Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Autotask is a Platinum Supporter of the SMB Online Conference

We sent out a press release this morning. If you can, we would be grateful for any additional promotion you can do.

The original press release is here: http://www.prweb.com/releases/2012/2/prweb9234669.htm
We are very grateful to Autotask for their support. This conference is coming together nicely. We have most of our speakers lined up (See the SMB Online Conference Speaker Line-up), and now sponsors are coming onboard.

We've worked with Autotask in the past and greatly appreciated their relationship. We look forward to having them as a primary sponsor. Thank you Autotask!

Here's the text of the press release:

- - - - -

Autotask Corporation Signs as Platinum Sponsor of First Major SMB Online Conference

Sacramento, CA (PRWEB) February 29, 2012

Small Business Technology author Karl Palachuk announced today that Autotask Corporation, the leading provider of hosted IT business management software, has signed on as a Platinum level sponsor of the Small Biz Thoughts online conference, “Managing for Success 2012.” The June conference will focus on building successful business processes and feature some of the best business and technology speakers in the U.S.

The online conference – Managing for Success 2012 – is the first event of its kind targeting technology providers and computer consultants. “We’ve built a great collection of speakers and sponsors,” said Palachuk, “and we’re very proud to have Autotask as a Platinum sponsor.”

Conference speakers include Stephanie Chandler and Patrick Schwerdtfeger. Chandler is the author of seven books, including Own Your Niche on the Internet and Beyond (Authority Publishing, 2012). Her Business Info Guide web site – http://www.BusinessInfoGuide.com – is an extremely popular destination for small business owners. Patrick Schwerdtfeger is an internationally recognized authority on social media marketing and the author of several books, including Marketing Shortcuts for the Self-Employed (Wiley, 2011).

The conference is “virtual” (online only) and will run 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM each day on June 26-28, 2012. Attendees can choose to listen live or also have access to the recorded sessions. In all, the conference will broadcast eighteen hours of programming in three days.

“Autotask has always been a strong supporter of the IT community,” said Palachuk. “Their involvement in this conference allows us to reach a larger audience and educate VARs all over the world.”

Mark Cattini
Autotask President and CEO
Autotask President and CEO Mark Cattini echoed that sentiment. “Autotask has always been committed to the success of the IT and technology channel, and Karl is one of the driving forces in that community. This conference is an exceptional opportunity for us to help engage VARs, MSPs and other solution providers and help them build their businesses.”

Autotask’s Community Live 2012 conference will be held June 10-12, 2012 in Orlando, FL, just weeks before Managing for Success 2012. Is that a conflict for Autotask? “No,” says Cattini. “We participate in more than 150 partner-facing events each year. We live in the IT community and are totally dedicated to it.” For more information on Autotask’s Community Live 2012, see http://www.autotaskcommunitylive.com.

To learn more about Managing for Success 2012, visit http://www.smbonlineconference.com.

About Autotask

Autotask Corporation provides the world's leading hosted IT business management software to streamline and optimize business processes for technology solution providers. The software integrates a broad range of critical business systems, including customer relationship management (CRM), service desk, tech scheduling, project management, billing and reporting, and provides real-time service delivery intelligence to help users understand the factors that drive their business and their profitability.

Autotask is accessible from virtually any computing or mobile device connected to the Internet and features a world-class API that seamlessly integrates with the other systems and tools that providers rely on to run their businesses. For more information on Autotask Corporation, visit http://www.autotask.com.

About Small Biz Thoughts

Small Biz Thoughts is the training and content division of Great Little Book Publishing Co., Inc. Their programs are geared specifically for the Managed Service Provider and SMB Consultant communities. Their focus on future trends has helped them to build a reputation as a trusted advisor to fans and friends around the world. For more information, visit http://www.smallbizthoughts.com.

Media Contact:
Karl W. Palachuk
916-248-4301
sales(at)smallbizthoughts(dot)com

###

:-)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

SOP Friday Series on Kindle

In May of last year I started a series on this blog called SOP Friday - which stands for Standard Operating Procedure Friday. The series is an attempt to discuss all the SOPs that you might adopt to create a successful SMB Consulting / Managed Service Provider practice.


The series has been extremely popular. I created an index to the series at www.smallbizthoughts.comhttp://www.smallbizthoughts.com/events/SOPFriday.html ). At this point, SOP Friday posts account for 50% of the top ten posts of all time for the last six years!

Several people have asked how they can make sure they don't miss any SOP Friday posts. Here's one way.

Subscribe to this blog on the Kindle for only $0.99 per month. You'll get every post about everything, including all of the SOP Friday posts.

Right now I have SOP Friday posts scheduled through January of 2013. So it's a long-term project!
Subscribe to this blog on kindle here: http://www.amazon.com/Small-Biz-Thoughts-Karl-Palachuk/dp/B0037CF0QM

- - - - -

The most popular articles in the series are . . .

1. SOP Friday: Massaging the Service Board (Sep. 2011)

2. SOP Friday: How Do Service Requests Get Into Your System (Aug. 2011)

3. SOP Friday: Activating and Registering Client Software (Dec. 2011)

4. SOP Friday: Hardware Replacement and Upgrade Policies (Dec. 2011)

5. SOP Friday: Server Down Procedures (Feb. 2012)

6. SOP Friday: The First Client Visit (Feb. 2012)

7. SOP Friday: Response Times - Guarantees and Delivery (Feb. 2012)

8. SOP Friday: Email Rules and Etiquette for the Consultant (Feb. 2012)

9. SOP Friday: Keeping Your Standards and Procedures Organized (Jan. 2012)

10. SOP Friday: Time Tracking for Employees (Oct. 2011)

:-)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Jeff Middleton Announces IT Pro Conference 2012 in New Orleans

My good friend Jeff Middleton throws a major SMB-focused conference every couple of years in one of my favorite cities in the world - New Orleans. Yesterday Jeff announced that the IT Pro Conference 2012 will be held June 8th and 9th in NOLA, with a pre-day event on June 7th. The pre-day event is being produced by Third Tier.

For those unfamiliar with Jeff's conference, he puts on a focused 2-day event with awesome and delightful entertainment. Then he repeats sessions with the same theme during a Caribbean Cruise starting the day after the 2-day conference ends. So you can attend the 2-day or the 7-day, or both!
We party BIG in New Orleans!

Basics:
IT Pro Conference 2012

Theme:
Trusted Identity: Faith in a Technology World

Site:
www.Conference2012.SBSmigration.com

Pre-Day:
Third Tier Brain Explosion
(Separate Registration Fee Required)
Aster Crowne Plaza Hotel New Orleans
June 7, 2012

2-Day French Quarter Weekend Conference:
Aster Crowne Plaza Hotel New Orleans
Bourbon and Canal Street
New Orleans
June 8 & 9, 2012

7-Day Caribbean Cruise Seminars Series:
New Orleans roundtrip via
Montego Bay, Jamaica
Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Cozumel, Mexico
June 10 – June 17, 2012

For more information on Jeff's vision and theme this year, see:

http://www.conference2012.sbsmigration.com/events/conference-theme

“We are now in a world where protecting a TRUSTED IDENTITY means fending off invasion and deception as a daily concern because of our technology, and our default instinct for faith in it." - Jeff Middleton

(Pictures from the 2010 conference can be seen on my Facebook page. Go to photos and look for "New Orleans 2010 May.")
https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.411421389168.173452.527699168&type=3

On a personal note, I *AM* attending this conference and then heading to Orlando for the Autotask Community Live conference. I'm sorry they are back-to-back, but at least the flight from NOLA to Orlando is quick.

See you there!

