Monday, October 31, 2011

ChannelEyes Signups Going Well . . . and Reveal Interesting Data

I got a press release from my buddy Jay McBain regarding ChannelEyes, the new social media site for the SMB channel. (See my earlier blog post.)
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"

Here's the press release.


- - - Begin Press Release - - -

Early ChannelEyes Signups Reveal Interesting Industry Trending

Teaser website growing at a viral rate, revealing key Channel alliances

East Greenbush, NY – October 25, 2011 — ChannelEyes LLC today announced new Industry Trending data from its early access website. Earlier this month, ChannelEyes announced that it is creating the first free and secure social network to aggregate Channel Program information, transforming communication between suppliers and Channel Partners.

Since that time, thousands of social media savvy people have signed up providing key industry trends and insight. “It was interesting to see the sharp demand from the vendor side” said Bob Godgart, Founder of ChannelEyes, as 35% of initial signups come from the supplier community.

Proving how broad the supplier community is, a significant number of sign-ups have come from manufacturers, distributors, associations, consultants, franchises and master MSPs:

“The response to our early access website has surpassed expectations” said Godgart. “It has truly gone viral in only a few weeks.” With such a large sample size of Channel Partners, almost three quarters of which are Owner/CEO level, it was interesting to see the different vertical and technology specialties represented. In addition to traditional IT vendors, a strong showing of Managed Service Providers, ISVs, Telco, Vertical Systems, Print and Audio/Video professionals are also looking for better collaboration with their suppliers as well as a simplified way to follow Channel Programs.

The response has also been strong globally, with over 30 countries represented in the first few weeks. Beyond North America, a significant amount of signups came from the United Kingdom, Australia, and Western Europe.

The Channel Partners selected their key suppliers they wanted to follow on the early access website. The average partner indicated they work closely with 7 suppliers.

The average mix included:
• 2 major hardware/software vendors
• 1-2 major distributors
• 1-2 associations, peer groups or coaches
• 2-3 cloud tools
• 50% of Channel Partners wanted to follow a PSA
• The top 3 most requested: Microsoft, HP and Ingram

With a universe of over 3,000 suppliers, around 600 were consistently chosen. In fact, 54 were selected more than 10% of the time. Of these top 54 suppliers, over 90% have reached out to ChannelEyes for early access – including all of the top 10.

“Today, program information is sent to Channel Partners by email, newsletters, webinars, telesales, social media tools and usually stored in web portals” Godgart said. “Tremendous amounts of time and energy go into creating these materials but they receive little traffic.”

ChannelEyes.com will be the single place for Channel Partners to get a snapshot of new program highlights every day on a Social Wall. They will follow feeds from suppliers, control the programs they need to follow, filter the information they want to share and easily build social conversations around it.

Channel Partners and suppliers can still sign up for early access today at http://www.channeleyes.com

About ChannelEyes

ChannelEyes LLC is 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 more information, follow us on:

www.twitter.com/channeleyes
www.facebook.com/channeleyes
www.linkedin.com/company/channeleyes
channeleyes.blogspot.com

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

Media Inquiries:

press@channeleyes.com
518-915-1188

- - - End Press Release - - -

:-)

Friday, October 28, 2011

SOP Friday: Phone Etiquette and Procedures

Let me start with a disclaimer: I used to be addicted to the telephone. Now I rarely use it except to record podcasts. At the same time, many clients love the telephone. For some reason, it makes them feel like they're getting speedy service, even when entering a service ticket is always a faster way to get service (See Clients Who Abuse the Phones and How Do Service Requests Get Into Your System?).

Nevertheless . . .

People will call your business. Clients, vendors, strangers, sales people, etc. Very often, you know who's calling because of Caller ID, but not always. Most of these rules apply whether you know the caller or not. There's one exception, and it's spelled out.

The most important rule about phones is related to one of the most important rules about running your business: Don't be interrupt-driven. Focus on the job in front of you.

Most people consider it rude to turn away from someone while in a conversation and give all your attention to someone else. But somehow we think it's okay to do this when the phone rings.

No matter what you're doing, your attention should be there. You should not stop doing something just because the phone rings. Focus on the thing you're doing. Do it well. Let the system work. When you're done with the job in front of you, then use the system to see what the next most important thing is.

(On focus, please see Relax Focus Succeed by me, and The Power of Focus by Jack Canfield.)

So we have rules about phone usage. Many of them assume that you have accepted the Standard Operating Procedure of not allowing yourself and your employees to be interrupt-driven. Remember, the goal of these SOPs is to make your business work better. That means making more money, providing better service, and making your clients happier.

As always, adjust for your own business practices.

Note: The remainder of this discussion assumes that we are talking about a managed service business and NOT a "help desk." If you have a help desk, it is intended to respond to interruptions. I would argue that your help desk should work exactly the same, except that you would guarantee that a human answers the phone. Once a ticket is created, you would simply channel "help desk" calls into the help desk queue.

