Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Few Hours Left to Save on Autotask Live and SBS Migration Conferences

There are plenty of events in the SMB space this spring, and I give all the details in my weekly SMB Email, which you can sign up for at the Great Little Book web site.

But I want to make special note of two events whose prices go up tomorrow:

Two big conferences end early registration tonight. Save yourself a bunch of money and break out the credit card now.

I'll be attending both of these and hope to see you there. After all, I want to share a vendor-sponsored beer!


1. Autotask Community Live

MAN we had a blast in Nash-Vegas last year. Tons of content. Great atmosphere. Very educational.

And before the price goes up, I got my registration for Autotask Live at only $295. You can too!
The big live event is April 18-20 in Miami, FL.
Visit Autotask Community Live for registration details.

Plan on the big Pre-Day festivities. April 17th all day. You'll need to come a day early. We're right on the ocean and there are all kinds of hotels just a few blocks away, but AT has made arrangements to get the excellent conference rate a day or two early. So plan to arrive a day early and do the pre-day events.


2. Jeff Middleton's SMB IT Pro Conference in New Orleans

The SMB IT Pro conferences, sponsored by SBSMigration.com, is being held May 28-30 in New Orleans. We're at a great hotel literally on the edge of the French Quarter. If you were at the first SMB IT Pro conference in NOLA, this is the same hotel. Jeff Middleton always does a great job and this will be another wonderful gathering of international talent in the SMB Space.

The price goes up $100 tomorrow and is only $295 today.
Visit SBSMigration.com for all the details.

I bought two paid tickets to this event and will be bringing at least one hanger-on. I'm leaving May 31st (Memorial Day). I look forward to seeing you there.

- - - - -

Whether the economy "is" recovering or "will" recover, you can certainly afford to invest a little something in your career. These conferences are a great opportunity to come up to speed with what others are doing in your profession, how they solve problems, and how they make money.

I've never attended a gather of I.T. professionals that wasn't a great, educational experience.

See you there!


:-)



Join Karl for a Zero Downtime Migration Seminar

New Orleans, March 17th

Miami, FL, April 17th

Friday, January 29, 2010

Use Tiny URLs Strategically

I'm sure you're familiar with Tiny URLs. You go to http://tinyurl.com, enter any web address, and it returns a very short redirect URL that brings up your much longer location. For example: http://tinyurl.com/yf7t292.

One of the coolest features is one that I rarely see used. Instead of the random location (/yf7t292) you can request a specific address. If it's available, it's yours permanently.

Obviously, this is very handy for URLs that you use multiple times when posting to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. Tiny URLs are also great on PowerPoint slides -- especially if they're customized.

For example, here are some custom Tiny URLs I have registered:

http://tinyurl.com/cloudsr
This goes to the Cloud Services Roundtable free public broadcasts page.

http://tinyurl.com/sactech
This is a client-facing meetup.com site for KPEnterprises.

http://tinyurl.com/sacspeak
A shortcut to the Sacramento Speakers Network, a group of successful speakers who meet every month.

http://tinyurl.com/kpe2010
Points to KPEenterprises.com (Sacramento's premier Microsoft certified Small Business Specialist), the consulting business I run.

http://tinyurl.com/smbemail
Points to the email sign-up page for Great Little Book / SMBBooks.com. When I encourage people to sign up for my weekly consulting email, this is the URL I use.

http://tinyurl.com/smbquiz
I did a Twitter-based contest in December and created this URL for that. Note that this one is very reusable. Because the URL says quiz and the landing page actually says quiz, I can reuse this for any quiz I happen to put up.

http://tinyurl.com/cdsample
Points to a specific blog post about ordering a free copy of the SMB Books sampler CD.

http://tinyurl.com/sacsmb
Points to our user group, the Sacramento SMB IT Professionals.

http://tinyurl.com/smbnew
Points to the "What's New" page at SMBBooks.com.

- - - - -
Blog Fodder

Whether it's for the SMB consulting community or your end-user client audience, I hope you have a folder somewhere with Blog Fodder. That's what I call all the clippings and notes and stuff that I might some day blog about.

I keep a small file there called !Tiny URLs.txt. It lists all the reusable Tiny URLs I've created over the years. It starts with ! so it's at the top of the file listing and makes it very easy for me to copy and paste these URLs into Twitter, etc.

As you can see, it's pretty easy to create your customized Tiny URLs. I've been very pleased with how many are available. Apparently, not many people use this feature or my life would be a lot more difficult.

Try it.

:-)



Now Available:
Win a free pass to the SMB VOIP Conference
Las Vegas March 1-3
Compliments of SMB Books.
Free to enter. Join me in Vegas, Baby!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Let Me Buy You a Ticket to the VOIP Conference in Vegas

I struck a deal with HarryB and the good folks at SMB Nation. I bought one of the early registration tickets for the first-ever SMB VOIP show in Vegas March 1-3.

And I want YOU to win it!

Win a FREE ticket to the SMB VOIP Conference in Las Vegas
SMBVoIP2010

SMB VOIP Baby!

The contest is super simple. Go to SMB Books and fill out the form. From among all the entries, we'll pick three winners and announce them in the weekly SMB Email on February 15th.
  • First Prize: Admission to SMB VOIP Conference - A $595 value! (early registration $495)
  • Second Prize: $50 Coupon at SMB Books
  • Third Prize $25 Coupon at SMB Books
The rules are very simple: Please only enter once. Open to all residence of the known universe. No purchase necessary. Contest ends at 11:59 PM on Saturday February 13th (Pacific time). Prize does not include hotel or airfare. No substitutions please. Must be human to win.

What have you got to lose?

Find out more about the SMB VOIP conference at Telephonation.com

Good Luck!

:-)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Donate to Haiti Earthquake Relief and Get a Bootcamp Seat from Robin Robins

Even if you ignore the news, I'm sure you're aware of the recent earthquake in Haiti that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, devastated the island, destroyed virtually every building, and left over a million people homeless.

You can't go there even if you want to. The Red Cross and other disaster relief agencies and encouraging donations rather than adding more people to the island.

Now you can contribute to Haitian relief and get something valuable for your company in the process. Robin Robins (of Technology Marketing Toolkit fame) is holding an amazing boot camp April 14-17 in Nashville. And she's making a special offer to encourage donations to Haitian earthquake relief.

If you make a donation, Robin will give you a free seat to the boot camp. Just the food, handouts, and materials are worth several hundred dollars, so

1) This has real value

2) You should give as generously as you can to the Red Cross or your charity of choice

For more info and the official announcement, see Robin's Site: How To Get A Free Guest Ticket To My Boot Camp While Helping Out a Great Cause

:-)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Channel Partners Conference & Expo Partners With SMB Nation

Press Release from Channel Partners and SMB Nation

Meet me in Vegas Baby! March 1-3:

- - - - -

Publishers Colocate Solutions Provider Events in Vegas, March 1-3

PHOENIX – January 22, 2010 – Virgo Publishing LLC, a business-to-business information services company, and SMB Nation, a small and medium business technology partner community portal, are pleased to announce a partnership to colocate their respective events for voice and data communications solutions providers. Under the agreement, the Spring 2010 Channel Partners Conference & Expo and SMB Nation’s 2010 VoIP Workshop will be held concurrently March 1-3 at the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas.