:-)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

March 6th: Small Business Summit at NYC's Metropolitan Pavilion

Harry B and I were on a call with Ramon Ray a few days ago. I asked Ramon to bring me up to date on his 7th Annual Small Summit coming up March 6, 2012 in New York. Here's the deal:
Summary:
The Seventh Annual Small Business Summit is New York’s premier event for small business owners looking to network with other decision-makers, attend cutting edge seminars, and check out the newest products & services available to help their small businesses succeed. The Small Business Summit runs from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. and offers a variety of informative workshops and panels relating to small business. Located at the Metropolitan Pavilion at 125 West 18th Street, the Summit and Exhibit floor open at 8:00 a.m. and boast a broad variety of exhibiting companies who provide products and services to small business owners. Full fee is $199 for the all day event. More information on the Summit and the awards can be found at http://www.smallbiztechsummit.com.


This is a great event for small business owners. Anything that gets people jazzed up about technology - and spending money on technology - is great!

Here's the official press release for this event:

- - - - -

New York, NY (PRWEB) January 04, 2012

The Seventh Annual Small Business Summit (#smallbizsummit, smallbiztechsummit.com) is New York’s premier event for small business owners looking to network with other decision-makers, attend cutting edge seminars and check out the newest products & services available to help their small businesses succeed.

“The Summit brings hundreds of small business owners, entrepreneurs and vendors from around the tri-state area together to discuss their challenges and share their insights for growth,” says Marian Banker MBA, Co-Producer of the Summit and President of Prime Strategies. “While other events are downsizing, we are growing into a larger space to accommodate our attendees and exhibitors and are thankful for companies such as Dell for their continued involvement as exhibitors and speaker."

The Small Business Summit runs from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. and offers a variety of informative workshops and panels relating to small business. Topics to be addressed include: Real Businesses Getting Real Results with Technology; How Orabrush Used Creativity to Boost Sales, Inner Game of Prospecting; How to Overcome Sales Call Reluctance; 30 Minutes, 15 Tips - Success Tips from Local Gurus; and so much more. In addition, one small business will win the Summit’s Small Business Strategy Award. Businesses looking to apply may visit smallbiztechsummit.com for more information.

Located at the Metropolitan Pavilion at 125 West 18th Street, the Summit and Exhibit floor open at 8:00 a.m. and boast a broad variety of exhibiting companies who provide products and services to small business owners.

“Our sponsors, exhibitors and speakers are all dedicated to helping small and medium size businesses thrive,” adds Banker “This year’s Summit gives our partners the opportunity to connect with more businesses while showing them how attainable the latest technology can be for their own unique business.”

“With a growing roster of speakers which currently include, Scott Hintz of Tripit, Austin Craig of Orabrush, and Connie Kadansky of Exceptional Sales, attendees will find the information inspiring and relevant to their business,” adds Ramon Ray, Co Producer of the Summit and editor of SmallBizTechnology.com. “We hope attendees will take advantage of our 2012 New Year’s Early Registration rate,” adds Ray.

Full fee is $199 for the all day event. More information on the Summit and the awards can be found at http://www.smallbiztechsummit.com.

http://www.prweb.com/releases/2012/1/prweb9073438.htm

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:-)

Friday, February 24, 2012

SOP Friday: Server Down Procedures

There's a fun meme going around Facebook about "What I Really Do." That set of juxtapositions is humorous because it's got some grain of truth to it.


Taking care of servers is a little bit like that. What the customer thinks you do, and what other technicians think you do may not be at all what you really do.

Too often (Far FAR too often) techs challenge me during presentations. "Well what happens when the server goes down? You have to work evenings and weekends. You have to stop everything and work on that. You can't schedule your time. You can't plan these things. You're stuck until the server's up."

The day I realized that NONE of that is true, my business became suddenly more successful.


Mini Rant on Server Downtime

First, Servers don't fail.

If your business consists of putting out fires and doing break/fix work on servers YOU sold, built, and maintain, then you're in the wrong business. Either you're selling the wrong server, putting it together wrong, or maintaining it wrong.

Servers don't fail. Servers run and run and run.

What's the wrong server to sell? One that's already out of date, technologically. One that that's underpowered when it's new. One that's a cheap piece of crap you've upgraded to "server level." One that you've packed with cheap parts and third party add-ons instead of manufacturer approved parts. One you built yourself with individual parts.

We sell HP business class servers. The ML 350 is the workhorse. On average, these servers run three to five years with ZERO issues of any kind.

Maintenance is a no-brainer today. Use Continuum (Zenith RMM), or Level Platforms, or something. Get a tool that monitors everything you do, reports issues, and allows you to patch the system remotely for every single client while you sleep. Do regularly scheduled monthly maintenance. Test your backups. Tune up machines. Love them and they will treat you well.

Many people don't believe me. Mike didn't believe me when he came to work for me. "How is it possible that you never have a server failure?" Now he sells them, builds them, maintains them the right way. And they never fail. Period.

Second, You never have to work evenings and weekends unless YOU choose to.

We have a simple policy: Work during the hours 5:00 PM and 8:00 AM is not covered by managed service and is twice our regular service rate. All weekend and holiday work is also twice the price.

So . . . fixing a critical issue during business hours is covered by managed services. At 5:01 PM we go to $300 per hour and we burn at that rate until the system is fixed or the client sends us home. In almost every case, the client sends us home.

If the client chooses to have us work all night at $300/hr, we are happy to do that.

Third, Even critical labor is scheduled and planned.

When your heater goes out during the first freeze of the year, or your air conditioner goes out the first time it hits 100 degrees outside, you have a crisis. And you call the repair place. And what do they say? "We'll get there as soon as we can."

Servers are the same way. You want to calmly come to a stopping point with other projects. You want to put everything in a nice orderly state so you can go work on the server. It might take you an hour to calmly put things in order so you can go address the critical issue and give it your full attention.

Panic serves no one. It doesn't server the client you're leaving behind and it doesn't serve the client you're going to.

TALK to your client. Don't assume downtime is the end of the world. Let them know that you will be there and give them an idea of when. You can only do what you can do.

Important safety tip for life: You CAN prepare for emergencies. You CAN have a standard operating procedure for when servers go down. You don't have to panic. You don't have to act like this has never happened before. You don't have to make bad decisions because you're in a hurry.

You can have a rational, calm, profitable response to an emergency.


Okay. Having said all that, there are weird instances when something goes wrong on a server.

But it's the exception to the norm. You can't build your business around something that almost never happens. Build your business around the standard processes that happen every single day. Make that profitable.

Then build a process around "emergencies" that is also profitable.


Define a Priority One Incident

I have mentioned the priority system and how you set priorities on several occasions. See Service Ticket Updates and Setting Job Priorities for example.

Priority One issues are never set by a human being. They set themselves. A fire, a flood, a failed hard drive, a motherboard failure. That sort of thing.

I hope you're saying, "Hard drive is a bad example. We have redundancy. No single hard drive failure can bring down a business." Yes. That's true if you sold the right server, built the server, and maintain it properly. If you inherited the server from Cousin Larry's Pretty Good I.T. Shop, then your server is down.

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

A server down situation is considered any outage of a server or major LOB services such as Exchange or SQL that is not planned. At times, especially over the weekend, a server might reboot due to patch management. As long as the RMM (remote monitoring and management) tool reports that the server is back up in a reasonable amount of time, you may safely ignore the issue during off hours. You'll still want to look and verify that it was "normal" the next business day.


Server Down During Normal Business Hours

The normal process for working service requests is from highest priority to lowest priority, and from oldest to newest. So all P1s are more important than all P2s, and older P1s are more important than newer P1s.

You should almost never have a P1 in your system. So when it happens, it needs serious attention.

In the normal course of your day, you'll be working on something else when a P1 comes in. Whoever manages the service board needs to acknowledge the client in a timely manner. If it is after 3:00 PM, be sure to let the client know that all work up until 5PM is covered and all work after that is at the after-hours rate.

The service coordinator (I know these all might be the same person) needs to decide who should work the ticket. In most SMB shops this is going to be the owner/tech or the lead tech. That person is doing something else right now. So you need to coordinate having the current job come to an orderly stop or have someone else take over.

You can't leave one paying client to go to another without taking care of the first client. They'll understand that someone has a server down. But you still need to leave their business in an orderly state.

