Saturday, January 31, 2009

Microsoft Announces New Learning Plans Tool

Sorry I haven't blogged this week. I've been focusing on MY business. After all, that's the major reason for joining HTG.

But now let's return to YOUR business . . .

On Tuesday last, Scott Akin, Partner Enablement Director from the Microsoft Central region, presented a Butt-Kicking tool call Microsoft Learning Plans. It's really a set of tools.

Go to http://www.microsoftlearningplans.com/SignIn.aspx and sign in.

What you'll find is a very cool resource for navigating the sometimes-overwhelming training offers from Microsoft.

But wait . . . That's not all.

You can create customized training plans for your staff members,

You'll find recommended training "packages" and types of trainings available.

When you click to create a new learning plan, you get a very simple form:

Step 1: Name Your Plan

Step 2: Add Trainees
- Name and email address so the program can track their progress and send an email with the details of the events assigned to them.

Step 3 (Optional): Alternate Plan Owner Email Address
By default, the plan is sent to the email address associated with your Windows Live ID. If you prefer to have this sent to a different email address you can.

Step 4: Search for Training Packages
A training package consists of a handful of training events that, if taken, will assist you in reaching the training goals of a given package.

- - - - -

Let's say you want to figure out licensing so you'll be the only one in your county who understands it.

You can Search by:
- Exam
- Competency/Specialization
- Technology
- Role

So you select competency and then Licensing Solutions. You see four packages available:

- Licensing Products - What You Need To Get Started (Licensing Specialist Role)
- Licensing Programs - What You Need To Get Started (Licensing Specialist Role)
- Prepare for Exam 70-121 (Implementor Role)
- Prepare for Exam 70-122 (Implementor Role)

Each of these is a link so you can find out more about it. You take a peak at 70-121 because you're the implementor type.

Now you get a description:

Exam 70-121: Designing and Providing Microsoft Volume License Solutions to Small and Medium Business

And you get a pre-packaged Training Plan that includes the online tutorials and the related exam registration.

You can customize your Learning Plan by removing events from within a given training package.

One click and you've added this collection of events to your training plan. The relevant employee will receive an email with the details of the plan and a link to download it into an excel spreadsheet.

You can have more than one plan per employee, so they can track progress toward more than one target.

And YOU can track how everyone together is progressing toward your next competency.

Fair warning: Don't get carried away. If your employees come to work on Monday and see that you've set up all the training for their next 57 certifications, you might have a riot on your hands.

- - - -

Scott was extremely open to feedback on this tool. Just with a dozen partners, there were several suggestions that he added to the scope of the tool. So please check it out and give your feedback to Scott Akin: sakin@microsoft.com


Bonus Link

If you're looking for a specific roadmap so you can figure out what kind of training you might want, go to http://partner.microsoft.com/400.

Enjoy.

:-)

BIG Changes Coming to the Microsoft Partner Program

BIG Changes Coming to the Microsoft Partner Program
Webinar: February 9th at 9 AM PST

Want to know more about the changes coming to the Microsoft Partner Program that WILL affect all Partners?

Questions like:
- Will we retire the 70-282 cert?
- What will it take to become an SBSC?
- Will we even have a Small Business Specialist Community or will it finally become the SMB competency?

Get answers to these questions and more Monday February 9th at 9 AM PST in the next 5W/50 Series - New Generation Certifications: Program Overview & Certification Resources Available for the SBSC Community.

Guests will be

- Deborah Vosler - Senior Partner Development Manager, US Partner Skills Development, Microsoft

- Mark Crall - President of Tech Care Team, Inc., Microsoft SBSC Partner Area Lead (PAL)


Register:
https://training.partner.microsoft.com/plc/details.aspx?publisher=12&delivery=259611#

:-)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

On the Road to Mandalay . . .

I travelled all day Monday to make my way to the Omni Mandalay in Irving, TX. As I've mentioned before, the Omni Mandalay has some of the best customer service I've ever received while travelling.

We were here for the SMB Summit last year. Arlin and his crew from HTS/HTG were so impressed with the place that they have scheduled three "HTG All" events here in 2009. And SMBTN has also decided to re-up the Omni Mandalay for their SMB Summit this year (May 14-17).

So don't forget the customer service! You never know when it will pay major dividends.

- - - - -

HTG All - Day One (for me)

The HTG meetings are two days each. That's either Monday-Tuesday or Thursday-Friday. My group is Thursday-Friday, but I showed up Monday because I am teaching a seminar today (Tuesday).

Monday night was spent somewhat quietly playing poker. I was up, I was down. At the end of the night I was even. You can't ask for more than that. Thank you, Cisco, for the brewskis. Congratulations, Larry, for taking most of the pot.

- - - - -

HTG All - Day Two

My talk today is on Project Management in the SMB Space with a focus on Zero Downtime Migrations.

My brother and I are working hard to finish our book on Network Migration strategies and ZDTM. This will be my first public discussion of ZDTM. We don't have a lot of time, so we won't dive too deeply. But we'll do what we can.

Tonight I'm doing something un-related to HTG, although most of the participants are in town for HTG. I'm holding an "instant mastermind" dinner. I sent out invitations saying I'd be in Dallas. Six of us are getting together to have a structured discussion around some steak dinners. Wish us luck.

Wednesday I'm selling books all day. Wish me more luck.

:-)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

New Ebook - Quick Start Guide to Managed Services

An open letter to all the wonderful people in Australia:

You love e- products because 1) You get them instantly, 2) You don't have to pay for shipping (gulp. from the US), 3) Saving time and money is a combination that makes good sense on these hot days.

Well, after MANY requests, we have finally released Service Agreements for SMB Consultants - A Quick-Start Guide to Managed Services in ebook format.

Only $44.95 USD.

But wait, that's not all . . .

I got to thinkin' . . .

I can now create the SUPER E3 Bundle of books . . .

PERFECT for the new consultant . . .

or for any SMB Consultant who hasn't taken the plunge . . .