The events will conduct separate conferences with a joint exhibit hall, featuring suppliers of voice and data communications products and services and attracting more than 3,000 attendees. As a bonus, full conference attendees will be able to participate in the education programming for both events at no additional charge.

“Colocating these two events is simply an outgrowth of the cross-pollination that already has begun in the marketplace,” said Mike Saxby, group publisher for PHONE+ magazine, host of the Channel Partners Conference & Expo. “The Channel Partners Conference & Expo has a long history of serving agents and VARs selling voice communications products and services while SMB Nation is a must-attend for computer resellers and data VARs. Changes in technology, such as cloud computing, managed services and VoIP, are bringing these channels together on a more frequent basis, making a joint event a natural.”

“Literally every conversation in our community right now concerns integrating voice services into data networks. It seems like the ‘much talked about’ convergence of voice and data is finally occurring with the robust economic recovery underway and small business increasing its technology spends,” said Harry Brelsford, CEO for SMB Nation. “The opportunity to team with the Channel Partners Conference & Expo really allows us to elevate the voice and data conversation into immediate actionable outcomes. We really appreciate the support of Avaya, Cisco, Microsoft and others in helping us build out our impactful SMB VoIP workshop.”

About Virgo Publishing
Virgo Publishing is a dynamic information services company specializing in communications through print and electronic media, trade shows and special events, education and training, and value-added business services. In general, each print magazine serves as a platform to create communities through the integration of publishing, events and the Web. For information, visit www.vpico.com.

About Channel Partners Conference & Expo
The Channel Partners Conference & Expo (www.channelpartnersconference.com) is the communications industry’s only event exclusively for indirect sales organizations – agents, VARs, systems integrators, interconnects and consultants – focused on transforming their businesses to become converged solutions providers. Produced by PHONE+ magazine (www.phoneplusmag.com), the event is produced twice annually in the spring and fall and features future-proofing advice from thought-leading speakers and how-to courses on best practices, technology and strategy. Topics range from hot technologies and new opportunities to partnering, diversification, sales tips and skills building.

About SMB Nation
SMB Nation (www.smbnation.com) is a publishing and events company, targeted at the small and medium business technology consultant and reseller community. SMB Nation spreads the knowledge of SMB technology trends through its books, magazine, online services, conferences and worldwide seminars and workshops. As an active participant in the technology community, SMB Nation has a long history of advocacy and evangelism.

The company was founded in 1999 as Matthew\Brelsford Associates and became SMB Nation in early 2003, to promote the books and consulting services of Harry Brelsford, the author of a successful series of SMB technology books.

Today, SMB Nation conferences, seminars and workshops bring forward-thinking IT consultants, technologies and vendors together, sparking new opportunities in the SMB space. Being THE information source for SMB technologists and Small Business Specialists worldwide, SMB Nation delivers complete business solutions to help them better manage their business, technological and marketing needs. Whether it’s delivered in print, online, or in person, everything SMB Nation produces reflects our unshakeable belief in the power of information to spur a profitable global community.

Contacts:
Mike Saxby
Channel Partners Conference & Expo
msaxby@vpico.com
+1 480 990 1101

Harry Brelsford
SMB Nation
harryb@smbnation.com
+1 206 915 3072

:-)

Hiring Report: New Technician, New Sales Guy

I've written many articles about how much I hate the hiring process. Well we just did some serious hiring. In November we went through the new hiring process I outlined here in November. Basically, the process consists of these instructions:

1) Do not send a resume

2) Send a few paragraphs about why you're passionate about this industry

3) Send a link to your Microsoft transcript

This turned out to be a great pre-screening tool and we hired an excellent technician.

Then in November and December we went through the frustrating experience of Hiring a Sales Person. That was more of a standard hiring process, although I was rigorous about multiple interviews and figuring out the math and logistics of actually paying someone without going broke.

Thanks to Josh Peterson of Taylor Business Group and Erick and Rafael from MSPU for their input on all this.

Anyway, it has not been a full month since we hired the sales guy so I thought I'd give an update on the year so far.

In many ways the Christmas season is the best time to hire a sales person. The first month is a lost cause for sales and all the focus is on training. As a result, you might as well get all that done when there won't be much sales activity anyway.

Today I am happy to report that the new tech, Mike, has performed spectacularly well and is about half way through his 90 day probation period. He's studying for exams and emerging as a leader in the tech bullpen. He is exactly what we were looking for with our revised process. He is passionate about the industry and customer service.

As for sales, Jerry's the new sales guy. He is super full of energy, very good at what he does, and a quick learner. He has made some small sales and is poised to make a big one this week. He is also a good strategist and has a very quick mind.

In fact, both Mike and Jerry have similar personality profiles to mine. The result is that the three of us can move at very high speeds, picking up where the others leave off, totally focusing on one job and still able to switch gears as needed.

I expect we will reach warp 1 in another month or so. It's a great environment for me.

Bottom Line

So the bottom line is that the slow and sometimes painful hiring process has produced a couple of real gems for us. We're continuing to build a great team. Next we need to focus on delivery and execution. Sometimes the hardest part of management is to maintain good processes and culture as the company grows.

We will probably hire another technician soon. I can't have Jerry signing new contracts and no one tuned up to deliver the service.

So far 2010 is headed in the right direction.

:-)



Now Shipping:
The Network Migration Workbook:
Zero Downtime Migration Strategies for Microsoft Networks

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Who moved Stuart Crawford's cheese?

Just in case you've been wondering what's up with Stuart Crawford . . .

Think Social Media.

A few years ago I read a great book called "Who Moved My Cheese"? In this short and powerful read about the importance of consistently keeping an eye out for the changes and how we as technology professionals can remain one step ahead of the curve and also offer the solutions our clients are looking for.

Stuart Crawford has played an important role in the IT channel over the past few years. Stuart first got into technology as a member of Canadian military and over time he became one of the thought leaders in our MSP community. Over the past few years Stuart started to develop a keen interest in Social Media Consulting, regularly blogging about how MSP's can leverage all the social media tools available to expand their circles of influence.

Stuart has decided to jump in with both feet into helping small business and also our technology community understand the importance of social media and also how to become a master social networker. Ulistic is a full service Internet Consulting firm located in Calgary, Alberta, Canada offering social media consulting, search engine optimization, web services, hosted application support and YouTube video production.

Stuart is a proven leader when it comes to marketing online. I would highly recommend that you give him a call and allow him to figure out how he can help you with your blogs, being found online, how to use Twitter and anything around marketing your business. Stuart can help you out without any strings attached. Give him a shout at 403.775.2205.

Ulistic will be offering a partner program for MSPs and IT Professionals. Their partner program will extend the entire Ulistic product suite so your business can offer additional services which in all fairness your clients are looking for.

More details at Ulistic and Stuart's New Blog, http://ulistic-opinion.com/.

