Friday, September 30, 2011

Bob Godgart Announces Channeleyes.com

I had a nice little chat with Bob G (formerly of Autotask) at the SMB Nation conference in Vegas today. Bob is announcing today that he has created the First Secure Social Network for the Channel, called Channel Eyes. Check them out at ChannelEyes.com.

Here's the basic idea:

1) Technology partners (you) go to ChannelEyes.com and register

2) You list all of the vendors you do business with

3) These vendors then join ChannelEyes.com and connect with all of their "followers"

This will allow vendors to mass communicate with their partners in a social environment, manage "campaigns," respond to inquiries, etc. Partners with multiple employees might have one department subscribe to feeds from the technical advisors and another department subscribe to the sales or marketing feeds, and so forth.

Here's a quick 6-minute interview with Bob:

Interview with Bob Godgart from Channel Eyes

. . . and here's the official press release:

Company founded by industry visionary Bob Godgart

East Greenbush, NY – September 30, 2011 — ChannelEyes LLC today announced that they are creating the first free and secure social network to aggregate Channel Program information, transforming communication between suppliers and Channel Partners, integrators, dealers and agents.

For all types of Channel Partners, ChannelEyes.com will be the single place to see a snapshot of new channel information every day. Partners can control the programs they need to follow, filter the information they want to share and easily build social conversations around it.

For suppliers like vendors, distributors, associations, franchises and other players in the ecosystem, it will be the place to engage with their entire channel. Organizations will be able to target the right person with the right information at the right time. The net result is better engagement and sellthrough.

ChannelEyes is the brainchild of Bob Godgart, a well-known industry veteran and current Chairman of CompTIA. Bob was a pioneer in Cloud Computing, and spent the last 11 years automating how Channel Partners run their business. Now, the focus is on enhancing how they communicate. Godgart’s vision is to create a “ridiculously simple and secure way to engage all Channel Partners.”

Gartner Group noted in their Channel research that social communication and collaboration are in the Top 5 Strategic Technology Areas for 2011. Traditional vehicles such as email, newsletters and Portals are quickly being replaced by social conversations across peer networks.

The ChannelEyes team has talked to hundreds of Channel Partners and they agree it’s virtually impossible to continually read and disseminate industry information. In fact, only 5% use vendor portals and less than 17% open vendor emails. “This is a big problem!” states Godgart, “and ChannelEyes is going to fix that. What Facebook did for collaboration among friends, ChannelEyes will do for business.”

channeleyes 573 Columbia Turnpike, Suite 3B, East Greenbush, NY 12061 518-915-1188

ChannelEyes has an impressive roster of industry talent and has secured strong backing from leading vendors, associations and major VARs. Announcements will be made in the coming weeks.

“Business social applications go beyond simple sharing to create an industry focused, secure environment where information is filtered reaching the right person at the right time” said David Geoghegan, Chief Technology Officer of ChannelEyes. The Company has committed to product availability before year-end.

Vendors and channel partners can sign up for early access today at http://www.channeleyes.com

About ChannelEyes
ChannelEyes LLC will provide the first free and secure social network to aggregate Channel Program information ,
transforming communication between suppliers and Channel Partners, integrators, dealers and agents.

For more information about ChannelEyes, follow us on:
www.channeleyes.com/twitter
www.channeleyes.com/facebook
www.channeleyes.com/linkedin

ChannelEyesTM is a trademark of ChannelEyes LLC. All other trademarks mentioned in this document are the property of their respective owners.

:-)

SOP Friday: Documenting backups

As I've pointed out in The Network Documentation Workbook and in many presentations, there two weaknesses at virtually every new client we take on. The first is documentation and the second is backup.

Approximately 99% of the new clients we've brought on board since 1995 have had little or no documentation of their computer systems. The documentation is at the consultant's house, in his head, or nowhere at all. Sometimes there's a crappy little folder with a printout from the ISP and a couple of piece of paper with chicken scratching. But that's it.

As for backups, our experience has been amazingly consistent: Almost exactly 50% of all new clients have no working backup when they come to us. They might think they have a backup, but it's not working. It's never tested. No one knows when it stopped working. Whatever the case may be, they don't have a working backup.

This article is not about how you design backup strategies. I do have a 12-page white paper on How to Create A Great Backup System in case you're interested. But this article is about how you document your backup.


- Overview -

First, you need a backup. In the big picture, our backups follow some form of the simple data flow demonstrated in the diagram here. We want clients to store data on the server. In cases where they don't or won't, we might institute a Robocopy job to copy data to the server every night.

From the server, we define a backup job to put data on disc, tape, or sometimes the cloud. Our preference is "disc-disc to tape" (DDT) or disc-disc to cloud (DDC). Eventually, we want all data to be moved off site.

It is critically important that you document your backup. I know it seems simplistic, but you really might get hit by a bus and not come in one day.

Documentation takes two forms. At a minimum, you should have a narrative. That means, one simple paragraph for each step of the process. You might also create a diagram. The tools and procedures need to be spelled out so that another competent computer consultant can follow your instructions.

Notice that I did NOT say that the client needs to be able to follow these instructions. Some clients will, some won't. But when you get hit by a bus and the client brings in another competent computer consultant to save their business, that person will understand what you write.