1. The Network Documentation Workbook - ebook. My absolute best seller.

2. Service Agreements for SMB Consultants - A Quick-Start Guide to Managed Services - NEW ebook - The definitive guide to service agreements and starting and running your SMB Consulting practice.

3. The Super-Good Project Planner for Technology Consultants - ebook - An awesome guide to "real world" project management for the small business specialist.

These books retail for about $250 . . .

BUT now I can wrap them all together in an ebook frenzy . . .

So why not make the collection complete with the

Managed Services in a Month audio book. An MP3 download that completes the set.

THREE spectacular e-books PLUS a bonus MP3 book . . .

OK.

So, here's the deal:

- The Network Documentation Workbook - ebook

- Service Agreements for SMB Consultants - ebook

- The Super-Good Project Planner for Technology Consultants - ebook

AND

- Managed Services in a Month audio book on MP3 download

. . .

Your price: Only $199

That's Freakin' Awesome!

But Wait . . .

It gets better . . .

I Love my friends in Australia. I want them to get instant access to these ebooks. I don't want them to have to spend $45 shipping on a $44 book!

Bits and Bytes. Zeros and Ones collide.

Here's a Limited Time Offer

Use this Aussie-centric coupon code to receive $10 off this bundle or any other purchase of $40 or more at SMBBooks.com:
  • Code: oyoyoy


The coupon code is good through February 28, 2009.

That's it.

- - - - -

Summary:

- Three super amazing e-books that will kick-start your business
- Plus a bonus MP3 version of Managed Services in a Month

Only $199 USD

- Minus $10 USD for the coupon code oyoyoy

What a deal!

Go Now. Click on This Link to order right away.

Only from SMB Books, your source for all the best SMB Resources!




P.S.
That discount code will get you $10 off any purchase of $40 or more at SMB Books.

Need not be Australian to use this code.

Offer expires Feb. 28, 2009.

:-)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Grow Your Business And Have More Time to Do What You Love

Join us today . . .

SMB Conference Call with Brooke Ferguson
Jan. 21st - 9:00 AM Pacific

Topic:
How Can You Grow Your Business And Have More Time to Do What You Love?


Brooke Ferguson is the founder and CEO of Growing Places Consulting, Inc. She is an expert at showing entrepreneurs, management teams, and small business owners how to systematically grow their business and create the lifestyle of their dreams.

Brooke has created opportunities for other speakers by creating the Business Wealth and Development Speakers Series.

We'll talk to her about how to take a new approach to success. More info is available on the SMB Conference Call Page.

Brooke helps business owners answer some some hard questions, including:

1. Where do most business owners seem to get stuck?

2. How can I grow my business?

3. How can I increase cash flow?

4. How can I begin delegating to others?

5. How can I manage time more effectively?

6. How do you recommend setting pricing?

7. How can I achieve my "Ideal Lifestyle"?

8. What are some ways that business owners limit their vision of their company?


Check out Brooke's coaching site at http://www.growingplacesconsulting.com/ and her Business Backpacker blog at http://www.businessbackpacker.com/.

Brooke will join us from Thailand where she is living the dream she promises to her clients, running her business remotely, and finding that success does not mean chaining yourself to a desk.

Join us to find out how you can Get Un-Stuck for the new year.

More info on The SMB Conference Call Page.

Or register right now at https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/346273509.

:-)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Unconscious Competence 4: Unconscious Competence

Last time we talked about the Conscious Competence stage in the "Conscious Competence" learning model.

There's one more stage: Unconscious Competence.

You reach the stage of Unconscious Competence when you realize that you can do things without thinking about them. You've heard the phrase "I can do it in my sleep." And, in some sense, that's true.

The best example of Unconscious Competence comes with physical muscle memory. And that only comes with huge amounts of practice.

The first time you hammer a nail, you're bad at it. Sometimes, you're so bad it hurts (bang - ouch!). If you use a hammer a lot, you get better. When you get to the point where you've been using a hammer on the job, eight hours a day, for a year, then driving a nail is a skill at which you are unconsciously competent. You just do it. You don't think about it.

Because Unconscious Competence requires constant use and repetition, we can each only attain this level with a limited number of skills.

Having said that, the only limit to the number of skills in this category is the number of skills you can practice constantly.

So, for example, many people are "touch" typists. This is a skill that many people acquire, use, and never lose. My wife has a keyboard that is missing the paint on several letters. If you she didn't "know" where the keys were, it would be unusable.

But, if I ask her to just type the letter S, she has to stop, lay her hands on the keyboard, and think. If I ask her to type a sentence, she does it instantly and flawlessly. She had to think about the S. She just typed the sentence.

Many of us become lazy drivers because the mechanics of driving have entered the stage of unconscious competence.

We just drive. Here's an experience you might relate to: You move to a new house. But after work, you realize that you're driving home to the old house. Your body is literally doing what it knows to do. Your conscious mind was not involved.

Last time I recommended cataloging the skills you have in the area of Conscious Competence. I would also threw in Unconscious Competence. These can be extremely high value skills for you. They represent chores you can accomplish with very little conscious effort or brain power.

They might even include work-related activities that you simply enjoy doing.

And, going back to the discussion of software programs, you may have some skills within a program that are in the conscious competence stage while others are in the unconscious competence stage. I mentioned that I don't use some features of Word very often. True.

But other features I use so much that I literally don't have to think about them.

It's the old 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of my time is spent with twenty percent of the features in Word. Many of those skills are in the realm of unconscious competence.

But what happens when they upgrade Word to a new version? You guessed it: Your competence and performance drop down to the level of Conscious Competence. You have to re-interpret the new software in light of your old level of extreme competence. But, as long as you use the program every day at the same level, you will quickly regain your mastery.

As odd as it sounds, you need to be very aware of your areas of Unconscious Competence. You need to tune in and make sure that your level of competence remains high as the world keeps evolving. You need to be aware when you are resisting change just so you can stay comfortable with the old way of doing things -- An old way in which you are unconsciously competence.

