Saturday, May 31, 2008

Managing Onsite Documentation with Remote Support

We get letters . . .

Several people have asked about how to keep onsite documentation consistent with offsite documentation. There are several pieces to this puzzle. For example,

1) More work is being done remotely. Sometimes this is just because you can. Sometimes it's related to managed services (onsite is charged, remote is included). And some people are just finding that gas is too darned expensive.

2) More people are using a PSA systems or other toool to track work and client configurations. These include ConnectWise, Autotask, Zenith, and even Result Software. There are now approximately twenty-seven thousand ways to track this information.

So what's the problem?

Well, the most important documentation (no matter what your first impression or personal bias is) is the printed, onsite documentation. When the server's smoking, you've got the network documentation binder. When you get hit by a bus, the client has the NDB. The client owns the network, the hardware, the software, and the configuration thereof. The client needs an accurate onsite copy of this stuff.

But you also have information in your system. You have configuration pages from ConnectWise, Zenith, etc.

When your technicians make changes, they need to update the net doc book.

So, you need a process to keep these things in sync. One argument I've heard is simply "you know that won't get done."

No. I don't know that. If you make documentation a priority, it will get done. We make documentation a part of every single service request we work on. In fact, the last line of every single time entry on every single service request should be
"-- Documented work."
That tells our service manager that the technician fulfilled this part of his job.

When you make important changes, such as reconfiguring the firewall, you need to make sure that information is updated in your system. Period. Just do it. If you're onsite, you need to update the documentation in the binder. Again, just do it.

But if you do this job remotely, how do you keep the local docs up to spec? There are two pieces to this puzzle.

First, on the root drive of the primary domain controller, there's a directory called c:\!Tech, and within this is a directory for TechNotes. Within that directory you will place tech notes with any information that would go in the first page of the Network Documentation Binder. For example:

    June 1, 2008: Backed up firewall config to C:\!tech. Reconfigured firewall to allow ftp traffic into DMZ for Server3. Backed up new firewall config to C:\!tech. -- karlp


Notes such as this are stored in TXT or RTF, depending on what works best for you. (We like to be able to print them directly from the server and MS word is rarely installed on the server, so we rely on Notepad or Wordpad.)

As a matter of policy, your technicians will print these notes when they're on site. They go to the front of the NDB.

Second, if something is particularly important or you don't expect to have someone onsite in short order, you can ask the client to print out the files and put them in the binder. This might be transmitted by email, fax, or you can simply point them to the UNC (\\server\techshare\filename).

Alternatively to all this, you can print out a configuration from your PSA or service delivery system and put that in the NDB. Or, again, you can fax this to the client. Or print to pdf and email it to the client.

The bottom line is: If you think it's important to keep the network documentation up to spec, you'll find a way to do it. There are dozens of ways to do this. There's only one way to not do it: Don't make it a priority, and it won't get done.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Prudent Password Security

We get email . . .

Awhile back I got an that said, in part:

    ". . . a book like yours is long overdue. I read with great interest the recent article in Reseller Advocate Magazine. I’ll be purchasing one of the editions when I get to the office Monday, but I had a few questions about your system.

    First, in this day of HIPAA and other security “best practices”, we continuously preach “DON’T WRITE DOWN YOUR PASSWORD” and “NEVER GIVE YOUR PASSWORD TO ANYONE”, but from what I read in the magazine article, we’ll be going from workstation to workstation to server documenting passwords and writing them down. What is your approach with your clients?

    Second, we’re going to take this collection of security data and place it next to the server (or worse, in the unsecured boss’s office) so that when someone does manage to break into the server room, we’ve just handed them the “keys to the city”.


Remember, everyone has to do what you think is best regarding security. Remember, also, that my Network Documentation Workbook is not intended to replace ISO9001 certification. In the real world, we have clients who fit this model:
  • They do not have passwords, use "password" as the password, or use their wife, husband, dog, cat, child, or company name.
  • They have no record of any passwords. Problem with the router? Neet to change ISPs? Throw away the router and get a new one, because you don't know the password.
  • No one has every written down the name of the ISP! or the account information for domain registry management. or the secret password you need to access your T1 account information.
  • They use the same password for everyone.
  • They do not change passwords when someone leaves the company. In fact, they don't disable or delete the user!
  • etc.


In the small business world, horrible security procedures abound.

99.999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999% of the time, the problem is NOT that there's a list of passwords in a binder on the shelf.

The problem is that all the access codes for the online banking account are posted on a bulletin board.

The problem is that the most important database in the company is available via the company web site with user "sa" and no password.

The problme is that the boss hasn't changed her password since her son was born in 1998.

The problem is that everyone knows every else's passwords.

The problem is that even United Airlines posts terminal logon information on their Sabre terminals at the airport.

So, here's the deal on documentation: Yes, we document everything. In most cases, we keep the network documentation binder next to the server. So if you need to know the active directory password for the server you upgraded from Server 2000, you'll have it at your fingertips. And if you need to know the account used to run that special line of business application? You got it.

Think about the number of times you've taken on a new client and there were no passwords or other information written down anywhere. You charged those clients to find, crack, or reset passwords. In some cases, you may have reinstalled an operating system in order to gain access. You've probably set routers, firewalls, and network print devices back to factory specs so you could get in and then reconfigure them.

