Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Managed Services in a Month - Price Goes Up Tomorrow

The official launch date for Managed Services In A Month is tomorrow.

Which means the early bird specials end at midnight tonight.

The pre-release price has been

$15 for the book

$15 for the CD set (3 audio CDs)

$15 for the MP3 download.

Tomorrow it all goes to $19.95 each.

Or you can buy it at full price right now on Amazon.

Thank you to everyone for your support.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Quick note: We won! We won!

As I decompress a bit and get ready for SBS Migration/I.T. Pro conference in New Orleans, I will post a few notes here and there.

Probably more information than my normal opinionated B.S.

Here's the first note:

The Northern California Publishers and Authors have honored me with two of their "Best" awards. For books published in the last year, Great Little Book Publishing is proud to receive the following awards:

Best Alternative Media Book 2008: The Super-Good Project Planner for SMB Consultants.

and

Best Spiritual/Self-Help Book 2008: Relax Focus Succeed(R).

Thank you to everyone who bought these (and other) books, and thank you to everyone who makes possible our continued success.

I am honored and I appreciate your support.

Monday, April 28, 2008

I'm Back - More Blogging Soon

Sorry I sort of disappeared there. Busy busy busy.

One of the things I do when I get busy is to prioritize activities and focus entirely on the most important things.

The bunched-up calendar eventually clears, and I add back the other stuff in my life.

Outside the world of technology I run two other businesses. So after SMBTN's excellent summit, I came home and did a seminar for one of my other businesses.

And my other-other business also drew a lot of my attention. As a member of the publishing and writing community in Northern California, I have been working on a conference in Sacramento. I've been working on this for ten months.

Well, the day-long conference finally came off very successfully on Saturday. I met a lot of great people, MC'd the whole affair, and did one of the seminars myself. 100 people. 99 happy customers. I guess that's a success.

All in all it was a very busy week.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Vlad Dropped Me!

Please read His Blog.

Business is about . . . business. Who would have guessed?

Well, truth be told, a lot of people never learn that.

I am in the middle of the SMBTN SMB Summit (which is kicking butt, by the way).

It is interesting to see the swirl of business people, business philosophies, and business personalities. Many communities are represented here. Vendors, resellers, coders, pimps like Erick, etc.

And each person has a different approach to dealing with the other personality types.

We all know business people who, when things go wrong, get pissed off, break relationships, call lawyers, and generally make everyone miserable (including themselves).

Life is too short for that.

It is far better, personally and professionally, to take a positive attitude.

There are times when your company just can't work with another company, for whatever reason.

When that happens, the best you can do is focus on the future, work together to move on, and make the transition as smooth as possible.

Any other approach causes unnecessary disruption and costs more money.

Think about it this way: If a client called you today and said "We've been thinking about this a long time and we've decided to drop your service . . .."

Are you going to argue?
Would that get the client back?
Are you going to beg?
Are you going to get mad, yell, scream and sue them?

Think it through. The only thing to do is to be gracious and help create a smooth transition.

That's what's best for your mind, your heart, your wallet, your ulcer . . . and a possible future relationship with this client.

-----

Own Web Now has an amazing product called Exchange Defender. We use it and love it. They have a great resale model. We make money with Exchange Defender.

But OWN and KPEnterprises share a client who is . . . shall we say . . . difficult.

That client pressures us and we pressure OWN.

As a result, the relationship between Vlad's company and my company has had some stress.

So yesterday, Vlad called me. And we agreed that our friendship is worth far more than the small amount of money that flows between our companies.

We didn't argue and debate. The decision was fairly obvious (in hindsight).

-----

If you read this blog, you know my company regularly weeds our client garden. We help clients transition to other technical consultants for many reasons.

Making these transitions while maintaining the personal relationships is extremely important.

So Vlad fired us. We're over it. Our companies are focused on our future success.

Most importantly: Vlad handled this completely professionally and made sure that the personal and professional are two different things.

There's no drama here. There's no behind-the-scenes scoop. Business is business. Personal is personal.

I will continue to encourage partners to use Exchange Defender because it kicks ass.

And on the personal side, I will expect Vlad to buy me the first beer at every Microsoft party we attend.

The traditions continue.

Thank you, Vlad, for being a friend and a business associate with integrity.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Please Help Me on Amazon

I need your assistance.

I have re-posted the book Service Agreements for SMB Consultants to Amazon.com. This was necessary because distribution of this book changed from SMB Nation to Great Little Book. Sadly, it means that we have lost the great reviews that were attached to that book.

In addition, I have posted the Managed Services In A Month book to Amazon.com.

So here's where I need your help.

If you've read one of these books and found it useful, please click on the relevant link here and post a review for the book on Amazon. I would like to get some stars going!

Please click on the following:

Review Managed Services in a Month

Review Service Agreements for SMB Consultants

As always, I thank you for your support.


Thank you!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Something's Going to Go Wrong

File under "truisms."

I don't have many rules for life that have a negative spin. And, really, this one just sounds negative at first.

When we start a new project, we try to plan for everything. But I have to remind people: Something's going to go wrong. I don't know what it is. But it will happen. We'll find it and fix it. Nothing can go wrong that we can't fix.