Much resistance to change is exactly this. The new "system" will slow me down. I instinctively want to go back to the old system. So, for example, I was a much faster word processor on Word 6.0, in DOS on a 286 than I was with Word 2000 on a Pentium.

Your most efficient and effective labor takes place in the real of Unconscious Competence.

The same is true for those around you. Consider this when dividing up chores.

We tend to enjoy the activities in this stage. There's some interaction going on there, of course: You get batter at the things you do a lot. You do the things you like more often, when given a choice.

Having a self-awareness of your areas of Unconscious Competence can make you more productive, happier, and better equipped to move ahead when the time comes.

Overall, the Conscious Competence learning model is a great way to understand where people are with various skills. It's a great framework for help to design educational programs and career advancement programs.

:-)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Unconscious Compentence 3: Conscious Competence

We've covered two stages in the "Conscious Competence" learning model.

The first is Unconscious Incompetence.

The second is Conscious Incompetence.

Now we move on to Conscious Competence.

As you move out of the Conscious Incompetence stage, you educate yourself in a new skill. You start by learning how much there is to learn, and then learning what needs to be learned.

As you move to the level of Conscious Competence, you gain a level of knowledge and experience so that you can say that you are able to do a certain thing well or very well. You are aware of your skill level. You are consciously competent.

Of course this stage has different levels. At first, you learn a few basics. Then you learn to do something reasonably well, and without assistance.

As you know, a new skill can be lost if not practiced.

For example, let's say you're learning to program a specific router. You learn to define objects and services. You learn to assign VLANs. You make it all happen without breaking anything. You learn to backup and restore a configuration.

Fine. Then you don't get to look at a router for another month. Some things "stuck" and some didn't. Most of it comes back pretty quickly, but you definitely have to think about it.

As a result, you may forever be in the stage where you CAN program this router, and do so quite competently. But you need to think about it each time.

This is Conscious Competence.

At this stage, you could show someone else how to perform the task. But they may have questions you can't answer. You "know" the skill, but you don't know it inside and out!

In the discussion of Conscious Incompetence, I mentioned that we have to choose the few things we become competent with.

But, over time, we become more and more competent with many different skills.

Most of our "skill" based knowledge is somewhere in the area of conscious competence. This is the big bucket that contains all the things we do in our jobs, in our hobbies, and at home.

We can rate ourselves "competent" in a vast number of areas.

Depending on how frequently, and how extensively we use a skill, we will settle into a level of competence for each skill. Here's an example from the world of software.

I probably use a hundred different software programs. Some I use a lot (Outlook, Word, Excel, Internet Explorer, Windows Explorer, Windows desktop). Within each of these programs, I use specific functions "all the time." Opening files, navigating within files, and so forth. My competence with these programs and skills is very high competence.

But for other programs (e.g., DreamWeaver, Paintshop, or even my anti-virus program), I don't use them much. I can pretty much do whatever I need to do. But I'm average competence with these programs.

With still other programs, or skills within the programs above, I am decidedly low competence. I use Word all the time, but I almost never create tables of contents, indexes, or mail merge. Some of these things are barely inside the area of Conscious Competence at all. I can do them. But just barely, and I have to really think about it.

The key factor with Conscious Competence is the conscious part. I know my relative level of competence. And I need to think about the tasks while I execute them. At the high end, I could teach people these skills. At the low end, you shouldn't be paying me to do this.

Someone asked me awhile back if I could write a program to do something. My response was quick and clear: You'd be foolish to pay me to do VB programming. Yeah, I can figure it out. But you should pay someone who spends their time programming, not figuring it out.

And that brings us back to our profession.

We all have different levels of Conscious Competence. We each have a broad number of skills, and within each skill we have a specific level of competence.

As human beings, we dance around each other trying to figure out how much skill a job takes, and which skills the other has.

When I hire a technician, I try very hard to get a sense of what each CAN and cannot do. Good technicians are honest about what they can do, and eager to learn what they (currently) can't do.

It's also important to consider related skills. The higher your level of competence in related skills, the faster you'll be able to learn related skills.

You've probably noticed this yourself. If you have a high level of competence with IP routing, configuring routers, and configuring firewalls, then you have nothing to fear when you get to a managed switch for the first time. You might be in the Conscious Incompetent stage regarding programming a switch, but you'll move to some level of conscious competence very quickly.

Again, without constant exposure to the new skill, the skill level will slide down.

It's a good idea to take inventory of the skills you use along with your level of competence. In the stage called Conscious Competence we discussed Low, Medium, and High skill levels. Consider where you are with each of these, and how skills are grouped together with related skill sets.

There is one more level of skill. It's in the next stage, and it's called Unconscious Competence.

We'll talk about that next.

:-)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Quick Interview: Harry Brelsford on SMB Convergence

Just a Quick Note about a big change over at SMB Nation.

I recorded a quick phone conversation with Harry Brelsford on Friday afternoon. I wanted to find out what the deal is with the change to SMB Convergence. That's the new name for the Spring (New York) and Fall (Seattle) conferences put on by SMB Nation.

Convergence obviously means something in the broader community. We talked about why that name was picked.

We also discussed the content of the show, which is much broader than the classic SBS-centric focus of the last six years.

The whole dialog is less than nine minutes.

Find it on the Free Audio Content Page at SMB Books.

Dates: May 1-3, 2009.

You can register for the Spring SMB Convergence conference right now at www.smbnation.com.

Harry assures us that SMB Nation hasn't gone anywhere (except UP). Listen to the details.

Unconscious Compentence 2: Conscious Incompetence

Last time we introduced the concept of the "Conscious Competence" learning model.

The four-step process that takes us from "unconscious incompetence" to "unconscious competence" looks like this:

1. Unconscious Incompetence
2. Conscious Incompetence
3. Conscious Competence
4. Unconscious Competence

We've covered the stage called Unconscious Incompetence.

It's really hard to stay at the Unconscious Incompetence stage once you become interested in a job, a task, a hobby, or a profession.