You charged them to figure out whether DHCP is handed out by the router, firewall, server, or some other device that showed up one day. You charged them to figure out who the ISP is, what the line configuration is, who all the email users are, and whether email is stored in-house or hosted.

You've come across desktop PCs with local admin passwords -- or CMOS passwords -- that are not recorded anywhere.

Money Matters

How many hours did a client like that pay you to "figure out" all that stuff (and more)? Because you didn't do it all at once, it cost a lot. One day it's the firewall. Another day it's the network scanner configuration. An hour here, half an hour there.

You could easily spend 5-10 hours over the course of several months.

And did you write down all that stuff? If so, is it in a place where the client can find it? If you get hit by a bus, will the next technician have all that information at his fingertips, or will he start from scratch?

Poor documentation costs businesses a lot of money!

And if they pay this again and again every time there's a new technician? At some point, it's our industry that's to blame.

A Little Perspective

If you're concerned about the security of the network documentation binder, store it in a locked file cabinet in the boss's office.

Or in a locked cabinet in the server room. Or lock the server room.

There are many ways to secure the binder.

But, realisitically, how many times have you seen a situation that could have resulted in Binder Abuse? A stranger wanders into the office, finds his way to the server, and spends time flipping through the NDB.

Yes, it can happen.

But most of the time, for most businesses on earth, this is not the problem. The problem is that the company has to waste money paying (again) to figure out how a network is configured. In terms of real-world monetary loss, the consultant who doesn't record passwords is more expensive than the stranger who steals a binder.

- - - - -

You can certainly add any level of security you want to the NDB process. But there just isn't an argument to be made for not having a network documentation binder.

Documentation is not your enemy.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

EBS Notes from the Shoebox

Digging through my piles from the last month.

Here are two newish resources that emerged from the activities of SMBTN's SBS Summit in Dallas.

Two Canadian resources, as it turns out.

First, Gavin Steiner says:

    I've created a new blog post around Essential Business Server, and how IT partners can begin to think about and plan how it will fit into their business.

    Please comment, and I'd love to see you subscribe to my BLOG and send it to others who you feel can benefit.

    http://sbscanada.wordpress.com/


and then Stuart Crawford says:


Stuart's blog can be found at http://blog.itsuccessmentor.com/

- - - - -

That may be the shortest posting I've ever done!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Why Attend Conferences?

Just got back from the ASCII event in Cleveland. Saw some old faces. Made some new friends.

And this morning I filled out the evaluation form for the SBS Migration conference a few weeks ago in New Orleans.

One question asked about the value of the conference. For me, the greatest benefit of the conference was:

I had two important conversations that will affect how I do business in the next year.

You can't ask for more than that.

Every once in awhile someone will ask me why I attend all these conferences. After all, they cost money. Even "free" conferences like the ASCII event cost money. I took three days off work, paid for cabs, and had to buy expensive airport food.

So it costs time and it costs money.

But if I can have a handful of key conversations every year, I can learn ways to grow my business, get connected to great people, find new products, and learn techniques that will increase profits and decrease expenses.

Let me be very clear here: I love meeting people and I've made some life-long friends at technical conferences. But this post is strictly about business.

Sometimes, my employees hate it when I come back from conferences. I buy equipment, invest in tools, change vendors, change directions, and do all kinds of things they didn't see coming.

I still haven't implemented all the great ideas I've gotten from conferences. But I have them written down. They're on the wall next to my monitor at home. There is a plan. We know where we're going.

Don't Be Obsessed With Content

If you've never been to a professional conference before, everything's new and good. You can't attend enough sessions. You are sad because you have to choose between track one and track two. Your brain is full of new ideas on day one and you're overwhelmed by day two.

Don't forget to write down action steps that you'll take to turn this enthusiasm into changes in your business!

After you've gone to two or three or four conferences, you begin to believe that you've seen it before. You bought the E-Myth and all the other books. So you don't need another seminar on managed services, recurring revenue, and managing your vendors. You think, "It's all the same."

But that's not what conferences are about.

A professional conference is a place for you to soak in the professional community for a few days. Learn with these people, eat with these people, party with these people. Immerse yourself in an environment where people talk about computers and business for two or three days straight. In the elevators on the way to breakfast, all through the day, and in the bars at night.

Soak it in.

Let your imagination loose and let the sparks fly.

The role of the conference is to set the tone. It should get people to start thinking about a topic and give them a chance to talk to each other about it. The best conferences for me are the ones where people walk out of a session and spend an hour in the hallway arguing about the presentation.

But don't forget to talk to the quiet people who take a lot of notes, never ask a question, and only give their opinion when you ask for it. I've found that a lot of these people are from the larger partners. They are doing almost everything being discussed on the stage. But they come to the conference to get their imagination going, to make sure they don't miss a trend, and to find out what the industry's up to.

You have a lot to learn from these folks.

But to do that, you need to be at the conference.

To paraphrase the former mayor of Portland, Expose Yourself to Consulting.

