Sunday, May 31, 2009

Trolling Craigslist for Microsoft Certification

Found among the "opportunities" on Craigslist:

    I need an MCP to add to my Microsoft Account (City)
    Reply to: xxx-yyy-zzz@craigslist.org
    Date: 2009-05-16, 1:29PM PDT

    I am looking for someone to associate thier MCP number with my Microsoft Partner account, so I can increase my companies level of partnership with Microsoft. I would be willing to pay a small fee for this, but be realistic. It is something I would really like to do, but I'm not in a position to pay much at all.


Nothing about this surprises me. I just happened to stumble upon it.

You know how it is: There are strange things done in this world, but they're somehow more real when you experience them yourself.

So Cousin Larry's Pretty Good Computer Fix-It Shop and part time janitorial service has decided to become a Microsoft Certified Partner. We know two things from this.

First, Cousin Larry has an MCP. Could be anything. I'm personally very proud of my Windows 3.1 MCP -- and the fact that my MCP ID has only six digits. But that just makes me old -- not currently qualified.

Second, we know that Cousin Larry needs another MCP of any kind to "earn" the moniker of Microsoft Certified Partner. Being a registered partner isn't good enough for Cousin Larry!

I hope he realizes that he ALSO needs to go earn a competency or two.

From the advertisement, it sounds like Cousin Larry isn't making a bunch of money. It also sounds like Cousin Larry is NOT willing to actually hire a second person to grow his business from one to two people. It's much better to abuse the rules and call it winning.

This kind of abuse will always exist. And it makes life difficult for those of us who play by the rules. I actually pay people to work for me! Oh, and I pay them to take exams. And I give them raises when they pass. And I buy them books and software. In other words, we invest in our company in order to become better at what we do.

Our most recent milestone came a mere 19 days ago when Manuel passed the new SBS 2008 exam.

How foolish we are when Cousin Larry will soon have the exact certification we do.

I sure hope Microsoft addresses this when they revise the Partner Program. I know it's an annoying little issue, but it makes me feel stupid for playing by the rules.

:-)



Check out Andrew Rogerson's new books on Successfully Buying Your Business, Selling Your Business, Starting Your Business, and Buying a Franchise. www.smbbooks.com

Friday, May 29, 2009

Putting Serving in Service

We run a consulting service. Service.

Service is an odd word. It has several meanings as a noun.

Many people provide professional services. The guy who gets the wasps out of the back yard provides a service. The electric company provides a service.

There are military services and religious services.

A service provides a set of agreed upon experiences. We provide managed services. That means "this" but not "that" is included.

And a service does not have to be supplied with good customer service. We have a tendency to provide excellent computer services, but we do it our way (the right way).

We can easily create systematic methods for recovering data, troubleshooting problems, or building a computer. Creating a systematic customer service experience is much more difficult because of those pesky human beings. It seems like every one of them has a different personality!

So we provide a service. You provide a service. Our service is different from your service.

- - - - -

Then there's Serving. Serving is the act of someone who serves.

To Serve is a transitive verb. That means it takes an object.

In other words, serving requires someone else. Someone has to be involved in the transaction.

We do way more than provide a service. Providing a service can be a one-way transaction. Nameless and faceless.

No. We serve our clients. We love them and coddle them. If they need something extra, we give it. If they need understanding, we're there.

And serving also means that we focus on doing what's right for them. We often tell clients that we won't "let them" do certain things.

In other words, we provide more than a take your money and run service. We engage the client, find out what their goals are, help them align those goals with their budget and the correct technology, and then help them reach their goals.

The difference between Serving and Service is quite dramatic.

You can take anything you do and throw it out on the market as a service. In this regard, a service is a pre-defined package that is offered. Platinum Service vs. Gold Service.

Serving requires a feedback loop. Serving is a way of doing business. It involves listening to clients and adjusting what you do to serve them better.

Serving takes service to the next level.

And it's a lot harder.


- - - - -

And then there's Robert W. Service: "A promise made is a debt unpaid."

and

Robert W. Service: "It isn't the mountain ahead that wears you out; it's the grain of sand in your shoe."


:-)



Check out Andrew Rogerson's new books on
Successfully Buying Your Business,
Selling Your Business,
Starting Your Business,
and Buying a Franchise.
www.smbbooks.com

Thursday, May 28, 2009

No A-Holes, Please

So I bought the next book I'm going to read.

This despite the fact that I have a backlog of a dozen books I still need to get to.

Yesterday on the way to work, I was driving down a one-way street. A bicyclist was toodling along in the far right lane, squeezed up against the parked cars.

There were three lanes on this one-way street. But some jerk got right up behind the bicyclist and started honking his horn. He could have gone around. But after much consideration, he decided that driving 7 MPH and honking his horn at a bicyclist would be an overall better use of his time.

Later, after leaving a client's office, I ran into an even bigger jerk.

True story:

I came to a stop light and stopped. I had my right turn signal on. Schmuck in a red car stopped behind me. To the right there was a blind man with cane waiting to cross the street.

The light turned green. I watched the blind guy because he obviously didn't have a way to know that the light had changed. Other people started to cross. But the blind guy stood there.

So the jerk behind me starts honking his horn!

I check the blind guy. Someone has now started helping him across the street.

The jerk in the red car pulls out to my left, into oncoming traffic, and proceeds to turn right in front of me -- cutting off the blind man crossing the street.

All I could think of was "What an Asshole!" I'm sure if you look up a-hole in the dictionary it has this guy's picture.


This is the guy who parks with one set of tires in the next parking space.

This is the guy who yells at his employees and treats them like servants.

This is the guy who is abusive on the phone to technical support, office managers, interns, and everyone else with less "power" than him.

- - - - -

So I wandered into a bookstore and discovered a nicely printed, hardcover, overpriced book -- and I bought it immediately.

The book is called The No Asshole Rule by Robert Sutton.

I read the introduction in the store. It sounded all high-tone, erudite, and collegiate. The No Asshole Rule originated at Stanford University and made its way into the Harvard Business Review.

And I've only read four pages of Chapter One, but I find these twelve attributes of the workplace asshole. Assholes use these actions on other people:

  1. Personal insults [bunch of a-holes]

  2. Invading one's "personal territory"

  3. Uninvited physical contact

  4. Threats and intimidation, both verbal and nonverbal

  5. Sarcastic jokes and teasing used as insult delivery systems

  6. Withering email flames

  7. Status slaps intended to humiliate their victims

  8. Public shaming or status degradation rituals

  9. Rule interruptions

  10. Two-Faced attacks

  11. Dirty Looks

  12. Treating people as if they are invisible


- - - - -

Maybe it was just a day with one too many a-holes. And maybe this book tells me what I already know:

Many a-holes bad;
few a-holes good.


It doesn't matter. This is the next book I read.

I started my business because of an a-hole boss. Many (most?) of us have the same experience. And I have gone through some dramatic growing pains because of my insistence on getting rid of clients who were, according to this academic research, a-holes.

Note, please, that some people are just difficult. That doesn't make them a-holes.

Some people just communicate differently or have different personality styles. That doesn't make them a-holes.

But it's also the case that some people go through life abusing the people around them. And you don't have to put up with that!

I'll let you know how it goes.

:-)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Advanta Business Credit Cards - Imploding?

More financial earthquakes.

Got the weirdest email. Called to verify that it's true.

Great Little Book has and Advanta business credit card. Well, we did anyway . . .

The email says:

"Your Advanta Business Card account is funded by an independent trust which owns the balances you owe on your account and provides funding for new transactions. We expect the trust to stop funding activity on our accounts. The trust also restricts our flexibility to fund activity on your account. Unfortunately, as a result, effective May 30th all Advanta Business Credit Card accounts, including your account, will be closed."

Uh . . . in three days. Yes. In three days.

And they continue:

"We have also reduced the credit line on your account to the amount of your current outstanding balance plus $500 effective immediately. We will send you additional information about why we have taken this action in another letter."

Oh good. Does that mean I won't read about you being taken over by a federal agency in the next two days?

My office manager's husband has a business -- and an Advanta business credit card. Same news.

At the same time, we have now received three offers for pre-approved credit cards. The most recent is from UPS (the folks who compete with Fed Ex).

