Friday, December 27, 2013

SOP Friday: Basic Customer Service Training

Note: This post is not really about customer service training. We'll cover that in a few weeks. It IS about "Don't be a scumbag" training. This is really a little taste of customer relationship management for the whole team.

Your team puts on a face for your clients. It should be a unified front that shows you in the best light. There are two kinds of things technicians do to cause problems with customer relationships. One kind is unintentional. The other kind is intentional.


First, let's look at the unintentional customer relationship issues.

As you are aware, technical employees have a reputation for being a bit shy on interpersonal skills. For many of them, this is justified. As with all human behavior and personality traits, there's a spectrum and "nerds" tend to fall in a certain range on the interpersonal relations spectrum.

I like to give the example of the technician and the receptionist. The tech has a tendency to appear abrupt and maybe even rude to the receptionist. Especially in large organizations, technical people are often characterized as really smart and arrogant. That perception of arrogance is usually inaccurate, in my experience. But this perception is so wide spread that it has to come from somewhere.

I believe that "somewhere" is the personality differences between technicians and end users. The tech comes in head down, focused on the job at hand. "I'll be at the server. I need to install the new SSL Cert you bought and verify that the VPN works."

The receptionist hears "Blah blah blah blah, Ginger. Blah blah blah."

The receptionist - and most end users - need technicians to talk about people things, not computer things. Technicians tend to be more left brained. One piece of that is a desire to be clear and accurate. The client would be very happy if you just say, "I have to install something so that you computers are secure." Okay.

But technicians want to be a lot more accurate than that. The tech might be thinking that the person will ask "Install what?" or "Do you mean we haven't been secure?" So he preempts those questions with information. But even if the client did ask those questions, they wouldn't understand the answer given above.

In order to not appear arrogant and dismissive, technicians need to learn to talk in kinder, gentler terms that clients understand. You cannot say this is the boss's job of the Customer Service Manager's job. Putting forward a positive, pleasant face to your clients is very important.

It can be very helpful for you (your management team) to come up with preferred phrases and analogies that work. Once you figure out how to talk about security or VOIP or cloud services, train your techs to talk about it the same way.


Next, intentional customer relationship issues.

So team messaging is very important. You need to be consistent. You need to be polite. But you also need to make sure that the client understands that your company respects their company, your people respect their people, and your people respect each other.

"Intentional" customer relationship issues occur when your employees bad-mouth clients or each other within earshot of your clients. If Client A hears a story about how stupid Client B is, they will wonder what you say about them to the other clients. And even if your technicians are talking to each other, a client who hears such talk will have the same negative reaction.

The same thing goes for your team as a whole. It is very bad for one technician to blame another tech for problems, or to make other team members look stupid. Even if people on your team have these opinions, they must never let the clients hear them.

Even more damaging is the employee who makes snide comments about your company, your employees, or your policies in front of the client. Some people are just opinionated and need to keep it to themselves. But most of the time, this behavior is a result of a disgruntled employee.

If you have an employee with a bad attitude, you need to make it very clear to everyone on your staff that internal discussions and issues are just that - internal. It is hard to estimate how much damage an unhappy employee can create when they start spreading their bad attitude to other technicians and to clients.

In my opinion, this kind of behavior must be dealt with as soon as possible. And if it does not stop immediately, it is a cause for termination.

If you have internal issues or personality clashes on your team, you need to address them. But all employees must understand that these are internal matters and not to be discussed with client or in front of clients.

I've had discussions in which my employees told me that my ideas were wrong or even stupid. I need that. Sometimes my ideas really are stupid, so I can't squash that discussion internally. But once the company policy is established, everyone needs to get on board.

Your employees should not even make statements such as "It's not the way I would do it, but it's what we do." No matter how benign they intend such a statement to be, it confuses the client. One of the great benefits of Standard Operating Procedures is that you create your company's "way" of doing things. Solidarity in your way is very important. Don't let anyone on your team undermine that.

The easiest way to prevent problems is through regular trainings.


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 SmallBizThoughts.com.

- - - - -

Next week's topic: Time Entry and Note Entry in Service Tickets

:-)

Friday, December 20, 2013

SOP Friday: Next Year's Holiday and Pay Schedule

One more quick job before the end of the year: Put out a calendar for your employees that lists the Pay Days and the Holidays for next year. This is a handy little guide that will make everyone's life easier. Once it's done and distributed, then it's done for the year and you don't have to worry about it.

Sample Pay Days and Holidays
Click to Enlarge
Notes on Pay Dates

I've talked elsewhere about Choosing Paydays. But even after you've selected the pay schedule, banks and governments get in the way. So whether you pay on the 5th and the 20th or on the 10th and 25th, you'll have to move an occasional payday because it's on a Sunday or a holiday.

Employees, especially new employees, should have a clear sense of when they will be paid and for which days. As you can see from the example, our pay day is roughly ten days after the period for which employees are being paid. So work performed January 1-15 will be paid on the 25th.

Notes on Holidays

Holidays are an important consideration. They determine which days your office will be officially closed. This discussion is separate from whether employees will be paid for these days or whether work on these days is paid extra (e.g., time and a half for holidays).

One place to find a list of holidays is www.timeanddate.com. If you need to list holidays for a different country, you can do that as well.

As you can see at that site, there are dozens and dozens of official holidays or bank holidays. A lot of them are so arcane you can't believe they're a real holiday. For example, we do not take off September 6th for Carl Garner Federal Lands Cleanup Day Observance. Maybe we should. But we just don't. If we took off all the holidays listed at that site, we'd take off 110 days (not counting four more days if we take off all of Kwanzaa).

That's 110 days off out of 365. If we assume that 14% of those days fall on the weekend, that leaves 95 days off during the work week. We can't take all those days off. That's 36% of the work days during a given year.

So you have to pick your holidays. As you can see from our list, we have chosen eleven "holiday" days for the next year. Some of these are pretty standard and pretty much mandatory, like New Years. Others are up for debate. For example, the government and banks take off Columbus Day in the United States, but most of our clients are open that day. So it's not on our list.

We also throw in a few extra days off just because of where they are on the calendar. In the U.S. we celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November. Almost none of our clients are around on the Friday after that, so we're closed. In 2014 Christmas is also on a Thursday. We don't always give off the day after Christmas, but I guarantee very few of our clients will be around, so we're taking that Friday off as well.