Note: It is critical that everyone on the team constantly check to make sure 1) Tickets are in the right Queue (or service board); 2) Tickets are assigned the correct Priority Level; 3) Tickets have the right service agreement attached to them; and 4) Work type and sub-type are correct (e.g., maintenance vs. add/move/change). If you all check these things constantly for every ticket, then managing workflow around a critical issue will be easier.

If you can connect remotely and work on the issue, you should do this. Remote work provides a faster response and may allow you to solve the issue without a trip. If you have an ILO (integrated lights out, or equivalent) card installed and activated, you can get to the console level on the server even if the operating system won't load. That allows you to run hardware level diagnostics and updates as well as access the operating system in active directory restore mode. This gets back to selling the right server.

Once you begin working on the P1 ticket, nothing takes higher priority. The only thing that might be more important is an older P1.

Once a P1 is in progress, the Status Update becomes critical. See Service Ticket Statuses to Use and When to Use Them. Your client might never read their monthly reports or invoices. But after a server down situation, they just might want to discuss response time and performance.

So, the ticket moves from New to Acknowledged. Then to Assigned, and probably to Work in Progress (skipping Schedule This and Scheduled).

Once the work is in progress, it will stay there until one of three things happens. First, you fix the problem. This includes a temporary fix that puts the client back in business. You'll close out the P1 and create a P3 ticket to order parts, update software, etc. That properly puts and end to the crisis and moves work to a schedule status.

Second, if the client is not willing to pay for after hours work, then a ticket will move to "Scheduled" for 8:00 AM the next business day. Yes this does happen.

Third, in the process of fixing the issue, you need to wait for a third party vendor (for software, hardware, network, etc.), then the status goes to Waiting Materials, Waiting Results, or Waiting Vendor.

There are other weird things that happen, but you don't have to have SOPs for things that you can't foresee. So the client might decide in the middle of all this to buy a new server, put the project on hold until he has more money, or something else. Again, weird stuff you don't expect.


Server Down During Off Hours Procedure

The procedure for after-hours support has mostly to do with processing the alert so you can execute essentially the same response you would have during business hours.

First, determine what constitutes business hours. For us it's Monday through Friday 8am to 5pm. And we all know that there are "golden hours" of 7-8 AM and 5-6 PM when we might do a little work at standard rates. But that normally happens for scheduled work, not for emergency response.

We assume that you have some kind of system to alert you when a server goes down. Your pager goes off. You get an email. A technician in India calls your cell phone. Something.

Note: If a server goes down outside of working hours, your company will know about it before the client does. If you have more than one technician, your techs need to really use your PSA system (e.g., Autotask or ConnectWise) to communicate with one another. That means accurate status updates and notes.

Second, Tech notes are always critical. Keep track of every single thing you tried, the order in which you did things, what you observed, and the time for everything. If you need to call escalated support (Microsoft, HP, Third Tier, Dove Help Desk, etc.), the more information you have the better.

If for any reason you do not have access to the PSA system, you must take very good notes for when you do have access. You are expected to update the PSA as soon as possible. For now, we assume you do have access to the PSA.

Third, monitor the system and determine whether it's P1. Is the server just rebooting? How do you know? Create the service ticket. You can create a P1 even if it later gets changed to P3. But if you haven't scheduled a reboot, then it's a legitimate P1.

Fourth, Perform the client call down process in the event of a server down.

You should have a note in your PSA about the client call down. Every one of your clients should fill out a simple form that says who should be called first, second, and third. You should have first, second, and (if you can) third phone numbers for each contact.

If you have an alarm system, this is very similar to the form they use. If you do not have access to the required contact phone numbers for whatever reason, you must contact anyone inside your company who can get them for you.

Call Down Procedure:

1) Go to the Company page in your PSA system and look under the section "After Hours Contacts." Start by calling the primary contact and then work your way down the list.

2) If you reach a voice mail box (including the companies general mailbox) the recommended script is as follows:

“Hello this is [insert technician name here] calling from [your company]. We have received a page alerting us that the server [insert server name here] is currently unreachable. This is not a planned outage and we have created a priority one service request. This call is just to inform you of the current status. We will call back with further updates. Our normal hours of operation are Monday through Friday, 8am to 5pm and we will begin working on the issue during those hours.”

3) If you reach a person, convey all of the same information above. In addition, you must ask them if they would like us to begin working on the issue outside of normal business hours. Script:

“As the primary contact, do you wish to authorize off-hours work to be performed for this issue? Off-hours work is not covered under managed services and would be billed out at double rate.” (typically $300 / hour)

IF YES:
Inform the contact that the service request has been assigned a Priority 1, a technician will be assigned, and they will begin working on the issue as soon as possible. That technician will be contacting you and might require access to the site. If so please be prepared to have someone meet our tech at the location.

IF NO:
Inform the contact that the service request has been assigned a Priority 1 and we will begin working on the issue as soon as our office opens. Answer any questions and then conclude the call by reaffirming that we will call again if the status changes.

4) If you can only reach the secondary contact, be aware that the secondary contact may NOT be able to authorize off-hours billable work. Anyone Authorized to incur after-hours labor expenses should be noted in the PSA system with an (A) next to their name.


Misc. Notes

We'll have another post on managing your after-hours technician/service coordinator. In many cases, the person hired to catch calls after hours is NOT authorized to begin executing the work. In particular with a server, the person who catches the alert might not be qualified to work the ticket.

Make sure that part of your process for the after-hours tech is to know whether or not they are authorized to begin working a ticket. If not, then you need a call-down for your own technicians to find someone who is authorized.

Any service request that requires third party vendors who are not available should be set to the status of "Waiting on Vendor." Make sure your notes are up to date! In a perfect world, the vendor will arrange a time to start working on the system. Ha ha. I know. Anyway, you might not be the one working the issue when the vendor calls, so perfect notes are required.


Implementation

There are several pieces to this that you should already have in place.

You need a definition of Priorities. See previous article on this.

You need a definition of Statuses. See previous article on this.

You need a policy about hourly rates, when they're applied, etc.

You need to create a call-down form and have each of your clients fill it out. This could be an online form. This information should be stored in your PSA system and available to the after-hours tech/service coordinator.

You absolutely CAN prepare for emergencies. Most of the preparation consists of having processes in place before the crisis hits. Your team needs to know how to massage the service board, how to set priorities and adjust work types, etc. Once everyone on your team gets in the habit of touching all these bases on a regular basis, then a P1 is just another process to execute.


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: Schedules and Timelines for Running Your Company


:-)





Sign up NOW for the first-ever

SMB Online Conference

100% Small Business I.T. Focused

100% Business and Making Money!

3 Days of Training

18 hours of Content

Registration starts at only $99 per person.

www.smbonlineconference.com

Thursday, February 23, 2012

MVP Nation 2012 Conference Broadcast on Live Webcast

On February 29th in Barcelona, Microsoft will launch the "Consumer Preview" of Windows 8. That means you'll be able to get your hands on the product in it's pre-release version. It also means that Microsoft is certainly hoping to launch the next version of Windows this year.
Two days later - March 2nd - the I.T. world gathers in Redmond, WA for MVP Nation. (Join me there.)

Basics:
- March 2-3
- Information and registration at mvp.smbnation.com

And today Harry Brelsford announced that MVP Nation will be broadcast on the web via live video. Here's the press release:

- - - - -
SMB Nation Announces Webcast of MVP Nation, Windows 8 Deep Dive

MVP Nation 2012, the world's first Windows 8 focused conference, will be available for the first time ever via live webcast through the MVP Nation website. Virtual attendees can register for the event, which runs from March 2-3, at mvp.smbnation.com.

MVP Nation offers attendees the rare opportunity to learn from Microsoft's very own MVPs in a deeply technical environment. This year's conference focuses heavily on Windows 8 and will provide attendees with a hands-on opportunity to create their own Windows 8 road map. SMB channel community members will benefit from direct interaction with Microsoft's leading Windows 8 trained MVPs, who come to MVP Nation fresh from Microsoft's private MVP Summit event.