NOTE: This is a great time to be hyper vigilent about credit. If your credit card company decides to get out of the business and the notification email gets stuck in the spam filter, you could ring up some bad charge attempts -- especially on automated recurring billing.

Next up: Will my clients' monthly recurring billing go off without a hitch on June 1st?

Gulp.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Microsoft Destroys Their Financing Program as Recovery Looms

If you've loved Microsoft Financing, as we have, then you'll probably be very disappointed with their latest move.

Now, as a stock holder, I want Microsoft to focus on making money. And the potential to lose massive amounts of money on bad financing is pretty high. I would have thought they would have made changes six months ago. Or four.

But now, just as we hear grumblings that the new fiscal year for Microsoft (begings July 1) should be a year of recovery for the economy, they've responded to the credit crunch by destroying their own financing program.

The greatest reason to use Microsoft Financing was that is was easy. A couple months ago I heard a MS employee tell stories about all the interesting things purchased along with the "one Microsoft license" that was required.

That one-license minimum is certainly too lenient. There could be a $1,000 minimum, or a $5,000 minimum, or something higher than "one license."

Why did we use and push Microsoft Licensing? It was easy.

Period. Easy.

It wasn't the best or the cheapest financing available. But it was the easiest.

Now things have changed.

Effective immediately, please note the following changes:

1. Effective immediately, Microsoft content (software/services) must represent a minimum of 35% of the customer's total financed amount, including taxes.

2. On multiple submissions, At least one of the invoices booked in transaction must have MS content (software/services) listed as a separate line item in invoice and total MS content (software/services) for all must be at least 35%

Gulp.

One Windows license is too little. But 35% of the total, including taxes, seems way too high.

Let's take a look.

Disclaimer: These numbers may not work for you. If they're too far off, go look at a recent project within your company. These numbers are taken 100% from a recent server installation (completed last week). Your numbers may vary. Your clients are not my clients. Your ways are not my ways. Blah blah blah.

Purchase:

1 Server - Proliant ML 350 etc.$1,589.998%
2 Hard drives x $399.99$799.984%
2 4 GB RAM upgrade x $129.99$259.981%
1 Tape Drive - DAT 160$869.994%
10Tapes - DAT 160 x $29.99$299.902%
1 Backup Exec Software$639.993%
1 Small Business Server 2008
Premium Edition with 5 CALs
$1,839.999%
1 5-pack Client Access Licenses$899.995%
1 Diskeeper 10.0 defragmentation software$299.992%
3 Desktop Computers - DC 5800 x $899.99$2,699.9714%
3 MS Office Standard Edition - License x $399.99$1,199.976%
1 Printer - HP 2035 - laserjet$269.991%
1 Toner Cartridge for P2035$89.991%
1 Printer - Color Laserjet CP3525n$799.994%
1 Toner Cartridge set for CP3525939.995%
1 Labor$6,00031%
Total: $19,499.70 100%


I consider this a decent order. A new server. A few workstations while we're at it. One personal printer, one workgroup printer. Perhaps the only thing that's unusual is the workgroup printer. But if it weren't a printer it would be a scanner or something else.

The problem is this:

1) That's a pretty typical order
and
2) Microsoft software is about 20% of the order.

If we eliminated the workgroup printer (which really means moving it to separate financing), we only gain a couple of percentage points.

Even if we eliminate the labor, we're just at 30%.

(Note on taxes: MS allocates taxes for the Microsoft product as part of their percentage, which leaves all other taxes as part of the non-MS percentage. Unless you have different tax rates for hardware and software, this has no effect on the overall percentages.

If your state does not tax electronically-delivered software, then the Microsoft percentage drops!)


Microsoft says this is not a new policy but a "new clarification to a long standing policy of including Microsoft content in all financed originations."

As a frequent (former) user of Microsoft Financing, I can tell you that this has not been the policy. Everyone involved, from top to bottom, has been very clear that you only needed one Microsoft license to engage Microsoft Financing.


Reality Check

If I have to divide financing between two companies . . . I won't. Once you open the discussion of cutting things and separating things, stuff will get cut from the budget.

Until now my experience with MS Financing has been spectacular. This is true in large part because every time I've used it, the client added more equipment to the order.

Now, if I have to finance part with MS and part somewhere else, three things will happen:

1) More paperwork.

2) The poor interest rates will be more obvious

3) Orders will be smaller instead of larger


How will I avoid this? That's easy:

-> Use other leasing/financing options


I know Microsoft and their financing partners need to limit their exposure to bad credit. I honestly understand that.

But 35% of the total is a deal killer. 20% we can do. 25% we can stretch. But anything above that puts us in a position of juggling multiple kinds of financing for one project. The client sees it all as a single deal.

And you can forget using Microsoft Financing for HaaS.

It was a great program while it lasted. But with a 35% threshold for software on every project, we will simply look elsewhere.


Feedback:

Microsoft's missive says:

"Please feel free to contact your local sales representative for questions on financing transactions or contact Scott D Gilgallon, scottgil@microsoft.com, for any WW concerns on the policy."

I think that's a good idea. If you agree with me, point those people to this blog post. But be sure to tell them that YOU have concerns. And if you can't do MS Financing under these conditions, mention that as well.

Comments welcome.


:-)


Visit www.smbbooks.com for books and more!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

How to Create Raving Fans

My daughter is 17 now. Got her license last summer. So it's about time for . . .

Her first accident.

Luckily: 100% not her fault.

10:45 AM.
She's driving down the road and a lunatic comes swerving up beside her. Victoria (my daughter) slowed down. The lunatic then swerved again. Victoria stomped on the brakes as the lunatic tested whether two objects really can't occupy the same space.

Then the woman moved all the way to the right and drove away. Victoria followed her. Half a mile later, she turned right and Victoria followed. At this point the lunatic pulled over.

No current insurance paperwork. Eager to pay cash.

A witness stops to give her name and volunteers that this woman had been swerving down the road for some time.

Standard information exchanged.


2:25 PM.
We use Geico Insurance and have for more than 20 years.

I go online, fill out the claim form.

Click Submit.


2:28 PM.
Email arrives with claims report. Someone will be in touch today. Saturday.

Follow-up emails come in at 2:47 and 2:50.


2:55 PM.
John from Geico calls. They have determined that Victoria is not at fault. Geico will pay for everything including the rental car.

The next appointment to take the car to be fixed is Tuesday (because Monday's a holiday).

We have to pay our deductible, but Geico will go after Loony-woman's insurance company for that as well.

"Is there anything else I can do for you today?"


3:00 PM.
Receive confirmation email on claim settlement, rental, and repair appointment.


Who knew getting in an accident could be so easy?

- - - - -

A Few Lessons

As the official Lemonade maker of the Memorial Day Holiday Weekend, I take some positive lessons from this.

1) I'm going to spend the next week telling people how much we love Geico.

2) Victoria asked an interesting question: Is there a flag in the system to tell them that you get special service because you've been with them a long time?

Every client should feel special. The hard part is figuring out how to create a system that makes people feed special, instead of feeling part of a system.

3) Speed and timeliness can be a huge part of your USP (unique selling proposition). This is particularly true if the client expects a slow response.

I literally could not ask for faster assistance from Geico. 35 minutes from start claim submission to final confirmation email. Amazing.

Amazing = raving fans.

4) Impressive use of technology wins bonus points. Not just because I'm a nerd. Having designed a data entry system for an auto insurance broker, I have a very good idea of chores that need to go on in the background when you have a web-based insurance application.

The combination of web systems, databases, phone support, email services, and human interaction was truly brilliant.

Easy. Fast. Courteous.

Raving Raving Raving.

- - - - -

Perhaps the hardest lesson is that one about service.

As very small businesses, we have a bias that says that "personal" service is totally one-on-one and cannot be systematized. Systems are not personal. Systems are made for the great masses. I give the kind of personal attention that can't be turned into a system.

Build-a-Bear gives you a stuffed animal so unique it can (and will) be shipped back to you if lose it and someone turns it in.

Doubletree gives you warm cookies at bedtime.

Geico takes, processes, settles a claim, and schedules the repairs in thirty minutes.

