Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Backup and Disaster Recovery Webinar Sept. 20th

Just got off the phone with Eric, Mollie, and Adriana over at Doyenz. We're planning a webinar for Sept. 20th - 9:00 AM Pacific Time. Free, of course.

Register - Free

Join me, Michael Stephan, Eric Webster, and Jamison West to explore how you can develop backup and disaster recovery plans using the Doyenz.

Michael and Eric from Doyenz will give a brief intro to the product Jamison uses. Then Jamison West, founder of MSP Arterian from Seattle, WA will demonstrate how they use the Doyenz solution for their backup, disaster recovery, and business continuity needs in the cloud.

Jamison is will also outline how Recovery in the Cloud services can be incorporated into a managed service offering.

We'll take lots of listener questions on the live webinar.

Please Join us:

Title: Doyenz Answers! - What to Use in the Cloud
Date: Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Time: 9 AM Pacific Time

Register - Free

:-)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Handouts Galore for Your Consulting Clients

Some time ago, KPEnterprises, my old consulting company, produced a series of handouts for our clients. These were included in monthly newsletters, handed out at marketing events, and so forth. For awhile we did some radio advertising and promised these handouts to listeners.

We distributed the handouts at I5PC.com because that was very easy to say, hear, and understand on the radio while driving. I'm a firm believer that phone numbers on the radio are a waste of time.

Any way . . .

While cleaning up some old sites, I came across the old site and decided that there's no reason I should keep these handouts secret. So, if you're interested in the kind of handouts we used to generate interest - and to educate clients - please feel free to visit the Computer Consulting Handouts Archive at I5PC.com.

Topics include:
  • UPS (Battery Backup)
  • Network Documentation
  • Faxing From The Server
  • Spyware
  • Old Servers
  • Safe Browsing - Extremely Important: Hand out to your staff!
  • Managed Services
  • Virus Scanners - Important: Hand out to your staff!
  • Small Business Specialists
  • Using Certified Professionals
  • Service Agreements
  • Disaster Planning - DRP Basics Handout
  • Picking Good Passwords - Important: Hand out to your staff!
  • Effective PowerPoint (Death by PowerPoint)
Visit The Computer Consulting Handouts Archive here.

As you can see, a few of these are outdated. But for the most part, they are good, juicy handouts you can use for your clients. You'll note that they have a consistent look and feel. This is always important when you are "branding" your business.

Copyright Note:
I grant a license for you to print off copies of these handouts for your employees, but not for you to use in any money-making venture. In other words, you can copy these off for your self, your staff, and even your clients. May may not sell these individually or as a group. Thank you for respecting this copyright.

Enjoy.

As always, feedback welcome.

:-)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Super Cloud Starter Bundle

Are you ready to jump into the small business cloud market? We can help!

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Author and host of the
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$ 250.00
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Obviously, this deal is good through the seminar on September 29th.

My time is allocated on a first-come, first-serve basis. As a rule, I only schedule a couple of calls a week. Someone will contact you as soon as possible after you pay to schedule a phone conference.

You can also schedule an hour of my time directly with this link: Add to Cart

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As I mentioned a few days ago on this blog, we're having a big end-of-Summer sale, so you can use the discount code Summer2011 to receive $50 off any purchase of $99 or more.

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- - - - -

A few deets:

The Cloud Services Roundtable subscription includes total access to all member files (hundreds of hours of recorded podcasts and webinars), plus any-time access to future shows for the next year. This inlcudes all the collected handouts and materials for things like our Cloud Service 5-Pack program with supporting powerpoints, excel spreadsheets, and more.

The SMB Nation Pre-Day seminar this year focuses on Making Money in the Small Business Cloud. It will include six hours of training, plus lunch and snacks. It's a great way to get your head around a great conference and start working on your success right now!

The hour of consulting must be used within twelve calendar months, and we'll send you a handout so you can make the most of your hour on the phone. As you can imagine, I get lots of requests for my time, so I try to make it as valuable as I can for you. Someone will contact you right away to begine coordinating schedules.

Money Back Guarantee

As always, all products and services from Great Little Book Publishing and Small Biz Thoughts have a money back guarantee.

:-)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Share Your Marketing Tips and Win a Free SMB Nation Preday Seminar

We are going to cover some marketing tips on a future Cloud Services Roundtable program. So we invite our listeners to share any marketing stories/tips that work. Please send your stories and tips (no matter how brief) to info@smallbizthoughts.com. Please enter "Marketing Story" in the subject line.
The top three stories will be read on air, with those three contributors winning a pass to my upcoming SMB Pre-Day show in Las Vegas: Making Money in the Small Business Cloud (a $249 value!).

Submission deadline is Sept 6.

Winners will be announced on air.

:-)

Friday, August 26, 2011

SOP Friday: How Do Service Requests Get Into Your System?

The last several SOP Fridays have been about your ticketing system or PSA (professional services automation) system. This week we'll talk about how things get "into" your system. Next week we'll talk about massaging the job board.
In the old days of break/fix computer support, "jobs" got into your "system" by any way a client could get your attention. This was generally fine, but a lot of jobs didn't get your attention until they were emergencies. So you spent a lot of time putting out fires.

With modern tools, we have more (and better) ways for requests to get into your system AND you have a system! When I speak, I make the point that your system should be designed so that nothing gets lost, dropped, or forgotten. The most important piece of that process is getting every request or task INTO your system.

- Overview -

In the days of break/fix, things generally got into your system by one of these methods:

- Phone call
- Client interaction (conversation or shoulder tap)
- Client email
- Technician discovers an issue

We still have all those things, of course. But you need to figure out how they translate into ticket in the system. It is critical that every request or task get into your PSA system. Please review the blog post Working In Real Time.

I know it can be overwhelming to have hundreds or thousands of tickets and tasks in your system. But this is really good news. It means you know the limits of the workload in front of you. You know how high it is and how wide it is. You know how many hours you expect to get "caught up" on the work. It is good!

In addition to the old, break/fix methods, we'll add a few simple additions:

- Client enters a ticket into the portal
- Client emails a ticket into the system
- Ticket is generated by the RMM (remote monitoring and management) tool
- Ticket is generated by your staff
- Ticket is generated by your back office support team


Create a Flow Chart

Here's a simple flow chart that includes some of the methods discussed here. You can easily create your own in Visio (or even PowerPoint).


Notice that this chart includes the process we discussed in the post on Service Ticket Updates

Once everyone in your business understands the flow of incoming tickets, then they can be more efficient. And they will understand why you need to push clients to create their own tickets!

When you talk to a client about an issue, the words to use are: "Do you want to enter a service ticket, or shall I?" In other words, offer to do it, but make it clear that it's really their job. You should also be clear that you can't do any work except on a service ticket.

Whether it's billable or covered by a managed service agreement, a ticket is the place where you keep note, track employee time, track the status of the issue, and document when the work is complete. It is the center of what you do on the service delivery side! So ya gotta have a ticket.

For some reason, clients want to pick up the phone and instantly talk to the highest level technician, interrupt whatever that tech is doing, and have their problem solved. That's not the way the world works. That's interrupt-driven break/fix. We sell managed services.

Train your staff to enter tickets in the system. All work must be done from a service ticket. Ideally, the person who answers the phone won't be a technician, so all they can do is enter tickets.