As you will see, these rules are deeply integrated into the the other SOPs of your business. These include client communications, time management,


- General Rules -

- Telephones are answered by the office manager (a non-technical person).
- If the office manager is not available, the service manager or service coordinator answers the phone.
- Technicians do not answer any phones at any time unless it is one of your co-workers or it is identifiable as being directly related to the Service Request or Activity you are working on at the time

- Whoever answers the phone may:
1. Create a new service request
2. Update a new service request
3. Transfer the phone to the service manager, if appropriate
4. Transfer the phone to voice mail, if appropriate

The most common result will be that a new service ticket will be created, or that an existing service ticket will be updated with notes. I point that out because interrupting technicians is NOT a common event.

- If no one is available to answer the phone, the call is routed to the Service Manager or Service Coordinator's phone. If that is not answered, it rolls to voicemail. As a result, that person will need to check voicemail on a regular basis.

- Personal phone calls are made during break times and if necessary in between service calls. They should not be made in the middle of billable time.
- Always set phones to the lowest audible setting (or vibrate) when in any office, including at our own
- Do not answer your desk or cell phone when you are in a meeting or giving someone else your attention
- Try to check voice mail every other hour on the hour for best response time. A simple rule is every odd hour of the day. This allows for a check after lunch and as one of the last things in the day.
- No personal phone calls while on clients site ever!
- DO NOT give out personal cell phone numbers
- Clients should always call your primary phone number for technical support


- Resetting the Interrupt -

It is a fact that, at one time or another, you will find yourself on the phone with a client who needs attention but you cannot give it to them for one reason or another. The acceptable phrases to memorize and use are:
- "I’m going to help you get a Service Request put into the system so that the service manager can get it prioritized and get someone on it as soon as possible."
- "Even though you have reached me directly I am currently on another task / working with another client and can’t change my focus. I’m going to help you . . ." (see text above)


- Voice Mail -

Your desk phones and cell phones should have a standardized message and guide people to follow your company processes for fastest support.

Here's a sample to get you started:
“Hello. You have reached the voice mail for Joe Technician. Please leave me a detailed message and I will return your call as soon as possible. If this is an urgent issue, please call the xxx-xxxx extension 1 for the Service Manager."


- Implementation Notes -

There's a lot here.

Implementing these phone rules consists of a few simple steps:

1) Define your rules. Write then down and document them.

2) Train your staff. Give them written copies of these procedures.

3) Expect all personnel to follow the procedures. Support each other in following these procedures.


- Benefits -

These rules do not exist for artbitrary reasons. They should be formulated to enforce the profitable operation of your company.

More than almost any other tool at your disposal, the telephone can interrupt your people and your processes very quickly and repeatedly. If you're not familiar with First Things First by Steven Covey, et al., it is definitely worth your while.

One of the key lessons of that book is to learn the difference between Important and Urgent. Telephone calls can easily seem to be urgent. That doesn't make them important.

When phone communications are not important, then they need to be controlled, no matter how "urgent" they seem.

As a result, you need to craft telephone rules that keep your people on track, efficient, and profitable.


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: Hiring Process


:-)




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Designing and Selling Cloud Services into the 1-20 Desketop Environment
Seminar on MP3 Download

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

Only $39.95 !

Friday, October 21, 2011

SOP Friday: Time Tracking for Employees

SOP Friday: Time Tracking for Employees


Tracking your time and your employees' time has two major effects on your profitability. Both of them are critical and worth serious attention.

On one hand, labor is the largest expense of any organization with one or more employees. That means you need to keep accurate track of how employees spend their time so you can keep costs under control. In addition to the total hours spent on an employee, you need to keep track of the time spent working tickets and on administrative tasks.

On the other hand, you need to keep accurate track of the labor you are able to bill to your clients. In addition, you should keep track of the mix of billable and non-billable labor spent working tickets. You need to make sure you bill for everything you should. And even for the things that are covered by a managed service agreement, you need to keep track of the total hours in order to determine whether you're being profitable.

Here are a few guidelines that might be helpful. As always, you need to adjust for the processes and procedures in place in your company.


- Tracking Employee Time -

We use a PSA (professional services administration) system - and recommend that you do too. If you're still not familiar with PSA systems, it is well worth your time to look into them.

We started out like most companies, tracking our own time and building a system to automate as much as possible. Then we invested in ConnectWise and used them for several years. Eventually, we decided that a move to Autotask made more sense for our business.

With either PSA system (or Tiger Paw, or any other), tracking employee time is a key component. We have a few simple rules about employee time:

1) Employees must track all time from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm every week day

2) We created a way to track lunch breaks so that they are not part of the employee's payroll time sheet

3) Employee time is billable to us when the the employee is working on client tickets, "administrative" time, or travel time. Trips to the bank or to pick up the kids from school are not covered by payroll. :-)

4) All work is done on a service ticket. No ticket, no work. No exceptions.

5) Everyone must work in real time

Our most important rule about time tracking - and the hardest one to get some employees to follow - is that We work in real time. That means that you enter time into Autotask as you complete each task. Even if it's a single 15 minute time entry.