I'll see you June 6th in Washington, DC for ICCA. Meet me at the night tour of the monuments and we'll argue about managed services while we gawk at Abraham Lincoln.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Is Managed Service a Best Practice?

Just finished a great ASCII event in Cleveland.

Aside:
If you're not an ASCII member, go join now. http://www.ascii.com/.

Why? Good community. Good vendor relationships. Great discounts. Literally pays for itself every month.
/aside

Anyway, I talked to several people who are still unsure about managed services. Many of them stated that they know what they need to do:

- Get their cash flow under control
- Get a Service Agreement
- Get their clients on a recurring revenue plan
- Get a PSA system (service board and practice management)
- Get prepaid for all services
- Do remote monitoring of client machines
- Set up automated patch management for client machines
- Become an advisor to clients instead of a repairman

Okay. What can I say?

Go do all those things. Then come back to me and we'll talk about whether you should become a managed service provider.

I've mentioned before, including in the Managed Services in a Month series, that "Managed Service" might just be modern consulting practices.

After all, when you take apart the pieces of what Erick Simpson advocates, and Matt Makowicz, and Amy Luby, and Mathew Dickerson, what are the pieces telling you? Whether they're focusing on the details of running your business or the details of delivering service, they're all talking about best practices.

The best practices for 2008 and 2009 and 2010 are not the same as they were five or ten years ago. And the secret is: there are no secrets. You can figure this stuff out. Pick through that list and see if there's anything you shouldn't be doing.

My guess is that you will put the list in a different order. You might want to put off something until you've done everything else. But by the time you get halfway through accomplishing that list, you'll be convinced that you need to do all of it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Two Major New Sites

Today we are happy to announce two new resources for the SMB Community.

If you've ever attended the monster conferences (e.g., Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference), you know that they just don't fit in one or two hotels. So there are lots of hotels. And it's expensive. And, to be honest, it loses a bit of the small-time feel that makes the SMB space so comfortable.

Well, friend, SMB Nation has grown up. Too big for the Microsoft conference center. Won't fit in one -- or two or three -- hotels.

So SMB Books is happy to announce that we've set up two resources to make your life better.

First: The SMB Rides-N-Rooms Yahoo Group.
Doug Geary did this for SMB Nation a few years ago and it was great. This site is intended to be permanent and to address all events for the SMB Space. So if you're going to any event and want to see about sharing a ride in a car, or a limo from the airport, or sharing a room, etc. -- This is the place for you.

Second: www.SMBpreday.com.
This site lists the major links related to the Preday Events of the conference.

Lana, who works on my staff, has also created an amazing resource for helping you find the right hotel.



You select the area of town, get a map of all the hotels, with contact information and estimated room rates.

Lana will be monitoring the Yahoo Group when she's not shipping out books or doing other stuff around the office. She will also take feedback on the smbpreday.com web site and update information, or provide additional information if she can.

Our goal here is to start building the community even before we get to Seattle!

First Important Task for SMB Nation

Get a hotel room!

The absolute first choice hotel rooms are at the Marriott. See the first listing in "Area 1" at www.SMBpreday.com. The conference rate is $199 and the regular rates are $269-289.

This hotel will sell out FAST. Get a room now. Do not wait.

Every other hotel is farther from the conference center.

Call the Marriott and make sure you get the SMB Nation rates.

And make sure register to arrive Friday, October 3rd so you can attend the big Preday event. Don't argue with me on this. Ask anyone. You will be upset and sad if you miss this event.

Got get that hotel now.


SMB Nation isn't like other big conferences. It is geared straight at the SMB space. So that means we don't have corporate expense accounts. And if we can save a few bucks on gas, and make a new friend in the process, then let's do it.

I welcome your feedback. Please check out the site. If we can make any changes that make it more usable and helpful, please let us know. Please give feedback via the Yahoo Group because Lana spends less time in airplanes than I do.

SMB Conference Call: Mergers and Acquisitions

The next SMB Conference Call is Wed. 5/21 at 9:00 AM Pacific time.

Guest: Pat Wegner from M&A Forum

Topic: Mergers and Acquisitions for I.T. Businesses

Join me as I interview Pat Wegner, the COO of M&A Forum -- the premier Information Technology Mergers and Acquisitions specialists.

Interested in buying a company or selling your company? Join us to find out what's involved and how you should start thinking about the future of your company.

How much is your company worth?

Is it worth selling?

If you want to buy another company, how do you find one?

Are there companies for sale in your area?

When would you engage a professional?

. . . And More!

Join us Wednesday, May 21st at 9:00 AM Pacific.

-----
Find out more, listen to past SMB Conference Calls, on the SMB Conference Call page.

Tell all your friends and colleagues!

-----
Here's your Conference Call information:

Date / Time
Wednesday May 21, 2008
9:00 AM Pacific Time

Dial Conference Bridge:
(319) 279-1000
(U.S. phone number)
Your participant passcode is 1024518.

- - - - -

And tune in for a very important message to the SMB Community at 9:00 AM today (Pacific)!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Welcome to My Other Business

A few weeks ago I posted a note about "Welcome to My Business."

My first and most important business is technology consulting. It's first because it came first. And it's most important because it gave me the background, experience, and financial backing to start writing books.