Here's a sample:

  • Backup Description

    All data is stored on the server in the x:\data directory. No data are stored on the desktops. The only exceptions to this are that the Quickbooks files, financial reports, and personnel records are in the x:\moola directory.

    Users "My Documents" folders are not redirected to the server.

    Once a week the Backup Exec job "Weekly Full" runs on the server and backs up everything to disc on NAS-1000 storage device. This includes the server O.S., Exchange, etc. Everything. This job is scheduled for 8:00 PM on Friday night. It is normally finished by midnight.

    Every night the Backup Exec job "Daily" runs on the server and backs up the Exchange databases and the data drive (This is physical drive "D" on the server). This backup goes to disc on NAS-1000 storage device. This job is scheduled for 10:00 PM Monday through Thursday. It is normally finished by 11:00 PM.

    Every night the NAS device is backed up to the Cloud Storage at XYZ Services. Because the weekly full only changes once a week, it really doesn't add any additional data to the daily backups. This backup is scheduled for 1:00 AM on Tuesday through Saturday. Daily jobs normally finish by 5:00 AM. The Weekend Full backup normally finishes Saturday evening.

    Files are stored in the cloud storage as simple files and folders. So the backups are just really big files. This synchronization takes place at night and on weekends.

Obviously, your backup narrative will be different from this. But you get the idea.

At some point, we'll talk about the narrative for recovering files (and servers) in a disaster scenario. But, again, a competent technician will be able to figure that out from here.

If you still use tapes, or switch out RDX drives at clients, then you'll also need a sheet for the client to write down when they switched tapes/discs and which one they used. This is particularly important with RDX drives since most backup systems give all drives the same name and don't distinguish them electronically. So a good old labor on the medium is the only way to know which one you want when it's time to restore.


- Implementation Notes -

Implementation here is pretty straight forward. you already have a backup strategy. After all, you've implemented something. Now you just need to write a few paragraphs about what you did.

Have your narrative reviewed by another technician and answer any questions they have. Chances are that a total stranger who wanders in to the office will have the same questions. Integrate these answers into your narrative.

The backup description (narrative) should live in the Network Documentation Binder on site at the client's office. Since you will write it electronically, you can also save a copy on the client's server in the c:\!tech directory and on your own PSA system (Autotask, Tigerpaw, etc.).

Depending on the client, you may want to go over this with them so they understand the backup process. Some clients really get into this stuff. But many clients will just have a blank stare. Don't force them to listen to you. :-)

If you're not used to writing like this, don't fret. Changes are pretty good that you have YOUR way of doing things. As a result, most of your clients have pretty much the same backup system. So you can save a draft description of backup strategies and just tweak as needed for each client.


Remember The Two Great Weaknesses

- Backups that work

- Documentation

Just because you address the backup doesn't mean you can slack off on the documentation. Do both and you'll do your client a huge favor.


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: Choosing Pay Dates


:-)





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Friday, September 23, 2011

SOP Friday: Cash Flow: Dealing with Late Payments

I addressed Getting Paid In Advance a few SOP Fridays ago. In that process, I spelled out some proposed policies for getting your money up front. Remember, it is better to have someone else's money in your bank than to have your money in someone else's bank!

But along with policies about how money should be collected, you need some procedures about how you'll actually collect it. This week's installment is an intro to money collection policies.


- Overview -

Again, many people start their small businesses with no real policies about money. We assume that everyone's honest, everyone is willing to pay for what they get, and everyone understands that we're just a small company trying to get by. And, 99% of the time, that's true. But that 1% can be a huge pain the butt!

Setting Terms

To begin with, you need to establish the terms you will offer clients. Terms and payment policies are directly related, but are not the same thing. You might have terms of "Net 30" from Ingram or Synnex. That means that the total payment is due within 30 days of when you placed the order.

You can have different terms for managed services, hourly labor, and hardware/software/materials. For us, anything we resell (hardware/software/materials) is "Due Upon Receipt" and we have to receive the money before we order the product. In this way, we're 100% sure that we will never owe money to a supplier for a product and then have to wait to get paid.

We require that managed services be paid on the first day of the month and is considered late on the 5th . . . just like the rent. As I've mentioned before, our actual policy is that managed services are prepaid monthly by credit card or three months in advance if the client pays by check.

[Side note on credit cards: This is the 21st Century. You just have to take credit cards. They allow you to get paid in advance . . . just as you pay in advance for many of your own bills. Yes you have to pay some small percentage every month. Just do it. If you need to lower your rate, contact My Man Richard to get set up with a lower rate. But even if you pay 3%, it's always better to have the money guaranteed on the first day of the month than to have to deal with collections.]

As for hourly labor, we have terms of "Net 20 Days." That's pretty generous (in my opinion), but still puts each payment after the next payroll cycle since we pay twice a month. Keep these connected in your mind: Clients are paying you for labor that was delivered on Day 0. You paid your employees for that on Day 15. The client can pay you as late as Day 20.

You need a little cash on hand to make this "float" happen. That's reasonable. But having the client ignore you and not pay for 30, 60, or 90 days is not reasonable. Keep that in mind.

We also charge Late Fees and Interest. You will charge late fees for any payments received after the 5th of the month, or for whatever the term is on other invoices. We recommend a simple $25 fee. Not too big. Just enough to get their attention.