One of the key selling points of a PSA system is that you'll be able to generate reports to tell you how much time you actually spend on each client and each issue. In order to do that, you need a ticket for everything and you need to log time correctly.

Train your clients to use the client service portal or send email to support@yourcompany.com (We use EmailtoAT by MSPintegrations).

Clients need to know that entering a ticket in the system is the fastest way to get support. First, it creates a ticket, which is the the most important requirement to getting support. Second, the PSA system will page someone. Either the service manager, the service coordinator, or the person responsible for monitoring the board. Someone will actually get a page, an email, or both.

Calling, however, can only result in the conversation: "Do you want to enter a service ticket, or shall I?" It is one step prior to creating a ticket.


- Implementation Notes -

This Standard Operating Procedure is really 50% documentation and 50% implementation. First, you need to document all the ways that tickets get into your system. Then you need to figure out the flow that moves them from the introduction stage to the actual service department. In the diagram example, it is only after the "Coordinator Process" that work can actually be done on a ticket.

After you define your process, you need to train your staff and make sure they all understand that this is how things will flow. Next, you need to train your clients and assure them that the ticketing system is the fastest way to solve their problems.

Finally, you need to enforce this. Don't let technicians work without a ticket. Don't let clients call up and interrupt you.

As you've seen over the last several posts, there's a flow to managing tickets. You caress them you. You massage them. You group them together and manage them. You push them gently through the system. Always moving forward. Always moving in the right direction. The system works because it is a system. It's not a disorganized collection of activity motivated by the last request you received.

Next time we'll talk about massaging the service board to maximize effectiveness.


Your Comments Welcome.

- - - - -

About this Series

SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.

Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at http://www.smallbizthoughts.com/events/SOPFriday.html.

- - - - -

Next week's topic: Massaging the Service Board

:-)

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Common Myth: Pretty is Better than Fast

The World Wide Web has made us hyper-aware of design and presentation. Who wants text when they can have graphics? Who wants simple when they can have beautiful?

And it's not just the Web. Graphical word processors and quick graphics programs have made it easy for everyone to create amazing visual effects in seconds.

Myth:
- "Pretty presentation is more important than a good message."

This isn't really something people say out loud very often. But it dominates a lot of decision making in business. People re-design their web sites again and again. They choose "ooooo" and "aaaaaah" over content and usability.

A few posts back I talked about business cards. Flashy and useless wins the day over practical. But this issue goes way beyond business cards. Awhile back I was listening to a presentation by Michelle Ponto, a local TV news producer in Sacramento. She was talking about how to get the attention of the local media.

One of her key points is that press releases should be simple and well written. Avoid graphics. Avoid fancy fonts. Avoid anything that can't be skimmed FAST for the news team. In other words: If you make their job easier, your chances of getting coverage go up.

Content is king.

Another example is Google. The Google home page is approximately the most elegant and useful page on the Internet. And for all the billions of sites that compete for first place, the simple Google home page is number one.

There's always a fight of form versus function. But when you live in a technical world, remember that function needs a little extra attention. Web pages, press releases, resumes, and job proposals are all read by computers first and people second. In many cases, these communications are read by thousands of computers and very few people!

You don't have to eliminate the look and feel of your communications. But give the computers their due.

This blog has been criticized at times because it doesn't follow any of the norms for success. My posts are long, they're almost all text with few pretty pictures. Theoretically, no one should be reading this. But you are. Thank you.

There are no current plans to add a video a day, a bunch of moving graphics, slide show galleries, or a spoken advertisement when you hit the page.

Pretty is good. But a good message is better.

:-)




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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Super Summer Sales at SMB Books - Including Seminars!

It's been a nice, short Summer. But as Summer winds down, it's time to get ready for school.

. . . and if you're a computer consultant, that "schoolin" includes all kinds of self-improvement.

Books

Seminars

Audio Programs

Now Small Biz Thoughts and SMB Books bring you a great opportunity:

Use Promo Code

Summer2011

on any of our web sites to receive a $50 discount on any book, seminar, audio, video, or any other product with a purchase of $99 or more.
Save now through September 30th, use the code

Summer2011

to receive $50 off any order of $99 or more at . . .

- www.smbbooks.com
- www.greatlittlebook.com
- www.cloudservicesroundtable.com


And of course this includes $50 off our Big Cloud Service seminar in Law Vegas on September 29th. See www.smbpreday.com.

Please tell all your friends and neighbors!

:-)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Jim Locke Services and Fund

I got a note from Dave Seibert over at SMBTN regarding plans for Jim Locke's memorial service and a college fund for his son. (See my earlier announcement here.)

Here is the text:

- - - - -
I first want to thank you for all your kind words and memories toward Jim Locke and the community. This was a tragedy for all us that new Jim and especially for his family.

We have continued to receive many calls, emails, IM’s etc. from the community as they express their condolences and also ask how they can help or contribute.

We have created a single page to keep the community up-to-date. Also within this page are 3 key items:

1. Information on Jim’s Services. Date and location

2. A link for the ability for Jim’s friends to contribute toward his son’s (Brian) college fund

3. A link for the ability for Jim’s friends to Post on Jim’s Facebook page where the family is reading them.

I would truly appreciate your help to broadcast this link on behalf of Jim’s memory.

www.SMBTN.org/JimLocke

Thanks to each of you.
___________________________________

Dave Seibert
SMB Technology Network, Executive Vice President

SOP Friday: Setting Job Priorities

The fundamental difference between "break/fix" computer support and managed services is planning your work. With break/fix, the standard operating system is to be constantly interrupted and to work on whatever the last thing is that fell in your lap.

Managed services allows you to schedule maintenance, and therefore avoid problems. And once problems arise, work should be prioritized. If you'd like two simple rules to make your business more successful and profitable, here they are:

1) All Work is done from service tickets

2) All tickets are worked from highest priority to lowest priority and from oldest to newest.

- Overview -

The basic flow of work within your office should be organized and standardized. As with everything else, you don't have to do it our way, but here are some thoughts.

Imagine that you have 1,000 service tickets in the system. You might be overwhelmed. Where do you start? Which do you work on first? The wrong answer is usually to work on the last thing that fell from the sky. That's called shoulder tap tech support and will keep you broke.

So, we prioritize all jobs from lowest to highest priority. Then we work on the highest priority tickets first. That assures that every technician is always working on the most important job. Once you do this, you'll be amazed at how much work you accomplish.

First you need some guidelines for setting priorities, and some basic examples that ring true in your business. Here are a few notes, As always, you need a human factor to fine-tune this. But this is a place to start.

- There are four priority levels. We human beings only assign three of them (high, medium, and low).

- Priority 1 means Critical. A P1 sets itself. That means
• Server down
• Network down
• Email System down
• Server based Line of Business application down
• Fire, flood, earthquake, hazmat spill, etc.