If big companies can figure out how to give a client "everything" with the appearance of customized service, then we little folks should be able to do the same. After all, it's what we claim we do anyway.


How can you create a customer service experience that concludes with the client saying that absolutely every part of the experience was great?


:-)



Visit www.smbbooks.com for books and more!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Client Gratitude

Do clients owe you gratitude? That is, should they be grateful for your service and dedication?

Let's assume for this discussion that you provide service with dedication.

The hardcore capitalist in me wants to say "No. Do your job, take your money, and shut up." After all, I'm not grateful to the city for taking away my garbage. I'm not grateful to the electric company for bringing me electricity. And I'm not grateful to the Comcast guy who comes to fix the cable.

Those are all services. But they're services from large, generally faceless corporations. Every time I deal with the city, the electric company, or the cable company, I talk to a different person. None of them remember ever talking to me before. And I don't remember talking to any of them before.

I am grateful that my garbage gets taken away. I'm grateful that I have electricity. I'm grateful that my cable TV works. But I really believe that that's what I'm paying for. These are all "utility" type services. And while I could be a lot more grateful than I am, I pretty much take them for granted.

That's not true with all services . . .

I AM grateful to the woman who cleans our house. I am grateful to the guy who mows the lawn. And I'm grateful to the guy who washes the windows.

What's the difference?

Well, these are people. I know them. I talk to them. Unlike working with companies, I feel as if these services are provided by people.

And I'm grateful that these people do their jobs. I express that gratitude to them. As people, I know they have to juggle school and family and other clients. And I'm grateful.

So what about the consultant/client relationship? Where does that fall?

In most organizations, it's more on the personal side. Even in larger consulting companies, the technicians become known to the clients. They're people.

Ask a client who fixes the copy machine. The most likely answer is "The copy machine guy."

Ask a client who fixes their computers. The answer is a name or two.

- - - - -

So our business fits into the personal category instead of the utility business category.

But that doesn't really answer the question of whether clients owe us gratitude.

Here's a way to tell.

Have you ever had a scenario where you saw a problem that the client didn't see, made a heroic effort to fix it, avoided sending a big bill, and put in work you didn't charge for -- only to have the client get irritated at you for some thing that didn't go right at the same time?

When that happens, you find yourself saying "They have no idea how close they came to disaster. They have no idea what kind of stuff we do for them. And, worst of all, we could never explain it to them."

At one level, you're just doing your job. After all, that's what the client is paying you for.

At another level, you're doing more than you're being paid because it's "who you are" and how you choose to operate.

The copy machine guy charges for every minute. Period. He's a working machine, getting paid for his time. These aren't his friends and he has no reason to provide extra service.

Sometimes clients express their gratitude -- especially when you coax a server to live a few more weeks or months.

But more often than not, the only time it comes up is when you find yourself mumbling that they "ought to" to grateful.

The bottom line is that all business is people business. There are copy repairmen whose names are known. There are technicians who are anonymous.

And the person who pays your bill may be different from the person you deal with every day. The office manager may be grateful, but the owner will think of you as another vendor.

Personally, I think gratitude is a great reason to be in business. It doesn't show up on balance sheets, but I think there's a very strong connection between gratitude and gross margin.

Gratitude is tied to a personal connection. It's tied to service perception. It's tied to long-term relationships.

And, to be perfectly honest, it's part of why I go to work every day. When I have a bad day at work, you can be sure it's because a client expressed a complete lack of gratitude when we did a spectacular job.

We find that regular meetings with the clients help. One hour per quarter will get the job done. Just show up, ask about the business, and build that personal relationship. Become more than a cog in the machinery.

:-)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Thanks to the SBSC Advisory Board

I want to send a big Thank You out to Arnie Mondloch, Francois Daumard, and the whole team at the SBSC Advisory Board.

I was honored to be one of the original board members. I'm grateful to Paige Bosen for her founding work on this Board.

As the Board moves forward with a new mission and new focus, I trust that they will do a great job of giving the Microsoft personnel an earful from the SBS Community.

In addition to representing the SBS/SMB community, the Board is literally a sounding board for Microsoft.

"Whattaya think of this?"

"Or That?"

If the new board is as filled with community superstars as the last board, then I trust Microsoft and the SMB Community are both in good hands!


:-)

My First Twitter

I've been reluctant to get going with Twitter.

As you may have guessed, I don't fear technology. Nor do I fear change.

Basically, I have avoided Twitter for three reasons:

  1. I *do* fear committing myself to things I can't maintain. I don't want to get into something and then drop it.

  2. Time bandits are a major hot-button for me. If you've heard me speak in the last year, then you've been exposed to the Gospel of Non-Interruption. I don't hang out in IM. I don't hang out in the news groups. I don't check my email constantly. Twitter seems like the absolute epitome of interruption.

  3. Finally, I wanted to figure out where the money is. Let's be honest: If I just want to waste time there's beer in the fridge and a BBQ on the patio. I'm in business to make money.


But yesterday I made the plunge.

You can find me Twittering at www.twitter.com/karlpalachuk.

I don't expect to overwhelm you. If I do, I hope you'll follow the Gospel of Non-Interruption and stop following my Tweets.


So why the change?

Well, it's interesting. Two recent stories tipped me over.

First, the AP had a story about people actively making money with Twitter. See http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5iYVMbyRjOQOeodQP66nnEsVQMIswD986SAA80. If that link dissolves, Google "Foodies flock to Twitter-savvy food trucks."

What do I mean by actively making money? Well, these roaming chefs don't show up in the same place every day like roach coaches. Instead, they wander L.A. and Twitter their menu and location so that people can find them. When they twitter, people show up and spend money.

Now, don't think you can do this tomorrow. There's a whole business model behind it that takes some work. But the point remains: When they tweet, they make money.

That's something I can figure out.

The second story was about a man who saved a life with Twitter a few days ago. See http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/stories/2009/05/17/twitter_atlanta_councilman.html or Google "Atlanta Councilman uses Twitter to assist woman."

This guy sees a woman having a seizure and can't get through to 911, so he sends a tweet and asks others to re-retweet. Evenutally, someone got through to 911.

So that's just powerful technology.

And I'm going to stop ignoring it.

- - - - -

For quite some time people have somehow found me on Twitter (because I'm registered there). And from time to time I get a message that one more person is following me.

But I wasn't twittering!

So Wednesday I decided to pave the path where people want to walk.

I sent my first Twitter:


I do not Twitter.
But I can Twitter, I guess.
It won't always be in haiku though.


And I learned that Twitter removes the carriage returns, so haiku is out.

Please give me a chance on Twitter. If it's useless, you can always drop.

www.twitter.com/karlpalachuk

:-)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Buying or Selling Your Business? Educate Yourself!

One of the hottest topics to emerge in the last two years has been Mergers and Acquisition.

Okay: I'll admit that the last six months have sucked out loud, but things are warming up again.

I know several SMB Consultants who have bought (or decided not to buy) businesses recently. Non-distressed businesses are beginning to move again.

In addition, I have a friend in the M&A business who tells me that inquiries are starting to appear again. They have basically been at zero since October.

Now comes Mr. Andrew Rogerson, a business broker who helps people make good decisions when buying and selling a business.

Andrew looks at four different perspectives, based on his experiences as a Certified Business Intermediary (business broker) AND his personal business experience of buying and selling businesses, and buying franchise outlets.

So he wrote a book about each of these. These are basically "workbooks" with explanation, description, and worksheets.

His four perspectives are:

- Successfully Buy Your Business

- Successfully Sell Your Business

- Successfully Start Your Business

- Successfully Buy Your Franchise



These books are each 8.5" x 11" and in the range of 150-180 pages. They are filled with great advice and the worksheets you need to get started right away.

We're going to schedule a special conference call with Andrew regarding buying and selling businesses -- especially in the current economy. After all, a lot of the old rules about credit seem to be gone. So how do you figure out the valuation of your business, and how does the buyer find the money?

Another thing to consider is what valuation really means.

Look at the stock market. If a company was worth one price in August of 2008 and a completely different price today, did anything really change besides perception? How do you value "good will" and reputation?

These books are a steal at only $29.95 each.

But wait . . . That's not all . . .