When you complete any service ticket, you enter notes into the system and put in your time. Right then and there. You do not save them up and enter all time at once. To make accurate time entries, you need to work in real time unless you have perfect recall or perfect notes. (Hint: you don't have these.)

I can't believe how many excuses there are for NOT putting in time as soon as the ticket is entered. They all sound a bit like this:

"I'm too busy. I don't have time. There are other, more pressing matters. I have a crisis."

All of which can be translated as:

"I'm not in the habit. I don't remember. I don't think it's important. I'm lazy. Getting the work done is important. Getting the paperwork done is not."

The mentality of technicians is such that we just want to fix things, not document what we did. But that documentation is important for a hundred reasons we won't go into here. One reason rules above all else: Money. When we document our work and close the ticket, we can prove that we did the job. We know what we did, when we did it, and the status of the job.

When you have even two employees, one will be managing the job board. That person needs to know the status of the jobs at a glance. That's where the PSA comes into the picture. The manager needs to be able to look at the job board at a glance and know what's going on. If the tech works a bunch of tickets and then wants to put the time in at night, the manager actually has no idea what's going on at any time.

Furthermore, if you have more than one tech, and a client who is nervous about a task, the job board is the only place for all the techs, and the manager to put notes and keep each other informed. What happens if Tech A finishes a job but keeps the notes for later tonight when he's got a beer in front of him? Tech B picks up a service ticket and begins working it. You lose money. Period.

The service manager/coordinator should be able to look at the text messages on his cell phone and see that his people are making progress. He should see a steady series of updates from the PSA as jobs enter the board and move on to completion. If his phone is silent all day and he gets 20 text messages at 8:30 PM, then his techs are not working in real time.

Building The Habit can be difficult, especially if you're a one-man shop. But it's still important. You need to know how long it really takes to do certain jobs. We all have estimates, but we can fool ourselves if we don't actually track the time. Even if you give the hours away, you need to do that consciously.

- Tracking Client Time -

The time we pay employees is closely related to the time we bill clients, but this is not a perfect correlation. Because we run a managed service business, we spend a good deal of time doing work that's "covered" under an MSA (managed service agreement).

In the beginning, we created our MSAs based on our estimates of how much time we actually spend maintaining servers, workstations, and network equipment. But what if we're wrong? What if one client takes twice as much time as we estimated? Are we still profitable?

Client time is divided into three primary types:
- Managed Service Labor (covered)
- Billable Labor
- Non-Billable Labor

Billable labor is then divided into regular hourly work and after hours work. The after hours rate is twice as much as the regular rate.

Managed Service Labor is time spent performing maintenance or (covered) repair work. Basically, if something is working and stops working, the labor to make it work again is covered.

Billable Labor refers to project or add/move/change work. This includes installing software, switching out desktops, creating new users, etc.

Non-Billable Labor is not the same as MSA labor. Non-Billable Labor is simply "billable" labor that the service manager has decided to give the client for free. For example, let's say that you estimated three hours to configure a content filtering system and it took the technician four hours. You could bill the client full price for three hours and then bill zero for the fourth hour.

That last little bit is important: You want all four hours to show up on the client's bill so they SEE that they got an hour for free. But you're sticking to your estimate of three billable hours.

This subject is covered under Time Tracking for Employees because you need to make sure that all time is properly allotted. See the posts on Service Ticket Updates and Massaging the Service Board.

Put it All Together - In one visit, a technician can sit down at a desktop and run a PC Tune-Up (covered work), then install a new piece of software (billable work). This should require TWO different service tickets. The first one is covered by the MSA and includes maintenance labor. When that job is done, the technician can go into the ticket, enter notes, enter time, and change the status to Completed or Closed (depending on your processes).

The second task is a separate ticket, which is attached to a billable labor (non-managed service) contract. When the job is done, the technician goes into the ticket, enters notes, enters time, and then changes the status to Completed or Closed.

This process only takes a few SECONDS to complete, unless the notes are extensive. Later, when trying to remember which job too how much time, and how the two hours should be allocated, the technician will be working with imperfect notes and imperfect recall. Will the job accurately reflect the billable time? You hope so, but you have no way of actually knowing.

- Implementation Notes -

As I've mentioned before, GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) applies to your PSA system. You won't be able to get accurate reports OUT of your system unless you put accurate information INTO the system. So when it's time to figure out how billable each technician is, or whether a client is profitable, you must assume that the data in your PSA system is accurate.

The data in your system will only be accurate when everyone works in real time and enters their time according to the process you've laid out.

First, you need to define your process in a simple paragraph or two.

Second, you need to train your employees. Use real world example with real clients to show them how it works.

Third, your entire team needs to support one another in this. Ask each other "Are you working in real time?" Follow the rules regarding billable and non-billable time. Massage the service board to make sure all tickets and time is properly allocated.

Fourth, force employees to follow the rules. Reject bad time cards. Make them stop what they're doing to get back into real time. Remember the long view and don't be short-sighted about what's important to your company.