Most people who don't work for a government, there are about 8-10 holiday days per year. Government employees tend to get about 10-13.

Note: Taking these days off is a totally different discussion from paid holidays or paid days off. We give salaried employees (managers) the days off with no reduction in their monthly salary. So that means, technically, these are paid holidays.

We are closed on our listed holidays, so hourly employees are not paid for these days. If you choose to pay hourly employees for these days, you need to figure out a fair compensation based on their regular work schedule.

When you're closed for a holiday (or any reason), you need to have someone on call in case clients really are at work and have a need for service. See the discussion of On Call and Night Staff.

- - - - -

Isn't interesting how the smallest thing has layers of ramifications when you start to examine it? Your basic action steps here are:

1) Decide on the pay dates for the year

2) Decide which holidays you will take off

3) Put these on a schedule that will become your "official" list of pay dates and holidays

4) Distribute this to all staff and all new employees



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 SmallBizThoughts.com.

- - - - -

Next week's topic: Basic Customer Service Training

:-)

Still the best Quick-Start Guide to Managed Services: 

by Karl W. Palachuk 

Now only $39.95 at SMB Books!

Friday, December 13, 2013

SOP Friday: End of Year SOPs

The calendar is always a good tool for helping you to manage your business. Some things are thrust upon us - like end of month, end of quarter, and end of year. The biggest of these is end of year for lots of reasons. It's the big financial cutoff for governments, taxes, and even laws that affect your company. It's also a convenient time to do lots of planning and "moving on" from the old to the new.

Here are a few items you should consider putting into your end-of-year checklist.

First: File Management


I talked last time about shredding. This is related to moving files from active to storage, and then from storage to long-term storage, and eventually to shredded.

But there are other things you need to do with files/paper printouts.

For example, we separate out packing slips and distributor invoices. We three-hole punch them and put them in binders for quick access. Our SOP is to do this as each order goes through the system. But at the end of the year we sometimes have to do a little catch-up.

These binders are invaluable three or four years down the road when our memories have faded and we need to know information about specific purchases. QuickBooks will have some detail, but the distributor invoice/packing slips sometimes have lots of details. Depending on the distributor, this might include serial numbers for server parts or even warranty information.

We also separate out all the files that are moving forward from this year to next year. Basically, this includes all contracts and on-going services. Everything that's "current" stays in the big file cabinet. Everything that's year-specific moves to a paper box. We might keep that box out for a couple of months. But eventually we stop accessing those files and the box moves to storage.


Second: Internal "Review" Tasks


There are several things here. You won't get them all done in the last two weeks of the year. But you should create tasks or service tickets for yourself. These things do need to be done once a year and this is a good time to do them.

Review Vendors - Have each person who deals with a vendor rate them on a few variables. For example, are they profitable, easy to work with, etc. I recommend a five point scale because it allows for a true "in the middle" vote and then a couple of options on both the high and low end.

Review Your Business Processes - How are you doing creating and following SOPs? What is awesome about your business? What sucks? What do you most want to change in the next year?

Review Your Marketing - What worked? What didn't? Review the budget you spent this year and set a budget for next year. In general, if your marketing is ineffective, you need to make a change. Begin figuring out what that might be.

Review Insurance Policies - Do you have all the insurance policies you need (fire, flood, errors and omissions, liability, etc.)? Do you have the right coverage for each of these? When was the last time you verified the beneficiaries for each of these policies.

And of course: Are you paying too much? Whether it's workers comp or liability, you should shop prices from time to time. Make sure the quality of coverage is the same, but lower prices if you can.

Update Your Corporate (or Partnership) Minutes - Are you required to keep certain legal documents? I know we sure are. Corporate minutes need to be up to date even if you're the only owner. Partnerships and LLCs have similar requirements.

Define and Execute Your End of Year Backup - Many cloud backup solutions actually keep a limited number of versions for each file and have a limited age for each file. Having only the "live" version is great, but you may also want to keep snapshots in time. The end of year is a great time to do this. If your backup is local, take a disc off site for permanent storage. If you backup is in the cloud, copy down a snapshot to hard drive for off site permanent storage.

Review Finances - You'll want to talk to your accountant about this. Make sure you run all the reports you need for cross-year comparisons. Make sure everything is up to spec for tax season. Do a best-guess estimate of where you stand with regard to income, profit, and taxes. Would it be useful to put some expenses into this year versus next year?


Third: Employee-Related Tasks


Update Non Disclosure Agreements - Each of your employees should have a signed non-disclosure agreement. Make sure those are all up to date. I like to keep them on in one nice file. Move old ones to the paper box for storage. Make sure all current employees have one.

Annual Performance Reviews - If you haven't done quarterly or six-month reviews, at least do an annual review. Give employees some feedback on how they're doing, and set some goals for the year ahead. If you're handing out bonuses or first of the year raises, this is a convenient way to do that.

Update Employee Information - You'll need it for W2s a few weeks anyway. And updated information is always good for the payroll folks anyway. Make sure you have correct address information, W4 forms, and some kind of memo that documents each employee's rate of pay. If you don't have an emergency contact form, that's probably a good idea as well.


Fourth: Client-Related Tasks


Review Client Contracts - This is also a great time to make sure you have a good copy of all current client contracts. Whether you put them all in one big folder or keep each in a per-client folder, make sure they're up to date. There's nothing worse than when a client asks a question about your contract and you can't find a copy.

Evaluate Your Clients - On several occasions I've recommended that you "Weed Your Client Garden" from time to time. That begins with evaluating your clients. You have to decide which criteria work best for you, but consider some of these:
- How profitable are they?
- How nice are they to work with?
- How interesting are their projects?
- Do they take your advice?
- Do they invest in good equipment?

Whatever criteria you choose, discuss them with a few key employees. If there's anyone you really should drop, you probably all know it already. In general, the discussion about what makes a good client is a great team building exercise for your company.

Christmas Gifts? - I recommend that you at least send out Christmas cards. This is a great time of year to touch base with your clients - especially your best clients. If you're small, touch base with everyone.

For many years we made baskets or ordered baskets for all of our clients. At some point we were too big for that to be practical. But I'm a real believer in doing something special for your favorite clients at least once a year. Anniversaries are a good time, and so is end-of-year.