So KPEnterprises (Sacramento's Premier Microsoft Small Business Specialist) is the starting place for what I do.

Now, let me introduce you to my OTHER business:

I love writing. You might have guessed this from what I do.

I am the luckiest person in the world.

Because, at the end of the day, I do a bunch of fun stuff. I do what I want. I do what I love.

I get to play with EBS and SBS betas. I get to toy with virtual servers and big-ass storage systems -- and get paid for it.

Then I get to travel around, meet people, sell stuff, schmeme, make friends, live in a very exciting world that's abuzz with positive people and positive attitudes.

And then I get to write about it!

So my "other business" might be publishing. Or blogging. Or giving seminars. Or whatever. My other business is whatever I happen to be doing this minute.

I hope your business is as enjoyable as mine. Because, at the end of the day, your business should give you energy and not suck is away.

SLAM: Service Level Agreement Model

I had heard of Matt Dickerson, but hadn't met him before I visited the Netherlands a couple of years ago.

Matt's from Australia. Which may be as abolutely far as you can get from the Netherlands on this round ball we call home.

Anyway, Matt and I did the first SMB Nation conference in Europe -- and had a great time.

Afterward, Robbie Upcroft made arrangements for Matt, Jeff Middleton, and me to visit some user groups in the UK. So we did a little mini-tour together.

That's when I first heard the pitch for Matt's SLAM DVD set. SLAM = Service Level Agreement Model.

Matt sells the DVD set for a goodly chunk of change.

But now comes a 308 page book that introduces the SLAM process. This book outlines what a modern IT business should look like and why it should look that way. It gives you practical tools to help transform your IT business from break/fix to a modern Managed Services business.

The book will be released June 5th and Matt has promised to send us a box as soon as they hit the ground. He's actually going to take delivery of the books in the U.S., so we should have them in very short order.

We have a pre-lease price over at SMB Books (Your source for consulting resources.).

This book is aimed at making implementation easy for businesses that have not yet established Service Level Agreements or for businesses that want to refine an existing model.

Mathew Dickerson is the founder and Managing Director of AXXIS Technology, a service oriented IT Provider located in regional Australia. AXXIS Technology has claimed 18 national and international awards over recent years with the highlight being the Microsoft Partner of the Year Award collected in Boston in 2006.

You may have read about Matt in Beatrices's book Making it Big in Small Business: Top 15 Successful SMB Consultants Share Strategies and Lessons Learned.

Generally acknowledged as a helluva nice guy, Matt's also got a lot of great knowledge to share with us.

We're looking forward to getting our hands on the book.

Check it out today!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Register Now: Trend Event in San Fran June 2

Got a special request from CT and Tracy over at Everything Exchange asked me to round up a few folks for a very cool security event:

San Francisco. June 2nd. Trend Micro.

Here is the information and the link to register.

Their announcement:

Join us for an exclusive channel event and be the first to hear about Trend Micro’s new SMB Security Solutions. Steve Quane, Trend Micro’s Executive General Manager will kick off the agenda with a high level overview about Trend Micro’s SMB business. Don’t miss out on this great business opportunity. Space is limited so register today!

Click Here to Register:
https://www.cmpnetseminars.com/ars/gettemplate.do?mode=gettemplate&P=1&F=1000961&K=TMTF

Why you should attend:

- Get engaged with the senior-level Trend Micro team in an intimate and focused environment and learn directly from Trend Micro product managers.

- Gain first access to new, unannounced product solutions!

- Learn how your business can profit from Trend Micro’s SMB solutions.

- Have an opportunity to provide feedback and provide information about your current security practice

- $100 cash incentive

June 2, 2008 in San Francisco
2:00 – 6:00 PM
Intercontinental
888 Howard Street
San Francisco, Ca 94103
(888) 811-4273
http://www.intercontinentalsanfrancisco.com/welcome.php

Agenda:
2:00 pm – 2:30 pm Registration

2:30 pm – 3:15 pm Keynote: Steve Quane, SMB Executive General Manager, Trend Micro

3:15 pm – 4:15 pm Trend Micro SMB Business Security Solutions Product Demonstrations

4:15 pm – 4:30 pm Wrap up

4:30 pm – 6:00 pm Reception: Cocktails and Hors d’Oeuvres

-----

Unfortunately, I can't be there. Between Vegas, wife's birthday, SMB Con Call, and trip to DC -- my week is full.

HTG Here I Come

Some time ago, Arlin Sorensen started a mastermind/mentoring group.

It consisted of consultants from all over the country who got together to talk about their businesses -- and improve them.

Then a couple of years ago Arlin announced that he was going to help organize a number of these groups. And, by all accounts they have been extremely successful.

The basic concepts for the Heartland Technology Groups are outlined at http://www.htgmembers.com/. You also have a chance to sign up there in case there's an opening.

Anyway: So people have been bugging me forever to join HTG. I love the idea. And I know bazillions of people who have in the groups. But I just haven't been able to make the commitment.

I never want to commit to something if I can't follow through. The last couple of years have been super busy for me. etc. etc.

Well, this year Arlin finally snagged me. He did an amazing job with the SMB Summit in Dallas, including some serious favors for me. So I say, "If I can ever do anything for you . . ." and he says "Get on the list for an HTG Group."