I think it is important to see all sides of this equation, so SMB Books is offering all four workbooks together for only

$99



Now that's a deal!

Click here to here to order now:



NOTE: Expected Shipping Date for these books is June 1, 2009


- - - - -

A bit about Andrew Rogerson:

Andrew Rogerson currently holds the Certified Business Intermediary (CBI) designation from the International Business Brokers Association (IBBA), the highest designation awarded by the IBBA. Andrew has also earned the Certified Business Broker (CBB) designation from the California Association of Business Brokers. He holds a Certified Machinery and Equipment designation (CMEA) from the National Business and Builders Institute and is a Certified Senior Business Analyst (CSBA) with the Society of Business Analysts. He also holds a Brokers License with the California Department of Real Estate.

:-)



Looking for a great Zero Downtime Migration Seminar?
Join me in Portland June 9th.

Amy Babinchak and Eriq Neale on SMB Conference Call

Join me today for an interview with Amy Babinchak and Eriq Neale from Third Tier.

9:00 AM Pacific
Register Here
and
Find out more on the SMB Conference Call Page.


These two MVPs, along with Chad Gross and David Shackleford, provide advanced IT support services to professionals. Third Tier is staffed by experts with deep knowledge in specific areas.

Their expertise includes SBS, active directory, exchange, SharePoint, SQL, ISA, Macs and network infrastructure.

They also provide support for vendors in the small business space looking to assist their customers with advanced implementation and support services.


Our friend Aaron Booker from VarVid.com recent caught up with Eriq and captured it on tape for us:

Eriq:



About Amy:

Amy Babinchak owns Harbor Computer Services (HCS) in Michigan. They provide local small businesses with quality IT services.

Amy was named by Microsoft as MVP in ISA Server twice and again in Essential Business Server.

Amy frequently speaks on security and firewall issues, both nationally and internationally at conferences and to user groups. She has contributed articles to ISAserver.org, SMBNation Magazine and chapters for SBS 2003 Unleashed and SBS 2008 Unleashed.


About Eriq:

Eriq Neale doesn’t like the use of the word "veteran" when it comes to describing how long he’s been working in the IT industry, but until someone comes up with a term that implies experience and expertise without grey hair, that term will have to do.

As the President of EON Consulting, LLC, and a partner in Third Tier, Eriq has been focused on providing solutions to small businesses and small business IT professionals for a number of years.

He is the lead author of two Unleashed books on SBS (2003 and 2008) and has been recognized as an MVP by Microsoft for the past four years.


- - - - -

SMB Conference Call with Amy Babinchak and Eriq Neale
Wed. May 20, 2009
9:00 AM Pacific
Register Here
and
Find out more on the SMB Conference Call Page.

If all goes well, the call will be recorded and posted in the Conference Call Archives later this week.


- - - - -

Future Calls

If you don't receive my weekly SMB Email, you can register for free at http://www.greatlittlebook.com/Mailing_List.htm.

In that email you'll receive a weekly list of what's going on the SMB space, including our SMB Conference Call schedule. Keep you first and third Wednesdays open as we have the following guests lined up:


- Amy Babinchak and Eriq Neale

- Matt Makowicz - Ambition Mission

- Frank Coker - CoreConnex

- Stuart Selbst - Virtual Administrator

- Arnie Bellini - ConnectWise

- Bob Godgart and Bob Vogel - Autotask

- Harry Brelsford - SMB Nation

:-)




Visit SMB Books just posted four new business books:
Successfully Buy Your Business
Successfully Sell Your Business
Successfully Start Your Business
Successfully Buy Your Franchise

Monday, May 18, 2009

What's Your List Worth?

On one of the newsgroups I lurk at, there was an interesting posting this afternoon.

The part that struck me is the bottom line question:

- If someone has a list of 100 clients and he can't make a living with them, is that list worth anything?

Hmmmmmmm.

At first blush the answer is no. After all, how much money do those 100 clients need to bring in?

If it's $100,000, that's $1,000 each per year.

If it's $80,000, that's $800 each per year.

If it's $60,000, that's only $600 each per year.

Home office users are worth $600 a year!

So, let's think about those 100 clients. You'd be hard pressed to find 100 businesses of any size who don't spend at least $1,000 a year on I.T.

Even in a home office, it would be almost impossible to spend less than $200/month on computers, repairs, and PC supplies. That's $2,400 each!

That's the low end. And a normal distribution would tell you that there's a lot more money in that list.

If those businesses are spending all that money, but not with the computer consultant, then two reasons come to mind:

1) The businesses on this list simply aren't spending money with the old consultant

or

2) The businesses on this list consist of people who don't rely on any consultant when making technology decisions


If the list simply doesn't turn to the current consultant for advice, they may be looking for (or open to) a different approach. In such a case, some of them will very likely be worth more money to you than they are to the current consultant.

If the list is mostly self-serve when it comes to technology, that's very good news. Such people can be engaged in discussions about good/better/best approaches. Even better, they are probably interested in technology and can be engaged in discussions of new and cool technology.


Where does that leave us?

Well, the question stands: Should you consider paying anything for this list? If so, how much?

The answer is not a clear NO.

But my first impression is still pretty strong. It's very hard to make money off a list like this. After all, their history sucks out loud!

If the existing consultant makes a really good introduction, you might make some good connections. MY personal experience with buying another business tells me that half of these people will simply take the opportunity to go elsewhere. Then you have to work really hard to get the rest to give you a chance.

If there are a few gems in the crowd, they can make everything worthwhile.

But when people are not used to buying, they're not likely to remember that they've been handed off to you.

So, two or four or six months down the road, when they go to make a purchase, they're very likely to call the old consultant.

There's only one way to make sure that you're top of mind when they need tech support: You need to saturate them with letters, post cards, monthly newsletters, emails, blog posts, etc. In other words, you need a full court press to make these people your own.

If you went to Dun and Bradstreet's Zap Data and did a search for 100 total strangers who fit your desired clientele profile, it would cost you about $25.

If you proceed to do a total Robin Robins marketing campaign on these folks, it would probably be better than a half-assed introduction from someone who can't make a living off 100 businesses.

After all, 100 random strangers are easily worth $600 each!

So if your goal is to find 100 people, saturate them with marketing, and get yourself top-of-mind for the day they need something, then total strangers are about as good as this list.

- - - - -

If I were faced with this decision today, I have to admit that I'd be tempted.

But the first thing I'd do is to sit down and talk about every name on that list. If I found some gems, I'd be willing to discuss a small price.

And if I wasn't totally impressed? I'd go to Dun and Bradstreet and Robin Robins!

:-)



Looking for a great Zero Downtime Migration Seminar?
Join me in Portland June 9th.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Are You an MSP Mentor?

If you haven't wandered over to MSPMentor, today's a great day to start following Joe's Blog. News focused on the MSP space.

You can follow the link from the blog roll on the right side of my blog.*


MSPMentor published their MSP 100 list earlier this year. That's the top 100 MSPs.

Now they're gathering nominations for the MSP 250. This is a broader list and includes "gurus" of various kinds. The list includes managed services experts, executives and entrepreneurs. As Joe says, the list will include "CEOs, CIOs, CTOs, entrepreneurs, sales executives, marketing experts, PR pros, association leaders and other top minds who are shaping the global managed services ecosystem."

Anyone can nominate anyone for the list. You can even nominate yourself. Then, after thousands of names are proposed, Joe and Amy will spend a few months finding out more details about the nominees.

For a little more info on the list, see The 2008 MSPmentor Top 250 List. Also listen to a discussion about both lists and how they're generated from a recent SMB Conference Call with Joe Panettieri.

When you're ready, go complete the online survey here.
- It's fast and easy.

The resulting MSPmentor 250 report will be published in August.

So, if you like your boss, nominate her. If you like a vendor, nominate him. If you want to be considered, nominate yourself.


Your input is welcome.

And thanks to Nine Lives Media for doing this.

See the original call for nominations here.



*(If you follow my blog via RSS or republication inside someone else's site, I also encourage you to occasionally look at the actual blog. There's some useful info over there on the right.)