As I said, this only sounds negative. It's actually positive!

Why will something go wrong? There are two reasons.

1) Perfection does not exist
and
2) Clients don't pay enough to make things go right.

Here's what I mean.

First, perfection. You're not perfect. Your clients aren't perfect. Their other vendors aren't perfect. The hardware and software aren't perfect. Communications isn't perfect. Your estimates aren't perfect. etc.

Perfection
is an
Illuzion


What can you do?

You do your best. You eliminate possible problems with planning and preparation. You hire good people. You train you people. You work on communications and expectations. You buy good hardware and software, with good support.

In other words, you bring quality and high expectations to the part of the process you control.

Second, client spending.

This is not a slam on clients. Most clients can't spend enough money to avoid all problems.

Money can only buy so many decimal points of "uptime." Consider two examples.

At the low end, think about the difference between these two computers:

Example A
Cheap P.O.S. (not point of sale) Dell machine with a 30 day warranty and a blazing celeron processor.

Example B
Business Class HP with a three year warranty and a solid dual core processor.

The price difference: $300-400 per unit. The business class computer costs very little extra and virtually guarantees a better experience with lower maintenance costs over a three year period.

Most clients are willing to buy a higher level of quality at this price.

But how many are willing to buy the next level of dependability, reliability, and performance? "For only $1,000 more . . .." For most clients, it's hard to make the argument that they need the next level of reliability.

So they make a reasonable balance between cost and performance.

Here's a higher-end example: Zero downtime for the server.

The ability to cluster servers and provide true zero-downtime has existed for quite awhile. But does the client need that? For some the answer is yes. For most, no.

We all know the truth: If Google and MSDN can have downtime, anyone can have downtime.

All clients can achieve 99.9% uptime. That's means less than 45 minutes of downtime per month. Even if your server takes ten minutes to reboot, and you reboot once a week, you'll achieve this.

Now move to 99.99% uptime. That's 4.5 minutes of downtime per month. This takes a little more time, effort, and money.

99.999% uptime? That's .5 minutes of downtime per month. Now we're talking serious time, effort, and money.

For most clients, buying that 5th nine is not worth the price.

-----

The bottom line is, we all play an "insurance game" with success.

We invest in enough good people, good equipment, and good software to buy our way into the comfort zone. We minimize how many things can go wrong, and how wrong they can go.

But we cannot eliminate risk.

Something will go wrong.

But our excellent preparation means we are ready to tackle the problem and make everything right in the end.

There's a certain beauty in how these things work out. The client who only buys cheap computers and a cheap consultant ends up with more failures and a slower, messier, costlier fix..

Meanwhile, the client who invests in the best has almost no problems. And the problems that arise are easily fixed by the excellent consultants.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Books are In; Sale Continues

OK. The new books are in!



All "Managed Services In A Month" items are now shipping.

Lana just shipped the backordered books and CD sets. MP3s are being downloaded as I write this.

The official release day is May 1, 2008. After that, the price goes to $20 each.

For now, the "pre-order" price of only $15 each still applies:

Book version $15
3-CD set $15
MP3 download $15

Get one of each!

For more info, see www.smbbooks.com/products/msiambook.htm.

As long as you're there, poke around.

Every item is at least 10% off MSRP every day.

Think of it this way: If you spent $900,000 today, you'd get $1,000,000 worth of merchandise.

That's a savings of $100,000.

And you'd get free shipping because your order's over $200!


It's C-R-A-Z-Y!

:-)

Thank you for your support.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Software Assurance Ripoff

Over at SBS2K Yahoo Group There's a discussion about software assurance.

SA, in it's standard format, is a two-year program in which you get all the updates for a product.

In my mind, this is just strange. The only Microsoft products that have a true refresh in any given 24 month period are video games. Even MapPoint doesn't get a regular refresh.

Service Packs can be obtained for free, so you don't need SA for them. Only version upgrades need SA.


Here's a rough timeline for SBS:

Release SBS2003 to the wild: Q4 2003.

Release of R2: Q3 2006.

Release SBS 2008 to the wild: Q3 2008? Q4 2008?

So, if you sold your client SA between November 2003 and September 2004, there is no possibility that they could get anything for their money.

And the "anything" you got with R2 is not worth the cost of SA.

If what you really want is access to the next real version release of the product, you would not sell SA for SBS before December 2006. That's a good, safe date.

But did you have any way of knowing this in 2004, 2005, or 2006? No. In fact, you spent most of 2007 not sure whether SBS would be in 2007 or 2008.

Microsoft provides minimal guidance around this. They have general roadmap information online. But software development is a lot harder to do than most people imagine. And they have to adjust to the evolving environment in which the eventual product will be released.

Microsoft can't be expected to release new versions on a tight schedule determined years in advance.

But they can and should design Software Assurance so that people get something for their money.

We ask people to pay something extra in good faith that they'll reap the benefit. How is a client supposed to know in mid-2006 that their Software Assurance will expire before Microsoft releases the next version?

-----

Today, we're selling SA on SBS because we really believe clients will get the new release.

We're not selling SA on Office because Office 2007 was just released. You won't get any value from SA.

We're not selling SA on Server 2008 for the same reason.