:-)



Now Available:
Introduction to Zero Downtime Migrations
Seminar on MP3 Download

Harry Brelsford on The Year Ahead in the Cloud

Where is our industry going? Join a discussion about the emerging cloud services industry with someone who's been guiding the SMB Community for more than a decade.

Please join me and Harry Brelsford today at 9:00 AM Pacific / 12:00 Noon Eastern for the live Cloud Services Roundtable conference call. For more information and registration, visit www.cloudservicesroundtable.com.

We'll cover some of the news in the SMB Cloud space and look to the profitable future for small business consultants and their clients.

The live broadcast is free.

Mark your calendar!


:-)



It's Coming . . .
The Best NOC and Service Desk Operations Book Ever!

by Erick Simpson

Ships very very very soon!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Zenith Infotech Announces Launch of Zenith University

Zenith Infotech partners - and prospective partners - take note. Just received this missive:

    Zenith Infotech is pleased to announce the launch of Zenith University – an online Learning Management System (LMS) designed to provide 24/7 interactive training on all Zenith products. Zenith partners and their staff can launch web-based training simulations as well as take certification exams to confirm their product understanding. Zenith University provides three types of content:
    1. Basic content which is open to all Zenith Partners beginning with the evaluation period,
    2. Managed Services Infrastructure (MSI) content which is unlocked with the LearnMSI enrollment key, and
    3. Business Continuity (BDR and ARCA) content which is unlocked by enrolling in the new Zenith Certified Partner Reseller (CPR) program (contact Zenith to enroll).
    To begin, navigate to http://www.zenithu.com/. Click the Create new account button in the lower right to create your account and verify your status as a Zenith partner. Once logged in to the system, browse the list of over 35 courses and enroll in any of the available trainings. Contact your Account Management Team for more information about this new learning resource from Zenith Infotech.

Sounds great. Can't wait to see how it takes our product knowledge to the next level.

:-)



Join Karl for a Zero Downtime Migration Seminar

New Orleans, March 17th

Biscayne Bay, FL, April 17th

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Join Me In Vegas March 1-3 for SMB VOIP Conference

Well . . . Harry did it again.

Don't miss the first SMB VOIP event that is focused on allowing you to own the entire SMB stack at your customer sites: Voice and Data.

As we move to cloud-based services, one of the services your clients will need right away is Voice Over IP. Either you sell it to them or someone else will!

This event is primarily two days (March 2-3), but there's registration and reception on March 1st. So plan to come that day and hang out with a whole new crowd of VOIPers and SMB consultants. Who knows? You might even have a chance to buy me a vendor beer!

As Harry says, "If you missed the first SMB Nation in Indianapolis in 2003, this is your chance to 'make good' and attend the first SMB VOIP event and ride the VOIP wave in SMB! Don't miss out!"

http://www.telephonation.com/smbvoip/


Workshop Overview

Attend this inaugural event and experience the opportunity to delve deeply into the SMB VOIP space in this two-day intensive conference. This workshop is designed specifically for two communities:
  1. SMB data network consultants/resellers/VARs/channel partners who started with network infrastructure services (e.g. Small Business Server and other solutions) and want to ADD VOIP solutions and consulting services to their customer offerings.
  2. Telecom interconnects and agents who want to master the SMB opportunity and implement best practices such as becoming a Managed Services Provider (MSP).

The agenda has been carefully crafted by SMB and Telephony VOIP masters! The content addresses specific real-world actionable go-to-market SMB business and technical advice required by all channel partners seeking to immediately ride the VOIP Wave!

Long anticipated, the convergence between data networks and voice networks is finally occurring in the SMB space. This workshop is well-timed to spur, cultivate, enhance and motivate the new SMB VOIP community. This is your chance to BE THERE from the START!

SMB VOIP is launching inside of the well-established Channel Partners show to bring together the best of both worlds. Telecom interconnects and agents have the chance to welcome SMB technology consultants. And vice-versa. The hidden jewel of this workshop is the “Hallway 101” phenomena where delegates talk to each other and share experiences in the SMB VOIP community.

Telephonation Vegas


I'll be walking the halls -- and presenting! Meet me in Vegas, Baby!

:-)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Big Sale: Party Like It's $19.99 off!

Holy Smokes Batman! Here's a sale for you. You enter the code PARTY1999 once and receive $19.99 off each of these special items you order. Add multiple items to your card and watch the savings grow!

Party Like It's

$19.99

Off !

A Bunch of Great Offers from SMB Books

Our Newest Books

Our Greatest Books

All Rolled Into One Sale!

 

Just enter the code

PARTY1999

and you will receive

$19.99 off EACH ITEM you order.

(All Deals Expire January 31st, 2010.

Place as many orders as you wish. Books make great Valentine's Day gifts!)



 

 

Great Books

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Network Migration WorkbookThe Network Migration Workbook

by Karl W. Palachuk

and Manuel L. Palachuk

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Best NOC and Service Desk Operations BOOK EVER!The Best NOC and Service Desk Operations BOOK EVER!

by Erick Simpson

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Audio Seminar - An Introduction to Zero Downtime MigrationsAudio Seminar - An Introduction to Zero Downtime Migrations

by Karl W. Palachuk

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Network Documentation e-WorkbookThe Network Documentation e-Workbook

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Best I.T. Service Delivery Book EverThe Best I.T. Service Delivery Book Ever

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Service Agreements for SMB ConsultantsService Agreements for SMB Consultants

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Get On The Rocket or Get Out of The Way, I'm Lighting the Match

Okay, folks, we're just about done with the second week of the year. You made it through the holidays. You went back to the gym. You've completed the beginning-of-the-year chit chat.

Now it's time to put on your steel-toed butt-kicking shoes and get this year GOING!

I promised myself I'd lay low and not do any travel until March 1st. My first big project of the year was to finish my part of the big Zenith Video. Done. Their planes took off yesterday and away they went.

So now I look up from my desk and see . . . The future is here!

I'm already hearing so much buzz about events in 2010 that my ears hurt. For the first part of the year I have the following events on my personal calendar so far:

Cloud Services Roundtable
Harry Brelsford's
2010 State of The Nation Address for SMB
January 20th
9:00 AM PST
Register now for this FREE special event to kick off an amazing New Year
Free Registration -- See https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/515405360


SMB Nation VOIP Conference
Mar 1-3, 2010
Las Vegas, NV
I'll be there - and I'll be speaking. Join me in Vegas, Baby!
Find Out More http://www.smbnation.com


Seminar with Karl Palachuk
Introduction to Zero Downtime Migrations
March 17, 2010
New Orleans, LA
Mark Your Calendar - More Info Soon
Only $49


Early April: Join Karl in the UK!
Details to follow.
Free if you spell color with a U.