The new MVP Nation webcast offering makes it easier and cheaper than ever for IT professionals to benefit from the expertise of Microsoft's MVPs.

Harry Brelsford, founder and chairman of SMB Nation, expressed his excitement about taking MVP Nation virtual: "There's something magic about attending MVP Nation—or any good conference—in person. But what we're hearing from community members is that even though MVP Nation offers amazing value and they want to come, they just can't justify the travel time and airfare and lodging expenses associated with attending a conference. Taking MVP Nation virtual changes that. It makes the event accessible to everyone, everywhere."

Conference attendees have the added benefit of networking with SMB Nation's community sponsors. Sponsors include tech industry leaders, such as Microsoft, Intel, Cisco, D&H Distributing, StorageCraft, and many others, all of whom are available to share information about the channel partnership programs they offer. Many sponsors will also include information on new products and services that integrate seamlessly with Microsoft's new Windows 8 technology. Virtual attendees will have access to much of the community sponsors' partner materials.

Brelsford shared additional information about the event—and a bit of advice: "After our first MVP Nation last year in Seattle, we’re back with a focused two-day deep dive into everything Windows 8. The primary emphasis will be on server-side topics, but we're also addressing desktop, mobility and tablet issues. This event is for everyone who wants a deeply technical experience. We liken it to graduate school for geeks and joke that no wimps are allowed at our two-day brain explosion!"
The MVP Nation team is confident enough in the value offered by their conference that they have introduced a new 110% money-back guarantee for any attendee who is not completely satisfied with the conference experience.

According to Brelsford, "We challenge any Windows-focused IT channel professional to give MVP Nation a try. If it's not everything an attendee hoped for and more, we're happy to extend a full refund, plus a bit of extra spending money for their trouble. And really, why not? With the new webcast option, attendees don't even need to leave their home."

By the numbers
• Attendees: IT Pros, In-house It experts, SMB channel partners, consultants, techs, geeks, MVPs and resellers
• Sessions: Focused on Windows 8 (server, workstation, mobility, tablet)
• Dates
  - Conference: March 2-3, 2012
• Virtual Seat Cost: $99
• Location: Microsoft Conference Center.Redmond, WA

Sign-up: mvp.smbnation.com

More information: 1-888-SMBNAT1

ABOUT SMB NATION: SMB Nation is a publishing and events community, targeted at the small and medium business (SMB) channel partner/reseller/consulting/VAR community.  SMB Nation spreads the knowledge of SMB technology trends through its conferences, books, SMB PC magazine, online services, and world-wide seminars, workshops and accredited Pocket MBA certificate (an academic partnership with Aspen University).  As an active participant in the technology community, SMB Nation has a long history of enthusiastic advocacy and evangelism. The SMB Nation tribe exceeds 45,000 followers worldwide.

- - - - -

Please join me in Redmond, or join us via webcast and tune in for podcasts from the event.

:-)





Sign up NOW for the first-ever

SMB Online Conference

100% Small Business I.T. Focused

100% Business and Making Money!

3 Days of Training

18 hours of Content

Registration starts at only $99 per person.

www.smbonlineconference.com



Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I.T. Pioneer Bob Godgart to Keynote First Major SMB Online Conference

Today's Press Release about the SMB Online Conference in June.

Please re-post and promote if you can. Thanks.
- - - - -

Sacramento, CA, February 22, 2012 – Best-selling technology author Karl Palachuk announced today that I.T. pioneer and community leader Bob Godgart will be the keynote speaker at the Small Biz Thoughts online conference, “Managing for Success 2012” in June. The conference focuses on building successful business processes and will feature some of the best business and technology speakers in the U.S.

The online conference – Managing for Success 2012 – is the first event of its kind targeting technology providers and computer consultants. “We have a great line-up of speakers,” said Palachuk, “and Bob Godgart is certainly first on that list.”

Godgart is the Chairman of the Board of CompTIA, the Computing Technology Industry Association. He is the founder of ChannelEyes, and the past founder, CEO, and Chairman at Autotask.

Godgart describes himself as a “serial entrepreneur” and has started four technology companies that grew into market leaders over the last 25 years. He is a fanatic around company culture and his company received "Tech Valley's Best Places to Work" award for seven years in a row.

Godgart will speak on “Building Successful Partnerships in the Channel.”

“This is a very hot topic for me,” says Godgart. “No one succeeds alone: Consultants. Hardware and Software vendors. Distributors. We all need each other to succeed. And with the fast pace of change in the I.T. world, building strong relationships can be very difficult. We need a new attitude, a new approach, and powerful tools to build lasting partnerships.”

Godgart’s latest venture is ChannelEyes, a social network for the I.T. Channel. As Godgart describes it, ChannelEyes is “kind of like Facebook, but instead of friends on your wall, solution providers can track what's going on with key vendors including manufacturers, associations and distributors.”

Godgart is an active participant in the IT Channel, often speaking at industry conferences and serving on advisory panels. He has been named to the MSP Mentor 250 and a CRN channel chief in 2009, 2010 and 2011. He was also named to the SMB 150 and the Channelnomics influencer award for 2012. His blog is at www.channeleyes.blogspot.com.

Other conference speakers include Stephanie Chandler and Patrick Schwerdtfeger. Chandler is the author of seven books, including Own Your Niche on the Internet and Beyond (Authority Publishing, 2012). Her Business Info Guide web site – www.BusinessInfoGuide.com – is an extremely popular destination for small business owners. Patrick Schwerdtfeger is an internationally recognized authority on social media marketing and the author of several books, including Marketing Shortcuts for the Self-Employed (2011, Wiley).

The conference is “virtual” (online only) and will run 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM Pacific on June 26-28, 2012. Attendees can choose to listen live or also have access to the recorded sessions. In all, the conference will broadcast eighteen hours of programming in three days.
To learn more about Managing for Success 2012, visit www.smbonlineconference.com.

About ChannelEyes

ChannelEyes is a social media site that provides the first free and secure social network to aggregate Channel Program information, transforming communication between suppliers and Channel Partners, integrators, dealers and agents. ChannelEyes LLC was founded in 2011. For more information on ChannelEyes, visit www.ChannelEyes.com.

About Small Biz Thoughts

Small Biz Thoughts is the training and content division of Great Little Book Publishing Co., Inc. Their programs are geared specifically for the Managed Service Provider and SMB Consultant communities. Their focus on future trends has helped them to build a reputation as a trusted advisor to fans and friends around the world. For more information, visit www.smallbizthoughts.com.

Media Contact:
Karl W. Palachuk
916-248-4301
sales@smallbizthoughts.com

:-)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Searching for Reality is Becoming More Difficult with Google and Bing

An interesting change is taking place in the world of search. Google - the undisputed king of the hill in 2012 - is about to change everything for the worse. Perhaps it's a natural evolutionary step for search engines, but reality is getting harder and harder to find on the Internet.

Google has never been good for academic research, but it's getting worse and bringing Bing along for the ride.

Let me give some background.

First, some stats. Statistics vary, but I'll just pick one source and you can go side-check it with your own research. As of February 2012, eBizMBA (http://www.ebizmba.com/articles/search-engines puts the battle like this:

- #1 Google with estimated 900,000,000 unique monthly visitors
- #2 Bing with estimated 165,000,000 unique monthly visitors
- #3 Yahoo! with estimated 160,000,000 unique monthly visitors
- #4 Ask with estimated 125,000,000 unique monthly visitors

- Everyone else 33,000,000 or fewer, dropping quickly to less than a million for #15 Alta vista.

Lesson #1: It pays to be number one. Google has WAY more visitors than ALL of their competition combined.


Second, Some history. In the early days of the Internet, there was no world wide web. That is to say, there was no graphical user interface to the Internet. We used tools like telnet and later FTP. A brilliant young man named Scott Yanoff compiled a list called Scott Yanoff's list. It was his attempt to list every resource on the Internet in a text file. That actually made sense when the Internet was small.