- Priority 2 means High Priority
• Backups failing – 3 days in a row
• Company Communications (e.g., email is being blocked)
• Client has requested it be done within 24 hours or less
• Critical use workstation down
• The problem is inconveniencing everyone in the company
• The solution will significantly increase productivity for everyone in the company
• The issue is a result of other work recently done by us or another vendor
• The ticket has been open for more than 90 days

- Priority 3 means Medium Priority
• Backups failing – 2 days in a row
• One or more users productivity is significantly hindered
• The problem is inconveniencing multiple users
• Workstation down
• Client has requested it be done within 72 hours
• Secondary communications having problem (Blackberry, Droid, etc.)
• The ticket has been open for more than 60 days

- Priority 4 Means Low Priority
• Any item not having met the criteria for Priority 1,2 and 3 and not specifically requested by the client to be higher priority than to be done on the Weekly or Monthly Maintenance
• We often refer to this as "Scheduled" work with the clients


Notes:

The first thing you should notice is that we let clients set the priority (High/Medium/Low). With very few exceptions, clients don't abuse this. When necessary, we will adjust a priority. But, for the most part, we find that clients put things at a lower priority than we expected. We actually have clients say "Just do it the next time you're in."

The second thing you should notice is that "old" service requests are automatically elevated in priority. This is to prevent tickets from getting stale. You should use a PSA system and track the average age of tickets and the average time to close a ticket.

In reality, tickets just don't get too old. We haven't really had a problem with this. But it's a good practice to have in place, especially when you have a lot of new clients. The point of managed services is that clients will have fewer and fewer problems the longer they are on the system. So it's the new clients who have a ridiculous number of tickets.


Working Priorities

And what does it mean for a ticket to be P1, P2, P3, or P4?

P2 = High Priority
• Should be completed today before anything else. Must be completed before close of business, if possible.

P3 = Medium Priority
• Should be completed and closed within three business days. This is our default priority and this deadline is set automatically in Autotask when the ticket is created.

P4 = Low Priority
• Needs to be done, but there is no specific deadline. Usually these items are more of a reminder, such as Monthly Maintenance.

When tickets are assigned to a technician, or the tech is pulling tickets from a specific queue on your service board, the flow is the same:

- Find the highest priority tickets available to be worked (e.g., assigned to you, not on hold, and in a "workable" status. See Last Week's SOP Friday post). Let's say this is a P1.

- If there is more than one ticket at this priority level, open the oldest ticket available to be worked.

- Work the ticket as far as you can go. That means anything from connecting remotely to working with vendor tech support. Whatever you can do, push this ticket as close to completion as you can.

- Go back to the pool.

- Find the highest priority ticket that is available to be worked. Find the oldest ticket at that level. Work that ticket.

- Rinse, repeat.

As you can see, this general flow means that you are always working on the highest priority ticket, and on the oldest tickets before the newer tickets.


Exceptions

There are a few common sense exceptions to this work flow.

First, if work is scheduled, then you need to stop working on other things and do the scheduled work. For example, if a vendor is going to be on the phone at 2:00 PM, or a client will be off her desktop machine at 11:00 AM. This obviously allows for a lot of that "low priority" work to be completed.

Second, if a technician is going on site, he should list every open ticket at that client and attempt to work them all. Thus, if a client is going on site for a P2 ticket, he might as well work every ticket he can. In some cases, a ticket is so low in priority that the client will say "No. We have to get out some newsletters. Do that another day." Okey dokey.


If you assign tickets:

In many shops, especially with lower volume, technicians just take the next available ticket. In some shops, the service coordinator or service manager assigns all work. We basically do 50/50. That allows us to be free-flowing when things are slow (or when the service manager is working on a P1 and everyone else is free-range). But we often have tickets assigned when it makes sense.

Here are a few notes if you assign tickets:

• Once assigned as the resource for a ticket, a tech is the owner of that ticket and ultimately responsible for its completion.

• No work is performed on any ticket by a technician that is not assigned to that ticket without first checking with the tech who owns it.

• Technicians first work all the tickets specifically assigned to them (from highest priority to lowest, and from oldest to newest)
. . . then technicians grab tickets from the Service Board from highest priority to lowest and from oldest to newest.

We've already talked about Working in Real Time and Service Ticket Updates. And, of course, Service Ticket Statuses to Use and When to Use Them.

But this is a good place to reiterate a few points:

• A ticket is not complete until all notes are up to date and all time has been entered.

• No work is performed on tickets marked as "On Hold" without the Service Manager’s approval.

• Only the Service Manager changes a ticket's status to or from "On Hold."


- Implementation Notes -

Whether you have a system or not, laying down the "rules" and procedures here is a pretty big task. It will require that you document your rules, as we've done with ours. Whether you use these or your own, you'll need to put together some handouts for your technicians. No one will remember all this.

This process makes sense once you work with it every day. But it will take some time and effort to actually implement and get it working the way it should.

Hold a meeting. Describe the process. Use a white board for clarification. Address all the "what-if" and "but I" objections. Then implement. Just do it.


- Benefits -

This process takes some planning and commitment. It also takes dedication from the management team. If you don't believe in the system, you will never get technicians to believe in it.

When something goes wrong, evaluate it and figure out whether it was a one-time anomaly or whether you need to fine-tune your system. Ideally, with a system like this, Nothing gets old. Nothing gets lost. Nothing gets forgotten. And all the work gets done.


- Forms -

There are no specific forms for implementing this SOP. But the rules you decide on here must be programmed into your PSA system (Autotask, Tigerpaw, ConnectWise, etc.).

All of these systems allow for complicated and sophisticated work flows. Personally, I think you should keep it as simple as possible so that you don't create a small business bureaucracy . . . the worst kind there is!

Your PSA vendor should be able to help you implement your rules and procedures into their software.

Remember, the whole point of having processes and procedures is to make things run more smoothly. That will lead to more profit, more order, more efficiency, etc. BUT if the process is getting in the way of smooth operations, get the job done and then some back and fix the process.


Your Comments Welcome.

- - - - -

About this Series

SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.

Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at http://www.smallbizthoughts.com/events/SOPFriday.html.

- - - - -

Next week's topic: How Do Service Requests Get Into Your System?

:-)



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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Common Myth: The Stronger the Handshake the Better

When you meet someone, you should have a firm handshake. True enough. But firm does not mean crushing.

[Note: This advice is for the men out there. I think I've met one female hand-crusher in my life.]

Myth:

- "Your manhood is determined by how hard you crush some one's bones when you shake hands."

I love meeting people. I love networking events. I love finding new friends. But there's one thing that I hate about all these.

The only thing I really hate about networking is the people who crush your hand instead of giving a good, firm, polite handshake.

No one should have a limp-fish handshake. And 99% of the people you meet get over the wimpy handshake pretty fast when they start shaking a lot of hands.

But you also should not have a handshake that is too powerful. There are two primary reasons for this.

1) It is rude.

Shaking hands is not an opportunity to demonstrate your dominance and aggression. Remember, this gesture started out as a way to know that a possible adversary was unarmed. It is the perfect time to look someone in the eye and make a personal contact.

When your handshake draws attention to itself, it is out of place. This is a great time for a smile and light chat. It's a horrible time to hurt your new friend and expect that they will remember you fondly.

An aggressive handshake is particularly impolite in some cultures. Be aware of the people you meet.


2) It can be painful.

Crushing some one's hand is not funny. It's not really an effective way to show dominance either, unless you're ten years old.

Sometimes I go to one event after another, meeting hundreds of people. In any given crowd, I estimate that 1% of the men I meet are hand-crushers. Another 2% are just-too-firm hand shakers. The result is that, after meeting a large number of people, I'm almost guaranteed that someone will have left my hand hurting for a day or two.

You never know when the person you're meeting has a recent injury, a permanent condition, or a disease such as arthritis.