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: Phone Etiquette and Procedures

:-)





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

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sale - Sale - Sale

As I mentioned in the last blog post, we're having a BIG Sale at SMB Books. And the biggest sales items of all are only $9.00 each (that's nine dollars U.S.). Many of these items originally sold for $40 or $50 or $60 each.
All sale items are limited quantity. When they're gone, they're gone. If you order an item that is out of stock, your order will be refunded in full.

Here are some of the items you can find today for only $9 each:

- Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way To Deal With Change in Your Work and In Your Life by Spencer Johnson

- Whale Done! by Ken Blanchard, et al.

- Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make The Leap . . . and Others Don't by Jim Collins

- Mastering a Culture of Accountability by Chris Winter and Larry Kesslin

- Successfully Sell Your Business by Andrew Rogerson

- Successfully Buy Your Franchise by Andrew Rogerson

- Microsoft - Small Business Specialist Primer by Beatrice Mulzer and Mei Ying Lim

- Microsoft SharePoint 2007 Unleashed By Michael Noel, Colin Spence

- Guerrilla Marketing Handbook by Jay Conrad Levinson and Seth Godin

- Microsoft Small Business Server 2008 Blueprint by Harry Brelsford and Philip Elder

- Windows Small Business Server 2008 Unleashed by Eriq Neale

- Windows Small Business Server 2008 Administrator's Companion by Charlie Russel and Sharon Crawford

- Microsoft Response Point Primer by Harry Brelsford

There are many great titles here. Even if you're just filling in your library, these prices can't be beat.
Check out the big sale and save money today!

Thank you, as always, for your support.

:-)

SMB Books - What's Old is New Again

Web design is a strange thing. On more than one occasion I've done research to test the effectiveness of the web sites we run.From time to time I get the backhanded comment that my sites are simple and no-frills, which means crappy and without the "cool" look of sites that use all the latest visual effects.

My goal is to create sites that WORK. For me, work is simple to define: Each site has a specific job to perform. It might be to deliver content (e.g., this blog) or to sell books (e.g., SMB Books). My blog might be visually boring, but it is very popular and it delivers content well.

A couple of years ago we changed the SMB Books site - www.smbbooks.com so it had a cooler look and feel, and was database driven. Almost immediately, the traffic went up . . . and so did abandoned shopping carts. We gave it quite a bit of time to turn around, but it never did.

I had to do quite a bit of research to tease out the difference between the effects of web design and the economy. After a good deal of effort, we think the new web site design was part of the problem.

So, with very little fanfare, we have put the SMB Books site back to the design we used before. Well, mostly. We changed the categories around a bit. Added a few things. Took some away.
. . . And we have more planned. Please stay tuned to find more author information, more special sections, and more special offers.

Check out the special sale going on right now to reduce inventory. Sale Sale Sale!

Thank you for your support!

:-)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Doyenz Launches rCloud Disaster Recovery Service for Virtual Environments

Got a memo today from Adriana over at Doyenz. They are totally revising their web site, which coincides with some other big changes. She also pointed me to their latest announcement:
Doyenz now has a product called rCloud Disaster Recovery Service for Virtual Environments. As their press release says:

a disaster recovery solution for SMBs that offers recovery for virtual environments in minutes instead of days.

Pretty cool stuff.

Here's the full press release (always check out the latest Doyenz news at http://www.doyenz.com/press-releases):
- - - - -

rCloud Provides SMBs with the Fastest Speed to Recovery in the Industry

SEATTLE, WA.
October 19, 2011

Doyenz Inc., a leading provider of cloud-based recovery services for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), today announced rCloud, a disaster recovery solution for SMBs that offers recovery for virtual environments in minutes instead of days. Based on a deep level of automation, rCloud is the only cloud recovery solution that restores virtual production server environments in less than fifteen minutes, providing access to critical business applications.

As data availability and security become increasingly important, IT departments of all sizes are preparing for unplanned disasters due to a failure in technology or human error. In an age of constant connectivity, both companies and their customers expect to not only have their information protected, but available at all times. Prior to the release of rCloud, disaster recovery services were out of reach for the SMB market largely due to cost and the support required to manage them. With the launch of rCloud, Doyenz is closing this gap by delivering a recovery solution that is easy to use and accessible from virtually any location via a Web browser.

Purpose-built for VMware virtualized environments, rCloud addresses the shortcomings of existing business continuity and disaster recovery solutions for SMBs. Through its simple user interface, rCloud can restore virtual production server environments in less than fifteen minutes. By automating the recovery process, SMBs can reduce recovery time objectives and ensure the continuity of business operations.

Key rCloud capabilities include:

• Replicate VMware ESX Machines: With rCloud, partners can now offer SMBs a disaster recovery plan that will replicate VMware ESX virtual production environments. rCloud leverages ESX virtual machine snapshots to take both full and incremental backups of virtual machines allowing for recovery point flexibility.
 • Cloud Recovery Verification: rCloud is the only service to provide on-demand verification that production server environments are replicated in the cloud. IT service providers can log on at any time to instantly verify server images and provide their SMB clients proof of the integrity of their data.
 • Prepare for Disasters Before They Occur: IT service providers can leverage a secure virtual lab to test changes and upgrades on a replica of the server before deploying to production.
 •Recover in Just a Few Clicks: rCloud provides a deep level of automation that re-creates a local IP skin in the cloud in just a few simple clicks.