You poke around a bit, learn a few things, and POOF! You realize that there's a whole lot that you don't know.

That puts you in the stage called Conscious Incompetence: You're aware that there's a lot to be learned, and you're aware that you don't have this knowledge.

Most of us know not to meddle in things when we don't have adequate knowledge. But the transition from Unconscious incompetent to Conscious incompetent is not a simple thing. In many cases, we have to learn wave after wave about the things we don't know.

It's like peeling back the onion. At each layer we learn that there's still more we don't know.

Two things can happen at this stage. One is that you can choose to stay incompetent. That is, you decide that you are NOT going to learn this new skill. The other option is to decide that you WILL climb the learning curve.

If you decide to stay un-knowledgeable in this field, you will probably hire someone to do the relevant work. With luck, our clients are in the Conscious Incompetent stage: They know that they are not in the network support business, so they hire us.

We frequently have to make this kind of decision in our jobs. For example, which of the following do you personally know how to do well?

- Create basic html web pages
- Create complicated CSS web pages
- Manage an SQL database
- Code in SQL
- Find code errors in VBscript
- Program in VBscript

In each of these, we begin to learn what we don't know. Then we have to choose whether to learn more. In many cases, we say that we can dabble a bit, but more complicated work will be handed off to a [co-worker, employee, sub-contract]. That decision can only be made once you decide to NOT become competent in some area.

It's okay to choose to stay incompetent in most areas. You literally cannot be competent at most things. That's reality.

I know this sounds absurd, but there was a time when one human being could know everything there was to know about the Internet. You needed to know a lot more about transmission protocols than most people know today. But there was no http, there was no encryption, there was no FTP, there was no DNS, there were no viruses, etc.

Until 1983, TCP/IP was one of several protocols you could choose from. Until 1994, you had to write an essay to connect a commercial enterprise to the Internet.

At that point, the Internet as we know it began to come into existence. And as it began to grow, individuals had to choose what to learn and what to let go. There were skills that made the Internet usable, including a variety of file transfer options. When FTP came along, learning all the other alternatives became unnecessary.

So, we can be competent in one thing and choose to remain incompetent in others.

Eventually, we realize that new technologies are introduced all the time. We will choose to remain incompetent in most of them. Look at the O'Reilly books: How many of those gobbledy-goop titles make sense to you?

Being consciously incompetent is a very important stage. We will remain in this stage with regard to MOST skills we come across.

It is only when we choose to educate ourselves and move to the area of competence that we take stock of what we need to move on. The next stage is called Conscious Competence.

We'll talk about that next.

:-)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Unconscious Compentence 1: Unconscious Incompetence

I've been thinking about the concept of Unconscious Incompetence and how it applies to our profession.

I've looked and looked, but I can't find an original source for the concept of "Unconsicous Competence." Wikipedia has some notes, but I assume they're written by Nazis who are trying to change history, so that doesn't count.

- - - - -

The four-step process that takes us from "unconscious incompetence" to "unconscious competence" looks like this:

1. Unconscious Incompetence

2. Conscious Incompetence

3. Conscous Competence

4. Unconscious Competence

The first stage in the process is called Unconscious Incompetence.

Unconscious Incompetence is the stage at which you don't know what you don't know. You don't know the limits of the area of knowledge you seek to understand.

Here's a great example: I ask job applicants to rate themselves on a variety of technologies. Invariably, everyone gives themselves top ranks on DNS. After a little probing, we find that most of them know exactly this:

- Gateway/router IP
- DNS 1
- DNS 2

Period.

Truth is, they don't know any more about Domain Name Services than the average used car salesman. But they know one little thing so well that they think they know everything there is to know about DNS.

They are unconsciously incompetent. They don't even know how much they don't know.

This stage in awareness has two elements. First, and most importantly, the so-called technician is completely unaware of how much there is to learn about the topic at hand. Second, the technician is unaware that they have a great deal to learn.

At some level, you can't blame someone for not knowing what they don't know.

But if this person really wants to become a computer tech, they have to change those two elements. They have to become aware of what they don't know, and they have to accept that they don't know it.

When you glance at someone else's profession and say "That looks easy," you are unconsciously incompetent about that profession. Some people would say that you just don't know what you're talking about. And that's true.

Unconscious incompetents affect us in three ways:

First, the unconscious incompetent technicians boldy go about town selling their services and giving our profession a bad name.

Second, we frequently have clients who are unconscious incompetents. They don't know how to evaluate our proposals or work.

Third, sometimes these two interact. Unconscious incompetent technicians talk to our unconscious incompetent clients. Then the client comes to us and says "My Cousin Larry's a real whiz. He said I could make electricity with my hands if I have the right software."

Luckily, if you take an interest in something, you cannot stay unaware of how complicated that thing is. In other words, once you start to learn about a subject, you become conscious about how much you don't know.

The next step in the awareness process is to become aware of what you don't know. That's called Conscious Incompetence.

We'll talk about that next.

:-)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Tune Up Your Web Site with Stuart Crawford

From Stuart Crawford:

What exactly is your website doing for your business?


Is your website a huge billboard that sits on a less traveled highway in the middle of the country?



Many IT Professionals have websites that are not working for them, period. Many websites, and this is true for many of us in the technology business, have websites that we have designed ourselves and do nothing to attract new business opportunities. Many IT firm websites are simply blind to the Internet. Many technical focused firms have way too much technical content that scares off the business client and simply many of our websites are not being found by the leading search engines.

Join Small Business IT Radio on January 16, 2009 as we focus in on strategies and tactics that you can put to work NOW to attract the right visitors to your website and also have tools available to you to convert visitors to solid business opportunities.

Stuart Crawford and David West from eKzact Solutions, Calgary's leading web designer as they share some of their tips and tricks that they use to generate business opportunity after business opportunity all from a well performing web presence. Learn how to leverage search engine optimization tactics, blogs, twitter and other social media to drive lead after lead to your business.