We're not selling SA on Exchange 2007 for the same reason.

It is immoral to sell something when you know for an absolute fact that people will never get anything out of it.

I like the open value subscription plan because it has real benefits for the client -- as does open value generally.

-----

Upgrade strategies.

Jeff Middleton has been pinging me a lot about upgrade strategies and the business strategies behind moving to the new code. This will have some serious focus at his I.T. Pro conference in May. See http://www.conference.sbsmigration.com/.

Consider what you're selling today.

If someone just buys new hardware, do you move their SBS2003 original release product to that hardware? We don't. Too many service packs and updates. It's cheaper for everyone to just sell them the current version of SBSR2 with most of the updates in place.

And we sell SA because we really think they'll get the bits.

BUT: we don't plan to install that SBS2008 upgrade when it comes out. OMG. No, two server migrations in a 12 month period is too much for anyone.

So, we don't put off the current upgrade. But we do plan to do the second migration down the road a bit. Perhaps late 2009 or on release of SP1.


We are not putting off upgrades and migrations in anticipation of the release. Clients with stable systems will not want to jump right into the new product anyway.

We also have some beliefs about the future of this space that come into play.

Because all the good SBS support is in Texas, and there is no usable first-line tech support for SBS, we believe the boxes need to be as vanilla as possible. That means we're no longer putting a bunch of line of business applications and other important stuff on the SBS box.

We believe that 2008 will be the last version that ships with Exchange Server. And that's a good thing.

So we're building systems with a five year plan that takes into consideration the current install and the next anticipated install.

-----

Twenty years ago people bought computers and believed that the investment was over. They did not think they would need to replace it.

That's not true today.


What's your five-year strategy for upgrades?

Will you sell SBS 2008 with Software Assurance when it's released later this year?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Right NOW Sale

Right now.

I mean Right NOW, we're having a sale at SMBBooks.com and GreatLittleBook.com.

You have to start with this link:

http://www.on2url.com/app/adtrack.asp?MerchantID=75012&AdID=378247

If your purchase totals $25 or more, you will receive a $25 discount.

Right now.

All products.

Limited to the first 1,000 people who click on that link.

Everyone's eligible. But you gotta start with that link.

Offer ends in seven hours.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Final Call: Get Your Booty to Dallas!



Here's the news from Mike Iem at SMBTN.

(If you haven't heard it already, please check out the great interview with Mike here.)


Last Chance To Register
Over 440 partners are already registered!
April 18-21, 2008
Omni Mandalay Hotel at Las Colinas
221 East Las Colinas Blvd.
Irving, TX 75039

AND
It's getting down to the wire for the big "Perfect Projects" seminar by Matt and Karl.
That super-bargain four-hour extravaganza is only $149 !!!

Register at http://www.greatlittlebook.com/Seminars/2008/PalachukMakowicz200804.htm

See you in a week!


"If you want to make an investment in yourself and your business to grow your business, don't delay, register today!"

Use code: SMBWEBCAST for instant $100 off - expires tomorrow, April 11th, 5:00 PM PST

NOTICE: Rooms at the Omni Mandalay Hotel at Las Colinas have sold out. We have just obtained a block of 25 rooms at the discounted rate of $149.00/night at the Dallas Marriott® Las Colinas, which is within walking distance of the Omni.

Visit the Hotel page for more information. If you are requesting to book on-line, you can visit the Marriot web site at www.marriott.com/dalcl and enter sbmsbma in the group code box, the cost is $149 per night.

Arriving a day early? Don't miss the Perfect Projects Pre Day event by Matt Makowicz & Karl Palachuk. Learn how to sell and execute perfect projects every time. Door prizes, snacks, and 100% satisfaction guarantee - only $149/company to attend! http://www.greatlittlebook.com/Seminars/.

Date: April 17, 2008
Time: 1:00pm - 5:00pm
Location: Omni Mandalay Hotel

-----

BladeBuilder University (BBU)

Specifically designed for our business partners who want to make real money from selling HP BladeSystem. It's not just about the servers; it's about how to sell the complete infrastructure. For HP Channel Partners only. Register at 800-732-5741, Option 4.

Date: April 17, 2008
Time: 8:30am - 5:00pm
Location: Omni Mandalay Hotel


-----

Don't miss SMB Summit -- It will be the first deep readiness opportunity for Small Business Server 2008/Essential Business Server!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

What Should I Give Away For Free?

When you first start marketing your wares, you look for advice.

And one of the most common pieces of advice you'll come across is "Give something away for free."

Okay. What?

What should I give away for free?

I recently reviewed some of the things I did early in my business, and through the years. Here are some things that worked and things that didn't.

First, the obvious: Mouse pads.

Over the years we have occasionally printed up mouse pads and distributed them to our clients. Cost is about $3-5 each, depending on what you get.

As an I.T. company, this is a GREAT give-away. Even with optical mice, a nice mouse pad goes a long ways. If it's funny, beautiful, or useful, it will stick around.

My favorite mouse pad had the following message:

KPEnterprises Troubleshooting Guide for Windows

1. Reboot the computer.

That will fix 99% of all problems. If you still have problems

2. Call KPEnterprises

In addition to solving a lot of problems, this became part of our client culture. People would call and say "I've already rebooted . . .."