Client EOY Checklist - All of your clients could use a few quick tune-ups. The goal here is just to make sure that these items are addressed no matter what. For example, even if you have password policies, I'll bet you have clients that haven't changed their password for a year.

Just create one or more service tickets to make sure you execute each of these at each client:

- Change Passwords. This includes your company password on their system as well as their administrator, and every user password.

- EOY Backup. At least once a year you should take a snapshot backup that goes off site forever.

- Technology Roadmap. Even if you can't execute it right away, schedule a client roadmap meeting. Even clients who resist this on a quarterly basis should be able to find a time in the next 365 days!

- Clean up disc space. This is a great time to do PC tune-ups on all machines. At a minimum, distribute information to your clients and ask them go clean up temporary files, prefetch files, and all that crap they know they stored "temporarily" on their computers over the last year.

- Clean up Outlook / Exchange. Again, either you can do this or you can give your clients a procedure for cleaning up old emails. This might include archiving off to PSTs. At a minimum it should include emptying their deleted items folder!

- - - - -

You might have lots of other things you do at the end of the year. And, again, you don't have to freak out that can't get all this done by December 31st. The point of these lists to take care of some important tasks at least once a year.

Maintenance consists of taking care of things so that you diminish the number of problems you have over time. A lot of "little things" tend to go un-done throughout the year. The end of year process is simply intended to make sure that the little things get done.


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 SmallBizThoughts.com.

- - - - -

Next week's topic: Next Year's Holiday and Pay Schedule

:-)


Now Shipping: 



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Over 175 pages of NEW material, plus a comprehensive checklist for all versions of SBS.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Four More Books!!! 4-Volume Book Set on Standard Operating Procedures

Please Support My Indiegogo Campaign . . .

And Receive a 4-volume Set of Books on Standard Operating Procedures for I.T. Consultants!


First, THANK YOU to everyone who had contributed to our Indiegogo campaign. Let me verify right now that we WILL get these books out in 2014 thanks to you.
Second, we really need your help if you have not contributed yet. We will be able to get this full 4-book set out by Summer if we have full funding. Full funding really just means you're getting books, conference passes, and other goodies at a huge discount.
Please check out our site and contribute if you can.
- - - - -
Who needs Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)? Everyone!

My Indiegogo campaign is here: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/sops-for-the-successful-consultant.
Every computer consultant, every managed service provider, every technical consulting company - every successful business - needs SOPs! One of the greatest books an entrepreneur can read is The Emyth Revisited by Michael Gerber. The conclusion of that book is very powerful: Document your processes.

When you document your processes and procedures, you design a way for your company to have repeatable success. And as you fine-tune those processes and procedures, you become more successful, more efficient, and more profitable.
Please support my project to write a four-volume set of books on Standard Operating Procedures for Technology Consultants. Topics in the 4-book set include:

  • Getting Started
  • Finances
  • Sales
  • Marketing
  • Client Management
  • Employees and H.R.
  • Company-wide Policies
  • Technical Support Policies and Procedures
  • Practical Examples
    (Monthly Maintenance, Backup and Disaster Recovery, and more)

Almost every consultant I talk to or coach has the same issues: They need better procedures. They need better processes. They are too busy to create this stuff from scratch. Key pieces of knowledge are in one person's head (often the owner). That ties the owner to the company and limits growth. It also makes the owner the choke-point for everything in the organization.

This four-book set will be over 600 pages and cover everything you need to set up, run, and fine-tune a great consulting business. 

Don't Start From Scratch! You may not implement everything exactly as I lay it out, but I discuss the issues and why you might create one policy or another. Then I propose some policies you can take and mold to fit your company.

Can you do all this yourself? Absolutely!

How's that working so far? 

These books will save you hundreds - and more likely thousands - of dollars in just a few weeks. Time and time again I've helped businesses create small changes that resulted in huge instant increases in profit.

At full price this set will sell for $99.95. But you don't have to pay that. Contribute now to this campaign and you'll receive a full set of books for any donation of $60 or more.

If fully funded, I expect to publish this set by the end of Summer 2014. Maybe much sooner if we raise more money.
Get these books out of my head and into your hands as quickly as possible!


Not Completely a "Donation"

If you just want to donate money, I would be very grateful for that. But this campaign is designed to give you something for your money. These books will sell for $29.95 each or $99.95 for the complete set. That's a good deal. But you get an even better deal if you contribute to the creation of the book!
In addition to books, I have lots of other services and goodies we offer. So I've put together some offerings that include all kinds of options. If you think of something obvious that I missed, please let me know!
My other services include:
Everyone who contributes will be acknowledged in the books. (If you do not want to be listed in the book, please let us know.)


Please Read the Details on This Campaign 

Thank You for your support.

Please check out my Indiegogo Campaign for SOPs.

:-)

Friday, December 06, 2013

SOP Friday: Shredding

You deal with all kinds of sensitive data - mostly client data. As a result, you need to have two policies related to shredding paperwork. One applies to the daily operation of you company. The other is a once per year process for cleaning out old records.


A Note About the Paperless Office


The paperless office will arrive shortly after the paperless bathroom.

Having said that, we are all working to print out fewer and fewer pages as we do our work. First, we realize that we can access the electronic version any time - if we've filed it away properly. Second, we tend to print things and then only use them for a short period of time.

When we're done with the printed paperwork, we either store it some place or dispose of it. It is critical that you do one of these two things. Do not set the paper down when you are finished with it. Either file it or dispose of it. Setting down papers you're done with creates piles that have to be sorted at some later date. Don't do that. The only way to avoid that is to not set down the paper in the first place!


Why We Shred Almost Everything


As you do your work, you will have all kinds of papers. These might be contracts, case notes, quotes for clients, checklists, proposals, warranties, etc. You should have a standard process for putting things where they belong. That means that client warranties go in one place, payroll paperwork goes in one place, client contracts go in one place, and so forth.

But MOST of the paper you touch does not need to be kept. If you print out service ticket notes, you only need them for a very short period of time. Unless you hand-write some critical information on them, you can print out a new copy any time. So you should dispose of these. The same is true with quotes for service and almost any document that your company generated. If you can go click-click-click and print another copy, then there's no reason to keep the paper version.

Still, you'll end up keeping a lot of paper. It is what it is.