Showtime is Noon Eastern/9 AM Pacific on Friday, January 16, 2009. Listen live or download the show.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Windows 7 Will Not Save The World

I have no way to describe or explain why Vista "failed."

It is an awesome operating system that has been amazingly stable from day one.

I hate one thing about it: The Windows Explorer. I want a list of files and folders and I want my view to be identical every time on every folder, period. I could do this in every earlier version of Windows. There are whole web sites dedicated to trying to make this happen in Vista. but it doesn't work.

Other than that ONE thing, I love Vista and always have.

But Microsoft lost the P.R. War on this one. In fact, they didn't show up for the battle until the war was over and the bystanders all went home.

The accepted wisdom "out there" is that Vista sucks. There does not appear to be a good reason for this feeling, or a very specific set of complaints. "They say," and "I've heard" is all you get.

Reality is: Vista IS great and every everyone who uses it for a few months loves it.

This is a major wakeup call for Microsoft (or at least it should be). Until recently, Microsoft has not tried to go around the partners and sell directly to the public. That means their primary method for creating buzz about products like Office and Windows has been a two stage process:

1) Get the technology community (nerds) onboard

2) and let them spread the word to their customers, friends, and families.

But nothing at Microsoft is simple.

In order to be really successful, a new operating system needs to address four massive concerns, any one of which could have a dramatic negative effect on sales:

First, Hardware manufacturers have to write drivers for the new system. If core client devices don't work with the new O.S., they'll delay adopting.

Some manufacturers absolutely have to jump on the bandwagon as soon as possible to survive (e.g., HP and Dell). Others know they need to get on board eventually, but don't have to hurry too much (e.g., cameras, modems, NICs). Still others can completely ignore the new O.S. and stay with a previous generation as long as they want (e.g., manufacturing machines).

Second, Software manufacturers have to write programs that work on the new platform. Sometimes this is a minor update and sometimes it's a whole new version. I believe software has the same basic categories as hardware:

Some manufacturers absolutely have to jump on the bandwagon as soon as possible to survive (e.g., Office, anti-virus, financials). Others know they need to get on board eventually, but don't have to hurry too much (e.g., graphics programs, utilities). Still others can completely ignore the new O.S. and stay with a previous generation as long as they want (e.g., line of business applications).

Third, The installed Base of the older operating system doesn't beg to be upgraded because it works so well. Microsoft had a real awakening with Server 2000. They killed off Novell pretty quickly. And Apple servers never got a toehold anywhere. But the installed base of NT 4.0 was Rock Solid and loyal. It just worked. Perfectly. And despite scary stories about security, most people had hardware firewalls and a working anti-virus, so they never experienced problems.

Vista hit the same thing with XP: It just works. Everyday. Perfectly. Just as it did the day before.

Finally, Fourth, People have to have a Reason to Switch. In a perfect world, we would just roll out the newest machines with with newest O.S. and the newest Office. So, the perfect client would replace 1/3 of their machines each year, rolling in new machines with all the good stuff installed.

BUT none of this exists in a vacuum.

Microsoft failed to get hardware manufacturers to jump on board in a timely manner. HP and Dell did a great job. But basically everyone else said "let's wait 8-12 months after release." WHY they did that, I have no idea. The newest version of Windows won't just go away. Ignoring it won't make it go away.

Microsoft failed to get software manufacturers to jump on board in a timely manner. This is particularly true with LOB manufacturers. Almost every client we have has a line of business app that won't work with Vista -- and it's been out for two years! Granted, many of these apps are poorly written pieces of junk that some amateur programming house threw togetehr. But if the client is relying on that software, they have two choices: Pick new software, or wait for their product to be updated.

It is nearly impossible to tell a client that they have to replace the most important piece of software in the office because YOU think they should support professional software vendors that wrote this code during the year before the operating system was released.

And these aren't a bunch of hacks, although I made it sound like that. These are some big, well-known companies!

Microsoft has certainly learned that the installed base is their biggest challenge.

In fact, it's fair to say that Windows XP is the most beloved operating system every in the history of the universe.

MacIntosh users might love their operating systems more deeply, but there's only a few hundred of them.

The installed base for XP is massive, dedicated, and calcified. They have every reason to keep what they have and no reason to change.


And now that the Beta for Windows 7 is in general release, no one has a good reason to switch. Why not wait until late 2009 when W7 is out? Why not wait six more months until we know it's stable? Why not wait another year until SP1?


Here's The Bad News for everyone who "hates" Vista: Windows 7 won't look more like XP. It won't be less safe to operate. It won't be more compatible with antique hardware or obsolete software.

Windows 7 is the future. It will have features and benefits that are a couple of generations beyond XP.

So if your twisted mind somehow thinks that getting rid of Vista means getting XP back, then you'll be very disappointed.

Here's what I hope the future does hold:

- It would be great if Microsoft created demand generation during the first year of release. Don't wait to discover that the combined installed base for XP and Vista to too big a challenge to overcome.

- It would be great if Microsoft made full version licenses available via open license, and in the action packs. Not having such a policy added months to the delay of getting acceptance for Vista. Remember the 1-2 punch: Nerds first, everyone else second. Well, if you don't let nerds put the o.s. where they want it, they can't get addicted.

- Microsoft should acknowledge the massive installed base and STOP doing a major rev every few years. W7 will be the FOURTH desktop operating system in nine years! (Yeah, I know I left out ME.) Given that fact, why would any business be foolish enough to adopt every edition that comes out? Operating Systems don't even have an average lifetime of a computer! And, let's be honest, a lot of people don't replace their computers every three years.

How about this, Microsoft?

Put out a New O.S. once every 6-7 years. Then do REV every 18-24 months between major releases.

That way, hardware manufacturers don't have to write new drivers all the time. They can plan on a stable driver architecture for 6-7 years.

And software manufacturers don't have to write new versions all the time. An LOB vendor can plan on a stable platform architecture for 6-7 years.