I've met several people who attend these events with a brace on their hand. When I ask how they hurt it, I'm told that they're just tired of having jerks crush their hand at receptions, so they wear the brace and put up with half-hearted handshakes. At least it doesn't hurt.

- - - - -

The bottom line:

There are a million ways to make a good impression. Hurting someone in a social setting isn't one of them.

:-)



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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

My 900th Blog Post - Five Years and Counting

What's the deal with numbers? Nerds love numbers. So here's a few.

After five years (gulp) of blogging in this space, the second most popular post of all time is the very short one entitled "My 750th Blog Post."

That was May of last year. Now after five years of blogging, I hit the 900 mark. And I suspect I'll reach 1,000 next spring.

In my Relax Focus Succeed® seminars, I always give an example of how different your life can be in five years. That's certainly been true for me in business, in my personal life, and in the community.

I ask you to consider the last five years.

- Are you in the same job?
- Are you in the same house?
- What is your relationship with your spouse/lover?
- Do you drive the same car?
- How different are your children?
- Do you have the same hobbies?
- Do you go to the same church?
- Do you sell the same things?
- Do you hang out with the same friends?

etc.

Now consider the next five years.

- Will all those changes just happen to you, or will you actively participate in creating the new life that will emerge?

Thank you to everyone who reads this blog. Please post comments and questions. I love the dialogue!

:-)

Common Myth: Use the Back of Your Business Cards

There is one piece of advice that gets parroted again and again with business cards:
- "You should use the back of your business card (so it's not wasted)."

I'm not sure where this advice originated. But it is gets repeated all the time. I guess it sounds good.

But if you've ever exchanged business cards with someone, attended a networking event, or sorted through business cards you've collected, then you know that is advice is just silly.

I collect business cards. Just recently I started researching a CRM system so I could upload contacts of various kinds and not have to hit any limits. So I started adding up my "lists" of contacts. 8,200 here. 3,500 there. 4,200 in this one. 3,700 in that one. 1,200 in a related list. etc.

The point is: I've collected a LOT of business cards over the last sixteen years. Some are consultants; some are clients; some are media connections; some are vendors. And so forth.

When I come back to the office with a fist full of business cards, they need to be processed. Processed. What does that mean? It means that I put them into piles. Some I throw away. Some are very important. Some I promised to send a link or an article. A few I promised an email. Some I want to pitch an idea to.

You get the idea.

1) They need to be sorted into appropriate piles

2) Some of them require follow-up

ALL of them need a note about where I met them, the circumstances, and anything interesting about that connection.

Where do I write those notes? On The Back of The Business Card!

Oh, but wait. There's crap all over the back of the card. It's dark colored, or has a graph, or a table, or some list of useless links.

The point is: I can't write on the back of the card if there's no place to write!

Seriously. There are people who collect your business cards and people who don't. The people who don't collect cards don't matter. Period. They will never see the back of your card.

The people who DO collect business cards are pretty consistent in their behavior: They turn it over and write a note about where they met you, when they met you, notes about what they promised you, and other miscellaneous notes.

Now it's up to you: Will you give them a place to write the notes, or will you take it up with self-serving gimmicks that only take up space?

- - - - -

Bonus Extra Pet Peeves

1) Sideways

If you print your business cards sideways, 90% of the people who collect business cards will not take you seriously. Some (me included), will simply throw them away.

You don't print your resume or your letterhead in landscape format. Why? Because it's just not done that way. We live in a society where business forms are determined by the norms set down by others.

You might think you're creative or cute. Your marketing adviser might think that sideways printing makes you stand out and be unique. They're wrong. If you want to stand out, wear suspenders and rainbow-striped pants. But print your business cards like a business professional!

Remember:
There are people who collect your business cards and people who don't. The people who don't collect cards don't matter. The people who collect business cards expect a normal card. Give it to them.


2) Laser Perf

What the heck? If you're a computer consultant, and you have any idea what you're doing, then you charge at least $100 per hour.

Don't use laser perf business cards.

Just don't.

"Free" cards from Vista Print with a logo on the back are better than laser perf.

There are approximately 9,422,871 digital printers that will sell you a small stack of business cards for almost nothing. 9,422,871 of them are better than making your own with laser perf cards.

Please.

Remember:
There are people who collect your business cards and people who don't. The people who don't collect cards don't matter. The people who collect business cards will make fun of you if you have a laser perf card.


3) Glossy

Okay. Back to the question of writing a note or two on the card. Back or front doesn't matter. If the card is glossy, I can't write anything on it.

99.9% of the time, when I come across a glossy card, I use it to demonstrate the fact that they're stupid and useless. I try to write "I can't write" on the back of the card. It looks like crap. Then I throw it away to conclude the demonstration.

The lesson: Glossy cards are completely useless.

Okay. To be fair, they're useful to people who simply scan cards into a database. And completely useless to the other 95% of the people you hand a card to.

Remember:
There are people who collect your business cards and people who don't. The people who don't collect cards don't matter. The people who collect business cards will be really disappointed that you have a glossy card.

- - - - -

I'm sorry if this post makes me seem like an arrogant bastard. But this is serious stuff. Most people don't really care about your business card. But those who do have standards! They're not high. In fact, they're amazingly mundane. They're easy to achieve. They are a lot like picking window shades for a rental apartment. The closer to beige, the better!

In other words, the more bland your business card, the better.

It should be useful, not pretentious.

Like everything else, think about your business purpose for your business cards. Drop all the cutesy crap and put more energy into maximizing what your business card is intended to do: The basics.

:-)



Check Out the #1 ranked Managed Services book at Amazon:

Managed Services in A Month

by Karl W. Palachuk

Buy it as a printed book, Audio CD, or ebook!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Jim Locke: A Powerful Force in Our Community

I am very sorry to be writing this note about my friend Jim Locke. Jim, an absolute leader and promoter of the small business I.T. community, passed away August 15th.

Jim was one of the original founders, and the principal leader of SMBTN - The SMB Technology Network. This group was formed way back in 2004 to help small computer consultants get ahead. The group was designed to empower SMB consultants, to educate them, and help us grow as a community.

Jim was always promoting our community to vendors, to people who ran conferences, to consultants he met, and to the media. He worked tirelessly for years to build this community.

In 2009 Jim was named SBSer of the Year by SMB Nation. And he certainly deserved it. Jim was the driving force in a number of conferences over the years, primarily through SMBTN, but not exclusively. He was a constant presence at SMB Nation events and the Southern California I.T. user groups.

There are only a handful of people who have been a driving force in our community for the last seven or eight years. Jim Locke is certainly on that list.

I am honored to have known Jim, to have worked with him, and to call him my friend. He will be missed. My prayers are with his family.

:-(

Common Myth: Awesome Customer Service is Always Good

I was at a seminar recently and the speaker put up one of those perennial slides that irritate me.

Essentially, it said:

- "Always provide service that is above and beyond what the client expects."

I hear this time and time again. It's all about expectations. But it's fundamentally flawed.

What do clients expect? Do they expect to be ripped off? Do they expect to be ignored? Of course not. So meeting reasonable expectations is easy. And exceeding reasonable expectations is not very difficult.

I'm a firm believer that you should provide excellent customer service. In fact, I think our company has always made a point of doing just that. But people who make these kinds of statements seem to over-state their case.

"Always" is the problem. When a client has extremely high expectations, and a low budget, it can be almost impossible to meet their expectations. When a client is unreasonable, it is always impossible to meet their expectations.