Nowadays, consider instructions on entering a service request.


Second, fun stuff.

I like to troll the "scratch and dent" department at Staples and Office Max. When they put end-of-life stuff out, I look to see what's interesting. One time they were closing out Dilbert business card holders. I bought some, packed them with business cards and sent them to clients, asking for referrals.

I didn't get many referrals, but people kept those cards holders and remembered it for a long time. Good P.R. with current clients. Not too expensive.

Third, Labor.

This the most common give-away. For example, you might use my 68-point checklist or the Microsoft Business and Technology Assessment Toolkit to offer a "3 hour network checkup."

A few things to remember:
1) Don't give away too much.

2) Be totally advisor and not pushy sales person.

3) To get the report, they need to meet with you personally. Period. End of story. There is no Option B.

Fourth, Useful Stuff.

There are two primary kinds of "useful stuff." One is the written word. This includes handouts on virus security, acceptable use policies, DRP, backups, etc. Handouts. Things that can be photocopied.

The other kind of useful stuff is something a bit fuller in content. For example, if you do client-facing webinars, record them, press them to CD, and offer them to clients and prospects. These engage the client in a total advisory role. Whether it's a webinar or audio CD, the client consumes the information at their leisure -- on their schedule.

So, when they choose to access the information, you have been welcomed into their conscious mind. That's cool. Make the most of it. Brush your teeth, wear a clean shirt, and present your company in a professional manner.

If you have a CRM system for tracking marketing campaigns, such as Results Software, you can make a note when someone requests a CD. Over time you can see the pattern of people who rely on you for this information. They see you as someone who gives useful advice.

And that means you've got a collection of people you can go to with new technologies and they'll be open to the idea.

-----

One of the great weaknesses in marketing is goal-setting.

Why are you doing this marketing?

Think about all the squeezy toys you've thrown away over the years. Was that Intel or AMD? Trend? Symantec? Notinbusinessanymore?

Imagine yourself afloat in a sea of white XL t-shirts. Will you add another shirt to the pile? I hope not.

Some marketing needs to be regular and consistent (your monthly newsletter).

But quick campaigns can be anything you want: interesting, fun, stupid, etc.

Whatever you do, it needs to have a goal. Why are you giving this thing to this person for free? What's the call to action? If you don't know, don't give away anything.

Enjoy.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Stuart Launches New Site Just for Canadians

If you've ever been to a technical conference, you've had this experience:

Someone in the front row always gets to ask the first question. He's from Canada.

The question is: Is this available in Canada?

(The answer is always NO.)

Well, guess what?

Stuart R. Crawford, Business Development Representative for I.T Matters Inc., has launched a new website just for SBSC Partners in Canada . . .

see http://sbsc.itsuccessmentor.com.

This site is for Canadian Small Business IT Professionals that are looking for material that impacts them.

There is also good info for worldwide partners.

Check it out today.

Keeping Your Employees

Here's a shout-out to Chadi: You stole a week of my life writing about one question. You absolutely owe me a beer.

-----

OK. In the last several posts we've covered a lot of "employee" ground.

So you've hired an employee. Then you learned to fire an employee. Then you learned to hire more good employees.

The next question is: How do you keep those people?

After all, we're in a business where people are very tempted by money.

So, assuming that you don't have piles of cash in your storage unit, how do you keep people without simply handing them money (which builds zero loyalty)?

We've gradually built a system where we build a team that supports one another, works well together, and helps each other advance.

There are two perspectives here. First, what does an employee value? Second, as an employer, how can you build a place where people choose to work?

Whether you like it or not, it costs money to train people to do things your way. They have to learn your PSA system, they have to learn to use your checklists and your procedures.

Generally, for any given task, an employee has to go through four stages:
- Learn it
- Watch someone do it
- Do it while someone watches
- Do it on your own

That, times every important thing you do, equals a lot of hours. So the bottom line is: You're putting a lot of time and money into training a new employee -- no matter how good they are.

So it's cheaper to keep someone than to find someone else.

We do several things to try to be the employer of choice for our techs:
  • We try to create an environment that's fun and where technicians can learn new things. No one is pigeon-holed doing the same thing forever.
  • We offer medical benefits. After the three month probation, employees are eligible for medical benefits. The price varies by age, but a group plan starts in the $120-150 range per employee per month.
  • Employees can earn salary increases by passing Microsoft exams. An exam is worth $1/hour increase. That's about $2,000 a year. No limits.
  • We pay for training books, practice exams, and the actual MS exams.
  • We have a bonus system tied to how well the company does every quarter.
  • We do things as a group. We brew a company beer. We have quarterly lunches.
  • We do a "Final Friday" training each month. We buy lunch and spend 3-4 hours teaching each other about various new technologies, or the latest version of existing technology.
  • We use a rotating system of being "on point" (handling new requests and scheduling), so all techs learn some of the skills needed to start managing operations.
  • We give technicians opportunities to learn new things. Rather than giving all the high-level jobs to the highest-level technician, we give everyone a chance to learn the cool new stuff.
  • We provide virtual "sandboxes" where technicians can do whatever they want. They've all loaded SBS2008 multiple times. They've all been hands-on with Server 2008 and Exchange 2007.