As for interest charges, we charge 18% per anum or 1.5% per month. Quickbooks is real good at calculating this. We apply interest charges every Monday right before we do billing for the previous week. Note: Your state may limit the interest you can charge without a service agreement in place.

Some people just refuse to pay late fees and interest charges. For some reason, they think the I.T. company is different from the bank, the landlord, the copy repairman, the heating and AC company, the janitor, the carpet cleaners, and everyone else they deal with. If you're different on this front, it's because you've allowed yourself to be.

We eventually collect these fees from everyone. One day they'll overpay, or have a refund coming for some reason. Simply apply the refund amount to any outstanding late fees and interest changes, and refund the rest.

In very drastic cases, we have cut off clients who owe us more than $500 for more than 30 days. After a couple instances, they learn to pay on time.


- Implementation Notes -

The implementation of these processes is not difficult, and there aren't a bunch of forms. But you do need to take care of three stages of implementation.

First, you need to figure out what you want to do with your terms. Write it down, just like the paragraphs above. Put this in a binder for Operations (as opposed to Technology policies).

Second, you need to write one or more letters to your clients clarifying your policies. You should also review your contracts (everyone needs a signed Service Agreement with each client. Your agreement should state your policies and be flexible enough to allow minor changes with a memo.

Third, you need to implement your policy. Next Monday, review your past due balances. Assign late fees and email out invoices for those. Then assess interest charges. Identify clients who are grossly over due (e.g., $500 for 30 days) and take appropriate action.

Most importantly, stop worrying! You're not going to lose clients simply because you have the same policies in place that THEY have with their clients. These are very normal business terms. So don't freak out about it. Just implement and move on.


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: Documenting Backups


:-)




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Network Operations Center Operations Guide
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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Doyenz Webinar Posted: Building Successful Cloud Services

Yesterday we had a great webinar with Jamison West, founder of Arterian, and Michael Stephan, Doyenz Sales Manager.

The topic was Building Successful Cloud Services. Arterian relies heavily on the Doyenz solution for their services, including backup, disaster recovery, and business continuity. Jamison manages more than 200 servers on Doyenz and talks about his experience in moving these clients off of a "legacy" BDR solution.

Now Arterian provides a hybrid solution with HaaS (hardware as a service) through CharTec, a BDR solution on site, and Doyenz in the cloud. There are three primary kinds of clients, as Jamison explains in detail.

Jamison is excited to talk about how MSPs can make recurring profit with the Doyenz Cloud. We also answer caller questions about the cloud offerings and how Doyenz and CharTec work together.

Anyway, the webinar is now posted and you can listen to it at Small Biz Thoughts.

:-)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Exclusive SMB Nation Fall Conference Invitation

Just got this missive from HarryB at SMB Nation.

Please sign up for a Preday Event on September 29th and then join everyone for the big SMB Nation Fall Conference Sept. 30 - Oct. 2nd in Las Vegas.

From Harry:

- - - - -





September 29th* - October 2nd
  
Hey Guys!  I'm sure you will get a laugh out of me dancing as Elvis in this Video - It's a lot of fun!
  
But seriously, give us two minutes and we'll give you 5 fantastic reasons why you just cannot miss SMB Nation's Fall Conference.  We have been doing this conference for 8+ years and I have to say it is going to be the best one to date. Over 2/3 of our content is TECHNICAL!!! 
  
SMB Nation Fall 2011  
HURRY & SIGN UP!
Just click the "Play" button to start the chuckles!
  
BONUS: Jeff Middleton just signed on as the kick-off speaker bringing his SMB MVP Tour to our show. It's a "taster" that will tempt you to attend his evening workshop when it comes to your town!

* Core conference is September 30-October 2. Pre-day is September 29th. See site for details.  


Register for the Fall Conference 

:-)

Friday, September 16, 2011

SOP Friday: IP Address Allocations

This is definitely more of a technical than a business discussion. But as with most things technical, you can save money and be more efficient if you handle it right.

Most of us inherit whatever IP scheme existed before we showed up. And we pretty much let it go on that way. But as you administer more and more clients, there's a lot of efficiency to be coaxed out of consistency between clients.

In my Network Documentation Workbook I have several forms related to the network, and one in particular on IP Address Allocation. Here's some of the Standard Operating Procedure behind that form.


- Overview -

This is one of those “What happens if you get hit by a bus?” forms. If there’s only one person who knows the range of addresses allocated for printers, administration can get expensive.

Of course there are two pieces to the IP Address (subnet): The address space and the subnet mask. While firewall vendors and router manufacturers love to push us into the 192.168.1.x address space, there are plenty of other options available. For the official low-down on the private addresses you can use, see these docs: The Official, Dry Description of Private IP Addresses or the Microsoft Technet Description of Private IP Addresses.

Given all the options and equipment available today, I recommend a Class C for the client office. In fact, a full Class C (254 addresses). This means your internal network subnet mask is always 255.255.255.0. Remember that you have the following IP address spaces (subnets) available to you:

192.168.0.x - 192.168.255.x

172.16.0.x - 172.31.255.x

10.0.0.x - 10.255.255.x

The main thing you need to care about with regard to the address space is that no client should have the same address space as your company. The reason for this is very simple: You might need to set up a VPN to the client at some point. And if you both have the same subnet (e.g., 192.168.0.x), then your router won't actually route traffic over the VPN because it will think you're on the same subnet (and, therefore, there's no reason to route).