Meeting the ridiculous expectations of unreasonable clients can be frustrating - and very costly. An unreasonable client can bankrupt your company.

The biggest problem with the statement above is that it assumes that clients are reasonable, rational people, and that they intend you no harm. Well, there ARE bad people in the world, my friends.

We have met a few "bad apples" who intentionally rip off their clients and their vendors. We run away from these people - both as clients and vendors.

More commonly, we have met lots and lots of people who are perfectly honest but have perfectly unreasonable expectations. These people honestly believe that a $500 computer repair entitles them to lifetime support on their entire network.

These people have no problem calling you at 10 PM, on the weekend, and on holidays. These people want a price lower than they can get at Walmart or Best Buy, but they want $1,000 worth of free labor to install it.

These people aren't bad. But they have unreasonable expectations. If you can get them to adjust their expectations, you can make money. If you can't get them to adjust their expectations, they will take all of your time and give you very little money in return.

If you don't work to set reasonable expectations, just make sure you're not exceeding unreasonable expectations.

In either case, the statement that you should always provide exceptional customer service is sometimes naive and bad advice.

:-)



Still the best Quick-Start Guide to Managed Services:

Service Agreements for SMB Consultants: A Quick-Start Guide to Managed Services

by Karl W. Palachuk

Now only $44.95 at SMB Books!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Doyenz Answers! - What to Use in the Cloud

Join me . . .
Special September 20th Webinar

Register - Free

I'm hosting a special Small Biz Thoughts Webinar on September 20th with my friend Jamison West, founder of Arterian. Arterian relies heavily on the Doyenz solution for their backup, disaster recovery, and business continuity needs in the cloud.

Jamison is excited to talk about how MSPs can make recurring profit with the Doyenz Cloud. He will explain how bundling works for his clients with Doyenz and Chartec. He will also outline how Doyenz Recovery in the Cloud services can be incorporated into a managed service offering.

Listener questions are welcomed and greatly encouraged!

This is a free webinar.

Title: Doyenz Answers! - What to Use in the Cloud

Date: Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Time: 9:00 AM - 10:00 AM PDT

Register - Free

:-)

Friday, August 12, 2011

SOP Friday: Ticket Statuses to Use and When to Use Them

This post assumes you have a PSA - professional services automation - system. That means Autotask, ConnectWise, Tiger Paw, etc. The goal of these systems is to have one place to automate your business, keep all your critical data in one place, and make you more profitable.

I am often asked whether it makes sense to have a PSA if you're a small shop. One or Two people. The answer for me is YES. You use a PSA to make everything work better, and to keep track of all the things that need to be done in your business. Those functions need to be accomplished without regard to size. The question is, how much do you pay, and is it worth it?

Once you pick a PSA, you need to create "statuses" to keep track of things. "What is the status of that ticket?" means, is it in progress, are you waiting for something, are you on hold, etc.

If you've managed databases, you've had the problem of letting everyone enter whatever they want in a field. Thus, you get

- On hold
- Hold
- held
- Holding
- Hold per Karl
- suspend
- defer
- shelve for now

. . . and that results in a field that's very hard to search on. In fact, there may be various meanings to these phrases that make it more complicated.

With a PSA system, you need a standard set of statuses that everyone agrees to . . . and that you use consistently. There should be a short list of standard statuses. Don't get too bureaucratic and try to create a perfect status for every possible scenario. Assuming the service coordinator massages the service board daily (see the September 2nd post), then it's okay to have a few oddball tickets that are just waiting on the service manager.

Here's what we do:


- Overview -

You should have as few statuses as it takes to get the job done. Every status you create will result in a layer of management, however minor. 90% of your tickets will be just a handful of statuses. So you need to focus on making those "categories" as useful as possible.

Your statuses should be as obvious as possible, and should be meaningful to both technicians and clients. For example, "waiting on parts" is easy to understand. "Pending administrative review" is meaningless babble until you define it for someone.



Your Statuses Need to Be Consistent with Your Business

I talk about the statuses we use because they represent the way we run OUR business. Your business will be different and you need to determine the statuses that will reflect the way you want to do business. If you don't already have a well-established process, then I recommend a Visio diagram of how tickets get into and out of your business.

If you have a well-established process, the ticketing system should automate that. If you don't have a process, the system should help you put one in place.


I recommend you start out with just these statuses:

- New
- Acknowledged
- Assigned
- Schedule This
- Scheduled
- In Progress
- Waiting Materials
- Waiting Results
- Waiting Customer
- Waiting Vendor
- On Hold
- Completed

If you have a backend NOC such as Zenith Infotech, then you would add a few statuses for communicating with them, such as NOC Approval Needed, NOC Approved, and NOC Not Approved. We use this format only so that all the NOC tickets can be sorted together.

Under certain circumstances, you might allow clients to update the status of tickets. We do not allow this for any tickets. When clients create tickets, they are in the "new" status. After that, all status changes are done within our company or by Zenith Infotech, our backoffice NOC.


Status Details

Now let's look a little closer at what each of these statuses mean. I know it is "mostly" obvious, but not completely obvious.


- Status: New

This is the default status assigned to all new Service Tickets. All tickets should start with this status (and should be in the Client Access queue). This triggers the PSA to send alerts to managers, etc. so we know we have a new ticket.

Once the ticket is reviewed by the Service Coordinator, an acknowledgement is sent to the client. At this point, the ticket status is changed to Acknowledged.

No Time Entries can be logged against a ticket in this status.


- Status: Acknowledged

This status indicates that the service team is aware of the new ticket and it has been assigned:
- The appropriate Priority
- An estimate of time for completion
- The appropriate Required Date
- The Issue Type
- A technician if appropriate
- The appropriate queue for further work
(see the blog post SOP Friday: Service Ticket Updates)

When a ticket is set to this status, the PSA system will send an email to the client contact indicated in the ticket, informing them that the status has changed.

The NOC / Back Office should not change any existing ticket to this status.

No Time Entries can be logged against a ticket in this status.


- Status: Assigned

This status indicates that the ticket has been assigned or re-assigned to a technician.

When a ticket is set to this status, the PSA will send an email to the tech and may optionally send an email to the client contact indicated in the ticket, informing them that the status has changed.

The NOC / Back Office should not change any existing ticket to this status.


- Status: Schedule This

This status indicates that work for this ticket is ready to be Scheduled or Re-Scheduled. i.e. The parts have arrived, the end user has responded to an email, etc.

When a ticket is set to this status, the PSA will send an email to the Service Manager informing them that the status has changed.

Note: This is the most common status that tells a technician: You can work this ticket. We have the information, we have the parts, we have the approval, it's assigned to the right queue, it's assigned to the right service agreement, etc.

No Time Entries can be logged against a ticket in this status.


- Status: Scheduled

This status indicates that technicians have been scheduled for this ticket.

The NOC / Back Office should not change any existing ticket to this status.


- Status: In Progress

This status indicates that work is being done on the ticket and progress is being made.

When a ticket is set to this status, the PSA will send an email to the client contact indicated in the ticket informing them that the status has changed.

In reality, this status is rarely used in our office because we have a very small staff. It is really only useful to designate that a ticket is being worked on, and therefore no other techs should work on the ticket. With a very small staff, tickets sit as "Scheduled" or "Schedule This" while working is being done.