Seminar with Karl Palachuk
Zero Downtime Migration Deep Dive
April 17th
9:00 AM - 4:00 PM
Biscayne Bay, FL
Pre-Day Event for the Autotask Community Life Conference
- Details Soon


Autotask Community Live
April 18-20, 2010
Intercontinental Hotel
Biscayne Bay, FL
I'll be there - Attendee and Speaker. Woo Hoo!
Find Out More https://community.autotask.com/forums/p/8249/23663.aspx#23663


SBS Migration Conference
Tentative: May 28-30, 2010
New Orleans, LA
I don't know what role I'll play here - But it doesn't matter. This is the best party of the year in the SMB Space. I'm already registered and guaranteed to have a great time.
Registration is Open! http://www.conference.sbsmigration.com/

- - - - -

Waiting for a point to all of this? Here it is. The future is now. Get on board. Attend at least one of these events. The networking is amazing. The content changes all the time. Even if you think the topics are the same as last year, the actual content is totally different.

You cannot attend these events without learning a great deal.

If it were up to me, our profession would be like accountants or others who have to go through a certain number of educational events each year. If this is your business and not just a hobby, please join me at one of the great events this year.

P.S. There are many other great events. For the most complete list I know, check out my weekly email. SMB Books.com.


:-)



Now Shipping:
The Network Migration Workbook:
Zero Downtime Migration Strategies for Microsoft Networks

Filming a Zenith Partner Profile

KPEnterprises was honored this week with a couple of special guests. Jim Milliron from Zenith Infotech and Lynette Bohanan from CommCentric Solutions dropped by to follow us around and see how things tick at KPEnterprises.

The project is roughly described as "A Day in The Life of Karl Palachuk." But you know what they say about science experiments: When you observe something, the fact that you're observing it has an effect on what you observe.

You might think that having a film crew setting up lights and rearranging your bookshelves (tilting every book so it's straight to the camera) would be disruptive. In fact, it was quite the opposite. As each staff member took turns being interviewed it added a little excitement (and some trepidation) to their day. There was a great energy in the office, and a bit of fun.

I only heard bits and pieces of some interviews, but it's very odd to have people talking about you while you're standing right there. It is humbling to hear people talk about how they perceive you. I did get the sense that my staff enjoys our environment. At a minimum I don't think there's a mutiny brewing.

At times it felt like a eulogy. I'm reminded of Monty Python. "I'm not dead yet!"

It's also nice to hear clients and business partners talk about how they rely on us. One of my clients knows way more about me than I thought he did. Of course we've been doing business for nine years and there may have been more than one lunch in that time. But it's interesting to hear someone tell another person about you.

Zenith TV

In case you haven't seen the great stuff being produced by Zenith Infotech, check out http://www.msptv.net.

This will be the third "A Day in The Life" video. We were asked to do it earlier, but the production would have required us to be coordinating during my busiest time of year, so we put it off.

Expected release date: February 17th. Bookmark that site.

Previous videos include
- A Day in the Life of: Arlin Sorenson
and
- A Day In The Life of Mike Cooch

Notice that this page has all kinds of additional information on

- Business Continuity videos

- Channel Pro Success Stories (in conjunction with Channel Pro Magazine

- Xpert Cast videos

- Industry Perspective videos

- Business Solutions Lunch and Learn Webinars

- Partner Perspective videos (I think I've got one in there somewhere)

- Partner Testimonial videos

- Podcasts

- Special Events

And More!


Vendors Training Consultants

As you browse through everything at http://www.msptv.net you'll be stunned by how much high-quality video is produced by Zenith Infotech. I visited their studio awhile back and was impressed. I learned from Jim yesterday that they've expanded it since then.

Why would a vendor spend so much time, effort, and money producing materials for partners? A lot of this stuff is simply "best practices" information.

The answer is pretty simple: Train your partners to be better business people and they'll be more successful. One measure of that success is that you'll sell more product! Duh.

Of course MOST vendors don't put out this much effort.

I think the first time I saw a vendor put out massive effort to train partners and raise the professionalism of the entire industry was with Microsoft and Intel. In different ways they spent huge amounts of time and money to provide materials that helped their partners be successful. And they still do, of course.

The first time I noticed this in the SMB / MSP space it was with ConnectWise and Autotask. While I've never talked to Arnie or Bob about this directly, it's clear that their philosophy for getting their product adopted in small consulting companies had to involve education. Why would someone pay bunches of money to buy tools that help you run your business unless they understood the big picture?

And the big picture for a professional consulting company is very different than it is for a sole entrepreneur who's just trying to get a client or two.

The problem with this emphasis on education is that it can become overwhelming. Look at that list of audio and video trainings from Zenith. It grows every day. Then add all the trainings from Microsoft, Intel, HP, ConnectWise, Autotask, Belkin, Cisco, SonicWall, Xerox, and a hundred other vendors. I'll bet more than 24 hours worth of GOOD information is pumped into our community every day!

I am grateful to Zenith for this opportunity to spotlight our little company. We're certainly not the largest partner they have.

I'm also grateful to Zenith for all the other great information they put out on a regular basis. It is very impressive and represents a real commitment to educating the partners.

Stay tuned here and we'll let you know when the video goes live.

:-)



Now Available:
Introduction to Zero Downtime Migrations
Seminar on MP3 Download

Friday, January 08, 2010

Karl's Full Disclosure: Complicated Relationships (part 2)

Last Time I discussed a bit about how this blog operates. Like most blogs, it operates however the author feels at any given moment. This blog is not and could not be a big master scheme to get a bunch of referral fees. In addition to being really boring, it would be very hard work.

There are blogs that exist to make money. In fact, some of my favorite blogs. But there's a real easy way to make money: Sell advertising. But if you sell advertising on your blog, you better have a darn good blog because it's going to be your full time job. I already have a job.

Context:
If you haven't followed earlier posts on this subject, see
- FTC Guidelines Part One: Good Intentions Don't Make Good Laws
- FTC Guidelines Part Two: Everyone's a Criminal
- Karl's Full Disclosure: Endorsements (part 1)
- Smart-mouth comments at the end of this post: Goodbye and Good Riddance to 2009


Anyway, This is the continuation of my full disclosure about money and relationships and kickbacks and referral schemes and all the stuff the FTC thinks they have the power to regulate.

GLB, KPE, and Complicated Relationships

My life and my business are very complicated. This is because I own more than one business and I try to be active in two worlds at the same time.

First, I own and run KPEnterprises Business Consulting, Inc., the best computer consultants in Sacramento. KPE brings in clients and money. In addition, it gives me experiences that allow me to write books. Please buy as many as you can afford at SMBBooks.com.

Second, I own Great Little Book Publishing Co., Inc., which was founded to publish and promote my books (see GreatLittleBook.com. GLB, as we lovingly call it, runs the SMB Books web site and online store mentioned above. The goal is to provide a wide variety of products for SMB Consultants in addition to my own books.

Here's a shocking secret you would never have guessed if the FTC did not make me tell you this: One reason I sell other authors' books is so I can sell more of my own. I know that's crushing news and many of you will be disheartened to learn that. I'm sorry.

Third, I own a brand that is not technically a separate company but operates out of GLB. It is called Relax Focus Succeed&reg, and has a web site at relaxfocussucceed.com. We call this company RFS.

KPEnterprises has been able to generate some speaking engagements for RFS and GLB. RFS and GLB feed each other to some degree.

