-- -- --

The choice is obvious. Fiber isn't everywhere. Cable's really super fast. So, if you're going to partner on this kind of thing, it really has to be a big national cable company.

But all cable companies suck when it comes to business class service. As a Comcast subscriber I can vouch for their unreliability. In the past year we've had four major outages and at least six minor ones. In fact, Comcast is the reason we decided to move our servers to a co-lo facility. Even if we can't get to the server, our company is still "up."

Aside from programming, Comcast has no history of launching a new technology smoothly. So it's going to be a bumpy ride and suck out loud.

Comcast is always being accused of throttling bandwidth for one reason or another. They say they don't, but it doesn't take much imagination to come up with a handful of tests to prove they do. This "traffic shaping" will allow them to give a little better performance to their SMB clients.

But it won't do much good when internet access is down.

So the first grand attempt will fail miserably with very angry customers. And, very likely, some lawsuits from small business owners.

-- -- --

That's not the end of the tale, though. Together Comcast and Microsoft have more money than J.K. Rawlings.

They'll retool. They're rewrite. They'll buy better equipment and hire the right people.

Eventually, they'll make it work.

And, when they do, they'll grab up a bunch of small businesses and keep them forever.

Gee, it seems like only last week that I was warning you: Do you sell Technology, or do you sell Business Consulting?
(http://smallbizthoughts.blogspot.com/2007/11/selling-technology-vs-selling-business.html)

Decide what you want to do in 2, and 3, and 5 years. Microsoft has made a misstep with this Comcast deal. That buys you some time to retool and figure out what you're going to do.

Don't ignore this. It's your last warning.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

I Stopped Counting Pennies

I had a conversation with another I.T. Pro the other day. He asked what we were doing with marketing. My first response, of course, was "Do you use Robin Robins?"

So he asked how much it costs.

And I said I have no idea. I know I belong to some level of mastermind group. There's a monthly cost. It gets paid.

And I don't care how it costs. I'm getting value out of it.

Do I do everything Robin says to do? No.
Do I do things as consistently as Robin says I should? No.
Am I getting the most I can from the resources she makes available? No.

But . . .

Do I get something valuable every month? Yes.
When I need advice, is Robin available? Yes.
Would I buy her kit again? Yes.
Would I buy her managed services program again? Yes.
Would I sign up for a higher level of mastermind if an opening emerges? Yes.

So the bottom line is pretty much this: Robin Robins is like Mickey Mouse.

If you're a parent and you've ever taken a four-year-old to Disneyland, you know how this goes. Your first reaction is that $40 seems steep for lunch. But by the time you leave, you just open your wallet and tell Mickey that he can have whatever he wants.

I don't know what the "value proposition" is, but I know value when I experience it.

As long as I'm counting dollars coming in the door, I don't pay attention to the pennies going out.

If I gave Robin $1,000 next year and didn't sell an extra ten hours of labor, then I'd drop the program.

But I'm not counting five hours here and ten hours there. I'm counting clients.

How much is a new client worth? For us, the price starts at $15,000 per year. So if we got one client per year from some Robin-related activity, we're way ahead for the money.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Saving the Wrong Pennies

I am proud to be a capitalist. Having said that, capitalism can lead to some pretty stupid decisions.

Perhaps the stupidest mistake you can make is to save one more penny.

There's a famous story that John D. Rockefeller actually counted the number of drops of solder needed to make an oil barrel. After all, when you're making millions of barrels, the pennies add up.

Unfortunately, that story taken in isolation by an eager up-and-comer can lead to very bad results. It is very common for a business to set a standard and then begin cutting pennies here and there until they create a marginal product.

A marginal product is one with no tolerance for flaws. One drop of solder, more or less, can result in millions of leaking barrels.

Here's an example from the 21st century. About once every four months I go to the grocery store and there's leaking milk on the shelf. I believe that the company that makes the cartons has a training program that includes the famous story from Rockefeller. So every now and then, some schmoe tries to get ahead by reducing the glue in the cartons by one drop.

The result is that I now check the bottom of the milk carton before I put it in my basket. If it's leaking, I grab a plastic container from a different brand name. And I don't care what the cost is. I might pay twenty extra cents for milk, but I don't have to clean my refrigerator the next day.