So now we get to the disposal part. If you're going to file it away, file it. If you're going to dispose of it, there are two options. One is the recycling (or garbage if you don't recycle). The other is shredding.

In an age when grandma shreds her credit card offers when she sorts the mail, you know you need to take this seriously.

Like it or not, there are people who go through the garbage and recycling bins at your office. They're mostly looking for bottles and cans. But a nice juicy list of clients might just be useful. Some people are actively looking for secrets. Others are just smart enough to realize when they've stumbled onto sensitive information.

Really, honestly, no one may ever care about what you throw away. But we live in a weird world. And it would be horrible if your largest client came to you with a paper you threw away that had their name on it. So it's the same as network security: Just have a good policy. Then you'll never have to explain why you don't.


Day to Day Shredding Policy


As you and your employees go through your day, you need a very simple policy to determine what goes in the shredding pile vs. recycling or garbage. Some things are really harmless, like pdf's you've downloaded. But here's a short list of the kinds of things you should shred just so they're not out in the bin and they're not your file cabinet:

- Anything with a client name on it
- Ticket/case notes
- Quotes for service
- Contracts
- Anything with a signature
- Anything with financial data
- Anything with usernames, password, or configuration information

You may have very good reasons for keeping these things in files. Great. Do it. Don't leave them lying around the office. Either file it or shred it.


The Annual Shredding Policy


Tis the season to be shredding.

Every year, we have an end-of-year process with our paper files. Basically, we take all of the "this year" files out of our file cabinet and put them into paper file boxes. These boxes sit on shelves for several years. Then one day, most of their contents are shredded.

The basic flow of paper documents over their lifetime is:
- Into file cabinet
- From file cabinet into paper box
- From paper box to either
 - - Permanent storage
 - - Shredding

Almost everything is shredded at some point.

How long do you keep things? Well . . . there are approximately 7,942,856 articles about this on the Internet. Here's what we do.

In the "live" file cabinet we keep things like current client contracts, current employee records, and this year's bank statements, this year's bills, this year's purchases from vendors. You get the picture. It's basically the stuff for 2013, 2014, 2015, etc. As the new year ticks over, all the year-specific information goes to the paper file. But ongoing contracts of any kind stay in the file cabinet.

All paper files are kept for at least three years. Lots of people might audit us in that time period (the feds, the state, vendors who rely on our reporting of licenses used, and so forth). After that, we only really care about three types paperwork: Taxes, vendor purchases, and contracts that have some element that lasts a long time, such as the right audit.

For us, the taxes we worry about are federal income tax, state income tax, state sales tax, and anything related to employees. Depending on who you talk to, we should these things for three years, five years, seven years, or forever. We make it easy on ourselves and keep it all for seven years. After that, we shred everything we can reconstruct from electronic files or online services.

The big thing we used to keep after seven years was employee-related information. Because we have a tax pro prepare our taxes, we can get the tax stuff whenever we need it. The state sales tax is done online now, so we can get that. Payroll is now totally online, so we don't need to keep that either.

So really, after seven years we keep almost nothing for permanent storage.


Note on Vendor Purchases

One thing we store separately is vendor purchases for hardware, software, and services. I'll have another blog post about the details here, but basically we keep these in binders. You'd be amazing how many times someone has had a question about a four year old server and we got useful information from these binders.  But even these have a lifespan.


How Do You Shred?

I used to pay my daughter to shred boxes of documents. Some years she had three boxes of paper to shred. I bought a shredder at Staples and paid for the extended warranty because I knew she'd burn it out - no matter how much I paid. Then I'd replace the shredder and it would be good until the next year. If you go this route, be sure to get a cross-cut shredder. I'm not sure why the old type shredder still exists.

Turns out, that was a really expensive way to do it.

Now we take boxes of shredding to the UPS store and then charge us by the pound. It costs about $20 to shred a full paper filing box. But that's cheaper than paying my daughter $10/hr plus buying a new shredder.

Live and learn.

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 SmallBizThoughts.com.

- - - - -

Next week's topic: End of Year SOPs

:-)

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

SMB Nation Emerging Technology Tour 2014

If you get my weekly newsletter, you may have noticed that we added a number of new calendar events for 2014 - primarily the long list of cities that will host the SMB Nation Emerging Technology Tour through December of 2014.

Just got the official missive from HarryB about this:




SMB Nation is pleased to announce the 2014 Emerging Technology Tour, taking place in ten cities across the US and Canada. We understand that it can be hard to secure travel, so we are bringing a content-packed event right to a big city near you.

The Emerging Technology Tour is this year’s premier event for small and medium IT consultants, VARs, and partners. This one day event is committed to educating you on ways to continue to grow your business, manage clients, and expand your knowledge in the IT Industry by bringing together IT Influencers from across the country to share their insight. Over the past 25 years, we have seen drastic changes in technology from the boom of the internet and “dot coms” to currently being able to work from anywhere. With the changing world today, our ability to innovate and stay educated has become increasingly harder as things are changing every day. Join SMB Nation to educate yourself on emerging technology.

You spoke, we listened! We got great response from our Night School classes this past year, so Attendees to our ten events will enjoy the same kind of classes that we had at the 2013 SMB Nation Fall Conference Night School, including:

- Automation and Scalable Management with PowerShell (Part 1 and 2) – Jason Helmick

- Migrating your SBS Exchange to Exchange 2013 – Dave Shackleford

- Standards and Procedures That Will Instantly Increase Your Profits – Karl Palachuk

Each event will run from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm and will include a keynote, lunch and dedicated Exhibit Hall networking time.

“No travel, no hotel and no excessive time away from the office. We bring the experts to you in a comfortable yet effective learning format,” shared Harry Brelsford, CEO of SMB Nation. “Look closely at our commitment to technical training as we leave the sales and marketing fluff to the ‘other guys’ in the SMB space.”

Here is a breakdown of the SMB Nation 2014 Emerging Technology Tour below:

10 Cities.
Between 100-150 attendees per event.
One day only per event!
$199.00 full conference passes per attendee.

Check out our event site at http://tour.smbnation.com for an event near you!



Check out the details.

This is a GREAT deal for only $199. Includes 12 hours of program - and you get fed!

And I'll see you at one of these events!