In technology, we don't have to create a fast paced environment. That seems to be the nature of the beast. Overall, we put attention on having fun, doing things the right way, learning new stuff, and being professionals.

We also take measures to lower stress. We don't let clients abuse our employees. We have phone and email policies that take a layer of stress out of the environment. We put a lot of emphasis on slowing down and doing a job right the first time.

The interesting thing about a ticketing system is that, if you use it, you have a list of every single thing that needs to be done. And that allows you to hand a job to a technician and tell him "You don't have to worry about anything except the job you're working on right now. That long list is being worked by the team. We'll give each task the attention that's due. Do this job very well and then move to the next job."


We get two common questions about our benefits.

Question 1. Isn't Medical insurance expensive?

Yes. And no. If you simply offer up the first 1-2 hours of technical labor each month to providing medical benefits, you've still got a lot of month left. In those terms, medical is pretty cheap.

And I don't know about your state, but our workers' comp is about 6% of income. So, for a tech earning $60,000/year, we pay $300/month for NOTHING. I'd much rather take that money and buy an over-the-top medical plan that covers massages and haircuts than to flush it down the WC toilet. I believe the worst on-the-job injury we've had is a paper cut opening software.

Anyway.

Medical insurance is a little expensive, but it brings tremendous peace of mind to employees. And because most people in this business do not share that perspective, it makes your business a bit more attractive.

Question 2. Aren't you afraid that a tech will pass a bunch of exams, get an MCSE, and be gone?

No. Think about it this way: If someone passes seven exams, they will have increased their hourly rate by $7/hour. That's almost $15,000 per year (not counting overtime).

It also means that person has managed to learn a whole lot of great stuff. So they get cool assignments and are generally more valuable to our company. Plus, the number of exams you've passed increases your share of any bonus payouts.

(Of course there's a whole new exam structure. But it doesn't change anything for us.)

I've received a great deal of thanks from employees because we encouraged them to step up in professionalism and take their careers to the next level. And, as I mentioned in the comments to the last post, the only employee who's walked away was because he studied for a master's degree and moved on -- not because he passed a bunch of Microsoft exams.

-----

The bottom line is: It costs money to keep good employees and to nurture them. It takes effort to be a good employer, to have a challenging, fun place to work. But you can't flip a switch and create a team. You build it every day, every week, every month.

When people come to work Monday talking about the fun they had on Saturday, that's a great sign that things are going well.

I don't think anyone in our company will retire working for KPEnterprises. That's just not the world we live it. But I do think they all want to be here today. And today they all want to be here tomorrow.

It's an ongoing process. Like any other relationship, you need to be flexible and work on the things that make the relationship work. Relationships are not based on selfishness.

We keep good employees because they get decent money, decent benefits, and a decent place to work. And, together, we enjoy doing what we do every day.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Hiring the Best Employee

In the last couple of posts I talked about hiring your first employee and the reality of firing employees.

But the most important thing you need to do on a regular basis is to try to find good employees.

If you haven't looked at Ken Thoresen's stuff (Acumen Management), you might consider it. Ken's another one of those people who you see at various conferences.

Ken's overriding theme is that you're looking for the Best employee you can find, not the best available.

Getting there is easier said than done.

I talk to a lot of people in our business who are ready to grow, but can't find good technicians. Believe me, we're in the same boat.

Right now we have a gaggle of excellent technicians. Basically, it's because we hired good people, we trained them to do things our way, and we try to take care of them.

Finding Good People

Unfortunately, getting the right people is just like everything else: you have to work at it. The chances that your perfect candidate will walk in the door tomorrow, fall in love with your company, and be willing to start at $15/hr are . . . almost zero.

So, like everything else, you need a process. Here's what we do in a bit of a nutshell:

1) Define the Role. That means in writing. What will this person do? What skills will he need?

2) Post an Ad and Gather Resumes. Gulp. Be prepared to be overwhelmed.

3) Do a quick sort (High) (Maybe) (No) (Not Qualified)

4) From the Highly qualified candidates, do a 60 second phone call. This is a super quick smell test.

5) If they pass the smell test, schedule Interview One.

6) Interview One by a manager. Fill out eval form.

7) Interview Two by 2-3 technicians. Fill out eval form.

8) Lunch with a candidate and a handful of techs.

9) Send candidate away with a homework assignment (answer a technical question by email).

10) Compare eval forms and agree on scoring for the candidate.

11) After all interviews, discuss highest scoring candidates and agree to make an offer.

12) If you can't make a decision, bring candidates in for a second round of interviews.

------

Comments:

Define the Role is very serious stuff. You need to write down and agree on the duties this person will have. "Be a good tech" doesn't count. Will they work on servers or just desktops? In the office or at client sites? What kind of skill levels do you need?

Defining the position will also help you create your evaluation criteria. For example, how do they handle stress? If that's important, then handling stress needs to be on your job description, in your ad, and on your evaluation form.

There's no harm in being completely transparent about what you want. It's not a game. This is your business.

Your criteria should focus on a lot more than technology. Technology changes and can be taught. Is the person organized, clean, easy to get along with? One of our big questions is, would this be a good fit for our team?