Here's another example. I take a drug called Enbrel. It's an "injectable." (see here). It comes packaged in a little kit you need to assemble. Each little piece is sealed in plastic so it remains sterile. But they recently changed the plastic on one bit of packaging so that it's very thin. Still sealed, so still sterile. But now the plastic is so thin that the seal doesn't peal off easily. The result: it is now pretty easy to struggle with this package and send the "sterile" part rolling across the non-sterile counter.

You might argue: These are unintended consequences. OK. Unintended. But that doesn't mean they're difficult to foresee. In fact, these are obvious Unintended Consequences. That's very different from unforeseeable and unintended.

-----

What has any of this to do with your business?

Consider this: Where do you count pennies and cut corners in order to squeeze another bit of profit?

Where might you have created a marginal product -- one that's truly on the margin between barely acceptable and not acceptable?

Alternatively, where do you come across as unnecessarily cheap?

When I first started my business I was telling my wife how expensive it is to park downtown. She said "I hope you're charging the clients for that." No. No I'm not. No one wants to spend $100/hr for tech support and get a reimbursement request for parking.

Of course we all need to make our businesses run better, and more efficiently.

Just don't get caught in the trap of saving the wrong pennies.

Don't live on the margin between acceptable and unacceptable. It doesn't take much to move well into the acceptable space.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Selling Technology vs. Selling Business Consulting

Come back in time with me a hundred years. Around the year 1907 the world travelled in 1) Foot, 2) Horse, and 3) Rail. There were a few bicycles, a few automobiles, and the ocassional Yak. But basically, small-scale travel happened by horse. That might be horseback or horse-drawn carriage.

Many many people existed to support the horse travel industry. They made wheels and seats and buggy whips. Some made carriage bodies, like the Fisher Body Company (originally Standard Wagon Works).

And when the automobile took the place of the horse-drawn carriage, many companies went out of business. Why? Because they were in the business of supporting the horse-drawn carriage industry. But Fisher Body was in a different business. They were in the Transportation business.

The Fisher brothers didn't whine that their family business was going away. And, unlike many other manufacturers, they didn't keep trying to use horseless carriage bodies on motorcars. They retooled and rededsigned. They built auto bodies for dozens of companies, including both Ford and Chevrolet. Eventually they were bought out by General Motors.

-----

So what business are you in?

If you're in the business of supporting Windows XP and SBS 2003, then your days are numbered.

If you're in the business of supporting Small Business Server, then your days are numbered.

If you're in the business of supporting Server 2003 and 2008, then your days are numbered.

But . . .

If you're in the business of supporting small- and medium-sized business, then your days look sunny and bright.

Here's why.

Any specific technology will fade and die. Yes, I still own a Commodore 64. But I don't use it much.

What lives and thrives is business.

If you're a technology consultant, then you're always going to be running to stay even. You'll always be focused on a thing that's about to be replaced.

But if you're a business consultant, then you get to plan ahead, focus on the big picture, and help your clients be successful.

Technology costs money. Technology consultants cost money. On the big business balance sheet, everything to do with technology is money flushed down the toilet. In three or four years, it's a pile of junk, no matter what you buy.

Busines consulting saves money. It helps clients spend the right amount at the right time on the right things. Business consultants are part of the team. Part of the solution, not part of the problem. If you're a business consultant, it doesn't matter what the technology is: you'll be there to help.

-----

How do you know if you're in the technology business vs. the business consulting business?

The primary indicator is:

-- Do you sell a new server setup as a one-time project and then have no ongoing contract for maintenance?

If you answered yes, then you're in the technology business.

Your days are numbered. You've been warned.

Friday, November 09, 2007

An Explosion of Communities

I was talking with a friend the other day and we were trying to figure out all the alliances within the SMB space just in North America.

I'm sure some are missing here, but here are the highlights as I see them:

1) Blogs and blogrolls. 99% output, with ocassional input. Still, a community, especially when someone responds to a blog post by creating their own blog post.

2) SMB Nation. Part conferences, part magazine, part email newsletter. Much of the community links back to SMB Nation.

3) SMB Group Leads. Leaders of the user groups. Yahoo group. Web site. Groove site. Ocassional in-person meetings.

4) Yahoo Groups. Primarily SmallBizIT, SMBManagedServices, MSSmallBiz. Plus "tech help" sites like sbs2k.