This might be a remote possibility - excuse the pun - but it's worth keeping in mind just in case. And it's pretty easy to do. If you have a 10 or 172 address space, your chances of running into an identical address space are very slim. For example, 10.012.123.x.

After you decide on the IP address space, you need to have a scheme for the last three digits. We use IP allocations something like this (refers to the last quartet of the IP address):

1-20 Network Equipment
26-50 Servers
76-100 Printers and other connected devices
101-200 DHCP for Desktops
201-250 Telephones
Another network/subnet for RAS (personal preference)

Hey, am I trying to pull something? There are gaps here. I like to leave some wiggle room. If I’ve learned one thing about technology, it’s that I can’t tell the future. While it seems unlikely that a whole class of devices needing IP addresses will suddenly appear, I have to humbly admit that most networks didn’t use TCP/IP at all fifteen years ago. And we didn't even have a range for telephones until just a couple years ago.


- Implementation Notes -

You can easily create this form for your binder. Simply use one column for the range and one column for the description. The actual implementation might take some time.

On new, fresh networks, you can simply set your ranges and execute.

On older, existing networks, you'll need to phase in execution. It can be disruptive to move printer addresses around, especially if printers are installed with direct printing on each desktop. Servers are also a bit tricky, but less so. Moving their IP address might cause some problems with the NetBIOS name cache. Clearing the cache or simply rebooting machines can take care of this.

But for maximum success, you'll just need to be patient and assign new printers and servers to their new IP ranges. Eventually, the old machines will go away. Having said that, a network migration is a great opportunity to implement the new address scheme as you'll have lots of other changes going on, you'll already be scheduled to hit every desktop to make sure everything works, and you might be moving DHCP and DNS services around anyway.

So, whether old or new, you'll gradually move each type of device into the appropriate ranges.

DHCP is its own category, of course. Simply redefine the scope to the new "approved" range. As machines reboot or DHCP leases expire, the new range will simply take care of itself.


- Benefits -

The biggest benefit of documenting how you use (and will use) IP addresses is that you never have to worry that you'll use an already-assigned IP. This is important for your team, but it's also important when working with other vendors. The most common "other vendor" you'll deal with on this is the dude who installs the big scanner/printer/fax machines.

They tend to run ipconfig/all to find the range and then just randomly assign a number from that range. Sometimes they even assign the wrong subnet mask or (I'm not kidding), serve up DHCP. All of these actions can break the network. Everything breaks except the new printer. So who does the client call? YOU.

It is much better if
1) The client lets you know when the printer dude is coming,
and
2) YOU assign the IP address and tell him what it is.

. . .

And that's a perfect example of why this policy is good to have. You simply open the Network Documentation Binder, look at the IP Allocation page, and assign the next available printer address. Zero hassles. Zero guesswork.


This kind of policy requires that everyone on the team

1) Be aware of the policy

2) Practice the policy

3) Correct one another's errors

4) Support one another with reminders


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: Cash Flow: Dealing with Late Payments


:-)




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

CompTIA Announces Pre-Day Event for SMB Nation

SMB Nation is the longest-standing conference for the SMB Consulting community. As a result, many organizations add value by presenting additional information and education before the big event.

Comptia has announced that they are holding their MSP Partners Community meeting on September 29th at the Rio in Vegas. See www.smbpreday.com for details.

This event is FREE to CompTIA members and open to everyone.
Register and learn more at http://www.cvent.com/d/mcqjzq

Here's the info:

THURSDAY MEETING VENUE
Rio Hotel & Casino
3700 W. Flamingo Road
Las Vegas, NV 89103

TIME / DATE
10:00 am - 3:00 pm on 29 September 2011.

AGENDA
- Vendor program
- MSP Partners TM Education
- Lunch
- MSP Partners 2012 Planning

- - - - -

More Preday Events

There are also SMB Nation Preday events sponsored by Third Tier Consulting and my own. More info is available at www.smbpreday.com.

See you in Vegas, Baby!
:-)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Cloud as a Tool: Moving Beyond Backup

Yesterday I submitted an article to my friends at Doyenz and it's now up for your review at The Doyenz Blog:

The Cloud as a Tool: Moving Beyond Backup.

The article is about more than backup. That's the point. If all you're using the Cloud for is backup, you're missing the boat.

Backup is the basic service that makes possible some very cool services you should be offering to your small business clients. Here's a hint: Uptime good; downtime bad.

Check out the article now.

Also take a minute to read the last article I wrote for Doyenz on Business Continuity Planning in the SMB Space.

:-)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Making Money in the Small Business Cloud - Sept. 29th in Vegas


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

Registration is only $249.
Use promo code Summer2011 to take $50 off that price right now!
Final price: only $199 per person


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

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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:

Friday, September 09, 2011

SOP Friday: Cash Flow: Getting Paid in Advance

Cash flow can kill your company - even if you're successful. When the money comes in after the bills are overdue, you have to scramble. Luckily, there are some simple strategies for staying ahead of the cash flow curve. In addition to making your life less stressful, positive cash flow will make your business more enjoyable and truly profitable.