-karlp

:-)

Friday, November 29, 2013

SOP Friday: Financial Goals - More than Revenue Targets

We've talked about The Basics of Financial Goals and Making Realistic Revenue Projections. Now let's look beyond the money. This isn't quite a "mission statement" discussion, but it's not too far off of that either.

I like to remind small business owners: Your business exists to serve your personal goals. Yes you want to make money. Yes you want to help clients. But what's the big picture?

One of the terms you might hear in management training is stakeholder. This is different from a stockholder. A stock holder owns a piece of the company. A stake holder has a stake in the company. Stakeholders include the owners, the managers, the employees, the clients, and even the vendors.

Now that doesn't mean you need to intentionally create a business for the benefit of all those folks. But you should take stock of who they are. Let me tell you a story about a client who is a great stakeholder in our company.

Just a few days ago Mike and I were talking about this client and trying to decide whether to charge them for an on site visit that consisted of turning on a switch. I put my labor as standard on site labor. That means billable. Then I told Mike he has to decide whether or not to charge an hour for that.

Mike said "No. First, it's [Company]. Second, it's Janet. Third, they always do everything we say. In fact, they bought a new server before the three year warranty was expired on the last server.

On two different occasions we almost dropped this client because they were below our 10-user threshold. They literally begged us not to drop them. They honestly see our support as a key element in their success.

That's a stakeholder!

Now, what has all that to do with setting your financial goals? It's simple: Making money is also about being happy, making your clients happy, making your employees happy, and keeping your vendors happy. So when you sit down to project targets for the next year, three years, and five years, you should take all that into account.

There is a true cost - a monetary cost - to having loyal clients and loyal employees. It might mean keeping smaller clients, paying employee benefits, or even throwing a party once in awhile. Sometimes you need to budget for "unnecessary" expenses that make your company a better place to work and a better company to do business with.

And it's not selfish to consider your personal goals as well. What do you want to do with your life? Do you want to travel more? Buy some rental property? Start a non-profit organization? Put your kids through college?

Also consider the long-term goals of the business itself. What's the "end game" strategy? I was talking to a good friend a few days ago about a very esoteric part of my business and trying to decide on pricing strategies. In true entrepreneurial style he asked me what effect this decision would have on selling my business (Small Biz Thoughts). We had never talked about me selling this business, but he assumed that that's one possible end game. And he wisely suggested that I make decisions based on the long-term goals of the company.

Let's be honest: Most clients are really just customers. Most employees are not in it for the long haul. Most vendors don't really care much at all about your business. But some clients are true stakeholders. Some employees are true stakeholders. And even some vendors might be stakeholders.

All of this ties into the discussion of the kind of company you want to be. We work hard to have employees and client who are fun to work with. I love it when employees say "I love my job." And I'm proud to say I've heard that many, many times in my life.

It takes intention to create a business that serves your goals - personal and professional. First you need to acknowledge these goals. Then you need to keep them top of mind as you plan out your budget for the next year. Some of these things cost money. But in the long run they create the company you want.

Nothing happens by itself.


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 SmallBizThoughts.com.

- - - - -

Next week's topic: Shredding

:-)
Join our Indiegogo campaign

Get the new 4-book series at the best price you'll ever see

Standard Operating Procedures
for Technology Consultants




Help make this 4-book set a reality and earn great perks for yourself.


See all the details - and some videos - at that site.

Thank you for your support!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Blog Post for Your Clients: Backup Strategies

In case you haven't seen it, I encourage you to check out the Consultant or Amateur blog. That's a blog written specifically to help YOU sell to your clients and prospects.

The basic idea is that you can point to it and say "See: This is what I've been telling you."

The blog promotes professionalism over amateur consulting. It's also a way to slap your clients with some tough love without insulting them. I'll insult them when needed. You just point to the overall message.

My most recent post is on picking a good partner to help create (and test) a backup system. The message is Don't do this yourself! along with the standard discussion that hard drives fail and disasters happen so you have to be prepared.

The post is entitled simply

Take Backups Seriously


Check it out.

As always, I'd love your feedback.

And if there's a particular topic you want me to talk to your clients about, let me know.

Enjoy.

:-)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Role Reversal on Personalized Service

Technology always changes the relationships between businesses and people, just as it does between people and between businesses. As we move into the final weeks before the New Year, it's worth considering how these changes affect us.

Two particular trends affect those of us who run small service businesses. Taken together, they represent a role reversal with regard to the large service organizations out there. We're becoming less "personalized" in our service while the big boys are becoming more personalized.

Ten years ago the big organizations couldn't compete with us on this score. We know our clients by name. We attend their BBQ parties. We send them thank you notes. We know the quirkiness of their servers and printers.

In the meantime, the big companies didn't know their customers except through some macro-level buying habits. They focused on transactions rather than people. Transactions might be money, but it might also be gigabits sold, contracts signed, boxes shipped, or licenses installed. In this equation, "people" are just names on a mailing list.

But now we are becoming more transaction-oriented while the large corporations are becoming more personalized. Interestingly enough, their move toward personalization is pushing us toward the transaction model with our clients. Here's what I mean.

Big service organizations are becoming more personalized because they can now gather massive amounts of data and attach very specific information to specific clients. Instead of dealing with big chunks of users based on zip code or age, these companies can drill down into very specific buying histories and patterns. They can serve up personalized experiences in real time.

The most obvious examples are in retail. Amazon is king of this. You bought the last three novels by this author. She's got a new out now. Shall we add that to your cart? At the grocery store, if you don't buy your favorite chips two weeks in a row, you might just find a discount coupon at the bottom of your receipt.

Meanwhile, we small service providers are finding that transactions are the wave of the future us. Just look at your Cost of Goods Sold:
- BDR Units
- Anti-Virus licenses
- Spam filter licenses
- Gigabits of storage
- RMM agents deployed
- Hosted mail boxes
- Web sites
- VOIP lines

Of course these things translate into units deployed, clients under service, cloud packages deployed, etc. Even the way we describe our businesses to each other has changed. "I have fifteen servers and 400 desktops on managed service."

Transactions. We deploy licenses during the month, get paid for them in real time, and pay just for what we use. When you deploy enough licenses, your cost drops from $1.10 per unit to $1.07. It's all about transactions.

If there's bad news for us, it's that we are moving into an era in which we no longer push or deliver the kind of personalized service we used to. Microsoft wants us all to sell Office 365 and make pennies per transaction. The only way to make that work is to have thousands of transactions.