In addition to a monthly newsletter and lots of promotional activities for KPE directly, I also produce a number of products under various brands. This blog is run by GLB and promotes the weekly SMB Email I produce. (Sign up at SMBBooks.com or GreatLittleBook.com.)

GLB produces events such as seminars that last from 60 minutes to eight hours. (To book an appearance, please visit The Great Little Book Speaking Page. The page doesn't actually speak.) Of course these events get people on my mailing list. The mailing list gets the SMB Email, plus the occasional advertisement and sometimes a list of great resources to check out in the SMB Space.

GLB events also include conference calls, podcasts, and webinars. Our latest conference call series has just launched on the topic of Cloud Services. You can sign up for the next conference call (January 20th at 9:00 AM Pacific) at CloudServicesRoundtable.com. Harry Brelsford will join us for his State of the Nation address and a look at what's up with Cloud Services in the SMB Space in 2010.

GLB also produces a printed catalog. We have a bunch of advertisers in that catalog. Obviously the catalog promotes those people. But it also promotes GLB and SMB Books.

GLB has other products, but they are minor in nature and often quite specialized, such as promotionmonkey.com.


Meanwhile over at Relax Focus Succeed . . .

RFS has an occasional newsletter and a blog. (Sign up for the newsletter at relaxfocussucceed.com and check out the blog at rfsblog.com.

I put on RFS seminars, normally in association with some activity related to KPE or GLB.


Those are just the relationships that exist between my own companies. Now add all the SMB bloggers, vendors, promoters, visitors, and pimps mentioned in the last three posts.

Please study this diagram in great detail:



Note that "other sites" includes everyone from vendors to partners, blog readers, references on forums I don't know anything about, etc. Some of the advertisers for the catalog are also in that pile that says Other Sites.

Did you know that SMB Books has an affiliate program? Yes. You can earn money by putting a link to SMB Books on your blog or web site. You'll get a percentage of all sales made to people who click from your site to mine. Sign up at http://www.smbbooks.com/affiliates.htm. Of course you'll have to do a five-part blog series to describe our relationship and let people know that you might some day earn $10.

So far, none of our affiliates have retired on the money earned through this program.

And this diagram is quite simplified because that simple little "other sites" piece includes thousands of sites, many of which I don't know about. It includes bunches of links from Microsoft, the internal forums at ConnectWise and Autotask, lots of SBS User Groups, lots of blogs, thousands of mentions on blog posts and user forums, SMB Nation, MSPU, Vladville.com, MSPSN, all of our authors, many of our clients, etc.

This tiny diagram represents a tiny fraction of the complicated inter-relationships that exist out on the web. Think of it like a room full mouse traps with ping pong balls on them. You drop one promotional idea into that room and all the ping pong balls start flying around triggering all the mousetraps.

Now understand that this tiny diagram is like one atom in the universe of rooms filled with ping pong balls.

I never see -- and could never possibly see -- more than .0001% of all activity related to how my companies and my referral partners are perceived on the Internet.

The FTC Guidelines say that I'm responsible for the behavior of anyone who says anything positive about any of my products or services AND has ever, or might ever, receive any benefit from me.

Dear FTC: Please monitor the posts on Twitter for 60 seconds (see tweetgrid) and you might begin to understand how absolutely impossible it is to comply with your guidelines.

Note also that many forums are subscription only or limited to members. So there are days when I get a flurry of activity from some subscription forum but I can't follow the link and see what people are saying about me. I only know that people are linking from there to me. I literally have no way to know what's being said or why people are linking to my blog or SMB Books site. How can I be responsible for what's being said there?

Think of the tens of thousands of people and businesses in the SMB Nation universe. Add tens of thousands in the MSPU universe. Add tens of thousands in the Own Web Now universe. Now add every vendor in the SMB/MSP space. Now add all the consultants in the world who might pay any attention to what's being said by any of those bloggers, vendors, advertisers, etc.

I'm a tadpole trying to change the course of a cruise ship.

I appreciate that the FTC wants to do a power grab. But they have absolutely no idea what they're doing.

- - - - -

What Constitutes Typical?

In my last post I mentioned, at the end, that I don't know how typical my results are.

One of the FTC guidelines is that you have to state how typical your experience is. Of course this is intended to control the health miracle business. "Lose weight eating pork rinds." I get that.

But the FTC paints with a broad brush.

If an endorsement (see post #1 and post #2 in the series) says something like . . .
    I saved $10,000 with this program or I made $10,000 by using what I learned

The person who makes that endorsement MUST state how typical it is.

Okay, so I know my company used to pay about $12,000/year for workers comp insurance. My excellent assistant Jennifer got that down to $10,000 and then $8,000. Then I joined the ASCII insurance program and got it under $1,000.

Is that typical? I have absolutely no idea. First, I live in California and our workers comp laws are too horrible to contemplate. Second, I have no idea what's going on in the insurance industry as a whole, so I don't know if rates are going up or down or sideways. Third, I don't know how my company and my classifications are different from any other company on earth. Fourth, I have no idea how ASCII does this. And so forth.

And I don't care. I don't want to research that. I honestly, honestly do not care.

The FTC makes me responsible for stating how typical my experience stories are. But without a huge amount of research, how could I possibly know this? The FTC also makes ASCII responsible for my statements. Even if I make them in one of a million places they will never find on the Internet. Even if I make them on a site with zero traffic.

True story: The day after I posted the ASCII example here, I got a call from someone at ASCII about putting my books on their site for members only. I asked if they'd seem my blog post and the answer was no. After a few minutes the caller reviewed the posting and expressed gratitude for the promotion.

But you see how it works? They're looking to promote me by selling books and making a little money off the transaction. I'm promoting them over here and they're promoting me over there. The two are not directly tied. But clearly they both come out of a long-standing desire to promote what we believe in. You can't orchestrate that. You can't "do" that. It happens.

Another example . . .

Robin Robins

I could tell you how much I've sold in the last month, quarter, or year. And I could speculate about how much MORE I've sold because I use the Technology Marketing Toolkit. But like ASCII, there's no way for me to know what's typical. There's no universe of average performance.

I have often said that Robin Robins is more of a coach to me than a marketing guru. With programs like hers You get out of it what you put into it. If you buy the big binder and stick it on a shelf, you will typically make zero additional dollars. If you follow her advice and send out the letters as she wrote them, you'll make money. If you fiddle with the letters you may or may not make money.

You may or may not have read my little book called Managed Services In A Month. In this book I literally give you every step, every action, and every decision you need to make to do exactly what I did when our company moved to flat-fee managed service agreements.

I am amazed at how many people read that book and then come to me and thank me. Then they tell me how their managed service offering is structured and it's nothing like what I did in the book. They didn't do anything I recommended but they give me credit for helping them see what the world can look like and start moving away from their old business structure.

What is typical?

I have no idea.

John Milton wrote: "A wise man will make better use of an idle pamphlet than a fool will do of sacred Scripture."

You will act on anything that inspires you. And you will naturally point to that thing (process, person, product) and tell the world how great it is. You will not know how typical your experience is.