"Disaster recovery should never be left up to chance. With rCloud, a company’s IT department can instantly access their data and verify their application environments are replicated and ready for deployment if needed," said Eric Webster, chief revenue officer at Doyenz. "With the launch of rCloud, Doyenz is delivering the most comprehensive set of cloud-based recovery services available to small and mid-sized businesses.”

"There is a second pair of eyes verifying our client backups. I can confidently go to the Doyenz portal and check on a backup offsite at 3 am. That piece of mind is priceless," commented Alan Sielbeck, owner of Safe Network Solutions.

Doyenz rCloud also includes a ShadowProtectTM agent for cloud-based disaster recovery of physical production environments. Pricing starts at $1,000 per month, and includes one Terabyte of protected storage on rCloud for data retention, failover/failback, data validation and lab usage.

About Doyenz Inc.
Doyenz provides an innovative cloud platform that meets the business continuity needs of small and medium-sized businesses. Doyenz rCloud is the only cloud recovery solution that replicates and recovers VMware ESX virtual machines for SMBs. With rCloud, IT service providers can restore virtual production server environments in under fifteen minutes, providing quick access to business critical applications. Through a simple online portal, IT professionals use rCloud to instantly verify that their production servers are replicated and ready to be restored in the event of an outage. As a result, IT service providers can reduce recovery time objectives and ensure the continuity of business operations if disaster strikes. Doyenz is a privately held company based in Bellevue, Washington. For more information, please visit www.doyenz.com.

Contact:
Stephany Rochon
Barokas PR for Doyenz
doyenz@barokas.com
206-344-3147
- - - - -
:-)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Memo from Zenith RMM

I posted a commentary in my weekly SMB Email today regarding Zenith Infotech and Zenith RMM. I won't repeat that here.
One of my comments is that I hope Zenith keeps the channels of communications open for partners experiencing uncertainty. Happily, I see that Zenith RMM is doing just that.

In all the recent news stories, please remember that Zenith Infotech and Zenith RMM are now separatedly legally and financially. Here's a memo we got today from Zenith RMM that clarifies the situation and promises more information soon:



October 17, 2011

To: Zenith RMM Partners
From: Michael George, CEO, Zenith RMM
Subject: Company Announcement

Dear Michael,

In our effort to provide more and better communication, I want to clarify something very important.

On September 28th we announced the acquisition of the Managed Services business of Zenith Infotech Ltd. by a completely separate company: Zenith RMM, LLC. Zenith RMM acquired the entire Managed Services division from Zenith InfoTech including; all intellectual property, agent technology, the partner portal, and the managed services NOC operations in Mumbai, India, and correlating US based operations.

Zenith RMM did not, however, acquire any of the BDR, ARCA, SmartStyle or MirrorCloud products, or any of the engineering or support teams associated with the NOC operations supporting those products.

You have a Managed Services agreement with Zenith RMM that enables you to support your customer’s desktops and servers including NOC and engineering support. And while we support the alerting and portal display for Zenith InfoTech’s BDR, ARCA, SmartStyle or MirrorCloud products, we do not provide the NOC technical support for these products. These services continue to be provided to you by Zenith Infotech.

If you are experiencing problems with the SmartStyle or MirrorCloud products, please contact your Zenith Infotech Account Management team as only they can resolve your issues. If you do not know who your account management team is or have more questions on Zenith RMM in general, please feel free to use the Contact Us form located on our home page at: http://zenithrmm.com/en/Company/Contact%20Us.aspx

If you have any questions related to Management and Monitoring of your Desktops and Servers, the RMM NOC, or ITS Portal, please contact your Zenith RMM Accounting Management team.

Soon we will be sharing with you a comprehensive product and technology roadmap.

Thank you for being a valuable partner to us. Please feel free to reach out to me at any time.

Best regards,

Michael George
CEO
Zenith RMM

That's all I know. As always, I will keep an on on www.mspmentor.net for future developments and news.
-- karlp
:-)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Cloud Training - New Seminars to Download NOW

 Alrighty Then!

We've put together some super-cool Cloud Services Trainings for all you technology consultants out there. These are based on my live presentations to computer consultants and focus 100% on the Small and Medium Business market.

I put together a page where you can review all of these at http://www.greatlittleseminar.com. Note also that we have some great bundle offers so you can put in all together. If you're interested in any other kind of bundles, let me know.

The basic components are
- Audio Seminars
- Books
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Seminars:

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by Nicholas Carr
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Cloud Consulting

by Karl W. Palachuk
Buy an hour (or more) of Karl's time to consult with you on your
- Cloud Offerings
- Managed Services
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and more.
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Add one hour to Your Cart . . . We'll contact you to make sure you use your time wisely.