:-)



Looking for a great Zero Downtime Migration Seminar?
Join me in Portland June 9th.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Zero Downtime Migrations Seminar - Portland

Will you please join me in Portland on June 9th for a 2.5 hour seminar on Zero Downtime Migrations?

The seminar is called An Introduction to Zero Downtime Migration Strategies.

It's perfect for anyone moving to SBS or any other Windows-based server. And, yes, that's either SBS 208 or SBS 2003.

Please use this discount code. A limited number of seats are eligible for this code.

The discount code is ZDTM06 and takes the price from $49 to $ Free.

Info and registration are on the SMB Books Zero Downtime Migration Seminar page.

We'll cover
- Project Management for ZDTM
and
- Zero Downtime Migration Strategies


Tuesday June 9th, 2009
6:30 - 9:00 PM
Fairfield Inn & Suites
Portland South/Lake Oswego
6100 South West Meadows Road
Lake Oswego, OR


Only $49 !
Sponsored by the Portland Technology Wizards

Mark your calendars and plan to be in Portland on June 9th.

Agenda Notes:

- Project Management in a Managed Service Business
We all work projects. But do we all work them profitably and efficiently? Whether you're 100% managed service or just getting started, come and learn the most important elements of keeping project labor on the "billable" side of the ledger.

- Zero Downtime Migration Strategies
Join one of the authors of The Network Migration Workbook for an introduction to SBS Migration that will make your business more profitable and your clients a lot happier. Is ZDTM really possible and practical in your business? Attend and find out.

Sign Up Here. Use discount code ZDTM06.

See you there!

Snackage provided. :-)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Write Me A Proliant with 18 Processors

I admit that I have too much time on my hands. I've been pondering the future of our industry. Follow me and see if this makes sense.

We're moving into a world filled with virtualization and cloud computing. Already this month Zenith has announced a very cool system that allows you to drag and drop icons to create an entire virtual environment.

Virtual servers, virtual desktops. Virtual firewalls!

At some point we'll all get comfortable with that.

Then . . .

HP and Dell and other hardware manufacturers are going to find that the low end of their market is shrinking very fast. We've seen all the fanfare about "going green" by eliminating servers.

There are fewer physical servers because there are more virtual servers.

So HP says . . .

"What the heck is going on? We need to figure out how to sell more servers!"

And they come up with an obvious conclusion . . .

They begin to write specialty servers -- virtual servers filled to the max with proprietary technologies.

Because it's all virtual, it's all zero's and one's. It's all programming. Therefore, it can be written to take advantage of the environment in which it exists.

- Intel will write specialty virtual processors that are optimized for the underlying architecture, optimized for the virtual environment, and optimized for the applications being run.

- HP will write specialty virtual servers that are optimized for the underlying architecture, the virtual environment, and the applications.

- Cisco will build high-end, customized firewalls and switches.

All of this assumes that the underlying architecture is super-mondo-beefy -- or that it consists of a massive interconnected web of computers that can handle extremely large computing jobs without straining. Google, Microsoft, and Amazon have these systems today. Others are building more.

Each network of "computing power" is massively parallel and spread across the Internet, so it's massively stable and self-healing.

At this point . . .

Old-school hardware manufacturers will make money writing boutique hardware to operate in the virtual world.

and twenty minutes later . . .

The open source world will figure out how to do the same thing.

NOW HP has a whole new problem. It's one thing to lose business to people building clone hardware. Now they'll have people writing clone (virtual) hardware!

- - - - -

So you have to wonder . . . where are the tools I need to start learning to write open source hardware?

Hmmmmmmm

How horrible can this get?

"Brand name" services will use Genuine Intel virtual processors and HP virtual servers. These will be sold via SPLA-like pricing on a monthly basis.

Cheap homemade crap will use Cousin Larry's Pretty Good kadunkadunk processors and works-okay virtual servers. These are "free" and mostly work. Except that some poor programmer couldn't figure out the GB Ethernet code, so he put 10/100 NICs on the virtual machines. :-)

- - - - -

I'm sure consultants will be just as important as they are today. But, man! our job's going to be a lot different than it is today.

See you in the future!

:-)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Lack of Negativity

I've been chewing on this for a few weeks.

At the HTG Summit in Dallas, a couple of people commented from the stage that one of the defining characteristics of HTG is a lack of negativity among the members.

And what exactly does that mean?

One of the speakers clarified:

When some people call because they have a problem, they immediately go negative. They yell, threaten, and make asses of themselves.

Other people avoid the negative. They take the approach that "problems happen" and work to improve the product.

HTG members are not unique in this regard. After all, they were like this before they joined HTG. What's different is that HTG as a group reflects a positive approach to problems.

Your experience with your clients will give you a good idea of the two types of behavior. Let's say you have a client who clicks on every virus-infected pop up that appears in front of him. In short order, his machine is totally infected. You see ten or more hours of labor in front of you and recommend that it's faster to re-image the machine than try to fix it.

If the client is a "negative" type, he'll get pissed off, blame it on you, and fill your ear with a half hour of "It's all your fault" B.S.

If the client is a "positive" type, he may not take responsibility for what happened, but at least he won't dump all over you. Instead, he'll talk honestly about what happened and focus on a plan to move forward.


I'm sure your mother told you that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.


Business relationships are no different than personal relationships. They have ups and downs. Some days everything is great. Some days not so great. But if both parties are interested in continuing the work on it, the relationship will survive whatever comes up.

The key is to focus on being constructive. Just because there's a problem, and a complaint, doesn't mean that either party has to be negative about it.

- - - - -

Anyone can have a bad day, a bad interaction, or a bad customer service experience. Stuff happens.

You don't have to be perfect and your clients don't have to be perfect. But having a general tendency toward the positive instead of the negative goes a long ways. And working with people who have the same tendency can make a huge difference.

It makes a difference when people assume that each member of the team is competent and focus on the business questions at hand. Positive attitudes also build trust and reciprocal positive attitudes.

Maybe I'm a whack-job, but I would much rather work with people who take a positive approach to business!


:-)



Visit www.smbbooks.com for books and more!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

I Tried That - It Didn't Work

I'm just finishing up the Promotion Monkey newsletter (www.promotionmonkey.com and an article on Google AdWords.

Whenever you take on a new project, there's an unspoken wish that this one will just work and not need constant coaxing and tweaking and fine-tuning.

Sometimes people say I Tried That - It Didn't Work. But before you give up and say, "Well, if it didn't work for her then it won't work for me," you need to dig a little deeper.

When someone says they tried something, what exactly did they do?

After all, if someone comes to you and says "I tried Remote Web Workplace and it didn't work for me" what would you say? I imagine you'd probe a bit and ask exactly what they did and didn't try.

I'll use the Google AdWords example since it's on the top of my mind.

With any advertising you can do, the easiest thing is to just burn the money in your front yard. And that's what most people do. There are two pieces to this event.

First, the default, out-of-the-box options for any kind of advertising are Lazy and ineffective. For example, Let's say you start a Google Ad campaign, add every keywork remotely related to your business, create ten different ads, and set a budget. Poof. Money will disappear but clients will not appear.

You don't have a target, you haven't focused your advertising, you're trying to scatter-shot the internet with ads. Someone will see your ad and click on it. Cha-ching: The money is gone. But if that person spends .07 seconds on your site and then leaves, what good has it done you?

Second, there are plenty of people whose job is to help you spend your advertising budget. Their job is NOT to help you get business or be successful. Yellow pages ads are great for this. So are ads in the back of the Business Journal. The people who help you are highly motivated to get you to sign a deal. After that, they don't care.

They will mangle your ad with abbreviations and crap so it fits in the small space you can afford. They don't know anything about testing ads, appealing to a focused audience, or simple calls to action. I'm not kidding. Go read those ads. What percentage lead with a great headline, include a benefit, and have a call to action?

Well-written ads don't happen by accident. That's true in Google AdWords, yellow pages, and the business journal.

Oops. Now we have to do some work.

At the top of this post I mentioned our tendency to wish that this project will just work and not need constant coaxing and tweaking and fine-tuning. Well, that never works. What works is to really focus on something, work at doing it right, and give it a fair chance before you conclude that it doesn't work.

This rule applies to everything and not just advertising. It applies to training, scheduling, documentation, motivation, finances, etc.