Most people received the list via email or Telnet from within their university. If you had access to a service called Finger, you could "finger yanoff@csd4.csd.uwm.edu" and capture the list. By the time the Web came along and started to grow in the early 1990's, actual search tools had come into existence. Archie and WAIS allowed academics and other resourceful people to scour machines and find stuff.

True search engines came along with Excite, Alta Vista, and Yahoo. These search engines use "bots" to go find information and index it. That led to amazing attempts (mostly by the porn industry) to trick the search engines into higher rankings. That in turn led to search engines becoming more and more sophisticated about finding what people were really looking for. Later, everyone who claimed to be an SEO Wizard made the battle even more difficult.


Sidecheck: As an academic, trying to find the "reality" of what's going on in the world, search engines have never been very good. In these early days, if you could filter out the porn hits, you had a pretty good idea. But it was more likely than not that the information you wanted was not on the Internet! Now we assume almost everything is on the Internet (it's not). But back then you had to assume that most information was not.


Third, Enter Google. Google changed the game. Instead of trying to simply match "keywords" with search terms, Google did deep-dive analysis of what web sites were trying to say. For example, if I have a link that reads Best Sandwich in The World and I link to your sandwich shop, Google knows that I think your sandwiches are the best. That increases your ranking for the search term "Best Sandwich."

If I just link to your site and Cousin Larry's Sandwich Shop, that does you very little good. It increases your in-bound links. Good. It lists you by name. Good. But if people are not searching for you and only searching for the best sandwich, it does you no good.

Important lesson. When you ask people to post a link to your site, you MUST give them a recommended link format that maximizes your keywords. For example, I might ask you to link the term

"Managed Service Agreements"

to

www.smbbooks.com/products/smbpal03.htm

Google interprets that and knows that someone considers that page to contain authoritative information on Managed Service Agreements. This is HUGE in the search business. It means that Google was actually using the evolving sense of subject matter authority to return search results.

Of course the SEO spammers continue to trick the system. Google keeps evolving. And the uniqueness that catapulted Google to the top has been eroded.


Sidecheck: In the academic search for "reality" Google plays an interesting role. If you're looking for who is the best, who knows the most, and who is considered the one true source of information, Google might get you there. But if you're looking for hard, cold facts, Google is a step in the wrong direction. It's more like a popularity contest than a tool for finding the truth behind the reflections of reality we see every day.


Fourth, Enter Bing. Bing took a different approach. Bing was introduced as a "decision engine." In other words, they assume that you're looking for something so you can make a decision. Where to live, which train to take, which shoes to buy, etc. So Bing returns a variety of results that are supposed to help you make a decision.

Clearly, this is not helpful in the search for who really invented the telegraph or how many people have died from Dihydrogen Monoxide abuse.

Luckily, Bing has evolved to be more or less just another search engine. So it returns much more useful results than it did three years ago. In the search for "reality," however, it has had no effect.


Fifth, Google is changing again. But finding the real, live "truth" behind a topic will now be impossible. Google's latest move to change their "privacy policy" is really a move to improve their search engine and money-making efforts. I'm not opposed to that in any way. But you should be aware of the effect it will have on your searches.

Google will now try, whenever possible, to gather up your activities from various Google products and throw them into consideration when you search. So if you searched for certain things in the past, that will affect your searches in the future. If you read certain blogs, post certain pictures, or post replies or comments on web sites, that's taken into consideration. The keywords you use in your Gmail, the Google+'s you plus, and the Google Docs you use will all affect your search results. All of your activity will be taken into consideration in order to tailor the advertisements you see and the search results you receive.

Google's goal is to give you a world wide web experience that includes the things you like, the things you enjoy, and the things you're familiar with. That allows them to give you unique and interesting results that no one else will experience. If the world is defined as spending money in order to express your interest, then Google wants to give you a very fulfilling experience.

The web will literally be molded to fit your needs and desires.

And that's cool, but it seems to me there there are two big reasons this is bad. First, it means that we will see fewer and fewer sites that are "interesting" because they are unexpected. Our experience will become more and more homogenized as we use Google products more and more. For many people, the fun of the Internet includes stumbling onto things that are new and fun and different. It sounds like we'll see less of that.

The second reason this change is bad is that reality will be even harder to find. Because our future search experience will be so completely colored by our past Internet experiences, Google will move further away from being a useful research tool. Now, granted, Google doesn't want to be a research tool. It's not their mission. They've never presented themselves as that.

When my daughter was little, I told her time and time again that Internet research needs to be backed up with real, hard core, facts. Anyone can put up any crap they want on the Internet. And if someone believes it, then it becomes just another competing version of reality.

Most of us are not academics. But we all do research from time to time. Every good anthropologist and social scientist knows that we change reality simply through the process of observing it. So maybe computer-aided search tools will never get us to the "truth" in the real world. Maybe reality will always go to the highest bidder or the most popular page.

But when we really need to do hard-core research, we need to choose the right tools for the job. Popular, commercial search engines are NOT the right tools for this job. When you're serious about serious background information and fact-seeking, there are many alternatives. Luckily, you have hundreds of search engines to choose from. Some of the best are highly focused on one specific topic or set of resources.

A great list of search engines can be found here: Noodle Tools: Choose the Best Search for Your Information Need. It is also a good idea to talk to a Librarian. They do this for a living.

Please don't assume that Google, Bing, or Yahoo will give you the information you need. For many of us in marketing, they are just right. But for real research, they are as far from reality as you can get.

:-)

Friday, February 17, 2012

SOP Friday: Email Rules and Etiquette for the Consultant

Email has been the "killer app" since networking began - way before the Internet. It still is THE killer app. But email can also be a massive time-wasting distraction. How the technician manages email can affect service delivery and profitability. Plus it can have a dramatic effect on customer relationships.

For the consultant, we're primarily interested in Email processes and procedures that help you manage time effectively. Once you agree on a process for this, you need to write it up, train your people, and hold each other accountable.

You do not need to follow the process exactly, but you should work on the assumption that everyone in the company follows the same general pattern for their day. At the end I discuss how and why you should avoid the email time-suck. This really does apply to you. Yes you.


Do Not Be Interrupt-Driven

This applies to many elements of your personal and work life. It is particularly true with email. Go into the Outlook settings and turn off all notifications. No dings, no changing icons, no flashing screens. And absolutely no little pop-up in the corner that takes your attention away from what you're doing.

Everyone in your company should have ALL of these interruptions turned off. Period. They add nothing to your productivity and serve no purpose except to keep you addicted to switching tasks and reducing your attention span.

A few people need their email open all the time. But most technicians do not need it open all day. They need it open while checking email. Other than that, it should be closed.


Checking Email

You should process your email a minimum of three times per day. Start with Morning, Noon, and late in the work day. Set specific times if it's helpful. For example, on odd-numbered hours (9am, 11am, 1pm, 3pm).

Everyone needs to check their email and appropriately act on the content in a timely manner. This is especially true of inter-office emails. Quite often we need answers from our fellow techs to be able to proceed, and a quick response means the least time lost in momentum for the work at hand.

DO NOT camp out on your inbox and DO NOT attend to any email that pops up.

Unless you are waiting on an email for the project, activity, or Service Request that you are currently working on, only process email when you are between tasks and have set aside time to do it.
Anything else is interrupt driven and only causes you to waste time. Changing tasks distracts your focus.


Processing Email

Everyone at your company should follow the same email retention practices. Here's what we recommend.

First, create a year folder in Outlook Public Folders. For example, 2012 for the current year. Inside that you will create sub-folders related to everything that is important company-wide.

Subfolders might include
- Clients
- Marketing
- Operations
- Products and Services

Within Clients, create a subfolder for each client. I don't recommend that you save every single email from every client. But whenever something is important, such as a discussion about a hardware sale, then file it in the client public folder.