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Seminar: Developing Successful Cloud Services
Seminar: Zero Downtime Migration Strategies
Book: Network Migration Workbook

- Almost 9 hours or training
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PLUS hundreds of pages of downloads

Value: $630
Seminar: Making Money in the Small Business Cloud
Seminar: Developing Successful Cloud Services
Seminar: Zero Downtime Migration Strategies
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Thank you for your support, everyone. As you all know, I really enjoy putting these materials together. I trust you will find value in them and I welcome your feedback.

:-)

SOP Friday: Clients Who Abuse the Phones

The client's always right, right? In a word, NO! For the most part, I'm a big fan of the concept that the client is always right. But there are times when the client is just plain wrong. One example of that is when they abuse your phones.

In two weeks I'll cover Phone Etiquette and Procedures, but for now let's lay some groundwork here.

Phone habits with clients are a very simple communication system with two components: You and Your Client. You each play a role in the behavior of the other.

Most clients only work during the work day, with few exceptions. Some clients work "all the time" and call whenever they feel like it. Most of the businesses they work with don't answer the phones after hours, so they're used to just leaving a message and getting a response in the morning. The same goes for weekends.

If by some chance you answer the phone, then the client knows that you're available evenings and weekends. And you might be. If you don't want to be available then, you need to practice the words "Just because you're reached me doesn't mean that I'm available."

It is much better to set policies about when you're available and spell them out on your voicemail message. Once you set your policies, it is very acceptable to expect clients to honor them. Luckily, 99% of all clients are professional and understand that people have normal lives. (Please remember that: Everything that follows is for a very tiny percent of all clients you'll have.)

So what constitutes abuse of the phones? There are three basic types of abuse:

1) Calling every possible extension and phone number in order to create a sense of urgency.

2) Use telephones to interrupt your work and push themselves to the top of your agenda, without regard to your processes.

3) Actual verbal abuse - or insulting - of your employees.


Number Three is the easiest abuse to deal with. Simply talk to the client. Depending on the client and circumstances, you might email, write a letter, or make a phone call. The message is plain and simple: "You must treat my employees in a civil manner."

In our case, this is a single warning situation. On the second offense, we inform the client that they must treat our employees with respect or we will terminate the contract. There is simply no reason that our employees must put up with abuse from within our organization, or from our clients.

In sixteen years we have warned three clients and fired one.

I've heard of cases where companies put up with abusive clients for long periods of time. In my opinion, this is inexcusable. Many of us go into business because of abusive and arrogant bosses. We owe it to our employees to avoid creating this kind of environment.


The other two kinds of phone abuse are less clear and easy to see. They consist of abusing your rules and processes.

Very often, we think we need to make ourselves available at all times to our clients. This simply is not true. Eventually, we begin to set up limits, processes, and procedures.

But some clients honestly believe they are "above the rules" and that they can get better support by forcing themselves upon you. I'm not sure how people get to be this way, but you need to enforce your rules and keep them from disrupting your business.

First, you need an official flow chart of how telephone calls and service requests are handled. Regarding service requests, see my post on How Do Service Requests Get Into Your System?. I recommend that you have a very clear system for getting service requests into your PSA (ticketing) system and communicate this to your clients.

Second, you should set up your PSA system so that clients can enter their own tickets by web or email. In addition, you should have a telephone process for creating service requests. In this manner, clients can enter tickets by a number of methods.

All new service tickets should trigger a text message/page to your service manager or the coordinator of the day. In this way, the service department will be aware of the new ticket in the fastest possible time frame and be able to start working the service ticket as quickly as possible.

It is critically important that you can honestly say to your clients: "The fastest way to get service is to enter a ticket in the system."

Once you have such a system in place, then phone calls to individual technicians are not the fastest way to get service.
- Phone calls to the service manager are not the fastest way to get service.
- Phone calls to the owner are not the fastest way to get service.
- Phone calls to every cell phone in your company are not the fastest way to get service.
- Phone calls to every extension in your company are not the fastest way to get service.
- Ten phone calls with ten messages are not the fastest way to get service.

In other words, simply abusing your processes and procedures will not get faster service. You need to be able to say this with complete honesty. In this way, Following your processes will always be the fastest way to get service.

Once you can say that, then you remind your clients that "urgency" is determined by the priority they set on the ticket (see the post Service Ticket Updates) and not by how many times they contact you by phone.


- Implementation Notes -

Putting this policy into action is pretty simple. First, you need those flow charts for phone calls and service tickets. Second, you need to educate your clients and your employees.

Third, you need to follow your own rules. That means you DON'T let clients interrupt you with the problem of the moment . . . even if you're between service requests. The system is designed so that you are always working from highest priority to lowest priority, and from oldest to newest ticket. Any time you violate this rule, you train your clients that they can call you whenever they want, that urgent phone calls get more attention than tickets entered into the system properly, and that breaking your processes is the way to get things done.


- Benefits -

In the long run, you have these processes for a reason. They're not just arbitrary things you do to piss people off.