5) ASCII Group. Commercial enterprise, membership organization. Training. Their own online groups. Group buying power.

6) ICCA. Professional membership group. Conferences. Training. Magazine. Group buying power.

7) IAMCP. Microsoft marketing tool in disguise. Local groups. Meetings, website, events, networking.

8) SMBTN. Conferences. Coalition of user groups/individuals. Group buying power.

9) MSPU. Training for managed services. Books. Help desk. Webinars. Online materials.

10) MSPSN. Peer groups. Online forums. Trainings. Webinars. Group buying power.

11) HTG. Peer groups. Books. Business strategy.

12) Robin Robins. Membership-based. Monthly phone conferences. Audio programs. Marketing materials and strategies.

13) Vendor based services: ConnectWise, AutoTask, etc. Training on their own systems mixed with education and Business strategy.

14) Microsoft initiatives. Eric Ligman and the whole SBSC thing. PAMs and PALs. Mike Iem and the user group initiative. To some extend TS2 folks. In some areas they really participate in the groups.

15) Channel partners. (e.g., SonicWall, Trend) Some only give lip service to the SMB/SBS/User Group community. Others participate -- both speaking to the groups and listening to what they say.

16) The MVP community. Membership determined by Microsoft, of course. But a community that exists because of the community spirit of its members.

17) Culminis. An organization designed to support user groups. International community.

18) User Groups. Hundreds of them from sea to shining sea. In many ways, the U.G.s are the glue that keeps the rest of it together. They filter information about all of this stuff and help facilitate the flow of information up and down, and all around.

And what did I miss? Dozens and dozens of blogs, for sure. Email lists? Other groups? Different communities?

And Podcasts.

-----

Are you connected?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Aggregating and Filtering

In my last post I talked about a "Need Aggregator" for the SMB Universe.

There's no denying that the means of communicating and participating are expanding almost as fast as the information on the internet.

With Yahoo groups, news groups, email lists, blogs, podcasts, etc., we've become as overwhelmed with communication tools as we are with the communications themselves.

Some of this is just plain fun. People like toys. Sometimes they're physical toys (cell phones, cars, computers) and sometimes they're virtual toys (computer sites, online communities).

Some of this is business. Some is a combination.

If you consider all the types of communication technologies, and the quantity of information being fed down each pipeline, you can see why some people simply opt out.

If you believe the premise that the forms of communications will continue to expand, then you need some strategies for dealing with it. Here are a few tips.

First, find filters. These are people, processes, or programs that help you find the information you need and avoid what you don't. Examples:

- People. If three MVPs tell you to pay attention to something, it's probably a good idea to check it out. Same should be true with your PAM or PAL.

- Processes. Don't just poke around a little here and a little there. Find some things that work for you and do them consistently. This might mean checking specific blogs, reading a specific magazine, or contacting a specific list of friends and contacts.

- Programs. Whether it's Google Alerts, Newsgator, BlogPulse, or whatever: You need to find some tools that help you narrow down what you are exposed to.

Please note that last line very carefully. You do not need more tools to find more things. You need the best tools to find the best stuff related to your business.

If you believe the analogy that working with Microsoft is like drinking from a firehose, then you need some serious filters. On top of Microsoft you can add every hardware vendor, every software vendor, all the major technology news outlets, all the blogs, etc.

Now you're drinking from every firehose in the world!

So you don't just need a filter, you need a few good filters.


Second, look at yourself as a producer of information. After all, when we participate in yahoo groups and news groups (or create a blog), we put out ideas out there for other people to chew on. As part of the community, we can help others by reducing the need for filters.

Here are two frequent examples.

One example is that small group of people who engage in lengthy pointless debates or flame wars. These don't happen very often. But when they do, they discourage people from participating or even following the rest of what's going on.

I grew up in a house with six boys. Sometimes we were loud. Sometimes we argued. Sometimes we even fought. I don't recall my mother telling us no to do these things very much. But what she did say was: "Take it outside."

It's too bad the domain name takeitoutside.com is already taken. It would be nice to push a button and have people take their debate over Commodore vs. Atari to another realm where we don't have to scroll past it to read our newsgroups.