This is an easy way to make sure everyone has access to all the information in your email system that's relevant to specific clients, vendors, etc. Other than matters of a personal or financial nature, all important communications should be in the public folders.

It should NEVER be the case that an important client communication is in the mailbox of one technician and not visible to others.

Even as a sole proprietor, this is a great habit to get into.

Note: At the end of the year you can create the 2013 folder and have a nice little archive of 2012 information. You could even save last year to a PST file and keep it on the server. You could open a local copy if needed.


Second, deal with email in batches.
Early in the day, when you're settling in, is the time to look at the latest Microsoft Partner Newsletter or the latest blast from some vendor. Once you open it, though, DEAL with it. That means read it, file it, forward it, or delete it. If you delete the same newsletter regularly without reading it, unsubscribe.

The rest of the day, do not look at any email unless it is related to business. That means, internal emails, or emails related to to your current projects, Service Requests, or Activities.

This process is very simple and allows anyone to clear their mail box quickly, efficiently, and not end up with 75 unread messages containing client requests for help or information aging away.


How To Read and Process An Email Message

For each and every email in the inbox, do only one of the following actions:

- Reply to it and then Delete or Move the email to another folder
- Act on it immediately and then Delete or Move the email to another folder
- Forward it and then Delete or Move the email to another folder
- Create a service request and then Delete or Move the email to another folder
- Create an Activity in your PSA system and then Delete or Move the email to another folder
- Just delete it

Rinse, Repeat.

Note on business related emails:
- Always enter time or notes to any related SR immediately! If you do not do it now it will get lost.


Logging Your Time

It takes time to process email. We process time in 15 minute increments. It is highly unlikely that you will open an email and proceed to bill time to a client (or log time against a managed service agreement). See Time Tracking for Employees.

If you do log 8 or more minutes dealing with a client issue, then you should lot 15 minutes to the appropriate service agreement.

But more commonly, you will log your time as internal and administrative.

This is very handy for determining how much time employees are wasting "getting going" in the morning. If someone logs two hours to checking email in one day, they probably need to find a new profession. Just sayin.

But you don't know how much time is spent on email unless you track it.


Avoid the Email Time-Suck

You already know this: Email is the greatest officially approved time suck in your business. If you have no rules around it, then it be like a wild vine. It will find its own path and fill up empty space without being noticed.

Email makes us extremely productive and is a great tool for managing information. At the same time, email can waste resources such as time and disc space. It can distract you from more important jobs. And it can interrupt you when you need to focus.

Some companies simply do not allow individual technicians to have email. That seems difficult, but the advantages are obvious.

You don't have to follow these guidelines exactly. But you should have some policy to limit how much email distracts you and your employees. To the extent that it's a productive tool, use it. To the extent that it's a distracting time-suck, limit it.

Implementing this policy follows the common process. First, you need to write up your email rules. Second, you need to train your employees on the procedure. Third, you need to support each other and remind each other of the policy.


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: Server Down Procedures


:-)




Now Shipping:

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Announcing the First-Ever 3-Day SMB Online Conference

Ladies and Gentlemen . . . I am proud to announce the first major 100% Online 3-Day Conference for SMB I.T. Professionals.

I know it seems like a long way off, but NOW is the time to register. Put this on your calendar and plan to be there. The conference will have 16 speakers and 18 hours content - all focused totally on how you can improve your business.

Whether you describe yourself as a Computer Consultant, IT Pro, SMB Consultant, Small Business Specialist, VAR, Reseller, Solution Provider, Managed Service Provider, Cloud Service Provider, Microsoft Partner, or just plain "The Computer Guy," this is the conference for you.

(If I missed any SEO terms, please ping me.)

Please see our site at www.smbonlineconference.com/


What Makes This Conference Unique?

For starters, we've got some great speakers that you just won't find at most I.T. conferences. We have some absolutely top-notch professional speakers on business, entrepreneurship, and marketing. That mean new content and not the same old stuff.

You can choose your level of attendance:
- You can just listen live. That's 18 hours of awesome content for only $99!
Amazing. Of course all live listeners will be able to ask questions and participate fully.

- You can listen live plus get recordings of all sessions for only $399. That's cheaper than airfare to your favorite conference!
But wait . . . Of course there's an early bird special. You can not get live attendance plus the recordings for only $299!

- You don't have to travel! No hotel bills, no over-priced meals, no airfare. You get to "attend" a conference right from your home or office.

- - - - -

The official press release is below. But PLEASE visit the web site and check out the details. There is also an amazing special offer for folks who want additional training materials right away.

Join us in June!

http://www.smbonlineconference.com/

- - - - -

Author Karl Palachuk to Host 3-Day Online Conference for Computer Consultants

Sacramento, CA, February 15, 2012 – Best-selling technology author Karl Palachuk announced today that he will be holding a 3-day online conference for computer consultants in June. The conference will focus on building successful business processes and will feature some of the best business and technology speakers in the U.S.

The online conference – Managing for Success 2012 – is the first event of its kind targeting technology providers and computer consultants. The conference registration and information site is at www.smbonlineconference.com.

“We have a great line-up of speakers,” said Palachuk, “Including several international super stars from the worlds of marketing and technical innovation.”

Two of the keynote speakers are Stephanie Chandler and Patrick Schwerdtfeger. Chandler is the author of seven books, including Own Your Niche on the Internet and Beyond (Authority Publishing, 2012). Her Business Info Guide web site – www.BusinessInfoGuide.com – is an extremely popular destination for small business owners. Patrick Schwerdtfeger is an internally recognized authority on social media marketing and the author of several books, including Marketing Shortcuts for the Self-Employed (2011, Wiley).

Other speakers include some of the most influential pioneers and opinion leaders in the world of technical consulting. But this is not a technology conference, says Palachuk. “This is a business focused conference for I.T. Professionals. We want to help computer consultants to be better business people, with a vision for the future and strategies for success.”

“That’s why we named the conference Managing for Success 2012,” he says. “Conference sessions will cover managing a business, marketing a business, creating standard operating procedures, building a strong team, and even buying up your competition.”

The conference is online only and will run 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM on June 26-28, 2012. Attendees can choose to listen live or also have access to the recorded sessions. In all, the conference will broadcast eighteen hours of programming in three days.

The online format is new for this kind of conference, says Palachuk. “We’re well into the fourth year of a recession and the large national I.T. conferences just haven’t had the turnout they used to. People have smaller budgets. Consulting companies are stretched thin. So an online conference saves time, travel, and money. It also means we don’t have to charge as much since we’re not paying for hotel meeting rooms and catering.”

Palachuk will start each conference day with a presentation of the “theme of the day” and then provide a discussion of some standard operating procedures related to the theme of the day. Palachuk is a prolific blogger and is well known for his SOP Friday series at smallbizthoughts.com. The SOP Friday series picks one topic each week and explores the standard operating procedures that technology consultants might adopt.

To learn more about Managing for Success 2012, visit www.smbonlineconference.com.

About Karl Palachuk

Karl is an author, speaker, and trainer who focuses on helping computer consultants and I.T. Professionals improve their business practices. He is widely regarded as someone who provides click-by-click instructions on how to be a successful technology consultant.

Karl is the author of nine books (available at SMBBooks.com). His blog - SmallBizThoughts.com - has more than 40,000 visitors a month and is considered a training resource for many I.T. consultants. The blog has experienced an audience growth rate of almost 600% over the last year.

Karl has been named SBSer of the Year by SMB Nation; he has been on the MSPmentor 250 list every year since it was started; and was named to the SMB 150 list by SMB Technology Network (SMBTN) and SMB PC magazine.

About Small Biz Thoughts

Small Biz Thoughts is the training and content division of Great Little Book Publishing Co., Inc. Their programs are geared specifically for the Managed Service Provider and SMB Consultant communities. Their focus on future trends has helped them to build a reputation as a trusted advisor to fans and friends around the world.

Media Contact:
Karl W. Palachuk
916-248-4301
sales@smallbizthoughts.com

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Third Tier Offers the Next Step in Escalated Support

Amy Babinchak over at Third Tier asked me to help her announce a new program they've got.