A REV can add features, and people may choose to buy them. When new technologies come out, the REV can take that into consideration. But printers will still print, all the software will keep running, and businesses can PLAN their expenses.

When I've talked to people with large installations, they're not opposed to spending some money each year. But major revisions are far more expensive than the cost of software. Make it easier for these organizations to choose your operating system and you'll have people who cooperate with your roadmap process.

- - - - -

Windows 7 is not the answer to anyone's problems: It's just another symptom of the problems.

Now I'm going to go backup my MP3 files and hide them so I can install W7 in a virtual environment.

:-)

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Rethinking Tools - Part 6: Some Final Thoughts

This is the final post on re-evaluating what we sell, who we partner with, and which tools we use.

We looked at our Financial tool.

We looked at our Managed Service Delivery tool.

We looked at Miscellaneous products.

We looked at our PSA tool.

and
We looked at our Relationships.

- - - - -

Changing Tools

If you haven't changed tool sets, it seems like it will be difficult. But the truth is, once you've learned a specific tool set, you've also learned a certain mindset. Once you're rigorous about monitoring, patching, and "using" a service delivery tool, then changing tools is really just a matter of figuring out how to do the same thing with a different piece of software.

Think about upgrading from Office 2003 to 2007. "How do I do . . .?" You're not learning to write a letter. The basics are the same. But setting margins is different.

All these tools are the same way. Yes, there will be some new features. And something might be missing. But 99% of what you did with the old software is also done on the new software.

I know there are people who have half-committed to this or that or the other thing. There are people who haven't committed to any tools after three years on the fence.

Believe me: It's not a big, scary, irreversible decision. Nothing in this world is permanent.

You need to do what's best for your company. I don't know what's best for you, except to say that doing things the same way they were done five years ago is NOT the answer.


This is a Critical Time

If you're 90% sold on ConnectWise -- sign up now.
If you're 90% sold on Autotask -- sign up now.

If you're 90% sold on any of the tools that will help your company make more money, keep more money, and have an advantage in the year ahead, buy them now.

Vlad reports that he's seen a lot of small consulting businesses disappear in the last year. Not just drop their service: go out of business.

Do not
Do Not
DO NOT
DO NOT sit by and let this economy happen to you. Participate. Engage. Think through what you're doing as if it were your first day in business and you have all these options available.


Pricing Options

One of the key factors for our company in this current round of tool set evaluations has been cash flow. We looked very seriously at tools that allow us to pay month-to-month rather than buy into a big package that takes years to pay for and gives us no relief when there's a decrease in demand.

For example . . .

Zenith Infotech charges you for the number of desktops and servers deployed. If you have an extra ten in January, your bill goes up. If you remove ten in February, the bill goes down.

Compare that to Kaseya where you buy a certain number of licenses. If you buy a 250-pack of licenses, you'll make the same payment when you have three licenses deployed as you will when you have 30, 100, 150, 200, 225, and 249.

In the long run, Zenith might cost a little extra. But when you consider months and months and months of paying for Kaseya licenses that you're not using, Zenith is a lot cheaper for a very long time.

Autotask is the same way. Add a technician, your monthly goes up. Remove a technician and your monthly goes down.


Sunk Costs

If there's a more meaningless phrase in business, I don't know it. "Sunk Costs" is a phrase that some people use to refer to the fact you don't want to switch to a new product (or abandon a project) because you've already sunk so much money, time, effort, and energy into the old product (project, etc.).

In reality, economists use the term Sunk Costs to refer to the fact that the money you've spent already is gone and you're not getting it back. There's a logical fallacy in thinking that you should continue to spend money on something just because you've already spent a bunch of money on something.

That tendency is emotional and not logical.

We've all seen it with out clients. It's somehow easier to see this sort of thing with others than with ourselves.

"I paid almost $90,000 to develop that database in Access97. Now you want me to abandon it for this thing called Salesforce.com. It seems a shame to just throw it away."

Yeah, it's a shame. But zero-based thinking says you should look at where you are today and how many dollars you intend to spend in the next twelve months, and then figure out how you can maximize return on those dollars.

Abandoning old, comfortable tools and procedures is tough. But 90% of all businesses that failed were unable to change with the times. That may not be their only problem, but it's certainly ONE problem then have in common. Quite a while back I wrote about the Fisher Body company and how they survived because, even though they made carriage bodies for horse-drown carriages, they weren't in the horse travel business: They were in the transportation business.

If you were in the business of supporting DOS 6.0, or Windows 98, or SBS 2003, then you're out of business.

If you are in the technology consulting business, then you have a future.

If you use whatever tool worked a few years ago, then you're limited by that tool's ability to meet the future we face.

Remember, in every aspect of your life: The habits and tools that got you here are going to keep you here. If you want to go to a bigger, brighter, future, then you need some zero-based thinking. You need to re-construct yourself and your business from the ground up.

I've said for a couple of years now that "If I had to totally start over today, I'd go with Zenith."

So, when I push the reset button and rebuild my own business from scratch, Zenith is the logical choice.

It's kind of like rebalancing your portfolio on the stock market. Yeah, this stock did fine for the last five years. But if you had to spend money today, would you buy this stock? If the answer is no, then you should get out and use your money more wisely.


At Garth says in Wayne's World: We fear change.

In the end, we're no different from our clients. It's faster to do it the old way. Better the (devil) system I know than the one I don't.

What we had up until a few weeks ago had two advantages:

1) We all knew it. We all understood it.

2) We're not being asked to do anything different.

Here's another little truth you can take to your grave: All growth involves pain. Sorry. I didn't make the universe. I just live here.

More precisely, all growth takes place at the very boundary between what we're comfortable with and what we're not comfortable with.

So, for our company, here's a summary of what changed:

1) We sadly admitted that we're stuck with Quickbooks for the foreseeable future.

2) We're embracing Zenith full force and we won't be investing any more in Kaseya.

3) We've reviewed our Line Card and we're comfortable with the collection of products and services we sell. We change a little every year, but the basic picture is pretty stable.