A second example is that small group of people who admit they have no experience or information, but jump in with lengthy opinions. "I've never installed a phone system, but I'd choose asterisk over response point . . .." Or "I've never hired an employee, but . . .."

I don't mean to squash open and free discussion, but give me a break.

People come to these sites -- and come back -- because they are looking for useful information and find it. We all have things to contribute, and most people could contribute more than they do. But when someone asks a question that's truly important for his business, it would be good to get responses only from contributors and not just people who want to post.

In other words, be a good citizen by contributing more when you have something to add. But also limit your posts.

It's always fine to ask questions and get discussions going. That's part of the community. Again, if more people did this, we would have a wider variety of discussions.


Third, look at yourself as a consumer of information. Are you an educated and discerning consumer? Or do you try to take it all in?

Remember, you're drinking from all the firehoses in the world. You have to accept the fact that you can't read it all, you can't take it all in, and you can't internalize all the information -- even the information relevant to your field.

If you want to hang out on a dozen sites telling B.S. stories, go ahead. But don't call it work and don't complain that you don't have time for what's important. Decide what's important and develop good habits -- muscles of success.

The hard part about community is that you begin to KNOW these people. After you attend a conference or two, you start reading these sites and saying "I know her. I met him." So you want to read what they have to say. But there were 700 people at SMB Nation. Plus 200 at this conference, 150 at that conference. Pretty soon you have thousands -- tens of thousands -- of posts and blogs and stuff to keep track of.

See item one: you need filters.

Your most important filter will always be yourself.

Unless there's a hot topic addressing exactly what you need in your business today, it's okay to skip discussions about all the other "stuff" out there.

Are you going to miss some things? Are you going to find out about some key technologies a little bit late? Yes. Has this happened in the past with zero ill effects? Yes x 1,000,000.

-----

Who, oh who, will build us a tool for aggregating AND filtering the internet?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Needed: Aggregator for the Universe

The number of ways to communicate with groups and communities is exploding. And, of course, the number of groups and sites to monitor is exploding.

Let's just say you want to keep track of

College Friends
Culminis
Exchange Defender
Favorite Blog 1
Favorite Blog 2
Favorite Blog 3
Favorite Email List 1
Favorite Email List 2
Favorite Email List 3
Favorite Podcast 1
Favorite Podcast 2
Favorite Podcast 3
A Hobby Group
Microsoft Advisory Committee you sit on
Mobi-Tech
MS Small Biz group
Official SBS Blog
OWN
SBS Group Leads
SBS2K Group
Small Biz IT group
Small Biz Thoughts Blog
SMB Managed Service Group
SMB Nation
SMBTN
Susan Bradley's Blog
Vladville
Your Marketing Consultant
Your own project
Your SBS User Group

Overall, that's more than 30 groups / blogs / projects / "things" to check up on. Some are blogs, so they're 99.9% read only. And some are news groups, which need some attention but not complete attention. A few are your own thing.

Now half of these are going to want the occasional webinar, seminar, Live Meeting, GoToMeeting, GoToWebinar, webex, whatever.

So that's 45 things to keep track of.

And now comes Groove space.

And RSS feeds.

And Facebooks and linkedin and social networking sites want to suck the remaining minutes of useful time from your life.

Uh . . . did I mention You Tube?

So now we're way over 50 things to keep track of.

Plus you need to keep track of the real news regarding your business and your vendors.

-----

And somewhere along the line we've mixed up the things we need to do (keep track of information and people in our business lives) with all the things we could do.

The business world is a series of inter-locking filters. Being productive and getting ahead involves finding effective filters. No human being can read all the great blogs out there. Or keep up on the news. Or be up on all the latest promotions.

In the world of RSS feeds, we rely on RSS aggregators to pull together just the stuff we want.

In the much bigger picture, we need a "Need Aggregator" to bring us all the juicy bits from a world that grows more complicated all the time.

Pull up a chair, youngins, and remember the early days of the internet.

There was a time when the Domain Name System we use today did not exist. To use a name on the internet (like telnet.umich.edu), you had to download the latest hosts file from InterNic.

Yes. Every machine with a name was in that file.

And FTP hadn't been invented, so you downloaded it by capturing a telnet session. Or just a screen capture if you were within the MERIT network and not using telnet. You can see why that system didn't last.

Then FTP was invented.