Here's a starter list.

Slap yourself whenever you find yourself saying these things:

I tried Google AdWords.

I tried MSPU.

I tried managing my cash flow.

I tried getting clients to prepay.

I tried using a remote monitoring tool.

I tried managing my techs at Zenith Infotech.

I tried Robin Robins' program.

I sent out postcards.

I went to a chamber meeting.

I tried giving my employees quarterly evaluations.

I tried documenting everything I touch.

I tried creating a fresh web site.

I tried managed services.

I tried selling VOIP.

I tried Hardware as a Service.

I tried getting certified.
It didn't work for me.

It didn't work for me.

It didn't work for me.

It didn't work for me.

It didn't work for me.

It didn't work for me.

It didn't work for me.

It didn't work for me.

It didn't work for me.

It didn't work for me.

It didn't work for me.

It didn't work for me.

It didn't work for me.

It didn't work for me.

It didn't work for me.

It didn't work for me.

(You get the message.)

:-)



Play the SMB Books Spin and Win Game!
You can win every week.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Spin the SMB Books Prize Wheel


Believe it or not, we're getting ready for SMB Nation 2009.

Because it's in Vegas this year, we're having a Spin the big wheel theme. We're getting ready.

Your feedback is welcome. Do we dress up in old west gambling hall attire? Yeah, I know the guys want show girls. But there are already enough show girls in Vegas. So let's do gambling instead. :-)

Let me know what you think.

In the meantime, please stress-test our new interactive prize wheel at SMB Books.

Spin as much as you want. We know you'll get bored eventually.

You can win prize coupons, audio CDs, and more.

The first prize you win is the one you get. So, you can spin more, but you can only win the first prize you get each week.

Make sure your sound is on so you can here the prize wheel clicking.

Have fun.

And tell all your friends!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Doing New Things the New Way

There are two types of people in the world: Those who divide the world into two types and those who divide the world into more than two types.

Whenever possible, I divide the world into two types -- just to see how far we can go with a simple explanation. As you know from experience, the simplest explanation normally accounts for 80-99% of all cases.

Anyway, I got to thinking about Microsoft's cool new approach to Windows XP virtualization inside Windows 7. See http://windows7forums.com/windows-7-rumors-news/4835-windows-7-xp-mode-available-download.html
and
my client facing commentary on the whole mess.

There are old ways of doing things and new ways of doing things.

At the same time, there are old things to do and new things to do.

Luckily for a lazy blogger, this makes a very simple matrix. You can:




Do Old Things in the Old Way
Do Old Things in the New Way
Do New Things in the Old Way
Do New Things in the New Way


Sometimes, the most profitable place to be is doing things one-generation old with technology that's one-generation old. You avoid the "bleeding edge" technologies and you have an established base.

But you can't stay there. Whether you like it or not, time passes at one day per day, one month per month, one year per year. Moore's law has not been repealled. So technology time is much accellerated over "normal" time.

Here's a true story from my friend Bob:

    Bob goes into a client's office. They're making some changes and need to get a bunch of pictures (.jpg's) moved. What are these?

    Well, . . . Client needs to have quick access to her clients' financial documents. But she's successful, so she has lots of clients and lots of documents. So lots of documents go into storage.

    And . . . some time back they started taking pictures of every document before sending the paper off to storage. Kind of a make-your-own document management system.

    But then something happened to the camera. Bob suspects the chip filled up. :-)

    Then client brought in a different camera from home. One that takes nice 35mm pictures. Film.

    Now she takes pictures of the documents, has the film developed, puts the pictures on a scanner, and scans the documents into .jpg files for storage.

    No kidding.


I know this is an extreme example, but every step in the process is logical and made sense to the client. She got down this wrong road one logical step at a time.

Let's say that document management is the new thing. But doing document management the new way would involve a high speed scanner straight to pdfs with an indexing process. This client is doing new things a really old way.

Again, it's an extreme example. But the point is very simple: Doing new things the old way "works" but is never the answer you think it is.

Doing new things the old way wastes money, time, and energy.


Enter Windows 7 with XP Mode

What about doing old things the new way?

Microsoft is releasing Windows 7 with a virtual machine that will run Windows XP SP3. Why? Because there will always be luddites opposed to new fangled knitting looms.

Think about how this all came about. Microsoft spent millions of dollars developing a way to bow down to people who will not give up a 2002 operating system.

Those of us who have adopted Vista and are running W7 RC know a dirty little secret: It's almost impossible to find a program DOES work in XP and DOESN'T work in a newer O.S.

In other words, Microsoft is solving a problem that primarily exists in the world of perceptions.

But it's a problem for Microsoft!

So they're using the absolute newest way to do an old thing.

XP Mode (XPM) goes way beyond creating a VM and sticking an operating system into it. Realtime virtualization. Publish an application in XP and it's available in W7. Super cool new technology -- to do an old thing.

And now we come full circle.

It is just as wasteful, expensive, and unprofitable to do old things in new ways as it is to do new things in old ways.

We all need to move into the future -- into the modern era -- at our own pace. We need to do what's comfortable to us.

But we also have a responsibility to the client. Some folks (see Vlad's comments on previous post) are suspicious of the term "trusted advisor." But whatever you call it, you have a responsibility to do the right thing for the client.

Maybe the right thing is a seven year old operating system.

Maybe the right thing is a less secure operating system.

Maybe the right thing is a hobbled together, patched up, band-aided old operating system.

or maybe not.

When I consult with a client, I try to come up with the best long-term investment in technology. I honestly want to come back in three years and have them say "You gave us good advice last time and we trust you to do it again."

We're on the verge of an amazing new era with virtual technologies and utility computing. I've had preliminary sales discussions with clients about Data Center As a Service (see http://www.zenithinfotech.com/news-local.asp) and using virtualization as part of same-day disaster recovery.

And then I have to sell an old operating system to a client who spends too much time watching TV and thinks "Mac vs. PC" explains his world.


:-)




Visit www.smbbooks.com for books and more!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

What Keeps You From Installing SBS 2008?

In case you haven't checked it out, the Autotask interface includes a built-in link to their community portal.

The Portal includes a bunch of stuff on Autotask, of course. But it also includes great discussions about business, technology, strategy, and surviving in a changing world.

A recent poll on the Autotask Community asked the question What Keeps You From Installing SBS 2008? After a month of responses from a community with 22,000 users, here are the results (from those motivated enough to respond):







- We're Upgrading as Servers are replaced 49.2%
- No good reason to upgrade 15.6%
- We don't know the new product 12.5%
- The general economy 11.7%
- We don't plan to sell SBS 2008 8.6%
- We want to learn how virtualization works with SBS before we sell it 2.3%


In a recent user group meeting, I accidentally went ballistic on a friend who is not selling SBS 2008 into his client base. His argument is, essentially, that his clients are not asking for the new operating system.

Of course not.

It's not their job to know about or ask about the new O.S. That's your job as the consultant!

"The clients aren't asking for SBS 2008."

Huh?

Did your clients ask for dual core or quad core processors? Did they ask for 64 bit processing? Did they ask for the Internet?

I'm sorry to have to break it to you, but . . . it's not your clients' job to know about technology. That's why they pay you $100 or $120 or $150 per hour!

Clients are NEVER going to ask for new technology. They would be happy to wrap the world in plastic, stop the grandfather clock, and never change anything forever.

When it comes to technology, many people believe that no change = saving money. So they use old technology that's "good enough."

If you have clients clinging to Office 97, you know what I mean. They will spend any amount of money to chase errors in Excel or Access rather than spend LESS money upgrading to a modern SQL program -- or finding a hosted alternative.

The Good News is that about half the people are upgrading as servers are replaced. This makes the most sense, in my opinion. Especially with SBS 2008, you'll want new fresh hardware. And it's kind of a shame to use a server for less than three years and throw it away. So, in the natural course of things, they'll get a new server.

And with fresh hardware comes the newest, coolest technology.

Some of the reasons for not adopting will naturally disappear (the economy, lack of familiarity with the product).

The one I don't understand is the 16% who say "No good reason to upgrade." It seems to me that any server more than 36 months old is a good reason to upgrade.