In the meantime, companies like mine are offering our services to "strangers" all over the country because we're going to deliver them basic remote services that are 100% transaction based. They sign up and get service. Calls go to a help desk. And we only get involved when the job needs to be escalated. Ideally, most clients will never need that.

One of my favorite quotes is:

"The factory of the future will have only two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment." - Warren G. Bennis

We're heading in that direction.

The good news is that the big service organizations will never be able to compete with us on personalization. We can compete in some small way with transactions. But they can never actually "know" their clients. We still can - if we choose to.

:-)

Friday, November 22, 2013

SOP Friday: Layoffs and Downsizing

One of the hardest lessons you'll ever learn is how to reduce the size of your workforce. Generally speaking, there are three reasons for "letting someone go" from your business:
- You are firing them
- Your business is shrinking (and therefore your workload)
- Technology has reduced the need for manpower

Each of these in turn has sub-categories. You might fire someone for being incompetent, for stealing, for showing up drunk, or for many other reasons. Your business might be shrinking because you lost a key client, sales are down generally, etc. And with regard to technology, I mean more than automation. This also includes outsourcing.

Whether we like it or not, laying off and downsizing are part of owning a business and having employees. And the more employees you have, the more you'll experience letting people go. It is a hard thing to do. And (at least for me) it's a hard thing to get used to doing.

In an earlier post I wrote about The Firing Process. In this post I will address the other two reasons for downsizing: Your business is shrinking or your need for employees is shrinking. In either case, you have the hard job of telling someone that they can't work for you anymore.

I recommend that you adopt a few simple policies to make this process as smooth as possible for everyone involved.

First, find out about the laws in your state. Unfortunately, we live in a time where you can stumble into illegal activities or lawsuits if you don't handle things correctly. If you do not have an official Human Relations officer, you should get some outside advice. That might be an H.R. specialist or an attorney who specializes in employment law. My preference is an attorney.

One example of stumbling into law is the final paycheck. In some states it is required that you give the employee a final paycheck upon departure. That way, they don't leave with you owing them money. I think this is a good idea even if not required. We pay the employee through the end of the day.

If there are outstanding bonuses, sales commissions, etc. you may not be required to pay them at this time. But it's a good idea if you do. Make the break as clean as you can. It also gives them a little extra money at a time when they obviously need it.

Another example is "at will" employment. Find out if your state has "at will" employment. That means that employees can be dismissed for any reason or no reason, and with no advanced warning. The reason I like to work with an attorney is that you can accidentally end up negating this status if you DO give a reason. If you give a reason when you don't need to, you might open the door to litigation.

I always have letters of dismissal reviewed by my attorney. After awhile I feel pretty safe, but I still do it. I'm not an attorney, so I hire someone else to play that role.


Second, be professional and don't play games. No one likes to be laid off and no one likes to lay people off. So don't do stuff like wait until 5PM on Friday or take someone to a public mall to give them the bad news. That kind of thing happens in the movies to demonstrate how horrible the boss is.

I think it is much more humane to give them the news early in the day so they can run over to the unemployment office and get their paperwork started. And Monday is much better than Friday. That way they can spend the week looking for a job instead of spending the weekend seething and sulking. Hold a quick meeting with the person. Give them a letter that simply says that you no longer need their services (this is the one approved by the attorney two paragraphs ago), and let them say goodbye.


A Few Things to Consider

As a general rule, it is best to have the laid off employee depart as soon as possible. Even finishing out the day can cause disruption in your business. And hanging around for a few weeks can cause all kinds of minor problems.

You can remain on very friendly terms with the people you have let go. Over the years our company has grown and shrunk more than once. But we still have a good "family" of former employees to get together socially.

The final thing to consider is References or Referrals. You should set a policy now about whether you will give references and under what circumstances. Remember that the safest route is always to treat all employees the same, to the extent that's possible. Again, talk to your attorney.

You might have a policy that you DO give references as long as the employee has had good job reviews at their most recent quarterly reviews. Or you might say that you simple DO NOT give references.

Since we are talking about layoffs that are not firings for cause, support and personal empathy are completely appropriate. In most cases, for small business, we are laying off people who are our friends.


Related SOPs

There are two things you should do as part of the employee on-boarding process that you'll revisit at this time. One is to have the employee sign an employment agreement. That agreement should state that employment is on an "at will" basis. You should give the employee a copy of the agreement they signed when they were hired.

The other item to give the employee is a copy of the non-disclosure agreement they signed when they were hired. And whether you have concerns or not, you should take a moment to remind them that your processes, procedures, and sensitive information are part of the agreement, as are the processes, procedures, and sensitive information of your clients.


Laying people off is never fun. But sometimes your business needs to shrink in order to survive. Policies like this are not enjoyable to contemplate, but it's best to think about them before you need them.

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 SmallBizThoughts.com.

- - - - -

Next week's topic: Financial Goals - More than Revenue Targets

:-)

Join our Indiegogo campaign

Get the new 4-book series at the best price you'll ever see

Standard Operating Procedures
for Technology Consultants




Help make this 4-book set a reality and earn great perks for yourself.


See all the details - and some videos - at that site.

Thank you for your support!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Another Trip Around the Sun

As you may have seen on Facebook, it's my birthday. I don't feel "old" in any way. I'll take some credit for not over-eating too much and exercising a little. But most of it is due to good luck and good attitude.

Ten years ago I was walking with a cane and felt a lot older than I do now. My rheumatoid arthritis is under control. While I still feel pain every day, it is insignificant compared to what it once was.

I guess I'm lucky that my birthday comes near the end of the year. That way the nostalgia of the year and and another trip around the sun are pretty close together.

My life has changed quite dramatically in the last few years. As has my business.

I am happy to say that I've built a life and a job I enjoy very much. I work and play with some amazing people. And I can't wait to see what the next year brings!

It seems like I'm constantly saying this, but I am eternally grateful for the friends I have all over the world. Thanks to technology, I am in touch with people from high school, college, graduate school, various jobs, I.T. communities, and a dozen other places.

At some point, all my friends (in Sacramento and everywhere else) started out as people who just wandered into my life at some point. Some of my friends I've never met face to face, but we've connected electronically for years.

Of all the important things in my life, my friends are my favorite. And I'm blessed to have so many.