In a perfect world, you will change a status to "In Progress" when you begin working on it, that there's no point in slavishly following that procedure if it adds nothing to the smooth working of your department.


- Status: Waiting Materials

The Wait Materials status indicates that work cannot proceed until certain software or hardware is acquired.


- Status: Waiting Results

This status indicates that the service team is waiting on results or output from work performed or changes made. For example, you may have changed a registry entry to fix a problem, and now you are waiting to determine whether you were successful.


- Status: Waiting Customer

This status indicates that the service team is waiting for input, response or work product from the client.


- Status: Waiting Vendor

This status indicates that the service team is waiting for input, response or work product from someone other than the client. i.e., Waiting on ISP or copier tech.


Note on "Waiting" statuses: Don't have too many. But you need a few. After all, you sometimes wait on parts, wait on on clients, wait for test results. Begin the statuses with the word "waiting" so that they are all sorted together when you massage the board (future topic).

For all waiting statuses, the following is true:

Within the PSA ticket, the notes section or the most recent Time Entry should contain all relevant notes indicating what you are waited on.

When a ticket is set to this status, the PSA will send an email to the client contact indicated in the ticket informing them that the status has changed.


- Status: On Hold

This status indicates that the Service Manager has called for a hold on any work to this ticket. No one is to perform ANY work on this ticket.

Within the PSA ticket, the notes section or the most recent Time Entry should contain all relevant notes indicating what you are waited on.

When a ticket is set to this status, the PSA will send an email to the client contact indicated in the ticket informing them that the status has changed.

The NOC / Back Office should not change any existing ticket to this status.

No Time Entries can be logged against a ticket in this status.


- Status: Completed

This status indicates that one or more of the following conditions have been met including all Time Entries and notes up to date:
- The issue outlined in the ticket has been resolved or sufficiently alleviated.
- All work outlined or required has been completed.
- The client has not responded to requests about this ticket.

When a ticket is set to this status, the PSA system will send an email to the client contact indicated in the ticket, informing them that the status has changed.

No Time Entries can be logged against a ticket in this status.

- - - - -

- Implementation Notes -

You might use this list of statuses as a starting place. But I highly recommend that you put together a list of statuses that reflect your business and your standard operating procedures. You should discuss these with your team and draw out a diagram that shows how tickets flow through your business, from "New" to "Closed."

As for the actual implementation, you need to be rigorous about flipping a switch and Just Do It.

Once you agree on your statuses, you need to jump in with both feet because it's the only way you can be absolutely sure that you know where all your tickets are at any given time. If you half-use the system, then you have no system. If the service manager excludes himself from the system, then you have no system. If the newbie techs don't have to follow the system, then you have no system.

The bottom line is, if you're going to define all these statuses, how they make your business work, etc., then you need to finish the job by implementing this standard operating procedure.

One of the great advantages of a PSA system is the ticket-tracking function. But you only get those advantages if you actually use it!


Your Comments Welcome.

- - - - -

About this Series

SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.

Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at http://www.smallbizthoughts.com/events/SOPFriday.html.

- - - - -

Next week's topic: Setting Job Priorities


:-)



Learn how you can be

Making Money in the Small Business Cloud

All day seminar. September 29th.

Las Vegas, NV.

Includes snacks, lunch, and Six Hours of training.

Find Out More and Register Today

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Business Continuity Planning: A Service You Can Sell - and Everyone Needs!

As the IT Consultant and a true "Managed Service Provider," you are in a unique position to be the person who can be a hero to your clients when disaster strikes.

If your plan includes cloud-based recovery that can be executed without relying on client personnel, you can get the company “back in business” while owners and managers are busy taking care of their people (and their families). If you create Business Continuity Plans for a number of clients, you’ll be well versed in what you need to do. So, just like being prepared for a fire, you’ll know what to do in a disaster.

There can be very good money in developing business continuity plans for your clients.

For more details on this, see my recent article on the Doyenze blog: Business Continuity Planning in the SMB Space.

:-)

Testing Cloud Services

Over on the Cloud Services Roundtable blog, I just posted an article on Testing Cloud Services. See:

How do You Test the Cloud?
This topic came up at our IT Pro meeting last night.
How do you test Cloud Services?
After all, you get a report every day that says the backup was successful. The backup was complete. One comment was, "REALLY? Zero problems in 30 days? No glitches? No open files? Nothing?"

One of the most important things we do as managed service providers is manage client systems. Management is different from maintenance. It's the next level. It means we take on the bigger picture. We take responsibility for preventing problems.

:-)



Want to figure out how to make money with Cloud Computing?

Join the Cloud Services Roundtable today and listen a great series of podcasts!

www.cloudservicesroundtable.com


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Third Tier Announces "Brain Explosion Master Class in Remote Access"

As their SMB Nation PreDay Seminar, Third Tier is putting a special focus on Remote Support - one of the most important tools you need to be a successful consultant today.

Here's what Any sent over:


The day will begin at 8:30am with introductions, then at 9:00am sharp the first session begins.

Lunch and an evening at the pub are included with your $100 registration fee.
So not only are we providing amazing content by our very own Third Tier consulting team, but we’re going to have fun too!

Register now

Members of our own staff will be presenting at this event: Eriq Neale, Brian Higgins, Dave Shackelford, Jeremy Anderson, Steve Banks and Cliff Galiher

Here’s what we’ve got planned: 2011 Brain Explosion – A Master Class in Remote Access

8:30am – doors open, meet & greet, welcome by Amy Babinchak

9:00am - Mastering DNS

10:15 - break (15 min)

10:30 - Under the covers of Remote Web Access - how it all works.

12:00 - lunch break (30 min) Vendors Lunch.

12:30 – Securing Remote Access using Radius

1:15 – To Be Determined

2:30 – break (15 min)

2:45 – Advanced Exchange Diagnostics

3:30 – Really Enabling Work from Anywhere on Multiple Devices

4:15 – Final thoughts, dismiss by Amy Babinchak

Later that same evening: PARTY with Third Tier at the local Pub.


Find out more at the SMB Preday web site and Register Today!

:-)

I Made the MSP 250 List (again)!

Thank you to MSPMentor.net for keeping me on their MSP 250 list. I am truly honored.

We have put out a press release about the listing. Monica Caraway put this together and broadcast it today.



FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                      CONTACT:  Details below.  

California August 10, 2011. MSPmentor's Top 250 List Announced

IT Author, Consultant, and Presenter Karl W. Palachuk has been named in MSPmentor's Top 250 for the fourth straight year. MSPmentor identifies the world's top managed services experts, entrepreneurs, and executives - including professionals who have mastered business leadership, marketing, sales, technology, coaching, and other areas within the managed services market.

Karl W. Palachuk has been recognized specifically by MSPmentor for his SMB cloud quote predicting that most small businesses have already purchased their final server amid the cloud's growth. Palachuk has also helped educate the channel this past year via hundreds of informative blogs, podcasts, webinars, articles, and live presentations.

Palachuk's wealth of information and experience in the channel is valued by thousands of professionals trying to make sense of the ever-changing MSP space. He hosted a Pre-Day show at SMB Nation in 2010 instructing MSPs how to make money on cloud offerings, specifically highlighting his proven Cloud 5-pack business model. He was an instrumental member on Microsoft's "Aurora" Late Beta Program for SBS 2011 Essentials. Earlier this year Palachuk orchestrated an 11-city roadshow tour for Intel showcasing their Hybrid Cloud pilot program - a product which is now available on the partner market.