Her Memo:

- - - - -
    For Immediate Release Heads up! Third Tier has announced a new way for you to access top IT talent. If you've already worked with Third Tier you need to know that this program is completely different than the single ticket that you have been using and is designed for companies that would like to develop an on-going deeper relationship with Third Tier. This new program allows you to add a member of Third Tier to your staff.  
     
    "There comes a point in every successful IT firm when you realize that you need someone with technical expertise that is greater than yours. Then you go into the marketplace to look for one and realize that people with THAT level of skill start at more than you're making." Says Amy Babinchak, Managing Partner of Third Tier and President of Harbor Computer Services an SBSC. Ouch. Third Tier has put together a program that will allow you to "hire" a fraction of one of their top guys.  
     
    Find out more on the Third Tier website at these two locations
     
     
- - - - -

Basically, Third Tier is offering to sell you prepaid access to their engineers for escalated support. This is a great idea if you need an assist from time to time and don't want to plop down a Visa for each incident.

This is a great idea. It adds capacity to your business without adding staff to your budget. Check out the details and contact Amy if you need more info.

:-)

SMB MVP Community Roadshow Hits San Fran

Got a memo from my buddy JeffM.

Don't forget the Bay Area stop on the SMB MVP Community Roadshow. This Saturday!

From Jeff:
- - - - -

SMB MVP Community Roadshow – Event Announced in your Region!
A message from Jeff Middleton, Founder of SBSmigration.com . . .

I wanted to reach out to my US based customers specifically for an event scheduled this month. We have the events already open for registration:
18-February-2012
MS San Francisco Offices
San Francisco Metro Area
San Francisco, California

BASBITS - Bay Area Small Business Information Technology Specialists
      
Registration and Details: www.mvptour2011.sbsmigration.com/register

It's not too late to register!
If you are in this area that we are still working on or even one not listed and would like to be notified when we get an event near you opened for registration please complete this short Request Form and let us know what area you are located in.
Here are the main topics we will be presenting on:
• Microsoft SBS 2011 (all Editions), MultiPoint Server 2011, Storage Server Essentials 2008R2
• 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!
Jeff Middleton SBS-MVP

- - - - -

I attended the Sacramento version of this event last Fall. It's an excellent all-day festival of SMB and SBS goodness. If you're anywhere close, please check it out!

:-)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Microsoft Safety Scanner Labels Legitimate Products as Viruses

A little while ago, Alan Brinker of Do-I.T. sent me an interesting email. It seems he downloaded and ran the "Microsoft Safety Scanner" from the Microsoft Security site. See http://www.microsoft.com/security/scanner/en-us/default.aspx.

Here's the juicy part:

    I ran Microsoft "Safety Scanner" on my own computer and it did something that shouldn't happen. It simply tells you that it has found some malware on your computer but it doesn't tell you what it is. You have to either remove it or close the program - two choices. If you choose remove it will remove anything that Microsoft doesn't want on your computer. On my computer it removed multiple versions of VNC and Magic Jellybean Finder, two old standbys for us IT guys. Here's what their site has to say about VNC:

Well, I agree that no security scanner should remove software that the user wants, or has paid for. It's reasonable to think that remote control software is suspicious. It should at least ask. Remember that this tool is not intended for business. So they don't expect Kaseya, Zenith, or Logmein to be installed.

I have VNC server and client, as well as Logmein on my laptop. When I ran this scanner, I did not have the same experience as Alan. But you might. So just be careful which tools you use.

Before I ran the scan, I removed Microsoft Security Essentials in the hopes that it would not interfere with the test. But, to be honest, it may have somehow marked those files as legit. Which reminds me, I need to add an AV product back on to that laptop. :-)

I would appreciate any feedback or experiences in the comments below.

No anti-spyware, anti-malware, or anti-virus program should remove legitimate software. And I know they try to make these things brain-dead simple, but you should always get a list of programs it wants to remove and an option to mark them as legitimate.

Thanks to Alan for bringing this to my attention.

Folks who want to play with Real VNC will find it here: http://www.realvnc.com/index.html

:-)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Free Stuff at SMB Books

Free Stuff at SMB Books

Over at www.SMBBooks.com we've got a number of items on close-out. Most are only $9 each. So here's a coupon code for $9 - that gets you a FREE book:

NINENOW

Why? Well, I need to get these off the shelf. I will honestly box them up soon and donate them to the local library book sale. So I'd rather put them in the hands of computer consultants!

That code works on anything else, including a variety of recorded products and e-products and white papers that are in the range of $9.95-$19.95.

Take $9 off whatever you want.

Thanks.

http://www.SMBBooks.com

:-)

Pacific IT Pros host TechDays San Francisco March 22-23

I got a note from my good friend Jessica DeVita (LA's only Microsoft MVP - IT Pro) announcing the Pacific IT Professionals'  TechDays San Francisco. Here's the info:

- - - - -
TechDays SF – March 22 and 23rd, 2012

Pacific IT Professionals (pacitpros) will be hosting a two day IT Professional conference in San Francisco March 22 and 23rd, 2012. This conference will have a 2 day format with presentations being 45 minutes in length leaving 5 minutes for Q & A and 10 minutes between sessions.

We have planned 2 tracks that run all day both days and a 3rd track that runs in the afternoon both days. Due to room capacity issues the conference will be limited to a maximum of 200 attendees with registration being first come first served.

The first 50 paid registrations will receive a copy of Windows 7 Ultimate and we also will be giving away an Amazon Kindle Fire to one of the paid attendees. Full details on fees, local hotels and location will be update shortly.
Speaker selection has started but a final list of topic and session abstracts will not be available until closer to the conference date. At this time we have a tentative schedule and tentative topics as outlined below. These are subject to change due to what speakers are selected and feedback about topics. * Update – we are almost ready to release the final speakers list. Very exciting group of presenters for the event – stay tuned!

TRACK 1TRACK 2TRACK 3
Day 1SERVERCLIENT
9:00 – 9:50IISDeployment-
10:00 – 10:5010 Things to know about W2K8R2 ServerMDOP-
11:00 – 11:50Windows 8 ServerWindows 8 Client-
12:00 – 12:50Lunch – not provided--
1:00 – 1:50Lunch – not provided--
ENTERPRISEUCMISC
2:00 – 2:50ClusteringExchange 2010Wireless
3:00 – 3:50NetworkingLyncSharePoint topic 1
4:00 – 4:50DNS TroubleshootingWindows Phone 7SharePoint topic 2
6:00 – 8:00Meet and Greet Party (All conference attendees)--
Day 2CLOUD/VIRTUALIZATIONMANAGEMENT
9:00 – 9:50Hyper-VAD/GPOs-
10:00 – 10:50Cloud / AzureSystem Center 1-
11:00 – 11:50Cloud – How it will impact IT ProsSystem Center 2-
12:00 – 12:50Lunch – not provided--
1:00 – 1:50Lunch – not provided--
SECURITYDR/REMOTEPOWERSHELL/SCRIPTING
2:00 – 2:50VPN’sVirtual Desktop / RDPBeginners
3:00 – 3:50DirectAccessBackupAdvanced
4:00 – 4:50ForeFront / FirewallsDRDNS/DHCP/IPAM
6:00 – 8:00Speakers Dinner (invitation only)

If you have questions or comments please email us at techdays@pacitpros.org

TechDays 2012 Registration


TechDays SF

Date: March 22 and 23rd

Location:
Microsoft – SF Office
835 Market Street, Suite 700
San Francisco, CA 94103

Cost: $300

Description:
A two-day IT Professional conference on Microsoft software and related topics, hosted by Pacific IT Professionals. Presentations will be 45 minutes in length highlighting a variety of Microsoft server, client, enterprise and management products and solutions.

Attend sessions from multiple tracks to customize your experience and talk to a variety of industry experts. View the tenative schedule and topics for more information.