He didn't say "Gotcha," but he could have.

So I got on the list.

Stay tuned to see how that works out.

If you want a taste of how Arlin sees the world, check out his blog at http://peerpower.blogspot.com/.

I'm a Nerd

Okay. True Confessions time.

I'm a nerd.

It's not that I long to be cool and find myself picked last for dodge ball. Oh, no. This is much deeper than that.

One week ago last night I was in New Orleans with 150 nerds. What were we doing? Getting drunk? No. Not so much. Throwing beads at enhanced coeds? No. Sorry. Hacking the widescreen TV in Erick's room so we could hook up our laptop and share our favorite You Tube Videos and Ipod Videos? YES! That's more like it.

And this week?

I imaged my old 75GB drives on my home desktop to 300GB drives (x2). With my external USB drives, that brings the total storage space to 1.2 TB! (Let's be honest: it's just barely 1 TB usable.)

Oh . . . and I finally got my 5.1 stereo system connected to my Audigy SZ2 sound system so I could digitize my record collection. Uh, yes. Record as in vinyl, although many of my 1,500 LPs are older than vinyl. And my 1,600 78 RPM records are definitely not vinyl.

That involved a 7-input, 3-channel mixer. Because I don't care what anyone says about digital: the closer you are to analog, the better.

And if you don't know who Xavier Cugat is . . . well, I can't help you there. Chile Con Cugie.

Last week was a good week. And, as I look back on a memorable week, the best time I had was re-wiring my home office. I'm not kidding you: The only thing I lack is a broadcast tower and I'll have my own radio station here.

78. 80. 45. 33. Reel. Casette. CD.

Oh, and there might be an MP3 around here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Soliciting Your Requests

Over at SMBBooks.com, we're trying to build a resource for the SMB Community.

The basic idea is this: Amazon might sell a lot of stuff, but they don't focus specifically on US. Between books written by people in our community (Harry Brelsford, Erick Simpson, Matt Makowicz, Beatrice Mulzer, etc.) and White Papers written by people in our community (you), we want to build a place that Amazon can't build.

We don't plan to sell bird baths, sex videos, Harry Potter novels -- or sex videos of Harry Potter in a bird bath.

The first phase of evolution is pretty much complete. The second phase has begun: Adding resources other than the core books in the space. We've got DVDs from the SBS Migration Conference, Results Software, and a small collection of business books.

The third phase of our plan to take over the world is to add additional titles.

Here's What I Need

Thing One:
I need your recommendations. What books do you have on your shelf that we should all have on our shelves?

These can be product-specific (SBS, CRM, SQL, etc.), general technology, or business-related and extremely useful for SMB consultants.

Please look through your bookshelves and send me your recommendations.

NOTE: When Eriq Neale and Harry Brelsford (and others) release their SBS2008 books, we'll do whatever it takes to carry them. Don't worry about that. I need to know what ELSE to carry.

Send recommendations to karlp@greatlittlebook.com.

Thing Two:
I need white papers. These are brief how-to essays about some area at which you or your company excel. For example, we have the Hardware as a Service white paper. Dave Sobel is working on a Referral Marketing white paper.

You might not have a book in you. But a lot of people have a best-practice white paper just itching to get out.

Think about all the great hallway conversations you've had at various seminars and conferences. Don't you wish these people would each write just one best practice white paper?

If you have an idea for a white paper you'd like to write, please send your recommendations to karlp@greatlittlebook.com.

- - - - -

These things cost money, and we can't stock everything out there. But I REALLY want your input.

We want to stock the best resources we can for the SMB Community.

Thank you.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Welcome to My Business

In New Orleans. Having a good time.

But I got a very odd question yesterday. A gent came up to me and asked why I don't do what I tell all of you to do: Run a Managed Service consulting business.

I was quite taken aback.

Maybe it's because the "brand" for my book sales and the "brand" for my technology company are different.

Let me be very clear.

I own a small consulting practice based out of Sacramento, CA called KPEnterprises Business Consulting, Inc. We are a pure MSP (managed service provider), with 100% of our clients on flat fee managed service agreements. I founded the company in 1995.

We manage almost 600 machines at this point. We use Kaseya, Zenith Infotech, and ConnectWise. [update: In Q4 2008, KPEnterprises switched to using Zenith Infotech and Autotask. We no longer use Kaseya or ConnectWise]

How can I travel to all the events I attend? Well, notice that I didn't say I "run" the company. I do sales and marketing for KPEnterprises. Daily operations are in the hands of my President, service manager, and brother Manuel.

I can travel because we have a system that doesn't chain me to the desk. And, to be honest, a technology business can be 98% remote these days. After all, we manage systems from Connecticut to San Francisco. Having me be somewhere in between is just another day.

Our company is absolutely NOT a break/fix, fly by the seat of your pants, learn-as-you-go business. We operate with focus and intention. There are no amateurs in our business.

And now Manuel is in New Orleans with me. He will also be going to a conference in the fall.

So not only have I extricated myself from the business, but he has, too.

-----

The bottom line: I do what you do. I write about what I do. I've grown KPEnterprises from one person to eight.