Monica Caraway, Marketing Manager at Small Biz Thoughts, says "The feedback from IT consultants attending Karl's shows and talks has been exceptional, with the results for sponsoring vendors 100 times better than expected." Caraway says "MSPs really respond to Karl's advice as he has been working in the industry for over 15 years running his own technology consulting business. He has written many successful comprehensive and instructional books on the subject." 

Palachuk's Managed Services in a Month book has been a number one hit for Managed Services on Amazon for all of 2010 and 2011. His Smallbizthoughts.com blog is one of the most popular blogs in the MSP space. The blog started in 2006 and has a steady following. This year alone, the blog has enjoyed a six-fold increase in traffic. Palachuk will be holding a seminar September 29th this year entitled Making Money in the Small Business Cloud ahead of SMB Nation's Fall Conference in Las Vegas.

 Karl W. Palachuk is the Senior Systems Engineer at America's Tech Support, a technology consulting firm in Sacramento, CA. He is also the host of the "Cloud Services Roundtable" bi-monthly podcast series, and Author of seven books, including The Network Migration Workbook .

Karl is a popular speaker at technical events. His "Small Biz Thoughts" blog provides advice for Small Business owners and managers in the SMB space. More information can be located at www.smallbizthoughts.com, www.cloudservicesroundtable.com, and www.relaxfocussucceed.com.

Monica Caraway
Small Biz Thoughts
916 248 4301 ext. 402

:-)

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

SMB Nation Preday: Making Money in the Small Business Cloud

SMB Nation Preday Event
- September 29, 2011

Please join me in Las Vegas next month for my 7th Annual SMB Nation "Preday" event. Our topic this year is:

Making Money in the Small Business Cloud

You can learn more and register now at SMB Preday.

The program starts at 9 AM on September 29th.
Location: The Imperial Palace Casino/Hotel
The price of admission includes six hours of education, plus lunch!

We are very pleased to have Intel join us as a sponsor.

Please Register Today

Early registration is only $199.

After September 10th this price will go to $249.

Making Money in the Small Business Cloud

Learn about the best tools and services to combine in your cloud service offering.

Many of us have made a living selling, installing, and maintaining Microsoft's Small Business Server. But now as we begin to integrate cloud services we need to figure out how to make that transition in an orderly - and profitable manner.

Please Register Today

Among other things, we're going to talk about . . .
  • Specific offerings you can use to make money
  • Marketing and promotion
  • The effect on your personnel and operations
  • The practical side of building your own, reselling others' solutions, and simply being an agent for another product
  • How to restructure what you do for greater success in the cloud
  • and more!

Plan Now to arrive a day early and add some major laser-focused content to your SMB Nation experience.

Register now for this GREAT event! Register Right Now

Register now for this GREAT event! Register Right Now
Buy Now

Money-Back Guarantee:

If you are not 100% satisfied with the content of this seminar, we will happily refund the entire cost of your registration!
Small Biz Thoughts Seminars are guaranteed to provide you with useful information that will Make or Save you money right away!
Really.



Links:

Monday, August 08, 2011

Chicago SMB MVP Roadshow August 27th

Got a note from Ted Giesler from the Chicago SBS User Group. They are having a super-big event for their stop on the SMB MVP Roadshow.

The Chicago stop of the SMB MVP Community Roadshow will include Jeff Middleton, Kevin Royalty and Kevin Weilbacher presenting the Small Business Server 2011 family of products. This full day presentation has been created by the MVPs for the community and is based on their experiences with these products. Also attending will be Marina Roos of the Netherlands-based Magic M&Ms.

For more information on the SMB MVP Roadshow, check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nlVFS7M1T-w and http://mvptour2011.sbsmigration.com/.

The event will be held at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Rosemont, IL on Saturday, August 27, 2011 from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. The registration fee of $40.00 will include lunch and discounted parking. To register, go to http://smbmvptour.com/event_selector.php?event_id=157

Discounted rooms are available by contacting the hotel at (847) 696-1234 or (800) 233-1234 and mentioning the SMB MVP Roadshow or Cypress Consulting. Or you may use the hotel web site at http://ohare.hyatt.com/ and type in G-CYPR into CORPORATE/GROUP # box.

The SMB MVP Community Roadshow is sponsored internationally by Microsoft, HP and SBS Migration. The Chicago stop is also sponsored by CRU Dataport, a pioneer in data security and data mobility devices.

:-)





Learn how you can be

Making Money in the Small Business Cloud

All day seminar. September 29th.

Las Vegas, NV.

Includes snacks, lunch, and Six Hours of training.

Find Out More and Register Today

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Autotask Launches 15 City Tour in September

Got this note from Jay McBain at Autotask:

One of the most common requests by the 700 attendees at Autotask Community Live! 2011 was to be able to engage Autotask more than once a year. Several people commented that they wished their entire staff was in Miami to learn more about the solution and interact with peers in the industry.

The feedback received in our post-event survey says it all:
- 97% plan to return to Autotask Community Live! 2012
- 92% will action a new feature in Autotask
- 85% willing to be a reference in the new Referral program (earning up to $1000 uncapped!)
- 90% interested in local User Groups

In the past, Autotask has embarked on several local events including sales road shows, product "jam sessions", user groups and regional bootcamps. We are now consolidating all four into a 15 city tour that includes business building keynotes, vendor integrations, customer best practices, product updates and roadmaps, user groups, as well as bootcamps in 4 cities across the US.

The 15 cities on stage 1 of the tour are:

  • Cincinnati - Sept 13
  • Indianapolis - Sept 20
  • Minneapolis - Sept 22
  • NY/NJ - Sept 22
  • Tampa - Oct 6
  • Toronto - Oct 12
  • Washington, DC - Oct 13
  • Atlanta - Oct 18
  • Boston - Oct 20
  • Seattle - Nov 8
  • San Francisco - Nov 10
  • LA/Orange County - Nov 15
  • Phoenix - Nov 17
  • Denver - Dec 6
  • Dallas - Dec 8
We are looking to engage local Autotask users as well as those in the market for IT Business software (PSA - Professional Services Automation) in these regions. The agenda will be action packed and will be focused on sharing best practices from local Autotask MVP's, technical specialists, as well as User Group leaders.

Register now! http://www.autotask.com/ontour

Friday, August 05, 2011

SOP Friday: Hourly vs. Salaried Employees

When you have employees, one of the most important questions you need to address is how you pay them. The two most common options are to pay hourly and to pay a flat fee per month (salary).

This is also a very highly regulated element of business, so the simple division between hourly and salary isn't that simple any more. Many states have adjusted the "rules" about these two types of employment, applying a variety of requirements and options that might surprise you.

Here are some thoughts on developing a policy that works for you.


- Overview -

Salary
Salary employment means that you agree to pay based on an annual sum, divided evenly by the number of pay periods in the year. For example, a salary of $60,000 and a monthly payroll would result in twelve payments of $5,000 each. Minus taxes, deductions, etc.

Normally, salaries are reserved for supervisors, executives, and managers. Others may be eligible in your state. There are both Federal and State laws about this. In most cases, salaried employees keep track of their time, but only so the employer can calculate things like the cost of delivering services. An employee's salary is stable whether they work 30 hours or 60. (There are some exceptions to this in some states.)