Will you have the same experience as I do with ASCII or Robin Robins? No. Probably not. But I have no way of knowing that. I can only know my own experience. And only I can decide how much I'm going to put into making a program work.

If you use your treadmill for drying clothes, you won't lose much weight. If you use it to run or walk every day, you will lose weight. It's not the treadmill's fault that you choose one level of commitment over another.

Perception is Reality

Happily, I have faith that the FTC Guidelines will be dramatically limited by the courts because they are too over-reaching. Among other things, they make ME responsible for YOUR actions even if there is zero interaction or agreement between us. AND they make me responsible for the perceptions of YOUR readers based on what you said (not what I said) about my products and services. And (see the earlier blog posts) I am responsible a MISinterpretation of reality by YOUR reader even if a proper interpretation is possible.

It's so evil that it's hard to wrap your mind around. Is the FTC a vast community of evil scientists in lab coats petting cats?

The FTC guidelines are well intentioned. But isn't the road to hell paved with good intentions?

I believe what I believe. I say what I believe. Your mileage may vary. I have no idea how typical I am. And I don't care to spend a minute of my life trying to find out. There are too many shiny objects ahead that are much more interesting than knowing whether my past behavior is in the middle of a bell curve.

As I mentioned in the last blog post, I'm going to just do what I do. It is certainly not my intention to harm any vendor or friend by saying something nice about them.

Forget the FTC.

How can I possibly be responsible for every activity of every person in the SMB space who mentions me AND the perceptions of every person who experiences every comment from every person in the SMB space? The short answer is: I can't. It's impossible.

So here's the good news: I don't give a sh*t what the FTC thinks or wants. Their new guidelines are STUPID and un-enforceable. About 250,000,000 Americans and about two billion people in the rest of the world are violating the FTC regulations.

It's time for a bunch of people at the FTC to read Unleashing the Idea Virus by Seth Godin. This book presents a greater understanding of the world we live in than anything coming out of the FTC today.

Of the Billion or so people using the Internet, I'll take my chances that the FTC will pay any serious attention to me and you.

Please disregard this and the previous four blog posts. Sorry.


Note regarding irony: Is that disclaimer filled with more self-promoting links than you've ever seen in one blog EVER? Wow. I'm glad the FTC gave me the opportunity. In fact, I'll give free shipping on any order, no matter how small, to anyone who enters the coupon code FTCSUCKS at www.smbbooks.com between now and January 31st, 2010.

- - - - -
FTC Disclosure Statement:
I make every attempt to honestly state what I believe and enjoy the freedom of posting whatever I feel like on this blog. This is a big complicated world and I have many interconnected personal and professional relationships. I may in some way receive money or other benefits from any of the products, services, or companies mentioned in this blog as a direct or indirect result of my actions on and off this blog. Any experience mentioned here is just my experience and I have no knowledge about whether it represents a typical experience with any products, services, or companies mentioned. Whenever it is possible to have both an honest and a misleading interpretation of my statements, please assume honesty. Thanks. - karlp

:-)



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Thursday, January 07, 2010

Karl's Full Disclosure: Endorsements (part 1)

The FTC has their understanding of words like "endorsement" and "testimonial." For purposes of this blog post, we're going to rely on the common understanding of those terms as defined in your dictionary of choice (I do not recommend but merely provide the following links: http://dictionary.reference.com, http://www3.merriam-webster.com/opendictionary).

For reference to FTC Guidelines, see Blog Post One and Blog Post Two. In truth, I started down this road after posting some smart-mouth disclosures on this post: http://blog.smallbizthoughts.com/2009/12/goodbye-and-good-riddance-to-2009.html.

One of the comments on the blog post was "I've always questioned, in my mind, if you would still be such big fans of Zenith, Robin Robbins and Autotask (over ConnectWise) if there wasn't some type of compensation that the average guy doesn't get."

First, let me make clear that I am (at best) just an average guy. The only thing special about me is my role as father to an awesome daughter.

Second, I understand that I am well-known in the SMB Community. But the bank doesn't take notoriety deposits, so I earn a living as a computer consultant and book author.

I'm not sure I've ever spelled out why I write this blog or participate in a well-known cadre of friends who pimp things on the internet. So in addition to giving you information about my financial connections to various people mentioned in my blog, this post may be enlightening with regard to my perceived place in the universe.

Fair warning: My financial interactions with all of you, all the vendors, all my clients, etc. are very complicated. So this post is about direct rewards for my activities. The next post will describe the complex world of financial interactions I deal with.


How I Operate

Thing Number One:
My modus operandi is very straight forward: I use my blog to say whatever I want. I have never signed an agreement to endorse any product or company. I have never entered into an oral agreement to endorse any product or company. I do not, in common layman's terms, endorse any product or company. I have never taken money to endorse any product or company.

If there is some other way you would like me to phrase this, let me know.

I have been offered money -- very large sums of money -- to endorse products. But I'm a scheming capitalist and I think there's more money to be made in the long run by having the freedom to say whatever I want.

I write about what I love, what I hate, and a whole buncha stuff in the middle.


Thing Number Two:
At least for the foreseeable future I am and will continue to be a Small Business consultant. I plan to attend conferences, meet people, share meals, and exchange ideas about how we all find success as SMB consultants. Therefore, I don't want to ever take a position that I'm not comfortable defending. Some things (for example, why I switched from one product to another) might be interesting gossip but are not open for public discussion.

Although it doesn't always seem like it, I tend to focus very heavily on the positive. So I'm much more likely to tell you what I like than what I don't like. True, there have been some extremely popular blog posts about what I don't like. But for the most part I spend my time telling you what works for us.

Enter my friends: a virtual blog ring of pimpologists. Whether it's Erick, Vlad, Harry, Dave, Matt, George, or a hundred others, I LOVE the SMB culture of spontaneously promoting the tools that work for us. I will happily let any guest on a podcast spend time promoting their products. Before we go on the air I tell them to make sure they get in whatever offer they have.

Commerce expands when lots and lots of people think about new things and have lots of opportunities to learn about tools that may be useful to them.

So I say whatever I want and I promote whatever pops into my head. I encourage everyone else to do the same.


Thing Number Three:
Money makes the world go round.

Sometimes when I mention (or promote) a product, people go check it out. Some of them decide to buy. Some of the buyers say they heard about it from me. Some of the companies making sales off all this have referral programs.

I want people with products and services to know that I am willing to help them spread their message. I want to build friendships and alliances. How do I put a disclaimer on that for the FTC? "I might make friends, acquaintances, and business associates through my blogging activities." Yeah, whatever.

In the last blog post on this topic I gave the example of the ASCII Group. I love the ASCII Group. I save thousands and thousands of dollars because of my membership in ASCII. I am happy to tell you about that. I would tell you that whether I got a payment or not.

To my knowledge I am officially enrolled in two referral programs. One is Amazon.com. I think that's paid less than $100 over the past four years. The other is Robin Robins' Technology Marketing Toolkit. I don't know my code for that, and I think the program is going away. But I do tell people about Robin and I have received referral fees when someone mentions that they heard about her from me.