So if you see me at a conference, please note that I'm not "just" an author. I deal with clients every day. I deal with strategy every day. I'm one of the technicians. I'm a network architect.

Oh, and I write the occasional book.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

ICCA June 6-8

Joyce over at the ICCA -- International Computer Consultants' Association -- reminds me that you still have more than a week to get all the discounts for the BIG ICCA conference in Washington DC.

The deadline for discounts is next Friday, May 16th.

The conference itself is June 6-8.

Note: This is not some newbie conference. This is the 31st Annual National Conference for ICCA.

Pre-day events included Robin Robins and a reprise of the five-author party from last year's SMB Nation.

For information and registration, see https://www.icca.org/conferences.php.

I've been an ICCA member for many years. In fact, it's the first computer-related group I belonged to. They have an AWESOME journal (magazine) that is very useful and educational. I look forward to every issue. And this conference looks spectacular as well.

I'll see you there, along with Arlin Sorensen, Erick Simpson, Matt Makowicz, Dave Sobel, Stuart Crawford . . . and many others.

If you're within walking, dancing, or crawling distance of DC, please do yourself a favor and attend this conference.

Hope to see you there.

Dana Redux

We had some technical difficulties with the SMB Conference Call yesterday. We did the call, and had good feedback.

But it was glitchy and people got locked out.

So I've gotten assurances from Dana that we'll redo the whole thing -- and record it -- later this Summer. We'll even get Dave Sobel to be the co-host.

Sorry for the mess-up. We move on.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Dana Epp Conference Call Today

Don't forget to join me at 9:00 AM Pacific today for an interview with Dana Epp from Scorpion Software. If you want to learn a bit about the "next level" of security for the SMB space, this one's for you.

And Dana and I have two very special give-aways we'll announce on this call. So tune in and get both of them!

I also have a special co-host today: Dave Sobel, an award-winning Partner from Washington, DC market. Dave is going to be working with Vlad on the new, cool SBS Show.

But today Dave's going to make sure the interview goes well as I fend my way through the airport en route to New Orleans.

Too many cool things going on is this space! Catch up today at 9:00 AM Pacific.

Conference call details are at http://www.greatlittlebook.com/Seminars/conference_call.htm.

See ya then!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Investment Advice - Microsoft and Yahoo

Now, I'm no genius, but there are a few rules I've learned about investing. You may have heard them summarized as follows: Buy low, sell high.

As one of the stockholders of Microsoft, I am very pleased to see my employee, Steve Balmer, drop the deal with Yahoo. He was violating one of the prime directives.

Would I ever try to buy an $18 stock for $32? No. Never. Not in this lifetime. Get the hell out.

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But let me give another perspective on the whole Yahoo/Microsoft debacle.

Why does Microsoft want to buy a search engine whose days are over? Because they can't build one themselves to compete.

Why can't Microsoft build a decent search engine? Because it's not software.

Microsoft is perhaps the best software manufacturer out there. As I mentioned before, MS Office is the most successful software package in history, and Microsoft is killing Office by trying to deliver it as a service.

Microsoft thinks that online services are just another kind of software. They're not.

An online service requires two things Microsoft has never been good at: 1) Service, and 2) Nimble, adaptive programming.

Look at the whole Alpha/Beta program. A product has early betas and late betas. It has TAP programs, public beta programs, and release candidates. There's no quick turn-around or response to immediate market needs.

If you were a victim of Microsoft's now-abandoned shopping cart program, you saw a taste of this. They threw it out there to collect money. But every service and every line item came across the same on the bill: Microsoft Service. Okay, how do I know which service is which so I can cancel? No email help, no phone help, no web help. Problem with the service itself? No email help, no phone help, no web help.

And today, if you use the commercial MSDN or Partner site, you have the same experience. Things just stop working for days at a time.

Need to straighten out your partner license sales? Good Luck. No one at Microsoft is interested. No one cares. No one has a compensation plan that would lead them to help you in any way.

The point is: Microsoft doesn't belong in the online service business. They can't do it. They've proven they can't do it.

Microsoft got where they are by developing spectacular software and building a machine that pushes that software through the partners to the end users. They know how to do that. They're good at that.

But why would a partner push a client to a Microsoft search engine? Will it increase my sales? My margin? My general client relationships? No. No. No.

So I'm not pushing people AWAY from MSN Search (or MS Yahoo), but I'm not pushing anyone to it either.

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With an online service, like a search engine, the developer needs 100% reliability. They need to constantly change the product (live, in real time) to improve performance and experience. They need to respond very quickly to advertiser requests and complaints.

They need an experience so good that viral marketing spreads the word for you.

Microsoft doesn't have a culture that can do these things.

(Most obvious example: Ipod vs. Zune. Ipod defines an industry. Zune is an mp3 player.)

When it comes to online services, Microsoft has no passion. They want the money desperately, but they don't care about the product or service. They just hate the idea that someone else is getting all that money.

In truth, when Microsoft tries these things, they produce a "competent" product that will get some share of the market. But no one has passion for the product (no customers are passionate, no MS employees are passionate, no partners are passionate). It's just another product.