4) We're moving away from ConnectWise and adopting Autotask as our PSA tool. Arnie thinks we'll come back in less than a year. Let's see.

5) We are embracing the most successful relationships we can moving forward. Some of them have already proven successful; some look like a great bet for the months ahead.


I won't pretend that this process of rebuilding my 14-year-old company from the ground up is easy. But I'm not going to live in the past. My experiences from 1995 and 2000 and 2005 are wonderful in a "Masters degree in life" course. But in the real world of business, we need to be using the best tools available today, at the best price.

Here's a glimpse of what the future holds for us:

- We're no longer marketing to Northern California. We have clients from here to Connecticut. Why should we limit our marketing when distance doesn't matter?

- We're building a 24x7 presence that doesn't require me or Manuel to be 100% involved with every job, every task, every day.

- We're developing a price model for office-less companies so that we can provide the same services (or more) from multiple disconnected points.

- We're rethinking price structures to be a step ahead of where most of our clients are today.

- And we have registered a lot of fun, cool domains so we can split-test our marketing to different clients.

I don't care about yesterday's low fruit. I want the low fruit of tomorrow!

Of course I could be totally wrong and we'll be bankrupt is six weeks.

Shit happens.

If we go under, I'll let you know.

:-)

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Upcoming GLB Events

Great Little Book Publishing Co. and SMB Books have started the year off with a bang!

The super-good SMB Conference Call with Harry Brelsford and Philip Elder will be posted as soon as I can.

In the meantime, here are some events to put on your calendar:


  1. Microsoft 5w50 Webinar - Maximizing Success in Troubled Times
    January 12th - 9:00 AM Pacific

    - Karl Palachuk, KPEnterprises Business Consulting, Inc.
    - Scott Mallet, Network Technology Solutions
    - Tavis Patterson, TAZ Networks

    Register at:
    https://training.partner.microsoft.com/plc/details.aspx?publisher=12&delivery=259605

    Please join me and two successful SMB Consultants as we explore some of their great ideas for what may be a tough year ahead. This is part of Mike Iem's 5w50 seminar series.

    Scott does a great deal of training in his business. We'll talk to him about how Microsoft Training can be a major boost for your business in the year ahead.

    Tavis has a unique approach to sales promotion. He committed to a program a few months ago. We'll check in to find out what he learned and what lessons he has for us in the months ahead.

  2. Super HaaS Webinar
    Jan. 13th - 11 AM Pacific

    - Karl Palachuk, KPEnterprises Business Consulting, Inc.
    - Ramsey Dellinger, MSP On Demand
    - Alex Rogers from Chartec

    Register now at https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/487283340

    We offer Hardware as a Service (HaaS) to our clients. Awhile back I wrote a white paper and starter kit for HaaS. That white paper explains how we offer HaaS, structure it, and finance it ourselves.

    Two prominent companies will help you with the money side of things. Basically, they help structure an agreement with your client so that the monthly payment is divided between a hardware "lease" portion and a service portion. Of course they get a piece of the action.

    These companies are MSP on Demand and CharTec. Each has a slightly different approach.

    Since I originally wrote the HaaS Starter Kit, there have been a number of questions. The most important questions are:

    - How do you license software for these machines?
    - How do you finance these machines?
    - How does this work with Microsoft Financing
    - How do you handle insurance
    - etc.

    So we've decided to get together and give you a HUGE bunch of free information. Here's what we have planned:

    - 90 minutes.

    - Karl will introduce the basics

    - Ramsey Dellinger from MSP on Demand will present their approach

    - Alex Rogers from CharTec will present their approach

    - A round-robin discussion

    - Questions and Answers

    Ramsey and Alex are preparing some information to distribute to anyone who is interested. If you purchased my HaaS starter kit, I'll send you the information kit by email when it's ready. If you haven't purchased it, we'll send a copy to everyone who registers for the webinar.

    There's no cost for any of this. We just happen to be in a unique position of providing a huge amount of information.

    Having said that, it's obvious that these folks would like to earn your business.

    At the same time, we all believe that there is a huge opportunity in Hardware as a Service. In our company, for example, we consider HaaS to be the next step beyond Platinum level managed service.

    Come and learn.

  3. SMB Conference Call with Brooke Ferguson
    Jan. 21st - 9:00 AM Pacific

    Brooke Ferguson is the founder and CEO of Growing Places Consulting, Inc. She is an expert at showing entrepreneurs, management teams, and small business owners how to systematically grow their business and create the lifestyle of their dreams.

    Brooke has created opportunities for other speakers by creating the Business Wealth and Development Speakers Series.

    We'll talk to her about how to take a new approach to success. More info is available on the SMB Conference Call Page.

    Check out Brooke's coaching site at http://www.growingplacesconsulting.com/ and her Business Backpacker blog at http://www.businessbackpacker.com/.


Stay tuned!

We have a lot more planned this year.

The holidays are over. Get off you butt.

:-)

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Rethinking Tools - Part 5: Relationships

I mentioned that we're examining more than tools. In addition to what we sell, we're looking at who we partner with.

The first post in this series is here.

The second post is here.

The third post is here.

The fourth post is here.

Now we turn to Partnering and Relationships.

(Note: This is not about me personally, or Great Little Book, or SMB Books. These comments relate to decisions of KPEnterprises, our Premier I.T. Consulting company in Sacramento, CA.

Your mileage may vary.

In addition to using this tool and that tool, we also thrive based on our relationships -- with individuals and companies. The weird thing about relationships is that they're sometimes hard to translate from one organization to another.

My experience with a product can be different from yours. You get good tech support and I get horrible tech support, etc.

But relationships are that times 100. If two people have a personality clash early on, they may never get over it. Some people can put up with more crap than others. Some people just hit it off.

Our philosophy is: If something works, embrace it. Grab onto it and see how fast we can make positive things happen. Some things seem good and fizzle out; Other things skyrocket.