I rave about Robin Robins and her program because I love it. As a technical consultant it is my opinion that the wisest investment I ever made in my business was Robin Robins' Technology Marketing Toolkit. The payback is not all in money. I find her motivating. I find her inspiring. She provides great tools and great guidelines. She kicks my butt when I'm lazy and congratulates me on my success. I would rave about Robin's programs whether I got a payment or not.

So here's what happens . . .

I say good things about products I like. Some of these companies send me money.

In addition, some companies have come to me and offered certain things for free. For example, I get some free stuff from Zenith Infotech. There is no quid pro quo. There is no written deal. There is no payment structure. It could all stop tomorrow. I did not solicit this largesse. One day I just got an email.

I don't even know if Zenith has a referral program. But I don't care.

And you can be sure: If Zenith pisses me off, you'll hear about it. I'm always asked how we get such great service out of Zenith. I think the biggest thing is that I tell my team that our Zenith team is part of our KPEnterprises team -- and key to our success. We work on the relationship. We spend time on it. We make it happen.

There are a thousand other relationships. 99.9% (that's 999 out of 1,000) don't reward me in any way for anything I say. But occasionally a gift card or Christmas basket will show up.

Note: I have been offered free services just so someone can say that I use their product. So far I haven't taken anyone up on that offer. That doesn't mean I won't. But so far I never have. In general when I use a product I want to be able to call and complain about lousy service. I'm far more concerned about that than whether I save $60 a month.

Here's my financial picture:


I make a living selling and delivering technology consulting. I make another living writing and selling books. I won't turn down referral money. But I also won't change what I say in order to go after it.

At some level you either believe I'm sincere or you don't.


Thing Number Four:
My life is complicated. In addition to running KPEnterprises (The Best Technical Consulting Company in Sacramento), I also write books and sell books and resources through Great Little Book/SMB Books.

Part of the whole uber-pimping came out of some specific relationships and events. First, of course, Harry Brelsford was the original distributor of my first book. Harry and I did projects together such as the Qlogic SAN tour, the first SMB Nation in Europe, the original Small Business Specialist Hands on Lab tour, and a whole lot of promoting each other. Second, Vlad Mazek and I stumbled into the realization that whatever he was doing with the SBS Show and whatever I was doing with Great Little Book were like peanut butter and chocolate: they just went great together. So we just started wildly promoting each other and it did us both a world of good.

Third, Amy Luby, Erick Simpson and I found ourselves on the stage together several times, including at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference. Erick and I released books on service agreements within a few months of each other. As friends we agreed to tell people about each others' books and that turned into a co-promotional festival that hasn't stopped.

Harry and I used to have a book distribution deal, now long gone. Erick has the same deal as any author (see www.smbbooks.com. But none of the co-promotion done with any of these other people was part of any written or oral agreement. We just did it.

And there are dozens more like this.

I became friends with these people because they do amazing things and they're great people. I promote their products because I believe in the people and the products. Somewhere along the line, they send me business. I'm not even sure how I'd quantify it. Who cares? The total effect of having a group like that promoting each other is mind-boggling. The most visible rewards seem to be related to meals and entertainment. But the total effect within the SMB Community is a lot of great promotion that grows exponentially with each project.

I don't feel that I'm "using" my friends or that they are using me. We're all just having as much fun as we can and promoting each other in the process.


Thing Number Five:
The Personal is Professional. I love making friends. I can't deny that I go to a lot of conferences because I get to meet new friends and spend time with old ones. I meet vendors and drink their wine. I take them to dinner. We become friends. A few of them do business with me. Most never do. But we still do things together in various cities around the globe.

Where does business stop and personal life begin? If you hate your job the line is easy to draw. If you love your job there isn't much of a line at all.

Strangers contact me from other countries when they're coming to northern California so we can get together. Believe me, I return the favor when I travel. Friends and vendors and customers and fellow bloggers. In the end, friends all.

Where does all that fit in the FTC regulations? I don't know and I honestly don't care. But now I have to try to craft a disclaimer that takes in all possible relationships and cross-compensation. It will have to be bland and meaningless and perfectly accurate. It will need to tell everything and end up telling nothing.

Because the world is just complicated.


More on that in the next post . . .

- - - -
First draft of FTC Disclosure Statement:
I may in some way receive money, rewards or other benefits from any of the products, services, or companies mentioned in this blog. Any experience mentioned here is just my experience and I have no knowledge about whether it represents a typical experience with any products, services, or companies mentioned.

:-)



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Monday, January 04, 2010

The FTC Guidelines Part Two: Everyone's a Criminal

Disclaimer: I believe in openness and honesty. I believe people who are compensated for their speech should make that clear. But I don't believe that we should just blindly accept whatever regulation promises to make the world a better place.


So Last Time we introduced the new FTC guidelines. Today I want to talk a bit about why I care, why bloggers and others online are up in a tizzy, and why you might care.

A super-quick summary of key points:
  • No one wants deceptive advertising except criminal elements
  • The FTC process is intentionally vague and imprecise. Their Guidelines explain why this is.
  • Legitimate businesses want clear, concise rules so they can stay inside the law and get on with their business

And here's the bottom line of what's happening right now.

-- The FTC is trying to eliminate false or misleading statements.

-- Businesses are speculating (sometimes wildly) about how they will be affected by the new regulations.

-- The only thing businesses have to go on is the meager output from the FTC. And every time someone asks a question like "will you be suing bloggers?" the answer is either "That's not what we intended" or "We're just trying to create a level playing field." In other words, they're not answering questions but refuse to clarify because they don't want to paint themselves into a corner.

Last time we looked at an introduction to the 81 pages of guidelines. Now let's look at the rules themselves.


The World According to the FTC

The FTC does not appear to have an understanding of the real world. As I mentioned before, they're primarily going after people who sell Mare Sweat as a sleeping potion and the whole world of Health Miracle scams. But in an attempt to widen their net to include all online activity, advertising, and social networking, they have created some rules that are absurd.

Luckily, you can rest assured that the courts will eventually reign them in because of the overly-broad and overly-vague nature of the guidelines. This is in fact their plan: Claim a vast vague power to regulate arbitrarily and then let a series of lawsuits determine the actual limit of their power. This technique is designed to maximize their reach.

In The World According to the FTC, the key players are:
  • Advertisers. Those who pay (in some manner which is not limited to financial compensation) for their products and services to be promoted.
  • Endorsements or testimonials. Any message "that consumers are likely to believe reflects the opinions, beliefs, findings, or experiences of a party other than the advertiser." (Endorsements and testimonials are identical according to the guidelines.)
  • Endorsers. Individuals or organizations other than the advertiser that make positive statements about the advertiser or its product or service and have received or may receive some form of compensation from the advertiser.
  • Consumers. Not defined but the context makes clear that these are morons who populate the earth and don't have the common sense God gave a goose.
  • Traditional Ads. Print advertising, television, radio, mailings, postcards, etc.
  • New Social Media and Other Things Not Understood But Ripe for Regulation. This includes blogs, responses or comments made on blogs, news groups, forums, webinars, podcasts, "street team" personal interactions between individuals, and a whole world they refer to as "consumer-generated media."