Post the Job Description

Here's our most recent:

Tech Support--MS Certified

We are looking for a Microsoft Certified Professional with field experience.
Ideally the candidate will also have hands-on experience with SBS 2003 and customer service.

Please send your resume to jobs@KPEnterprises.com.

Tech Support--MS Certified

Position: Tech Support--MS Certified
Location: US-CA-Sacramento
Job ID: T13

Employment: Hourly - W2 - Part to Full Time
Compensation: Starts at $18/hr. Will go up with experience and specific certifications.

JOB DESCRIPTION / DETAILS
-------------------------
Tech Support -- MS Certified in Sacramento, CA

We are looking for an *experienced* and *certified* Windows Technician
to support clients in the following areas:

First Priority:
---------------
Certification. Please do not apply if you do not have at least one current Microsoft Exam.
Windows 2003/2000/NT experience
MS Office experience
Networks (TCP)
Desktop Support (general)

Second Priority:
----------------
MS Small Business Server
Internet Connections/Router configuration
Windows IIS
Exchange Server
Backup Software (major brands/practices)

Other helpful skills:
---------------------
Familiar with MS Technet
Familiar with general networking practices
Knowledge of LAN and WAN Topologies
Experience with IP Protocols
Windows Domain Experience
Knowledge of Routers
Comfortable working in a fast paced tech service environment.
Comfortable being point of contact for clients.

Major benefits:
---------------------
Experience with Zenith Infotech
Experience with Autotask
This is a support technician position. Most work involves
troubleshooting, installation of hardware, software, and network
connections. Ideal candidate will have good communication
skills and some technical skills with Windows 2003, 2000, and SBS.

Special Notes:
-------------
Certification is required for this position. Microsoft
Certified Professional. You must be willing to associate your
MCP ID with our Microsoft Partner ID.

We place a strong emphasis on Top Quality, Experience, and
Customer Service. When you work for us, we pay for any
Microsoft Certification exams you pass!

A clean DMV report is required.

Bottom Line:
------------
We are looking for a Certified Technician who is willing to
learn *our* way of providing top-quality customer support. You
will learn great trouble-shooting skills and be exposed to a
wide variety of network setup and internet operations.
This position is in Sacramento.

To apply for this job, send Resume and cover letter to
jobs@kpenterprises.com.


Note: If you want to piss people off and get a lot of hate mail in your jobs mailbox, tell them to read this post before sending their resume:

http://smallbizthoughts.blogspot.com/search?q=your+resume (Guidelines to Make Sure I Throw Away Your Resume As Quickly As Possible).

Our Interview Process is a direct result of Ken's influence.

The first thing you notice is . . . It takes time. OMG. We're talking 2-3 hours per candidate. Plus the cost of lunch. It's a bit grueling for the candidate, but about half way through they begin to relax.

Candidates get to hear us make smart-mouth comments to each other. They hear the banter in the office. The buzz of the phones. They let their guard down and show a bit of their own personality.

The first interview has a list of questions that must be asked. That gives us a baseline for all candidates. The second interview is more free-flowing. All questions are asked from a standard bank of questions, but may not be the same for all candidates.

Lunch is key because people really let their hair down. They know they're still "on" but can't help relaxing. The conversation might be about all kinds of things not related to work. Oh, you have an electronics hobby? What? You have the largest porn library in the Americas?

We don't have an agenda for lunch, but we pay attention. The key question at this point is: Would this person fit with our team?

Homework consists of a technical question. Not too difficult, but definitely not entry level. The goal here is to get them to respond, and to see how they communicate with the written word. Very often, typed communication (in email or our PSA system) is all we have.

Scoring is pretty simple. Everyone on our staff goes into the interviews with a scorecard and a list of questions. After the candidate leaves we compare our scores and discuss differences.

There are very few differences. It's pretty amazing.

But once in awhile we have a disparity that we need to discuss.

We all need to be comfortable making an offer.

-----

Cut Your Losses

Do not be shy about stopping this process at any point. If a candidate shows up for an interview in an emergency orange tank top and lederhosen, tell him to go home and send the technicians back to work.

Seriously, if you know you just won't hire this person -- for any reason -- just cut it short. You don't have to do lunch. You don't have to do the second interview.

There will be times when you go through all this and do not have home run winner.

Do not hire anyone who is not spectacular.

That means you have to start the whole process over.

I'm sorry.

It happens.

But if you hire the wrong person, it can have long-lasting negative consequences.

Once hired, you're going to invest a great deal of time and money in training. It takes a lot to come up to speed on YOUR way of doing things.

If you hire someone who has jumped over all these hurdles, the chances that they'll work out is very good.

But if you hire someone who isn't just right, it could be trouble (expensive trouble).

Thursday, April 03, 2008

First You Hire, Then You Fire

I talked Last Time about hiring my first employee.

Just as a recap, here are the key lessons I learned:

- Starting with sub-contractors is good.

- I don't recommend hiring a full-timer right off unless you've got some kind of a contract that will pay for it.

- Don't translate a consulting rate directly into a wage rate.

- Meetings and overhead are necessary.