If you believe that working from highest to lowest priority is important, and that you should not be interrupt-driven, then you need to create systems that make those things happen. Working from highest to lowest priority reduces the overall workload in your office, it reduces stress, and it keeps clients happy.

In our modern society, we all want everything right now. Everything's urgent. But when you tell people to stop and think, they realize that these policies are necessary so that you can stay profitable and stay in business. That serves them best in the long run.


- 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: Time Tracking for Employees



:-)




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Friday, October 07, 2011

SOP Friday: Choosing Pay Dates

When you start to have employees, your business changes in many ways. Sometimes the simplest decisions have dramatic impacts on your operations and finances. A great example of that is the choice of pay dates.

The decision about when to set pay dates affects cash flow more than anything else. But it also has a significant effect on staff morale and their cash flow. So, without regard to the bank or the payroll process per se, I'm goning to talk about the effect of payroll dates on cash flow and employees.

You would think that pay dates would be a very simple thing, given the fact that every business with employees has figured it out. But there are some gotchas you have to avoid.

The biggest lesson we had to learn was the frequency of paydates. Your state or province has requirements regarding this matter. Google "pay date regulations " to start researching. Of course, the official governing agency in your state is the final word on this.

In California, no employer can pay monthly except the State of California. Everyone else must pay at least twice a month. That means, generally:
- Every two weeks
- At two set times for the month
or
- Weekly

Paying weekly is great for cash flow, generally, because you need less money for each payroll period. But it increases the "hassle" level because it seems like you're always processing payroll. Whether you do it in-house or pay someone, you'll need to make sure time cards are all in and settled before payroll rolls around again. It also means you need to maintain a steady level of cash in your account at all times.

Weekly pay can also be a hassle for employees that are not good at setting aside a little each week toward rent and other personal expenses. Because they'll get four (or sometimes five) paychecks in a month, they won't get enough for rent from any one paycheck. Bi-weekly or twice a month works better for most employees on this regard.



Paying Twice a Month vs. Every Two Weeks

If you haven't really focused on this question before, you might think that every two weeks and two times a month works out the same. It doesn't. And the the difference can kill your cash flow.

There are 52 weeks in a year and 13 weeks in a quarter. So, if you pay every two weeks, you have an extra pay period every now and then. Paying twice a month, you will have 24 pay periods in a year. Paying every two weeks, you will have 26 pay periods in a year. That means there will be two quarters (and more importantly, two months) with an "extra" pay period.

The totals come out the same for both employee and employer. But that extra pay period can be hard on the employer two doesn't have the discipline to set aside an extra sum every week to have the cash on hand. If you forget about it, or don't plan for it, then you have to come up with an extra payroll twice a year.

The next topic to look at is scheduling the lag time between end of pay period and payday. For example, if you pay weekly, you will probably end the pay period at end of day Friday or end of day Saturday (although it could be any time/day). You will need at least a week to collect time cards, make sure they're accurate, ask the employees to make corrections, and then process the actual payroll. So, with a little work, you could distribute checks one week later on Friday.

For example, you might schedule pay dates like this:

Period January 1-7 will be paid Friday 13
Period January 8-14 will be paid Friday 20
Period January 15-21 will be paid Friday 27
etc.

If you have pay periods of 1st to 15th and 16th to end of month, then you will also need at least a week til payday, but the actual pay date will vary because you have to worry about weekends. For example, if your goal is to pay around the 10th and 25th, you might ocassionally move a pay date as follows:

Period January 1-15 will be paid on Wednesday Jan 25th
Period January 16-31 will be paid on Friday Feb 10th
Period February 1-15 will be paid on Friday Feb 24th (because the 25th is a Saturday)

We tried to pay on the 5th and 20th for awhile, but we moved to the 10th and 25th for two reasons. First, the time frame was too short. Because two-day weekends can show up anywhere in the pay cycle, we usually did not have five days to settle time cards and process payroll.

Second, there is a serious cash flow issue with paying on the 5th. We run all managed services payments by credit card on the 1st of the month. Some process more quickly than others. This depends on whether the client is using American Express, Visa, or Mastercard. Generally, the money is available to us on the third business day after the 1st. Because of weekends, the third business day might be as late at the 6th. And, because we have so many holidays moved to Monday in the U.S., that means that the actual payday is moved as late as the 7th.

As a result, we had lots of pay dates where we were apologizing to employees and delaying the payday a day or two. In addition, most employees have rent due on the first, and it's late on the 5th. So getting paid on the 6th or 7th is a real hassle for them.

We solved this by simply moving payday to the 10th and 25th. That gives us plenty of time to let all the credit cards settle. Now our official policy is that pay days are on the 1st adn 25th, and that "Saturday" pay days are paid on Friday and "Sunday" pay days are paid on Monday. This creates a pay period right before rent is due.

Payroll Services

Payroll services (Paychex, ADP, your accountant, etc.) are pretty good at helping you figure out what you need to do to get payroll scheduled. Some of them take the money out of your account the minute you hit ENTER. Others take the money the next day. A few will let you schedule a day 1-2 days out.