In the FTC's world, here's how things work:

1. Advertiser offers payment. This might be money up front, or referral fee on the back end. Could be free merchandise. Could be free merchandise received at some point in the past (remember that swag you got at SMB Nation?). Could be the prospect of free merchandise in the future. Of course the payment might not be monetary or product related. It could be a favor or hope for a favor.

2. Endorser tells people about the product, service, or company.

3. Consumers believe the endorser for whatever reason (she's famous, she's a friend, she seems believable).

That is an endorsement. The endorser is deemed to be sponsored by the advertiser. The endorsement is subject to regulation. Unless it is obvious that the endorser is being compensated for her statements, she must disclose that there is a financial arrangement in place.

Interestingly, all of this is true even if the advertiser has no control over what the endorser says. It is very common practice for companies to offer 30-day trials or free sample merchandise. The companies assume that getting the product out there will generate a certain buzz. Clearly that's advertising. But if I post something that says "It's horrible and clunky, but better than the alternative" that's an endorsement.

4. All statements made in endorsements must be true, not misleading, represent a typical result, or state very clearly how typical the result is.

When an endorsement exists, the advertiser is responsible for the statements of the endorser.

The endorser is also responsible for his statements.

Example One:
- ABC Company offers a 30 day free trial of product ABC. You sign up, try it, and then blog that you like it. (Or tell someone at a meeting, or Twitter, or Facebook, or post in a forum.) You need to disclose the compensation. ABC Company is legally liable for any claims you make regarding the product. You are legally liable for any claims you make, even if you did not intentionally mislead anyone.

Example Two:
- XYZ Company has a great product. They offer a referral fee if you send business their way. You love the product and tell the world (again, via blog, an in-person meeting, Twitter, Facebook, or post in a forum). You need to disclose the compensation. XYZ Company is legally liable for any claims you make regarding the product. You are legally liable for any claims you make, even if you did not intentionally mislead anyone.


Many, many times in the 81 page guidelines the FTC makes the claim that these rules will have no chilling effect on free speech or the general tone of online social media communications.

That would only be true if everyone completely ignored the guidelines.



Note: This spider web of liability has a chilling effect on free speech and free commerce.

Holding spokespeople responsible for their statements makes some sense when you're talking about weight loss programs and multi-level marketing programs. But the online world of social media is a big, complex set of human interactions. It is absurd to think that any company - even one paying for referrals or giving 30 day free trials - can be held responsible for every fact stated on the internet regarding their product.

In the old guidelines there was a "safe harbor" that said you could simply use a disclaimer that results are not typical. That safe harbor is gone. You need to be much more precise about what is typical or how typical the endorser's experience is.

This is impossible to enforce. But in the meantime it is already having a negative effect on online activity.

At the same time, there are companies pulling all of their endorsement-based advertising in order to vet all statements that are made and clear them with a legal team. I have already been contacted by several companies regarding guidelines about how they want their product portrayed, what I "can" say and can't say.

As a blogger and amateur gadfly, I want to say whatever I want! But when I say good things about a company I don't want to get them in trouble. I'm stuck. The guidelines reiterate: If an endorsement "conveys more than one meaning, only one of which is misleading, a seller is liable for the misleading interpretation even if nonmisleading interpretations are possible."

Without guidelines from every business I discuss, how will I know whether my results are typical, atypical, substantiated, or misleading? The FTC requires a statement about how typical my results are ONLY if the endorsement is misleading. So how do I measure that? The poor company I'm trying to help is legally liable for my stupidity if I make a non-misleading claim that accidently has a misleading interpretation.

Oh but it gets worse.

Not only is the advertiser responsible for every word you utter about their product, they're responsible for messages the consumer takes away from your endorsement. It's one thing if they produce a TV commercial and control the whole process. It's quite another when they're responsible for your words AND how your words are interpreted by someone who stumbled upon them on the Internet.

Again, totally unenforceable. But that doesn't stop companies from spending lots of money trying to figure out how to stay inside the law.

Oh wait there's more.

Advertisers are also responsible for making sure that endorsers "make the necessary disclosures and to monitor the conduct of those endorsers." That means the advertiser has to make sure you only utter truths, are never misleading, and properly disclose the "material connection" with the advertiser.

Oh, and that compensation could be direct or indirect. So if you won a processor from Intel at the SMB Books Booth at SMB Nation, you and Intel a have relationship that affects both of you legally and financially. Good luck.


Meanwhile Back in The Real World

Let's talk just about the SMB community. There are hundreds of blogs that I know about. There are probably thousands. I try (feebly) to follow about three dozen at some level. In addition there are tens of thousands of small business consultants on Twitter, LinkenIn, Facebook, Experts Exchange, EventID.net, etc., etc., etc.

Then there are hundreds of webinars and podcasts. Some are put on by the vendors themselves. Some are put on by individuals and generally nice guys like me. In all there are thousands of guests who appear on these webinars and podcasts. Then there are hundreds of events -- user groups, special interest groups, national conferences, international conferences, and vendor-sponsored conferences.

In other words, it's a big complicated world out there.

Here's a real-world example of how you become an endorser under the FTC regulations.


Example: Karl and ASCII

I love the ASCII Group (http://www.ascii.com/). I save tens of thousands of dollars every year because I'm a member of the ASCII Group. So I tell the world I love the ASCII Group. I think my membership costs me $120/month. More or less.

Somebody reads that, goes to the ASCII web site, and signs up as a member.

Sometime later I get an email that says that this person signed up and said they heard about it from me. As a reward, they give me a free month's membership. Woo-hoo.

Was my statement an endorsement? Probably not because I didn't know there would be a reward. But now I DO know. So that statement is out on a Facebook status from two months ago. If someone reads it, I'm responsible for it.

Of course if I post again, I need to have a disclaimer . . . unless you could reasonably expect that I'm being paid to advertise for ASCII.

Is this my decision? Well no, not really. Who's responsible for my actions? Who's responsible for my claims? Who's responsible for monitoring my behavior? ASCII is.

Okay. Skip ahead.

Now let's say I'm asked to do a webinar with some vendor on some topic. In the middle of the webinar someone mentions ASCII and I say "I love ASCII. We saved more than 75% on our Worker's Comp Insurance with them."

That's an endorsement. Will I be compensated? Probably not. Have I been compensated in the past? Yes. Might I be compensated in the future? Yes. So that's a paid endorsement.

I don't mind disclosing that. But I would say the same thing whether I got a free month or not.

For ASCII it's a different story. They are responsible for every word uttered by every member who participates in every blog, podcast, etc.


BTW: I have no idea what's typical. I only know what happens in my company. I promise I'm not lying. I'd put a disclaimer here, but if you read the example you know the gig.

In a business filled with free months of service, free trials, and referral programs, virtually everyone who reads this is violating the law every time they say something positive about any company, product, or service on the Internet.

Does that seem right to you?

It shouldn't.

Remember, these are the people who brought you the Canned Spam Act. And these stupid regulations will be TWICE as effective as that!


Next Up: Karl's complete disclosure with all the juicy details. Stay tuned.


:-)



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