As I tell my clients, a three year old server is probably the slowest machine in the office. When it was new, 1.5GHz was fast. 2 GB RAM was common. 3 GB was max. Now we can put 8 or 12 in the new machine with Quad Core 3 GHz processors.

Performance is a good reason to upgrade.

Oh. Did I mention that the fans and power supplies have been running 24/7 for three years? And those hard drives have been spinning for more than 26,000 hours without a break?

A three year old car is a bargain to operate.
A ten year old car is marginal.
A twenty year old car is a money sieve.

A one year old server is a bargain to operate.
A three year old server is marginal.
A five year old server is a money sieve.

:-)




Visit www.smbbooks.com for books and more!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Rewind: The 12 Secrets of Successful Project Management

Last week I did a webinar with Autotask on The 12 Secrets of Successful Project Management. There were several leftover questions. Since many of those questions had to do with where to find my books, I thought I'd post the answers here.

If you're interested in the original webinar, check out http://www.autotask.com/events/archive/KPEnterprises_042809.htm.

Note: During this webinar, we gave out a code for a free copy of the Managed Services in a Month MP3 AND a code for $10 off at SMB Books. If you want those codes, you need to watch the webinar.

These are some of the common questions I get a lot, so I thought it was worth posting here.

So here are the leftover questions and my responses. I left them in the order they appeared, so the first few are about books with links. Then it gets into more "meat." Be patient. Thanks.


Q: Can you post the title of that book please?

A: My project planning book is the "Super-Good Project Planner for Technical Consultants" available at the electronic downloads page at http://smbbooks.com/categories/electronicdownloads.htm.
Also check out the audio program "Perfect Profitable Projects" with Karl W. Palachuk and Matt Makowicz. This 3-CD set includes two audio CDs plus an additional electronic content CD. See http://smbbooks.com/categories/audiocds.htm.


Q: What's your methodology for documentation and organizing it.

A: This is a big question.

For documenting client machines, we have two methods. Our primary method is to use the forms in the "Network Documentation Workbook" (see http://smbbooks.com/categories/electronicdownloads.htm). This gives us the key information on computer configurations, network setting (DHCP, IP scopes, etc.), and all the specifics that are needed quickly while onsite.

The second method is to use our tools - Autotask and Zenith. We even store a scanned copy of the network documentation binder in Autotask as an account attachment. We store as much as we can here. For example, license info arrives from Microsoft. We save this as an attachment. And of course we store specific configuration info in the configuration tabs in Autotask.

We document processes and procedures in Word and store them on our internal SharePoint site. The key here is to have a logical organizational structure, make it as simple as possible, and make people use it.

For detailed discussion of using documentation to make money and save money, see the audio program "Network Documentation for Profit (and Fun)" at http://smbbooks.com/categories/audiocds.htm.


Q: Does Karl have any books that outline best practices of documentations?

A: "Network Documentation Workbook" (see http://smbbooks.com/categories/electronicdownloads.htm).
- "Network Documentation for Profit (and Fun)" at http://smbbooks.com/categories/audiocds.htm.
- "Service Agreements for SMB Consultants" at http://smbbooks.com/categories/business_IT.htm


Q: Nice to have, but in some cases, like software development, the scoop can't or shouldn't be defined in a rigid manner, especially when dealing with user interfaces.

A: Software development projects are a little different. But I can tell you that I learned most of my project management process from software development. If you're not rigorous about the scope, you'll have hobbled-together project when you're done. You'll be over budget, over time, and not have the best piece of software you could have.

Clients always want to cut out the stages for discovery and scope development. So they save $10,000 or $20,000 up front and waste $100,000 in change orders.

Yes, it's rigid. But the scope is the project. Period. If the client is happy to have a big undefined section that says "Whatever comes up" and puts money into it, then you're good to go. But if money matters, then scope matters.


Q: How do you deal with projects that have such complexity?

A: A: By "such complexity" I will take the example of the always popular Network Migration. We handle major project like this by dividing and conquering. How does an ant eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Everyone does network migrations, even if they don't do much planning. The way to get started with organizing a large project is to walk through it in your mind and pencil out what you'd do. You have to either move or re-create computer accounts. You have to migrate the domain control (FSMO roles). You have to move DHCP. Etc.

List everything that needs to be done. If you already have checklists or stored Autotask templates for processes, then you can start by collecting these. After all, a big project is just a big collection of smaller checklists.

In our Zero Downtime Migration process, for example, we only use seven stages. And two of them are client training (before and after). The rest are big, manageable chunks. Move the data. Migrate the desktops.

In the end, we have a 130 page checklist. Yes, it's rigorous. But it's not difficult. While higher skills and higher knowledge will make things go faster, there are no processes in a network migration that require higher-level consulting. On really complicated migrations, you'll need some higher-level engineering. But execution of the plan is just a matter of taking it slowly and being careful. Remember: Slow Down, Get More Done.

We believe the "Network Migration Workbook" Will be available in June.


Q: Great for non-innovative projects that include well-defined tasks, but terrible for projects that involve innovations.

A: I'm not sure what this means. One can't really argue that lack of planning, lack of preparation, and lack of execution makes for a better project. Think about the most innovative people and companies in the world: They're rigorous about development processes.

Take, for example, Intel or Google. As big as they are, do you think they let engineers waste massive company resources repeating the same failed innovations again and again? No. They document everything they do. They innovate in a systematic way to maximize success.

I don't mean to downplay the role of inspiration or creative thinking. But I've sold millions of dollars worth of innovative projects that were successful because they were properly managed. I can't count on luck every day. I CAN count on good, repeatable processes every day.

Remember, this presentation began with a nod to Michael Gerber's book The E-myth Revisited. Innovations that are applied in a systematic and repeatable way become the largest and most successful franchises in the world.


Q: But what if they are things that came up as a result of project work?

A: Let me give two answers.

Answer One. If things come up "within" the project, they are recorded. Service requests are created. It is extremely important that you do this so nothing gets lost, dropped, or forgotten. There are only three things that can happen to these items.

1) They are made irrelevant by the success of the project. For example, if someone can't get to the internet and the project is to upgrade the firewall, that issue may be resolved.

2) The request may be so small that it is simply included in the project. For example, you're doing a company-wide upgrade to Office 2007 and someone asks how to create a signature in Outlook. You create the service request. If you get a whole bunch of these, you'll do a training and perform the work outside the project. If you only get one, you'll spend the 15 minutes and roll it into the project.

3) The most common disposition of a new request is that it is outside the scope of the project. A separate service request (service ticket) is created so labor can be billed against it. This keeps the scope intact and keeps the project profitable. When possible, you'll want to push this labor to after the project, but you don't necessarily have to do that. If you perform this work "during" the project, you simply stop billing time against the project and bill time against the new SR.

In all cases, the work inside the scope stays inside the project and the work outside the scope stays outside the project.
Answer Two. If things come up as a result of the project, they are almost always performed after the project is complete. For example, in a desktop cleanup sweep (project) you discover that the company-wide hobby appears to be running small businesses from company computers (real estate, ebay sales, bridle planning, etc.). You contact the owner and recommend tighter controls around web and email.

What you've done is to define a new project.

It is not okay to interrupt the current project to address the new project. Finish what you're doing. Have success in the job at hand. THEN move to the new project.

Remember, you're two most profitable phrases are "That's inside the scope of the project" and "That's outside the scope of the project." Of those, the second is the most profitable.


Q: Can you touch on project issues vs tickets (outside of scope)?

A: I think we've covered the "outside the scope" stuff pretty thoroughly.

But the reality is that some things come up that are inside the scope. "New" stuff that's inside the scope only happens if your discovery process is wrong or incomplete. It could be either of these because you did not have a good process, because the client did not cooperate, or because someone gave you wrong or incomplete information.

Stuff happens.

Perhaps the most common example of increased labor inside the scope comes from a quote that says something like "Move all data to the server, organize, and remove from desktops." Without proper discovery, you didn't know that each person in the marketing department has a 250GB USB drive filled with "critical" company graphics and videos. Now, no matter how long it takes, you've including moving and organizing that as part of your project.