Note: I've written a lot about cash flow over the years. Please see these posts, for example:

- How to Get Your Money Straight: Do It

- Response re: Cash Flow (Part of the Managed Services in a Month series.)

- Quick Quiz: Handling Money

Today we're going to talk about the most important rule of all: Get Paid In Advance as much as possible.


- Overview -

Unfortunately, many people start their small businesses with the assumption that they need to extend credit to their clients. A handful of entrepreneurs somehow escape this mindset and never fall prey to the cash flow trap. As a general rule for success, you should collect as much money as possible in advance.

Here's the basic problem: Timing.

And the basic reality: Money owed to you has a value less than one dollar per dollar.

The timing part is really the essence of cash flow. Let's say you do $10,000 worth of work. Due to different client arrangements and paying habits, you might expect:

$1,000 within the next week.
$3,000 more within the next two weeks.
$3,000 more within the next month.
$3,000 more within the next two months.

In reality, you have bills to pay next week, the week after, this month, and next month. Getting "paid" $10,000 is great. But your creditors don't care that you've extended credit to your customers. In this scenario, you'll pay your employees and your landlord more than once before you get your money.

And the sad truth is that old money has less value. Money that's more than 30, 60, 90 days old will probably be paid back with a "deal" that's less than face value. I've talked to many consultants who are owed $25,000 or $50,000. Some even more. Every one of these folks would happily take 75% of the total just to get the money now.

If you operate that way on an ongoing basis, then you need to build that into your rates. When you combine all clients, if you collect $90 for every $100 billed, then you need to adjust your budget to assume your effective billing rate is $90.

There are a handful of successful practices that can make all the difference with cash flow.

Start with the assumption that you'll get paid in advance whenever possible. To be honest, making this change in the middle of a recession may be the best possible timing. You won't have to feel guilty about the change, and your clients will understand how tough things are.

Here are our basic "paid in advance" policies.

Hardware and Software must be paid in advance before you order it from the distributor. Period. If the client goes online to Dell or CDW, they'll pay in advance. Sometimes weeks in advance. You have less credit and less cash flow than Dell or CDW. You just can't be out for the cost of equipment.

Project labor must be paid in installments with a portion up front. Whether it's the setup fee or simply 25% of the project, you need a big lump up front to cover costs and payroll for the project. The remainder should be paid on a schedule. The Schedule should be based on the completion of stages, not on a calendar schedule. If you give a calendar, make it an estimate and be clear that payments will be due upon the completion of stages.

All Managed Service payments are due on the first day of the month. If the client pays by credit card of debit card, the card is run on the first day of the month. If the client pays by check, she must pay for three months at a time, due on the 1st of the first month. That means she needs to get her invoice a couple of weeks early.

By ALL managed services, we include Hardware As A Service, equipment rentals, remote monitoring and patch management, remote support, prepaid blocks of time, SPLA or other licensing, and hosted services (spam filter, anti-virus, etc.). Anything that's billed regularly is paid in advance.

Cool. So now you're getting your money up front. In Managed Services in a Month, Service Agreements for SMB Consultants, and pretty much every other book on managed services, one of the greatest benefits you'll find is getting you money on the first day of the month.

There is a great joy in knowing that you've got the rent paid and all of the payroll covered. It really is a beautiful thing.

In two weeks we'll discuss some simple rules to enforce this.


- Implementation Notes -

The hardest part about implementing these policies is YOU sitting down and writing a memo to your clients. All of these policies are rational and straight forward. They make good business sense, and are SOP for most businesses. Somehow, small business consulting hasn't caught on.

So you just need to write a note to your clients that says that, due to changes in the business environment, you have found it necessary to implement a few changes to how you operate. I've actually got a sample memo along these lines in the Managed Services in a Month book. But it's really simple.

Your memo will include:
- Intro paragraph
- Statement of your new Hardware/Software prepayment policy
- Statement of your new Managed Services prepayment policy
- Thank you note for continued business

Give at least 30 days notice. So, basically, you policy will become effective the month after next. For example, if you send the memo on September 9th, then the policy would be effective November 1st.

After that, you just need to make sure you billing/invoice/front office and sales folks follow the new processes. It may take a little getting used to, but it will be fine.


- Forms -

There are no specific forms for implementing this SOP. You might write up a brief description of the procedure and put it into your SOP or binder.

This kind of policy requires that everyone on the team

1) Be aware of the policy

2) Practice the policy

3) Correct one another's errors

4) Support one another with reminders


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: IP Address Allocations


:-)



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

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

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Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Hot New Cloud Training Audio Download - FREE for A Limited Time

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This is an audio program with the PowerPoint slides in pdf format. Includes one MP3 audio file, one PowerPoint slide deck and one client-facing advertising example. All delivered in one zip file.

This seminar is intended for small computer consulting firms that want to learn how to develop profitable cloud service offerings for their smallest clients.


There are Three Ways you can get this audio program for free.

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3) Register NOW for my SMB Nation Preday Seminar Making Money in the Small Business Cloud. September 29th. Right now this seminar is on sale for only $199. That sale price ends Monday, Sept. 10th.

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Important Limitations:

- This product will be made available for free to Cloud Service Roundtable members through September 30th only. After that, you will need to buy the audio program. So if you're a member, you should download it NOW!