That's all I had to say.



:-)

Friday, November 15, 2013

SOP Friday: Financial Goals - Realistic Revenue Projections

I maintain a spreadsheet of the basic profit and loss of my company month by month. So I have a picture of where my money came from and went to in January, February, March, etc. I start out with all of the months filled with projections. Then, as each month becomes real, I replace projections with real numbers.

(If you want to see a sample of this, download the sample Excel spreadsheet and related materials at this page: Free Business Plan Resources. That is part of a six-part blog series on building a business plan. It's from 2008/2009 but the math still works.)

Sample Revenue Projection (click to expand)
In the last few months of the year, I start working on the projections for next year. What do we expect in project labor, managed services, hardware, software, hosting, etc.? I fill in numbers for each month. And, of course, we project some growth for the new year. See the sample display of revenue projections. Notice that it moves from "projected" to "actual" in August. Of course these are all fictional numbers.

In an earlier article, I talk about basic financial goals. Now we need to take a different view of the future. I am a firm believer that every business should have a one year, a three year, and a five year projection of where you want to go. For most businesses, anything beyond that is wild speculation.

In fact, five years might be wild speculation. But three years should be based in reality and should be attainable. The one year plan should be very realistic and reflect what you really expect. Here's what I mean.

If you set a goal of doubling your business in twelve months, that might be possible. It might be very realistic. Or it might be completely impossible. You want to stretch your goals, but not to the point where they're simply fiction.

So let's say you want to have 20% growth. That's still aggressive, but much more attainable. Okay, so how will you get there? In the real world, what do you need to do to make that happen? In December of this year you make $X, and in December of next year you expect to make $X*1.2. What's the action plan that gets you there?

Somewhere from December to December you're going to have to demonstrate an increase in one or more types of revenue. What drives that increase? Tell me the story of how you will do that.

Luckily, in managed services, we can plot and plan to increase recurring revenue. So the narrative (the story that supports this projection) needs to say something like
- Add one $500/month managed service contract per month
or
- Add one $5,000/month manage service contract per quarter

The next question is: How realistic is that? Have you been able to sell one small client per month or one large client per quarter? If so, great. If not, then explain how you are going to do that next year. It might be very real. You might have a grand marketing plan and you just hired a new sales person. Just make sure that there's a realistic "how" behind your ambitious plan.

Here are some basic questions to ask that will keep your revenue projections realistic:

The best estimate of next year's performance is this year's performance. 
Unless you can tell me why that's not true. This year might have had an extraordinary event that simply won't happen next year (good or bad).

I had a stretch of about ten years when I signed about one new client every calendar quarter. Some were large, some were small. Sometimes I dropped small clients to serve the new, larger clients. Sometimes I hired staff. Both of those events have to been accounted for. Bumping up the revenue by $1,000/month, followed by bumping up the payroll expense by $4,000/month can both be accomplished. But they need to be in the context of a realistic larger picture.

Your future budget must start with where you are right now. 
You cannot "assume" a brighter January unless you have a plan to make that happen. From today - from this month - you can tell a story of how you'll gain clients. If you start from today, you will ground your predictions in reality.

Be clear about your assumptions for next year. 
What do you think the economy will do? Why do you think that? What changes will you make and when? Will you hire someone? Will you offer a new service? Will you raise your rates.

Make notes about your assumptions and plans in the margin of your Excel spreadsheet. For example "Assume two new managed services clients per month. Will hire new tech 20 hours/week in May." You don't need lengthy paragraphs, just enough to jog your memory about what you'll tell someone to justify your numbers. That someone might be your accountant, your spouse, or your service manager.

Keep the end in mind. 
Now we're back to the long term. If you plan to double the size of your business in five years, what are the assumptions about years 1, 2, 3, and 4? If you're going to sell your business or retire in year five, what do you need to do between now and then to reach your goals? What has to change and what has to stay the same?

Short term and medium term goals should always move you toward your longer-term goals.

Share your projections and get feedback.
Show you budget projections to someone and ask them whether it looks realistic. You might be surprised with the questions you'll get. Put your ego aside try to answer their questions. If you can't, then you need to realistically re-evaluate your budget.


This might sound like a pain in the neck. But it really is an exercise worth doing. Even if you've been in business for ten years without a budget, I think you'll be surprised at the difference it makes when you do have a budget.

. . . Of course that assumes you pay attention to it once a month after the new year begins . . .


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 SmallBizThoughts.com.

- - - - -

Next week's topic: Layoffs and Downsizing

:-)
Join our Indiegogo campaign

Get the new 4-book series at the best price you'll ever see

Standard Operating Procedures
for Technology Consultants




Help make this 4-book set a reality and earn great perks for yourself.


See all the details - and some videos - at that site.

Thank you for your support!

Friday, November 08, 2013

SOP Friday: Getting Started - Cash vs. Accrual Accounting

One of the big(ish) decisions you need to make about your business is whether you will use the Cash Method or the Accrual Method of accounting. You can switch from one to the other, but it's not a good idea to do that too frequently. At the rollover to a new year is a good time to switch if you decide to.


What Are Cash Accounting and Accrual Accounting?


These are the two options you have for keeping track of money coming into and going out of your business. The essential difference between these two methods is the timing of when you "earn" or "spend" money. With cash basis, you earn money on the day you receive it and you spend money on the day you pay it. With accrual basis, you earn money on the day you invoice the client and you spend money on the day you agree to pay for something.

Here are two examples, one for income and one for expenses.

First, let's say you invoice a client for $100 on January 2nd and she pays you on January 15th. With the cash method, you earned that money on January 15th - the day she paid. With the accrual method, you earned that money on January 2nd - the day you invoiced her.

The difference doesn't matter much - except when you're trying to keep track of how you're doing each month. If you invoice the client on January 2nd and she pays on February 2nd, that money was earned in February under the cash method. And if she doesn't pay until March, it will be earned in March. Under the accrual method, the money was earned in January no matter when the client pays.

Second, let's say you put office supplies on your credit card on January 2nd. The bill comes and you pay it on February 2nd. Under the cash method, that expense happened in February. Under the accrual method, the expense happened in January when you committed to paying for the products.




Oddball Things That Happen with Cash and Accrual Methods


Personally, I think the accrual method is better for me because I like to line up income and cost of goods sold within the same month. This will never line up perfectly, but is much easier with accrual.