Stuff happens to you. :-)

Another example would be a company-wide Word template that must be installed on all new machines in order to enforce standardized fonts and formats. You didn't know about it because you have installed a new machine at this company and the template is rock solid and never causes issues. The client forgot about it and you didn't discover it. Result: 10 minutes of labor per user unless you can configure via Zenith script or group policy.

You can never have perfect discovery. But you can have extremely good discovery. Our Zero Downtime Migration process includes more than ten pages of "pre discovery." That's the process of making sure you've listed all the stuff you need to go discover! If the whole project is four hours, then a massive discovery is pointless. But if the project is fifty hours, or involves mission critical systems, then the more discovery the better.

One final thought on this topic: Sometimes you do on the job training. I know that's sacrilegious. But let's say you've never moved AllScripts to a new server. How do you do it? Well, you start by making sure the client has support. You call the support line. You get educated. You create a process. But until you experience it, you don't know for a fact how long it will take or what the factors are in making it go faster or slower.

Your quote needs to include a statement that you assume the project has support and that you'll have access to that support. As Erick Simpson loves to preach: you should be managing your clients' vendors.

You also need to begin all labor quotes with "Estimated labor to . . .." That way, if you need to go back to the client, hat
in hand, you can say you just didn't know it would take so long.

Some days you give away a few hours. The better your discovery and documentation, the fewer hours you give away.


Q: How do you estimate time on aspects of a project? For instance, the first time you configure an Exchange 2007 server, each step will take longer than if it's your 10th time.

A: Len D. made an excellent point in the webinar: If you can practice the key process on your own systems with NFR software, that will give you both an education and experience. One of the key points I make in the "Perfect Profitable Projects" audio program (Karl W. Palachuk and Matt Makowicz. See http://smbbooks.com/categories/audiocds.htm) is that project estimates go through a cycle of accuracy. New products and new-to-you projects have no real baseline. Accurate estimates only come with experience.

If you have an analogous experience (e.g., you've configured an Exchange 2003 server), you can start with that. But you need to add a safety measure. You don't know about database conversion speeds and you won't be familiar with the new tool Microsoft recommends for the job. Checking out the relevant vendor blogs can be very helpful. They may even answer your questions. Microsoft is pretty good about this kind of thing.

Do the best you can. Add a little padding. And don't forget the human side of things: Talk to the client. Over Freakin' Communicate. Tell them that this is just an estimate. You might come across database issues. You may need to revert to older tools. Etc. Your clients are rational business people who know that neither you nor the software vendor are perfect.


Q: Are there binder type templates available in Autotask?

A: Project templates can be created and shared between users. Right now there are no binder type templates built in to Autotask. We are exploring how we can integrate templates so that you can enter data into Autotask projects and print out pages that very much like those in the "Super-Good Project Planner for Technical Consultants" (See http://smbbooks.com/categories/electronicdownloads.htm).


Q: You spoke about opening Tickets for outside-of-scope events. This moves hours and work tracking off the project. What suggestion would you give if you needed to keep the hours and work ON the project. We have started exploring the project Issues feature

A: If you want to create new tickets inside the project, you are, by definition, changing the scope of the project. This requires two things. First, you need a quote and approval for more money. Adding labor to the project adds costs. Period.

Second, you need to be very clear with the client about the revised scope. Don't let the job devolve into a project with no boundaries. Without limits, it will never be finished and the client will never be happy.


Q: What is the code for the MSP in a month book?

A: Managed Services in a Month. As announced in the webinar / slide deck. Please see webinar.


Q: What is that MP3 MSP book code?

A: Managed Services in a Month. As announced in the webinar / slide deck. Please see webinar.


Q: Where to purchase Karl's Network Documentation Workbook

A: "Network Documentation Workbook" (see http://smbbooks.com/categories/electronicdownloads.htm).

- - - - -

Thank you, Autotask, for the opportunity to present.

Thank you to the 300+ people who attended. I'm sorry we didn't have another hour!

:-)



Visit www.smbbooks.com
Books - Audio CDs - SBS - and more!

Friday, May 01, 2009

SharePoint Guide Special Offer

If you haven't checked out The Windows SharePoint Operations Guide, now is absolutely the right time.

My good friend Robert Crane from Australia has an awesome offering that we've had up at SMB Books for some time.

Well, now, as part of his First Anniversary Celebration, he's offering a huge discount -- ONLY during the month of May.

Check out The Windows SharePoint Operations Guide at SMB Books or at Robert's site, http://www.wssops.com.

Here are two offers:

1) You can get Chapter Two of The Windows SharePoint Operations Guide for FREE when you register with Robert. Send an email to director@ciaops.com and say "Hey, dude, can I have a free chapter?"

2) Along with your free chapter, you will receive a discount code that allows you to purchase the guide during May for only $249.

That's $50 off the regular price!

This is a once in a lifetime offer for the SharePoint Guide and will never be repeated again. It is only being offered as part of the first birthday celebration.

This offer is only available only to those who register and is only available only for the month of May 2009.


A Few Details:

This is a One Year subscription and includes all updates.

Now Over 1,000 Pages

If you are looking for information about Windows SharePoint Services V3.0 then look no further. We have developed a guide that help you install, migrate and maintain Windows SharePoint Services (which is also the basis for Microsoft SharePoint Server i.e. MOSS). The guide will get you up and running quickly.

The information is available as an annual subscription. This means full access to all updates and enhancements of the documentation for the subscription period. This subscription also includes a DVD of all the relevant product files and documents updated regularly with new features and best practices.


    "I've had a chance to review his guide and found it to be an excellent resource if you are new to or even familiar with Windows SharePoint Services. It gives great overview in how to perform many of the tasks that you will need to do in a SharePoint installation, along with real world experience where it varies from the official Microsoft line. I'd suggest you check it out if you are doing work with SharePoint as it will save you time and money."
    -- Wayne Small, SBS-MVP


Also check out Robert's blog at . . . http://supportweb.ciaops.net.au/blog.

:-)

I'm Too Small for Microsoft to Care

Man, I'm tired. I was gone five days last week on a trip to HTG in Dallas.

Then I flew to Redmond for two days this week. Just crawled in the door.

I'm ready to be home for awhile. Maybe I can finish this darn book!

- - - - -

Anyway, I was thinking . . .

Have you ever found yourself saying "I'm Too Small for Microsoft to Care"? Or heard someone else say it?

Well, you should know that Microsoft does care. They care appropriately.

Let's be honest: You're not HP or Intel. You don't have a multi-billion dollar relationship with Microsoft. There are groups of people who are paid to care about and nurture those relationships.

For you there might be a TPAM who also server 87 other partners. Microsoft can't effectively track license sales and you fall into the category of partners who just don't appear on the radar. And, let's be honest, many of the people who read this blog don't have a TPAM.

So it's interesting when someone from Microsoft says, "We want to suck your brain dry and find out how you make money. We want to find out what you sell, how you sell it, who your clients are, and anything else you want to tell us."

As we filtered into a room, end-user customers filtered out. I don't know if the snacks were intended for us or leftover from them. Do customers and consultants eat the same food?

Anyway, it was very clear that Microsoft was listening.


Microsoft is NOT Like Hollywood (for us anyway).

If you think about software development like a movie, you can see all the elements of production. Design, building sets/scenes, packaging, etc.

But in a movie, there are formulas for success. The most popular formula was created by Sharespeare and still works today. You take a story, change the ending to a Hollywood ending, add one or two comic relief characters, throw in a side story with a little background. Poof. Major hit.

And maybe developing games is like that. Except you have to add spectacular graphics.

But business software is not. With business software, there is a constant striving for new ideas. Some kick ass (SharePoint). Some are slow to be accepted (Vista). Some have people scratching their head and saying "What the hell was that?" (Groove).

In addition to the creativity needed to develop and product the software, there's a huge amount of creativity in finding niches and hidden pockets of opportunity.

Does this process always give you the software you and your customers need the most? No.

But rest assured: They're working on it.

Does Microsoft care about you personally? Sorry. No. But to the extent that you fit into a niche or two, they're working very hard to give you what you want. And to the extent that your clients fit into a niche, they're working very hard to give them what they want.



:-)



Visit www.smbbooks.com
Books - Audio CDs - SBS - and more!