The answer? Microsoft would need to build (or buy) a completely new organization from the ground up that is not based in the culture that makes the software giant so hugely successful. They need to be absolutely committed to delivering the product, delivering service, being passionate about constant live development, and doing a kind of marketing they've never done before.

I'm sure that's not what they had in mind with Yahoo.

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Final note to Steve: It's okay if other people have some of the money. You don't lose just because someone else wins some of the time.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Baba's Secret

SBS Migration is just a few days away.

I'm Sooooooooo looking forward to it. Had a great conference last year. Expect another great conference this year.

I think enrollment is in the range of 150 souls.

On the verge of the birth of SBS2008, this conference will be heavily focused on moving ahead. How we gonna sell it? Support it? Move clients to a 64-bit world? Transition existing clients?

What are some of the strategies for upgrades, especially for people with SBS2003 and software assurance?

For a tiny tip of the iceberg discussion, see the SMB Conference call with Jeff Middleton at http://www.greatlittlebook.com/Seminars/conference_call.htm. Look for call #6.

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But that's not what prompted me to post.

I've got a secret. In fact only one other person knows it. He is the secret agent known only as Baba Ganoush.

Baba has something planned.

Something big.

So big that we can't say a word until AFTER the SBS Migration conference.

A new web site is planned.

A new domain name is registered.

Three of them, actually, in case you're confused. They'll all point to the one true site.

An assitant has been engaged to build a completely new resource for the SMB community.

Maps. Charts. Arrows. Pointers. Search tools.

There's even a new Yahoo Group to support the site that supports the community. Not yet announced.

Baba is VERY excited.

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Here's a hint that won't do you any good:

The goal of the new resource is to save you hundreds of dollars. Really. Probably $300-$500 per person. Minimum. Could be $1,000 for some of you.

And why would we do this?

That's easy. We hope you'll spend a little bit of that on books.

But you don't have to.

Stay tuned.

Friday, May 02, 2008

The Face of Customer Service

SMBTN was a great conference. But let me just take a minute to introduce you to the hotel: the Omni Mandalay in Irving, TX.

I travel a lot. I have no idea how many hotels I've stayed in. I don't know if I'm "seasoned" or just jaded. After awhile a hotel -- even a great hotel -- is just another hotel.

CameronMy experience with the Omni started with the pre-day event Matt Makowicz and I put on. Cameron was extremely helpful to us, and helped keep the costs in line. He also managed to do a fantastic room setup for our very oddly-shaped seminar room (it used to be a bar). Even when our event was over, Cameron checked with us for the four days of the SMBTN event. We literally felt like we were getting extra service beyond what we were paying for.

Oops. Let me back up.

When I arrived at the hotel, I wanted to pick up my boxes full of books, registration name tags, and other materials for our preday event. No boxes.

JohnTurns out UPS delivered my boxes to the Marriott! I dropped by the concierge desk to see if John could help me figure out how to get my boxes. Should I take a taxi? Do you have a shuttle?

John just said "We'll handle it. Do you want them delivered to your room?" Uh . . . yes. That would be great. Matt and I went to dinner. Poof. Boxes in my room.

We had a great seminar. One staff member after another took care of every little detail. Nothing was a hassle. Nothing was out of line or unreasonable.

Thursday: Our event was over. Folks were arriving for the big SMBTN event. A handful of us wanted to play cards. So we got some ice and drinks and founds our way back to the conference room (the Rhapsody). It still had tables from our event. So we put some chairs around a banquet table and started our poker game.

CraigEnter Craig. He's on the banquet staff, as I understand.

Craig says we're welcome to stay but we can't mix drinks down there. But we got the idea that we could mix them in our room and bring them down. Fair enough. He said we could stay, but his folks needed to take down the rest of the room. Fair enough again.

The next day, Craig comes up and says "That room's empty tonight. But I had the staff set up a round table with chairs. And I asked the bar staff to drop down there ocassionally and serve you."

What???

Now THAT'S service!

Not only did we not ask for this, we didn't even think you COULD ask for something like that.

Does it stop? No.

Matt and I were manning the book sales table about as far from the lunch room as you could get. So we thought we'd take turns running to go through the buffet line. Matt goes first.

He comes back empty handed. I ask if he ate real fast. He says no, they offered to put together a plate for us and bring us lunch. What?

It was like a twilight zone episode. Is this a for-profit hotel in North America?

LauraDoes it stop? No. Every single day of the event, someone came by to see how many people needed lunches. Laura brought us lunch on the last day.

And it goes on. The staff helped us with little things and big things for five days. Right up until I gave John a bunch of boxes to ship as I was walking out the door, we were taken care of.

Every once in awhile you read about these experiences.

Can you write a training manual to list all the great things your staff can do "above and beyond the call of duty" to make a great experience? No, of course not. So how do you create a culture in which every member of the staff has a good attitude, a quick smile, and a real sense about customer service?

I'm not sure what the Omni does. But they do a great job of it!

If you're an author looking for a chapter on creating a culture of customer service, you'd do well to contact the Omni Mandalay and interview the people there.

And if you're looking for a nice place to stay, with a wonderful staff, the Omni's your place.

250th Post

This is my 250th post.

Why waste something that momentous by using it to transfer useful information?