- This product will only be offered to new members for free through September 30th. After that, you will need to buy the audio program. So join NOW!

- We obviously can't offer this audio file with the SMB Nation Preday Seminar after it's over, so that offer expires September 29th.

- - - - -

Note: If you just think I really should be paid at least $39.99 for this great audio training, then please add it to your cart right now.

Thank you for your support.

:-)

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

1 Shopping Cart Users: It's Time For Larger Uploads!

Do you use 1 Shopping Cart (1shoppingcart.com)?

Then you probably would like to see some improvements. I am 90% happy with 1shoppingcart.com. I've been renewing it at the highest level for six years now. It is amazing and feature rich.

But 1shoppingcart.com has one huge drawback: It limits downloadable products to 7 MB. That's not a misprint. 7 Mb. That's roughly the size of your company logo.

This is an old and outdated limit. It is absurd by any measure, but particularly stupid in the age of digital products. Luckily You can do something about it!

If you are a registered 1shoppingcart.com user, you can go to their development forum and vote for which improvements you'd like to see. Best of all, you get to cast one, two, or three votes for any given proposal.

Go to http://ideas.1shoppingcart.com/forums/ to check it out. If you haven't registered before, you'll need to go through that process. And again, this is open to registered 1shoppingcart.com users only.

Once you log in, you'll have ten votes to allocate among all the proposed updates. In the Big Ideas forum, search for "digital" and fine the proposal entitled

Allow for large file size digital products

Then please cast three votes for this proposed update. As of this writing, the item has 91 votes. Let's see if we can get it to 150 and get the developers' attention!

If you are a 1 Shopping Cart User, and you sell books, audio, or other digital products, PLEASE vote to increase the size of digital downloads from this great shopping cart program.

You can post notes here if you wish.

Thank you.

-- karlp

:-)

Saturday, September 03, 2011

SMB MVP Roadshow - Dates and Details

Jeff Middleton sent me the deets on the SMB MVP Roadshow so far. Here's his note and the dates so far.

- - - - -
With additional sponsorship from HP and Microsoft, SBSmigration.com is pleased to produce a worldwide roadshow which is coming through your area!

I’m joining the presentation team of my fellow SMB MVPs in your region presenting on:

• Microsoft SBS 2011, MultiPoint Server 2011, Storage Server 2011 Solutions
• HP MicroServer and SMB scale products
• SBSmigration.com Swing Migration solutions

This tour is all made possible with sponsorship funding from HP and Microsoft, plus the significant volunteer contributions of the worldwide IT Pro Community. The MVPs are making this an entirely volunteered peer to peer roadshow of experts moving city by city, worldwide, a truly remarkable approach to education in our SMB space.

Regionally and internationally, it will be the sacrifice of time and collaboration efforts of dozens of SMB MVPs, community leaders and the enthusiastic support of thousands of people like you that make this happen.

I hope to see you when we come to present these events hosted locally. Get registered and learn more now!
- - - - -

Registration and Details: www.mvptour2011.sbsmigration.com/register

The following outlines the events scheduled between now and the end of October:

7-September-2011
Technological University of America
Coconut Creek, Florida, US
South Florida Technology Network

8-September-2011
Microsoft - Tampa, Florida
Tampa, FL, US
Tampa Bay SBS User Group

10-September-2011
Microsoft Canada Head Office
Mississauga, Ontario, CA
ITPro Toronto

14-September-2011
Micrsoft HQ NYC
New York, US
NYSBS Group

16-September-2011
Shilo Inn - Portland Airport
Portland, OR, US
Technology Wizards Presents SMB MVPs!

17-September-2011
Microsoft's Redmond Campus
Redmond, Seattle, US
Puget Sound Small Business Server User Group (PSSBS)

08-October-2011
Focus: HOPE Conference Center
Detroit, Michigan, US
HOPE IT User Group (FHITUG) and SE Michigan SMB ITPro User Group

11-October-2011
Microsoft's Las Colinas' Offices
Irving, Texas, US
Dallas Fort Worth Small Business Server Group

11-October-2011
Microsoft Office Building
Independence, Ohio, US
Cleveland SMB Partner Group

12-October-2011
New Horizons Training Center
Grand Rapids, Michigan, US
West Michigan Small Business Technology User Group

14-October-2011
Microsoft Alpharetta GA Office
Alpharetta, Georgia, US
USA Roadshow Events

18-October-2011
Microsoft Charlotte Campus
Charlotte, North Carolina, US
Charlotte SBS Group

19-October-2011
Microsoft HQ LA
Los Angeles, California, US
PacITpros Los Angeles

20-October-2011
Microsoft Regional Office
Boston, Massachusetts, US
National Information Security Group - Boston Chapter

20-October-2011
The Old Spaghetti Factory
Phoenix, Arizona, US
AZSMBUG - Arizona Small and Medium Business Users Group

22-October-2011
Sunrise Vista Office Building
Fair Oaks, California, US
Sacramento SMB MVP Community Road Show

Registration and Details: www.mvptour2011.sbsmigration.com/register
:-)

Friday, September 02, 2011

SOP Friday: Massaging the Service Board

In the field of statistical research, there's a term called "massaging the numbers" or massaging the data. You see, after you've collected the data, they just exist. And despite what news pundits and politicians want you to believe, the data do not speak for themselves. You have to coax the meaning out of them.