And when lots and lots of ftp sites sprang up, we needed a way to track all the stuff on the internet. So Gopher servers sprang up, all of which linked back to the ultimate mother ship at the University of Minnesota.

And then the awesome Scott Yanoff began producing "Yanoff's List," the occasional listing of every resource on the internet. Yes. Every resource on the Internet. Truth be told, it probably had 90% of everything in existence at the time each list was published.

Eventually, when Netscape and the World Wide Web exploded in 1993, it became obvious that the internet was going to grow out of anyone's control very quickly. It was also going to become impossible to "index" manually. So WAIS (on the non-commercial side) and DEC (on the commercial side) started trying to index the world.

And a thousand search engines were born. Most of the early ones (like Yahoo) were really only indexes. True search engines came later.

And a million portals were born. In 1994, one measure of a good web site was how many links it had to other web sites.

After many years, communities developed. True communities. Communities with people who knew each other and cared about one another. Communities with leaders and rules. Communities that added the human element to all this technology. Communities where people could find an "introduction" to whatever the topic is.

Communities where we can all help each other keep track of the latest news, what works and what doesn't, who's doing what, which vendors are good, and so forth.

The tremendous appeal of social networking sites is that you can use them to be your Need Aggregator. But now we see an explosion of social networking sites.

-----

We have too many tools and too many points of contact.

If you have a web site, a blog with RSS feed, a yahoo group, an MSN group, a email distribution list, a monthly podcast, and a monthly webinar . . . someone will ask you if there's a Groove site or a webinar.

Will you ever catch a break? No. Next week there will be a new technology. And next month. And next year.

Think about this from two perspectives:

- You as the producer of information

and

- You as the consumer of information

In my next post I'll give some thoughts about surviving in this crazy mixed up world.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Resource reminder: www.smbtshirt.com

Resource reminder:

www.smbtshirt.com

Just wanted to make sure that all the user groups, products, and people out there with t-shirts to sell were aware of the great SMB T-Shirt Project.

It's over at www.smbtshirt.com.

Here's the deal:

Anybody and everybody who is associated with the SMB Consulting Community and the Small Business Server community can participate. Create a T-Shirt. Make it interesting and clever so that others will want to purchase it. (And let's see if we can reduce the number of white t-shirts in the world.)

It costs nothing to post your stuff. The site sponsor (great little book) makes nothing from this. But you can!

If you user group, or just you personally, want put together a t-shirt and make it available to the rest of the universe, here's your opportunity.

The goal is simply to create a place where we can support each other and have an endless supply of clothes to wear.

The site has almost no rules. It's just a clearing house for your t-shirt sales.

It does contain links to some places (such as cafepress) that have a hosted solution to merchandise sales.

Remember: the site's free. So, if you request to have a shirt or two listed, it may take a few days as the volunteer web dude gets around to it.

ALSO: Note that we hope to get more shirts posted as a result of this announcement, so you'll want to check back from time to time.

thanks.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Robin Robins CD

Robin Robins CD

Please Note: If you bought the Super Suceess Bundle of books at SMB Nation last month, you may not have recieved an important element. Some packages did not contain the Robin Robins Seminar CD.

If you bought the success bundle and did not receive the Robin Robins CD, please send an email to karlp@greatlittlebook.com with your name and mailing address. We'll get the CD out to you.

and Thank You for your support!

-- karlp

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Managed Services in a Month Reposted

The little series I did on "Managed Services in a Month" has received a lot of attention.

I looked at it the other day and realized that it's kind of a pain to have that much sequential information on a blog. You need to find an index (like Philip Elder constructed: http://blog.mpecsinc.ca/2007/09/business-principles-converting-business.html). Then you need to print out each article and put them all in order.

And, I realized, that an important piece is in the article that immediately preceded the big series.

So, I've decided to make your life easier.

As I always do.

Over at http://www.greatlittlebook.com/Seminars/managed_service_in_a_month.htm you'll find the whole series, including the post immediately before and the one immediately after the series. I've also included the posts that were answers to questions as the series progressed.

If you WANT to print it out and read it at the beach, you can now do that much more easily.

I corrected a few typos, but I didn't make any editorial changes.

And I added a linked index at the top and some "return to top" links so you can navigate a little more easily.

Free, of course, but now all in one convenient location.