Here's something useless to ponder: Why do humans care about big round numbers?

This blog enjoyed its first post in February 2006. I wonder how long til we reach 500?

Almost Time for New Orleans

If you are goign to NOLA for the SBS Migration conference, be sure to plan an extra afternoon for my big seminar with Matt Makowicz. The feedback from our last seminar was very positive. This one will be even better!

For details, see http://www.greatlittlebook.com/Seminars/2008/PalachukMakowicz200805.htm.

Special Deal

Every person who registers for this conference will receive their choice of any one book by Matt or me. The value ranges from $20 to $100. Your choice.

So that makes the seminar essentially free. Which means you get food, a book, and a great seminar for one low price.

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If you can walk, crawl, fly, drive, or hopscotch to New Orleans on May 8th, we'd love to see you there.

Anyone who is already going a day early should make a point of dropping in. Any who hasn't yet decided to go a day early should jump at this opportunity.

See you then!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Congratulations to Vlad and Katie

Oh my goodness!

I just got a very cute picture of a very cute baby.

The world's newest SBSer has definitely inherited his mother's good looks.

Congratulations to Vlad and Katie Mazek.

Welcome to the wonderful world of parenthood.

Your next sleep is scheduled for 2009.

Conference Success

OK.

So here's the deal.

I've mentioned from time to time that I lead multiple lives. But let me tell you, my friends, you have no idea.

By day I'm the mind mannered Karl Palachuk, nerd, author, preday seminar organizer. But by night I run a book publishing company and motivational training company.

And I've been chewing on another great adventure.

Anyway.

My experience with "conferences" has consisted almost entirely of attending. In a former life, I've attended academic conferences, convocations, political assemblies, national conferences, international conferences, large conference, small conferences, and everything in between.

Now, on the techno-goober side, I attend ASCII events, SMB Nation events, SMBTN conferences, SBS Migration conferences, xChange events, etc., etc., etc.

And on the Relax Focus Succeed side, I attend a whole different collection of events. There I see the wide variety of groups and organizations that make up this great country of ours.

In some conferences, I'm an attendee. I see how things are organized, what works, and what doesn't. For some events, I'm a speaker or presenter. So I see how speakers behave and what they look for.

I have become a student of the great conference organizers. In the technology space, on the small end of the scale, the great conference organizers are Harry Brelsford, Nancy Williams, Mike Iem, and Jeff Middleton.

Harry. OMG. 150 people at the snap of his fingers. 500 people at SMB Nation. 650 people at SMB Nation. Europe. Canada. etc. He is the man. I'm actually on my knees while I type this. I'm not worthy . . ..
Super Power: Making People show up!

Nancy. Started with SMB Nation. Now organizing events for MobiTech, SBS Migration, etc.
Super Power: Providing the human touch. That is, making people feel like the whole event was designed for them.

Mike. Experience with Microsoft. Experience with the SMB space. Massive experience with the SBSC and user group communities. Has worked with SMB Nation and SMBTN.
Super Power: Making everything first class. Stay tuned for a Customer Service post re: SMBTN.

Jeff. Tuned into a "themed" event. It's like he was born in the Disney studios. Every element is planned and executed superbly. Each piece is perfect, and the entire experience is greater than the sum of it's parts.
Super Power: Getting MVPs to show up en mass, along with scores of Microsoft employees and all the most well-known people in the SMB space.

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So last weekend -- April 26th -- I pulled off organizing a conference for the Authors and Publishers in the Northern California region. It went well. In fact, it went very well. The evaluations are absolutely through the roof.

How did I do this?

Simple. I learned from Harry and Nancy and Mike and Jeff.

I did all the big things right. I tried to do all the little things right. I threw in some touches that made it a personal experience. I made the vendors feel loved. I gave the attendees enough choices that they hated missing a session because there were two sessions at once.

We had 100 attendees. 65 filled out evaluation forms. One -- One -- said the conference wasn't great. Everyone else gave it rave reviews.

Lesson from Harry: Throw out the highest and the lowest evals. Every crowd's got an "outlyer" on each end.

Once we throw out that one person, we have 100% rave reviews.

So I've just completed a 10 month job "on the side" organizing a major regional event. Thank goodness, it went off well.

But Harry and Nancy and Mike and Jeff have nothing to worry about. I'm done. Got the t-shirt, put a fork in it. I'm done.

And I have a new-found respect for people who put on these events and somehow make people walk away wishing they could stay another day or two.

  • I had speakers making changes at the last minute.
  • I had pushy attendees who think the world needs to stop for them.
  • I had people-you've-never-heard-of acting like prima donnas.
  • I had hotel employees who don't give a shit because they're paid by the hour.
  • I had sponsors and speakers and volunteers who can't read a five-line email.
  • I had a board who ignored all the hard work that was done until six months had passed.
  • I had attendees who thought I was responsible for their food, lodging, and transportation.
  • etc.


I cannot imagine doing this on a national or international scale with a conference that costs four or five times what this one did.

My hat is off to the people who makes these events happen. Whether it's ICCA, SMB Nation, SMBTN, SBS Migration, ASCII, Everything Channel, or whoever.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

I am in awe.