The primary benefit that most employers see is that they can work their employees harder without paying more money. So lunch times disappear and employees are encouraged to stay late, come in on weekends, and not receive extra money. The employer has a stable cost and can (theoretically) increase profit by getting additional "free" labor out of the employee.

In reality, salaried employees tend to receive higher benefits, take off more time during the work day for (paid) trips to the bank and for medical appointments. In other words, the employees make up for a lot of that extra work by taking time where they can find it.

And, to be honest, a good employer won't take advantage of employees.


Hourly
Hourly employees are just that: Paid per hours worked. The norm is that you have to pay extra for overtime, normally 1.5 times the standard rate. You can pay more. I think the 1.5x number is required by law, but I don't know for sure. In California, overtime is calculated every day as well as every week. So anything over 8 hours is overtime, even if the employee is not over 40 hours for the week.

Many hourly employees are not paid benefits. But we offer the same benefits to anyone who regularly works 30 or more hours per week. Benefits can be very expensive or very manageable, so you need to consider them carefully (we'll cover benefits in a future topic).

The great advantage for employers offering hourly labor is that you can increase and decrease the hours as needed to stay profitable. This is sometimes tough on employees, but not always. We have been amazed, especially with young employees, that they don't want 40 hours a week. Some of them are constantly taking a day here and a day there just to go fishing. Many like leaving at 4:00 PM.

We had one employee for three years who almost NEVER worked more than 37 hours a week, no matter how much work there was to do. And it's not because we pay too much.

[Side note: Money is NOT much of a motivator for employees. I know that sounds odd as a manager/owner. But most employees are looking for other ways to be satisfied in their jobs. There are seven million articles on this. Here's one: Is Money an Effective Motivator at Work? by Taras Bereza.]

You can also have additional pay levels. For example, you can pay 2x for work after 12 hours in a day or for work on holidays. Just don't make it too complicated.


Super Important Advice:

If you CAN pay hourly, you have a huge tool for managing your expenses when workflow diminishes.

Employee expenses are the single greatest expense you have. When you have a cash flow crunch, cutting employee expenses is sometimes the only meaningful way to reduce your overhead.

It is hard to lay people off or reduce hours. But your business' survival may depend on it. Paying employees by the hour allows you to reduce hours and see a pretty quick cash flow change. With salaried employees, they're either ON or OFF the payroll, which can be tough.

If you can, I recommend that you pay your employees by the hour.



Bonuses

There are many ways to set bonuses and many kinds of bonuses to offer. We could have a whole separate article on this. But the most important thing to remember is:

Only pay bonuses from net profits . . . and only if you're exceeding your established goals.

Ooooops. You don't have established goals for profitability? Well, take care of that!


Holidays

One big difference between salaried and hourly employees is how holidays are handled. If someone is on salary, they are not generally required to work holidays. Your company needs to post an official list of your company holidays. Post it for employees - and tell your clients.

If you don't do this, you'll have people saying "It's Groundhog Day. Everyone knows that."

There are Federal Holidays and State Holidays. You might add the employee's birthday as a holiday. You might add the day after Thanksgiving (as we do), or choose not to celebrate Columbus Day (we don't).

Like everything else: It doesn't really matter what you do here, as long as you have an agreed upon policy and you post it.

Hourly employees are another story. Generally speaking, if they're not scheduled to work on holidays, then they don't get paid for holidays. If they are scheduled, however, then you might want to pay more for working the holidays. You are not required to do this, so you need to decide what your policy is.


- Implementation Notes -

Posters and Advice

As you can see, this topic can be quite overwhelming.

Each state, plus the Federal government, have posters with many of the most important rules and regulations. You need to post these somewhere. In California they take up approximately one entire wall of the break room.

Believe it or not, those posters can be a great guide to what you can do, what you have to do, and what you can't do. There are a few that actually have blank spots for you to fill in variables like rate of pay for overtime.

Good advice can also be found with your payroll service. We have used ADP, Paychex, small Mom-and-Pop payroll services, and those offered through the bank. In all cases there was someone who knows a LOT about employment rules and regs. You're paying for this with your monthly fees, so you might as well use it.

Another good source of advice is your accountant or enrolled agent. They may offer a payroll service. But if nothing else, they will know someone. Get a referral to a specialist.

I'm not a big fan of downloading someone else's sample employee handbook from the Internet unless you intend to pay your attorney to vet it for your state/province. But there are good, reasonably-price, up-to-date sample handbooks for sale for every state/province. As I mentioned before, this is a very highly regulated area, so don't put yourself in a position to do things illegally because you got the wrong sample.

We have an employee handbook based 95% on a product sold by the California Chamber of Commerce. All changes have been approved by our attorney. We have a lawyer that we use to advise us on all employment matters. We don't give him a lot of work, but enough that he knows who we are when we call.


Final Notes

If you do what makes sense and seems like the right thing to do, you'll probably be just fine. If you use a big payroll service like ADP or Paychex, their processes will help keep you within the law.

But take this stuff very seriously and develop processes and written procedures so you don't have to just make stuff up when an issue comes up.

And please consider paying hourly if you can. It might save your business with cashflow gets tight.


Your Comments Welcome.

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About this Series

SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.

Computer consultants tend to be very good with computers, of course. But that doesn't make them good with the business side of the business. This series is intended to give you a big step up in creating the business you want to be. After all, the best way to become the business you want to be is to start behaving that way now.

This is also a debate at times. So feel free to post your comments and recommendations. If you have alternative "standard" operating procedures, please share them as well.

This series started May 13th. You can find the whole series by simply entering SOP Friday in the search box above (the one for this blog, not necessarily Google search).

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Next week's topic: Ticket Statuses to Use and When to Use Them

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Introduction to Zero Downtime Migrations
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Thursday, August 04, 2011

MSPU Boot Camp - August 17-19 in San Francisco

Got a memo from my friends at MSPU. Their super-cool boot camp is coming to Nor Cal. Here's the note from Erick:

Attend our CEO Operations Track during our San Francisco Boot Camp August 17th - 19th 2011!



Our 3 Day CEO Operations Track Agenda Includes:
  • From Start-Up to Successful MSP Organization in 5 Easy Steps
  • Hiring Technical Staff for Effective, Profitable Managed Services Delivery
  • Creating Win-Win Sales Compensation Plans and Hiring Sales Staff
  • Pricing Managed Services for Maximum Profit
  • Modifying Your Chart of Accounts to Maximize Financial Performance Visibility
  • Maximizing the Effectiveness of Your Managed Services Agreements
  • Forecasting Potential Annuity Revenue from Transitioning Clients to Managed Services
  • Developing a Client Solution Roadmap to Dramatically Increase Revenues 
  • How Managed Services Providers Determine Their Total Cost of Service Delivery and Margins
  • Partnering With and Managing Vendors and Fulfillment Partners
  • Developing Effective KPIs to Measure and Improve Business Outcomes
  • How to Conduct Quarterly Business Reviews as a Trusted Advisor
  • Creating Your Inside Marketing Plan for Lead Generation Success 


OUR BOOT CAMPS KEEP GETTING BIGGER AND BETTER!
   

You've heard the buzz, so register now ABSOLUTELY FREE and receive the tools and techniques to transform your IT practice into an effective, repeatable revenue generator!
See you in San Francisco!

MSP University
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