Your service board is the same way.

The service tickets and internal tasks in your service board need to be managed like a living entity. Tickets move from status to status, and from queue to queue. If you're not careful, things can get lost. One of the main reasons you have a ticketing system is so that things don't get lost. But that's not magic.

And so we have the term "Massaging the Service Board."

- - - - -
Note: This post will synthesize a good deal of what we've been working up to in the last few months. Please forgive the references to earlier posts. I tried to keep these to a minimum. But you'll see that this is where all those PSA posts begin to come together. You'll also see that it takes some practice to keep all those procedures in your head at once.

To be honest, that's why we have a service manager or a service coordinator. Someone has to remember all this (or have a checklist). But you don't need every technician to be able to do all this. Let them do what they do best.
- - - - -


- Overview -

First, how can things get "lost" in your service board? Well, there are several kinds of lost:
  • An item can sit in a waiting status (see Service Ticket Statuses to Use and When to Use Them) and never be seen again. This is particularly true of Waiting on Client.
  • A ticket can be mis-handled by technicians. The most common example of this is when one tech opens a ticket, pokes around, and determines that he can't move it forward (or he's just too lazy to take on the task). He logs 15 minutes for doing nothing. Then another tech does the same thing. And another. And another. Then the first guy again. Soon you've got two hours of labor that's not real labor . . . and the ticket hasn't moved.
  • If the service manager or coordinator aren't familiar with the board, they may not know where to look for all the tickets. This is more of a danger if you have too many queues, too many statuses, too many work types, etc. (see previous SOP Friday posts, including this one on ticket statuses to use.)
  • Sometimes old tickets or even low priority tickets don't get the attention they deserve. Some clients fear that their low priority tickets will never be addressed, so you need to make sure you take care of these.
  • Some tickets are hidden by the system unless you are the assigned technician. Unless you have a very large shop, I don't recommend this. At any rate the service manager or coordinator needs to see everything.

The Basic Massage

Just like a good back rub, the basic massage will make your service board feel better right away. The basic massage consists of looking at all of the new tickets very quickly. Basically, you're going to do a quick check to verify that all the fields are right. See the earlier post Service Ticket Updates.

Next, you'll sort all open tickets from oldest to newest. How old is the oldest ticket? If it's one week, someone's deleting tickets and you need to find out who it is so you can fire them. :-)

Seriously, though. How many tickets are more than 30 days old? 60? 90? If you follow the advice I gave under Setting Job Priorities then you'll move these older ticket up in priority.

It is VERY important to track the average age of tickets.
- The average age of all tickets at time of closing.
- The average age of all tickets with Priority One.
- The average age of all tickets with Priority Two.
- The average age of all tickets with Priority Three.
- The average age of all tickets with Priority Four.

PSA systems promise that you'll be able to do all kinds of reporting. But, as a rule, their reporting is clunky and difficult for things like this. If you generate reports for things like the age of a ticket, you're pretty safe. But it's always a good idea to go dig up the data and verify the math yourself for a few reports to make sure you're actually measuring what you want and that the system is giving you correct data.

. . . So back to the basic massage . . .

Your focus right now should be on the oldest tickets. Make sure that they are getting attention and that they don't languish. You might from time to time give a senior technician a couple of really old tickets and make sure they're handled ASAP.

Next, you'll sort the tickets by priority. How many Priority Ones are in the system? P2? P3? P4? Log this information so you can track it over time. You might want to enter these counts into an Excel spreadsheet on Friday at 5PM, or some other regular day.

Make sure the highest priority tickets are getting the most attention. That means schedule them, find out where they are, and re-arrange technicians to keep the focus on the highest priority tickets.

Remember, we work tickets from highest priority to lowest priority, from oldest to newest.

Finally, you want to look at all the tickets that had time entries OR were closed yesterday (the previous work day). Did the technician communicate with the client? Does the time look right? Does the client need a little note saying "Hey, hope everything's working great with that printer"? And so forth.

Massage the clients while you're massaging the board.


Deep Issue Massage

Just like a deep tissue massage, your board sometimes needs a Deep Issue Massage. You'll do the basic massage every day. It shouldn't take long. 30-60 minutes max . . . if you do it every day. The Deep Issue Massage takes a little longer. You might want to do it every week or so.

First, look at each queue or service board. Look at each ticket assigned to your Back Office (Zenith, Dove Help Desk, Third Tier, etc.). Are these tickets being addressed appropriately? Are they moving forward? Close anything that's completed but just sitting around for a long time waiting for someone to approve closing it.

Second, look at the billable tickets. These should all be scheduled, or at least have notes about when they can be scheduled. No matter what the priority, truly billable labor (as opposed to managed service labor) needs to be scheduled on a regular basis. We'll talk about this in a future posting.

Third, check out the internal admin tickets. This is where your employees log their time for straightening out their desk, checking email, sitting on webinars, and other activities you can't bill to a client. Yes, you need this. But these activities really need to be kept in check.

Our experience is that a handful of technicians will have really high "admin" time and others will have near zero. Guess which ones are better techs? But you need to check in on this in order to keep yourself informed. Make notes and have talks as needed.