- When it's not working (you realize the cash flow is wrong), stop and start over.

- Hire the assistant first.

-----

Unfortunately, once you start hiring people, you will find that things are not always perfect.

Keep this in mind when you talk to people, meet folks at conferences, and listen in on webinars: People love to talk about positive experiences. That means they will go on and on about the great technician, the killer assistant, and the service manager who never did anything wrong.

But meanwhile, in the real world, you need to learn that you will hire people who won't work out.

This is a hard lesson. Because we are in a people business -- and a small business -- we tend to like people. So, when we hire someone, they become our friend. We work with them 20, 30, 40 hours a week.

But the people we hire are people. They're human beings. And you need to accept the fact that you will eventually have to deal with people who lie during interviews, steal from you, slack off, are incompetent, piss off your clients, and all kinds of stuff you can't imagine until it happens.

The problem is: If I came into your business and looked at what your employees were doing, I'd know right away who to let go. But you know the person, like the person, eat lunch with the person, and you rely on that person to help you get the work done.

Plus, finding the right employees is not easy.

So, you have a talk. Or you don't have a talk when you should.

If you read all the great business advisors (Brian Tracy, John Maxwell, etc.) you'll eventually come across this bit of wisdom:

The best time to fire an employee is the first time the thought crosses your mind.

That's not a touchy-feely "people person" approach. But it will save you countless hours of grief. It will allow you the luxury of getting on with your business.

Here is the evolution that most people go through with problem employees:

First, we ignore things as long as we can. See all the reasons above.

Second, we can't take it any more and have to fire someone. This is one of the hardest things you will ever do.

Third, we start to lay down procedures (having a personnel file, doing evaluations, setting standard, etc.)

Fourth, we evolve into a system filled with personnel systems. At some level this is unavoidable.

So are employee handbooks.

We have a few policies that are not standard, which we had drafted by a lawyer. But most of our employee handbook came from a kit the California Chamber of Commerce sells. These days, I think every state has a state-specific guide like this. Normally $50-100.

Pain in the neck. Do it.

I recommend you go through the standard forms and only use the ones that are relevant to what you're doing now. Don't have lengthy policies about out of state travel reimbursement if you (the owner) are the only one who ever does this.

-----

So now that you've built a bureaucracy, you have your second problem employee. And you learn another hard lesson: You still don't fire them. You still avoid dealing with it. You might give them a bad review and put a note in their file. But you let the problems drag on.

Once the employee realizes they're being watched more carefully, they start playing games. "I thought you said . . ." or "The rules are . . .."

If you have children, this will all seem familiar. "I was just . . ." and "Tommy gets to . . .."

Stop it.

The best time to fire an employee is the first time the thought crosses your mind.

The last person we "let go" was amazingly unproductive. I think during his brief tenure at our company we shelled out about $40,000 in wages and benefits. Half of that was for training. Another 25% was just plain wasted. Which means we got $10,000 of work for $40,000.

We're not big enough to be firing people all the time. In fact, all of our technicians have been with us at least a year.

The result is, we're not "good" at firing people. We still fall into the same traps over and over again.

There are only a few things that will get you fired from our company immediately. If you cause us to lose a client -- even a bad client - you're fired. If you lie to anyone in our company, or any of our clients, you're fired.

Beyond that, it's the normal stuff. You can't steal, you can't harass other people, etc.

As a manager or business owner, you have to temper the friendship that naturally exists in a small company with a certain dedication to the business itself.

You can't lose money because you're afraid to fire someone. You can't lose clients because you're afraid to fire someone. You can't let one person sour the positive mental attitude of your company because you're afraid to fire someone.

Yes, you will feel bad.

For awhile.

But someday you'll come across the evidence of a major screwup they left behind, and you will say to yourself:

"I want to hire him back just so I fire the bastard again."

When this happens you will have accepted the reality that the best time to fire an employee is the first time the thought crosses your mind.

Remember, you're never trapped. These folks were looking for a job when they found you. So they'll look for another job. That doesn't make it easy. But you can't put your business at risk, or lose a bunch of money to feed someone else's family.

If you're going to have employees, you'll eventually learn these lessons.

You will have to fire a friend. And it will be very difficult. But it will happen if you're going to grow your business.

I'm not sure this post does anybody any good. But at least you know what's ahead!

Have a nice day.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Hiring Your First Employee

We Get Email.

Chadi from biztek.ca asked me a great question: How do you maximize your chances of success when you hire your first employee?

I'm not sure I have much to offer here except my experience.

I took several stabs at hiring someone before I got it right. And even then, I don't know if I got it right or just pushed on to two, three, four, . . . eight employees.

Sub-Contractors
My first experience, as with most of us, was to subcontract with other consultants. To some extent we still do this today. The rules are pretty simple:

1) They are not an employee. You pay them money and they are responsible for taxes, insurance, mileage, meals, etc.

2) You need to figure out fair pricing. Fair is whatever the two of you agree on. Having said that, you want to come up with a proposal that you can offer up.

Based on discussions with the folks at SMBTN, we do a 30/70 split. Here's how that works. If you brought the work (it's your job) and they bring the labor (the sub performs the work), then you keep 30% and they keep 70%.