In all cases, these services will have standard operating procedures that help you stay compliant with your local and state laws regarding payroll. Every state is different, and a few localities add more regulations.


- Implementation Notes -

Implementing your pay roll procedure is pretty straight forward. You need to decide what works best for you, define it in a one-page memo to employees, and then document the process of actually processing it online with your payroll service.

I think it's a good idea to print out a list of holidays and pay dates for your employees each year, and distribute these during the first week of January. Remember, some "holidays" are not recognized by most businesses and banks (e.g., Groundhog Day in the U.S.). Other "holidays" are recognized by banks but not most businesses (e.g., Columbus Day in the U.S.). Overall, you just need to let your employees know what to expect.

Once you find a pay day schedule that works for you, it should just work smoothly. The only hard part might be moving from one pay schedule to another. Employees are rightfully nervous about losing a little money during a switch like this. So be sensitive to that.

If you're a managed service provider, you might find our system works well for you. Basically, we pay on the 10th and 25th, which is good for us and our employees. We like the 10th because it gives plenty of time for the credit cards to settle into our bank account from the first. Employees appreciate the 25th because it puts a paycheck in their pocket right before rent is due on the 1st.

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: Clients Who Abuse the Phones


:-)



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Introduction to Zero Downtime Migrations
Seminar on MP3 Download


Thursday, October 06, 2011

Autotask Has An Amazing Year - Podcast with Len D.

I thought I'd have a casual "What's new?" podcast with Len Dicostanzo from Autotask. Boy was I wrong! Autotask is growing at an amazing rate and adding more programs - and geographic expansion - than ever!
Listen to the Podcast Here

This recording is about 20 minutes.

Len was the Senior VP of Business Development. He has added "Community" to that and is now the Senior VP of Community and Business Development. Here are a few tibits from our discussion:

- Autotask now has about 4,000 customers and 40,000 users.

- They just opened their office in the U.K. and are breaking ground soon in Germany, China, and Australia.

- Autotask is in the development stages of a new vendor advisory panel that will help verify that product integrations are moving in the right direction.

- They are about to announce a "Certified Implementation Partner" program for VARs who specialize in helping other users get up and running with Autotask.

- The Autotask Comunity Live event for 2012 is scheduled for June 10-12 in Orlando, FL.

There's a lot more info on the recorded podcast. Download it now and give a listen.

If you want to find out more about Autotask, visit www.autotask.com.

:-)

Matt Makowicz Announces Var Trek


I caught up with my long-time friend Matt Makowicz at SMB Nation earlier this week. Turns out, Matt's got a great new venture going to help vendors create successful channel programs.

We recorded a quick podcast to talk about the new program. Matt is still doing VAR coaching, but now he is also helping vendors work with VARs to the benefit of everyone.

Download the Podcast Now

Matt gave me the following contact info:

- http://www.vartrek.tv

- http://www.vartrek.com

- Blog: http://vartrek.wordpress.com

Matt is the founder of Ambition Mission and the author of several books. We carry his books on our SMB Books site. Matt's books include:

- A Guide to SELLING Managed Services

- A Guide to MARKETING Managed Services

:-)

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Intronis Wins the ASCII Cup

I caught up with Ted Roller a few hours before his company won the ASCII Cup for 2011 at SMB Nation.

Ted is with Intronis (www.intronis.com). They have a completely cloud-based backup solution.

It's a quick 3-minute interview and you can listen to it here.

The ASCII Cup recognizes companies that have shown channel goodwill and a pathway to ongoing opportunity.

For some great pictures of the ASCII Cup celebration party, check out their Facebook Page at http://www.facebook.com/#!/ASCIICup.

ASCII is a great member organization focused on success for VARs and Channel Partners. They provide some amazing benefits. See the podcast with Jerry from ASCII at on my blog: ASCII Kicks Butt in Vegas.

:-)

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Intel Does Great at SMB Nation

I had a chance to sit down in the Podcast Booth at SMB Nation and talk to Sanjeev Khanna from Intel Hybrid Cloud. The podcast is now available for download here: Download Podcast with Sanjeev

In addition to simply virtualizing SBS 2011 and 30+ other products, the Intel Hybrid cloud solves a lot of licensing problems for MSPs. It also helps clients move to a cloud strategy and get comfortable with cloud-enabled technologies.

More than anything else, as we celebrate the third anniversary of the recession, the Intel Hybrid Cloud allows clients to replace that old server without putting down a buncha money for hardware and software. In the long run, this is also good for you: It gets SMB clients used to making monthly payments for their technology.

Download and listen today: Download Podcast with Sanjeev

:-)

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Podcast: ASCII Kicks Butt in Vegas


 Just posted a quick interview with Jerry K from ASCII (www.ascii.com).

We recorded it from the floor of SMB Nation.

Jerry tells us about the great marketing efforts made available by ASCII to their members, including pre-made email campaigns and contact tools. He also gave me some information about vendor relationship services I wasn't aware of . . . and I've been a member for years!

Anyway, it's about 20 minutes. Check it out here: Download the Podcast (mp3).

:-)