In my opinion, the cash method is fine if you are not good at paying attention to your financials and your bank account. But it makes it difficult to answer the simple questions
- What were your sales last month?
and
- What were your expenses last month?

Strictly speaking, the accrual method gives you a more accurate picture of how you did each month in terms of money "earned" and money spent. But if you don't get prepaid for all your work, you need to make sure you understand that the sales represent commitments for sales, not actual dollars in your bank account. You might have $20,000 in sales but not see the money for some time to come.

The exact opposite can happen with the cash method. You might have horrible sales in December but it looks like a great month because lots of clients decide to pay their bill before the end of the year. So all that cash "income" you earned in November and October shows up in December. Then again, the slow sales in December will make January look slow even if you make lots of sales.

The only real problem with the accrual method is when the client never pays. So, for example, you booked income in January but the money never shows up. At some point you need to write off that sale so that it reduces your earnings. Otherwise, you'll be taxed on a sale even though you never got the actual money.


Which Method is Best for You?

I don't know. Go talk to your accountant.

I'm not an accountant. I pay very close attention to my numbers. I use accrual.

There are a few choices made for you by the government. If you make $5 million or more, you have to use accrual. You also have to use accrual if you have revenue over $1 million and you maintain an inventory of merchandise.

In other words, if you're small and plan to stay there, they you can choose either method. If you are a little larger then you need to use accrual.

Go talk to your accountant so that you can make a decision and understand the consequences of the decision for you business.


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 SmallBizThoughts.com.


- - - - -


Next week's topic: Financial Goals - Realistic Revenue Projections


:-)


Join our Indiegogo campaign

Get the new 4-book series at the best price you'll ever see

Standard Operating Procedures
for Technology Consultants




Help make this 4-book set a reality and earn great perks for yourself.


See all the details - and some videos - at that site.

Thank you for your support!

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

My Very Biased Opinion on Robin Robins and Her Technology Marketing Toolkit


Why I Promote Robin Robins' Training Materials
by Karl W. Palachuk

Recently, Robin asked me to send out some emails on her behalf. One of my fundamental rules of success is "Do what Robin says." That has worked well for me over the years. So I did.

A few people emailed me and asked why I was doing this. Some even opted out of my email list. The basic message was: You expect a newsletter from me and that's about it. So I thought I'd give you a sense of why Robin Robins is welcome in my neighborhood.

The current program Robin is promoting is a new video series on how to get more high-quality clients to outsource their IT support to you, without discounting or hard-selling. Please check it out.

But please also watch this video on why I subscribe to Robin's program, open her mailing every month, and encourage others to do the same:



Look for this sentence: "Buying into Robin Robins' first program that I bought into is the best decision I ever made for my IT company."

I would not encourage you to use Robin Robins' training videos or anything else unless I believe in it. And I wouldn't send out information about it unless I really think it's worth your while.

For general information on Robin's programs click here.

For information on this limited time offer for this video program click here.

:-)

Friday, November 01, 2013

SOP Friday: Signing Service Agreements

I've written hundreds of pages on service agreements. In fact, I'm just in the middle of a two-part series that is over at the StorageCraft Blog.

So this post is not about all about WHY you need service agreements or WHAT they need to look like. This post is very simply about a policy THAT you will have service agreements with every single client. As with all policies, it moves from a general principle to a process, procedures, and checklists.


Sidebar:

Defining Policy, Process, Procedure, and Checklist


The flow from Policy to Checklist is a flow from the broad to the specific. A policy is a statement of a course of action by the organization. For example, the following are policy statements:

- "We will get prepayment for all hardware and software we sell."

- "Everyone we do work for must have some kind signed agreement for services."

- "All technician labor must be performed against a service ticket."

A Process is the name given to a series of tasks that result in a general outcome. Processes support policies. There must be a process to make sure all clients sign service agreements.

A Procedure is the name given to a specific set of action steps that achieve an outcome. A process might include several different procedures.

A Checklist is the name given to the finest level of detail for executing the action steps needed to achieve a result. A procedure should include at least one checklist, but might include more than one checklist.


Your Policy: Everyone Signs a Service Agreement


As a starting point, let's just adopt the policy stated above: Everyone we do work for must have some kind signed agreement for services. Great.

Now, there are different types of service agreements. The most basic is a 1-2 page "terms of service" agreement. You might also have agreements for basic break/fix, managed services, blocks of time, projects, etc. You might have one agreement flexible enough to be used for all of these.

So, to implement you policy, you first need to have one or more service agreements that people can sign. Then you need a policy that says that everyone should sign. Finally, you need processes and procedures, and even a checklist, to make sure this happens.

See the blog post on Setting Up a New Managed Service Client (Checklist).

All of that happens as soon as the client signs a service agreement. Well, at least when they sign a managed services agreement. When you go through that checklist, I hope you can see that there's a lot of time (and a little money) involved in setting up a new M.S. client. So they better be under contract.

As for simple break/fix and small jobs, you will need a different process. Once you have the policy in place that everyone must have an agreement, you need to figure out how you'll make that happen. As a rule, larger agreements for ongoing service involve some kind of sales process that concludes with a signed agreement.

Smaller require just the 1-2 page "terms of service" agreement. In our company, the owner or service manager general works these jobs so they can meet the client and determine whether we want to pursue an ongoing relationship with them. The owner or service manager simply takes the 1-2 page "terms of service" agreement with him and has the prospect sign it before anything else is done.

If a technician is sent to do the job, the process is basically the same. They carry copies of the 1-2 page "terms of service" agreement and ask the process to sign it. Technicians need to be very clear on this point: No work can be done before that agreement is signed. Period.


This policy is pretty simple and straight forward. You can adopt it in sixty seconds and then simply do it from now on. Implementation simply consists of writing a quick process for writing up each kind of agreement. Assuming an agreement is the end product of a sales call, the only real procedure you need is about the terms of service agreement.

Just do it.


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 SmallBizThoughts.com.

- - - - -

Next week's topic: Getting Started - Cash vs. Accrual Accounting

:-)


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- Understand Your Financials - Use Data to Make Decisions 
- Where Facebook Meets Business - Strategies to Market to the Business Audience 

 - 2013 Online Conference Recordings - 15 hours - only $199


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