Fourth, check your "escalated" tickets. That means the ones thrown to the most senior techs because 1) No one else can do it, 2) The problem is old or very difficult, or 3) a critical issue has been going on for some time and you're working with a third party support desk.

Escalated tickets can kill your profitability. If they drag on, you need to figure out what else you can do to fix the problem and move on. Don't harp on the tech every day, but do bring it up once a week.

This is also a great time to see if you've totally over-worked one tech with a bunch of crises. Manage the people part of your business as well.

Fifth, review special projects. This includes migrations, new installs, client on-boarding, and whatever else you've got going. Is all time being properly logged to these projects? If you follow my super-good project process, then you need to make sure that all time is logged to the appropriate tickets/tasks within the project.

Obviously, you want to make sure that the project is moving forward and looking successful. Again, a little client contact might be in order. Don't bug them every day, but make sure the actions and attitudes are all aligned for success at least once a week.

Make changes as needed to assign or re-assign technicians to keep all projects moving forward. Close tickets and project "stages" as appropriate. Massage the project. :-)

Sixth, review scheduled maintenance. That's your monthly maintenance, weekly maintenance, quarterly maintenance, etc. Anything that's scheduled and recurring.

Here, you want to make sure that things are being scheduled and executed in a timely fashion. If it's the 25th of the month, you better not be 1/3 of the way finished with monthly maintenance tickets! If you've skipped monthly maintenance at a client or two, that's a real danger sign.

For some reason (at least in our company) there always seem to be monthly maintenance tickets that remain open even when the work is done. Perhaps techs think the service coordinator should close them. Perhaps the tech was waiting on a report or a successful restore. For whatever reason, it appears that everything is complete, but the ticket's still open. Ping the tech and close the ticket. This will clean up your stats, too.

Seventh, look through the sales tickets (pre-sales, post sales, or whatever). Are your sales people getting the support they need from technicians? Are quotes going out to clients and prospects in a timely manner?

Note: We'll talk about this in another post, but here are two examples of "sales tickets" for us.

Example pre-sales ticket: Technician is on site and client says they want a quote for a new printer. The tech enters a ticket with a note that it should be assigned to sales. In our system, new tickets always go through the client access queue. From there, the person monitoring the board acknowledges the ticket, puts it in the right queue, assigns it, etc. See the post Service Ticket Updates.

Example post-sales ticket: After the client gets a quote and approves the quote, the ticket is moved to post-sales. The sales person still has to receive payment, then order the equipment. The ticket has statuses of waiting on client, waiting on vendor, or something similar. Once the equipment arrives, the ticket is moved to the status "Schedule This" and moved to the appropriate work queue or service board.


- Implementation Notes -

Final notes on the Deep Issue Massage:

This can be a half-day project when you first do it. It will go faster over time. In a perfect world, you will get in the groove of massaging the service board a little every day and that will make the big massage a lot faster.

Basically, you want to have someone be able to have a sense of how all the tickets in your company are flowing. It IS a lot of work at first, but becomes much easier if you do it every day.

The weekly Deep Issue Massage is also a great time to generate the statistics you need to calculate your backlog. If all the numbers are right in all the tickets, you should be able to calculate the total number of hours you need to close all the tickets, and the rate at which you are closing tickets. Of course new tickets will always enter the system, but the goal is to come up with a backlog number that's reasonable, sustainable, and profitable for you.

We'll do a post on backlog and managing the backlog, but for now, just start keeping those stats.


- Benefits -

The primary benefit of massaging your service board is that you keep it under control. You verify that your company is using the PSA system. You verify that you are meeting your promises to clients. You verify that you don't have a bunch of old tickets out there.

You guarantee that things are flowing . . . and profitable.

In the normal course of massaging the service board, you will close a number of tickets that should have been closed. You'll straighten out priorities. You'll schedule your technicians better. And you'll do some good client relationship management.


- Forms -

There are no specific forms for implementing this SOP. You might write up a brief description of the procedure and put it into your SOP or binder.

This kind of policy requires that everyone on the team be aware of the policy and support it.

It requires one or two people to have the skills to massage the board.


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: Cash Flow: Getting Paid in Advance


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Thursday, September 01, 2011

The Year Has Been Extended

PLEASE, people: Don't give up yet.

The year is not OVER on August 31st. No, we're going to play it out until the end. It's not even the 3rd quarter yet. Let's finish this thing . . . with a BANG!


For some reason, September seems like the annual equivalent of a meeting right after lunch. Everyone wants to sleep.

Summer's over (at least psychologically).
School's in.
Vacations are winding down.
Stores have Halloween, Thanksgiving, and even Christmas stuff out already.
Yesterday was shorter than the day before.

Everyone is in 60% shutdown mode.

This is always a problem, but seems to be worse this year. The economy is about to celebrate it's third year in the toilet. The 10th anniversary of "September 11th" has people feeling melancholy about all the stuff we've been through.

Times are tough. Things are slow.

But PLEASE don't give up yet. We doesn't have one month left, or even two or three. There are FOUR more months left this year. It's only 2/3 over with. We've got a LONG time til Christmas and the New Year.

Let's see some action out there.

Take that money out of your wallet and take a chance. Spend a little. Buy a little. Hire someone if you can. Do your little part to get things going.

I'm not asking for a miracle here. Just splash some water on your face and wake up. We don't have to nap right now.

:-)




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