If you charge $100/hr, then it's pretty simple. You pay them $70/hr.

Now, if you have to work together, they need some training, they need assistance, etc., then you might drop this to $60/hr. But I wouldn't go below that.

If they're really just not worth $60/hr, go find someone who is.

The next step in your evolution is to simply state a price and pay it as an hourly. So you might pay $60/hr until you're sure they'll work out, then move to $65 and $70.

Employees - Full Time
My second experience was in 2000 when I was so busy I couldn't see straight. I hired someone full time. We went through a training period, which was not intended to be profitable. Then we caught up on the work in short order. Then we added one big client who consumed a bunch of time.

Then I realized that I was spending all my time keeping my employee fully occupied. I was doing sales. But he couldn't bring in enough hours to feed both of our families. I had basically turned over 90% of the work.

What I needed to do was to double the workload and do 50% of it.

Awesome employee and a good friend. But I had to let him go because I couldn't sustain the deal.

I don't recommend hiring a full-timer right off unless you've got some kind of a contract that will pay for it.

Employees - Part Time
So my next attempt was to hire someone on an as-needed basis. The basic deal was: If I bill the client for your time, I pay you for your time. This worked well. My goal was 10-20 hours a week. I found someone who was strictly a beginner and strictly desktops. No server work. No exchange. No ISA. No firewalls. Windows and Office.

So, I could pay him $30/hr.

That system worked well until . . .

One day I realized that I had enough work to give someone a sustained 20 hours per week.

And I had been paying a part-time employee the same wages I would expect to pay a contractor. If he went to full time, he'd be at $60,000/year. But he wasn't worth $60K.

So we had a friendly goodbye. And we're still friends. And he's now worth more than that!

Now I had enough sustained work to promise 10 hrs/week and have a goal of 20+. And the price was more like $20/hr. With regular reviews and wage increases as appropriate.

Note: This actually worked. This was sustainable. It was fair to everyone. I didn't get an MCSE for this, but I got a Microsoft Certified Professional who was willing to work for a living.

When Tech 1 got to a sustained 25-30 hours/week, I hired a second part-time tech. I wanted to make the first tech full time, but it just couldn't happen. One person can only run around and scratch out so many hours. I could get more billable hours from two 20-hour techs than from one 40-hour tech.

Enter "The Meeting."

Suddenly, there were three of us. I was working 50 hours/week. They were working 20-30 each. So we communicated by cell phone. I coordinated everything. And it worked.

But I'm an arrogant, opinionated perfectionist. So everything had to be done my way. Documented. By the book. All that.

And so we started having meetings to coordinate. Which job is first? Who does what? Training. Teaching. Team building. Coffee and donuts.

We had no office, so we met at the local Java Cafe.

So now I was paying for a sustained 30 hrs each per week. And I was billing out 20-25 hours each per week.

Lesson: Meetings and overhead are necessary.
At some level you know that. But it's different when you reconsider things and make a conscious decision to pay people for arguing with you about how you should run your own company (which, by God, you built all by yourself without them, and maybe you know more than they do about how to do what it takes to get where you are).

Enter The Office

Then something else happened. I finally got to the point where I could not longer ignore the fact that I needed an assistant. I needed someone who could do all the things I shouldn't be doing: Stuffing envelopes. Folding newsletters. Opening boxes. Balancing the checkbook.

See the post on The $200 Miracle.

So I hired an assistant. None of the temp agencies wanted to send someone to a home, which I understand. So I needed a place of business for someone to go to. And, after discussions with my wife, decided to simply hire someone part time rather than a temp.

We found another certified partner who had extra office space. He notched out a room about 10x15 feet for us. Cheap rent. And we could use his conference room for meetings.

I interviewed people and found someone very willing to work $10/hr for 20 hours/week.

Now there were four of us and we had an office.

Lesson: Hire the assistant first
If I could do it all over again, I would absolutely (absolutely, absolutely) hire the administrative assistant first.

By simply taking about 10-20 hours of labor per week, I could have been out billing more hours immediately. Even if I paid her to sit around doing nothing, it would be worthwhile. At $200/week, I only need to bill two hours to pay for it.

My first technical hire should have been ME billing an extra ten hours!

Anyway. Those are my introductory thoughts.

More to come.

Join Erick and Dana for Webinar on Security

Two of my favorite people -- Erick Simpson and Dana Epp -- well be "hooking up" for a webinar on SMB security on Wednesday, April 9th at 8:00 AM Pacific.

Register over at Managed Service Provider University.

Bonus I don't know how they're doing it, but every registered attendee will receive a FREE copy of the audio download of Erick's excellent book Best I.T. Sales & Marketing Book Ever! - a $79.99 value!

Attendees will also be entered in a drawing for a 5-token starter pack of AuthAnvil Tokens and a one year subscription of RWW Guard.

The basic topic is: reducing security risks related to sharing administrative credentials on client servers, etc. After all, who wants to change every administrator password on every client server when one of your employees leaves?

If you've heard the term "Strong Authentication" but weren't sure what it meant (or were afraid of what it cost), then tune in to this excellent webinar.

More information on Erick's Blog at http://mspu.typepad.com/weblog/2008/03/join-me-for-o-1.html.