We're slower to drop things that aren't working out. Slower than we should be. I think that's just being human. But eventually we move away from unproductive relationships, especially when they cost us money.


Partnering

Perhaps the most important thing that separates newbie sole proprietors from successful, established professionals is their understanding that there's more power in a web of relationships than there is in a single person.

You might be the best technician and the best business person in the world. But you'll be more successful with a good collection of friends, relationships, business partnerships, alliances, and other connections to your chosen profession.

Granted, I love meeting people and sucking their brains dry. That's not for everyone. But everyone can join the right groups, hang out in the right forums, and interact with people in the business.

Here are some partnerships we intend to (continue to) embrace in 2009, in alpha order:


ASCII

I still need to blog about their amazing insurance program. ASCII membership literally pays for itself every month. We got enough discounts on Kaseya licenses to pay for ASCII membership for ten years. We recently saved enough on worker's comp insurance to pay the ASCII membership for more than four years. Really.

ASCII folks are extremely easy to deal with. Their boot camps are great events. Everything I've seen of this organization is great.


HTG - Heartland Technology Groups

After much delay, we joined an HTG Peer Group in 2008. In addition to the promise of financial rewards, this group has introduced me to some great people, new friends, and an endless supply of great ideas.

In addition to my group, there are gatherings of people from various groups. And coming up in January is the big group of all groups.

Arlin Sorensen is a great guy, but HTG is not about Arlin. HTG is filled with great people. The meetings are 90% about sharing ideas. If we ever have time to implement them all, it will help us tremendously.


MSPSN - Managed Services Provider Services Network

Amy Luby is the face of MSPSN, but she is not all there is to MSPSN. This group put on one of the two conferences in 2008 that stood clearly above every other conference for the year (the other was SMBTN). They provide training, mastermind groups, and other resources.

Every interaction I've had with Amy and MSPSN has been positive. They put on great events, have great services, and are true leaders in the managed service space.

Right now we are making some changes to our service delivery vision and MSPSN's NOC support will be part of that. They give us additional capacity and flexibility.


MSPU - Managed Services Provider University

Erick Simpson is the face of MSPU. But, again, he is not MSPU. He and Gary have created a spectacular resource for the community. I'm constantly running into people who are on the "program" at MSPU.

This organization is truly committed to helping people be successful and reaping the rewards that come with that.

In addition to Erick's Books, MSPU provides a mind-boggling collection of webinars, seminars, recorded trainings, white papers, and more. Some is free. Some is for sale.

It is literally all top-shelf stuff.


Robin Robins

I wish Robin would call her program the Total Over The Top Amazing Complete Success Program, but she insists on focusing on marketing.

Her marketing stuff is wonderful. But it is really just a small part of her overall program. Her monthly audio CDs are some of the best informational and motivational materials available anywhere -- and they're aimed straight at our business.

I only have a few things that I absolutely pore over completely in detail every month. Robin's monthly mailing is on that short list.

Whether it's marketing or generic success-related stuff, I get value every month from this material.


SMBTN - SMB Technology Network

SMBTN grew out of the user group communities. And today their focus is on the individual company and the community. It's interesting how different groups have different personalities. Some focus on products, some one services. SMBTN has products and services for their members, but the focus is on membership in a broader community.

This group put on one of the two conferences in 2008 that stood clearly above every other conference for the year (the other was MSPSN).

SMBTN just went throuh a major expansion of resources and benefits. I'm looking to see what they come up with next.


Conferences

In addition to the partnerships above (some of which have conferences attached), we are also solidifying our conference schedule for the year. Here are two more conferences we don't intend to miss. In alpha order.


SBS Migration

Now, Let's be honest: Jeff Middleton IS SBS Migration. He is the Swing Migration guy and the SBS Migration guy.

Jeff's conference in New Orleans is a don't-miss event.

As with several others on this list, I've never had a bad experience dealing with Jeff. His event is truly community built and community driven. It is by and for the community.

Jeff continues to give more than he receives from the community and we're grateful to have him around. I look forward to doing more things with Jeff and his organization as we all evolve to the next level.


SMB Nation

Harry Brelsford gets a HUGE amount of credit for starting all this community stuff in the SMB space. In addition to a relentless schedule of travel and appearances, Harry and SMB Nation host the mother of all conferences for the SMB space: SMB Nation.

This is a conference filled with key people and products focused on our space. Walking the vendor hall is educational all by itself. Walking the hallways between presentations is enough to give you the connections and ideas you'll need for success in the year ahead.

I'm glad SMB Nation comes late in the year. It more or less wraps things up before everyone gets into end-of-year mode.


Not Easily Categorized

There are also a bunch of people, events, blogs, and "stuff" that are not easily categorized. I have a short blog roll and changes from time to time.

I'll alway keep an eye on people like Vlad Mazek (Own Web Now, Shocky Monkey, etc.) is up to, as well as Susan Bradley.

Luckily, we have an amazing community filled to the top with people are willing to put information and help out for the rest of us.

KPEnterprises (Sacramento's Premier Microsoft Small Business Specialist) will take advantage of all of these whenever we can. :-)


Disclaimer of Sorts

Everyone knows several of these people and I are friends, and that colors my evaluation. But that's what relationships are about.



Nerds have a reputation of being stand-offish, shy, and "loners." But get three of them in front of some piece of cool technology and they come out of their shells pretty fast.

In isolation, we whither and decay. As part of larger groups, we thrive.

:-)

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Give Me My Props on Facebook

My good friend Jim Locke from SMBTN gave me the big thumbs up for this blog over at Facebook.

Got me thinking. I've got two measly votes that I'm really the author of that blog.

Will you do me a favor?

Will you please go to this link on Facebook: Blog

and then do three things:

1) Click the link to verify that I'm the author

2) Rate the blog (I assume five stars is good)

3) Sign up as a reader so more info will be displayed


Truth is, no one knows what good will come of this. But the way Facebook works is that they peck away on something until you give up and do what they want.

So jump on the pile and let's see what happens.

Thanks, all.

:-)