Registration is limited to 200 attendees. The first 50 paid registrations will receive a copy of Windows 7 Ultimate. All attendees will be registered to win a Kindle Fire!

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You can follow Jessica on Twitter at https://twitter.com/#!/ubergeekgirl


:-)

Friday, February 10, 2012

SOP Friday: Response Times - Guarantees and Delivery

One of the key components to building a happy client base is proper management of expectations. Some people think of this as "manipulation" of some kind. But it's not that at all. Every successful company has standard operating procedures. These guide our activities and keep us profitable and moving in the right direction. Where two organizations interact (e.g., you and your client), both sides have a reasonable expectation of what that interaction will look like.

After all, when you receive service, one of the first questions is "When can I expect that to be done?" Part of the appeal of a 30 minute oil change is that you know the time frame without asking.

There are lots of variables here. How do you communicate with clients (PSA portal, voice mail, email, telephone)? How do clients try to communicate with you (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, web form, fax)? Then there's the response times as defined in your service agreement, as defined in your PSA system, and as you've "implied" via your personal communication.

On top of all that you have unspoken assumptions . . . on both your side and the client's. Let's start there.


First: Drop Your Assumptions

The unspoken assumptions of the client and the service provider are the biggest cause of problems. Most of the time this is YOUR fault because 1) You didn't set reasonable expectations; 2) You assume the client wants everything right now; and 3) In any service relationship, the person receiving the money in exchange for service is responsible for managing that relationship.

How do you set reasonable expectations? Well, you can start with a one-sheet handout that describes your priority system (see SOP Friday: Setting Job Priorities) along with a one-paragraph summary of your written response times from your service agreement.

You also set reasonable expectations every time you communicate with a client. You can mention your after hours policy ("We don't work evenings and weekends."). When a service request comes in you can try to schedule the work for 1-2 days out.

When you answer the phone and enter a new service request, you need to give the client an idea of when you'll be able to work on their issue. Note: It does NOT have to be immediately, within 15 minutes, or within an hour. It can be "this afternoon," tomorrow, or next week.

You are valuable and you schedule your time for maximum efficiency. You prioritize service requests from Highest to Lowest and Oldest to Newest. That's reasonable. Set reasonable expectations.

Now let's look at the mechanics of response times.


Guaranteed Response Time


You need a service agreement. If you don't have one, start here: Service Agreements for SMB Consultants.

In your Service Agreement, you should state two or three kinds of response times. And don't just let them sit on the paper: Explain them to your clients. You don't want them to think all their problems will be fixed in 60 minutes, no matter what the issue is.

Response Type One: Acknowledgement
This means that you communicate with the client and let them know that you've received their request. This is, strictly speaking, your "Response Time." You have responded and now you can give them a reasonable expectation of when you can start working on the request.

It is very reasonable to promise to acknowledge all service requests within one hour. Depending on your processes, this might be by email, voicemail, or telephone. I don't recommend merely clicking "acknowledged" in your PSA tool. Your client probably doesn't hang out all day on your portal.

Response Type Two: Work Begins
This is what most clients think of as response time, until you educate them. This is when the status moved from "Acknowledged" or "Schedule This" to "In Progress."

You will have different times for different priorities. You might have 1-2 hours for a Priority One ticket; 4 hours for a Priority Two; 24 business hours for P3, and 1 business week for a P4.

You might not have guaranteed times for working on P3 and P4 tickets as you'll want to schedule those anyway. Clients only care about fast response to urgent matters (P1/P2). They are often concerned that P3 and P4 tickets won't ever be resolved, so you need to make sure that's not the case. But you may not need to have guaranteed response.

Response Type Three: Resolution
We never use this. We do not guarantee that issues will be resolved within a specific amount of time. You might try this, but NEVER get yourself in a position of losing money systematically because you over-promised.

Promising a resolution time is not (usually) a reasonable expectation. You want to set reasonable expectations, so don't promise a specific time to resolution unless you have to.

All of these are "Guaranteed" Response Times. That means they're written down in your service agreement and you signed it. That's a promise!


They Gotta Use The System


In order for these response times to work, clients must use your system. See How Do Service Requests Get Into Your System?. That means, the client needs to call your service phone number. Or enter a ticket in the portal. Or sent an email that's turned into a service request by Email2AT or a similar program.


If clients call a cell phone, that doesn't count. If they talk to a tech in the field, that doesn't count. If they Tweet something on Twitter or post a complaint on Facebook, that doesn't count. If they bitch on Yelp, that doesn't count.


When someone checks voice mail or gets a request in person, they should put in a ticket. But the clock starts when the ticket is entered, NOT when the client goes around your process. Once your team knows there's a problem, you need to enter a ticket and begin working your process. But it is unreasonable for a client to go outside your process and then hold you responsible for your promises.

 


What you tell your employees is a different story . . .


Actual Response Time
Meanwhile, at your office, you have a tighter process.

It should be your goals to Acknowledge all service requests within one business hour. And if you have an office manager or someone who stays at the office most of the time, they should be able to acknowledge tickets within 15-30 minutes.

Technicians are NOT expected to check voice mails all day long, or to ever receive a service request by cell phone or voice mail.

Technicians are NOT expected to hang out on email all day, or ever receive a service request to their email address. Technicians check email three times a day.

Internally, you need to have a process to acknowledge all service requests within one business hour. This is very manageable and reasonable. Just do it.

Service delivery (actually starting to work on an issue) depends on the priority. You need to make sure you have a chart that lists your response times. In my opinion, it's okay to set internal goals that are much stricter than the promises in your service agreement. I think one hour to begin work on a P1, two hours for P2, and eight business hours for P3 is very manageable and reasonable.

If your internal process is always better than your written promises, you'll have no problems keeping your written promises.

Your PSA system will automatically track how long it takes to go through each step of the service delivery process. Too many statistics can be worse than not enough. But you should track time to Acknowledge, Time to Begin Work, and Time to Resolution for each service request. You can then run reports by priority and get additional information about how you're doing.


Special Case: Priority One or Server Down - After Hours
There is one important exception to response times that needs a little attention. Servers almost never go down. But when there's a true emergency that needs immediate attention, you need to have a standard process for that.

Quite simply, your response time should be As Soon As Possible.

After hours, on weekends, or on holidays, the response time will be as soon as possible given the resources available. With luck, you have one person assigned to be "on call" for emergencies. This person must never work on non-emergencies outside of business hours.

For a P1 emergency comes up, here's a simple process that works for us:

- Call each person on the client call down list systematically until someone is reached (this list is stored in your PSA system)

- Inform them that there is an issue with their system

- Request directions as to how to proceed. After hours work is always billable, so it must be approved.

- If you reach a voice mail system, leave a message stating that there is a problem and ask how they wish to proceed. Leave the main service phone number/extension.

- Continue calling through the list until you reach someone or exhaust the list.

Once you reach someone:

- If after hours work is requested, inform or remind the client of our after hours rate and then find out when to proceed.

- If after hours work is requested, inform the client that there must be someone from the client's company available to get our technician in and out of the building and office as needed.

Note: The client must have a representative with full access present at all times in the office while our technician is on site.

There are other restrictions for after hours work, but that's another article. ;-)


The Bottom Line: Reasonable Expectations

Never forget that you are running a service business. We get into this business because we want to provide service. But if you don't stay profitable, even during an emergency, then you won't be around to provide service in the future.

The thing about Standard Operating Procedures is that they provide a "normalcy" to what you do every day. You CAN expect problems. You can expect emergencies. You can develop a standard response that keeps the client happy and keeps you from pulling out your hair.

Your job stress will be much lower when you realize that you can schedule work in advance and never run around putting out fires. Many people say they want that, but not everyone is willing to implement processes and procedures to make it happen.


Your Comments Welcome.

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About this Series

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

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

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Next week's topic: Email Rules and Etiquette for the Consultant


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Still the best Quick-Start Guide to Managed Services:

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

by Karl W. Palachuk

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