Friday, May 31, 2013

SOP Friday: Casual Fridays (and Dress Codes Generally)

One of my mentors once gave me a very simple rule regarding dress codes: Every day I want to dress as well as anyone I might meet that day.

In so much of our business, technicians dress like farmers and expect to be paid like corporate executives.

Here's the real deal: When you're in a service business, you need to look acceptable to the people who pay the bills. Which is to say, you need to look good to the person who signs the contract and signs the check. Part of your company's "branding" is how you appear to the client.

Given your role, no one really expects you and your staff to wear suits every day. The safest bet is the "business casual" look you see in almost all offices:

- Decent slacks that look like work pants (not painters pants)

- Nice shirt or blouse. Prefer long sleeves and a collar for men. Sleeves can be rolled up.

- or Polo shirt / logo company shirt

- No jeans

- No t-shirts

- Work shoes (not athletic shoes or boots)

Personally, in a small business, I think that's all you need. People aren't stupid. They can see what the clients are wearing and be in line with that. You don't need to specify no tank tops, no sleeveless shirts, no see-through clothing, no bagged pants, no mini-skirts, no torn pants, etc.


When Does The Dress Code Apply?


In my opinion, you should just dress for work every day. That means the dress code applies all the time. To be honest, I don't know why this is even a topic of discussion among adults. You're at work and you go to people's offices. You're not pumping gas or waiting tables.

But some people want "Casual Friday" or other times when they do not need to follow the dress code. There's no harm in this. You just need to consider what you'll do if someone has to run out to a client office. Should everyone keep a fresh set of clothese in the office?

Decide what you want to do and write it down.

The other consideration here is WHO needs to dress according to the dress code? Many people never go to client offices. They are in your office all day, or working remote. This applies to office managers, bookkeepers, administrative assistants, etc. If you do not have clients coming to your office, do these folks need to "dress up" for work?

The funny thing is: I've never had to have this discussion with office folks (admins, etc.). They just dress business casual and that's it. Only technicians have ever made a big deal about how they're dressed. As with everything else, make a decision and write it down.


Tattoos, Piercings, and Body Art


I think I'm the only person in my companies who has served at the management level and not had tattoos or piercings. I talked to an employment attorney and he came up with a very reasonable guideline that keeps us inside the law. The key elements here are 1) The policy is justified as part of the company's image, and  2) The policy applies equally to everyone.

Have you ever gone into a book store or record shop (CD shop) and noticed their branding? In some places, it seems that two visible tattoos and three facial piercings are required for employment. In fact, that might be the case! At other places, the staff seem "clean cut" with no visible tattoos or piercings. Branding.

My daughter works for a big national office supply store. She has a tongue piercing. On the tongue, piercings close up real fast, so you can't really take the stud out for eight hours every day. So she got one that has clear ends and is quite unnoticeable. Staff with eyebrow piercings or nose piercings are asked to remove them while at work.

Here is our Tattoo, Branding and Piercing policy:

1. Employees must not have any indelible marks or figures (tattoos), or any branding that is visible on any exposed part of the body while wearing normal business attire and while working with KPEnterprises’ clients.

2. No piercings, other than those for earrings as described below, shall be made through the ear, nose, tongue, chin, eyebrow, or any other body part that would be visible while performing your normal duties and while working with KPEnterprises’ clients. Piercings in the ear shall not exceed two per ear lobe and shall be of reasonable size and in good taste.

- - - - -

I don't think you need to worry too much about dress codes and appearances. But if you don't have some policy in place, you might find that you have a problem one day. There are two important keys to success. First, keep it as simple and common sense as possible. Second, frame the discussion of dress code around branding, not around personal freedom.

Your company has its own branding and style.

You have many rights and freedoms. There is no freedom from being discriminated against because of your dress and personal appearance. Clients will judge you based on the branding you put forward. You need to have reasonable policies in place to define and protect your brand.

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: Naming Your Processes and Procedures
:-)

Still the best Quick-Start Guide to Managed Services: 

by Karl W. Palachuk

Paperback or Ebook

Now only $39.95 at SMB Books!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

New Consultant? How Do You Make Money as a Computer Consultant in 2013?

As the recession drags on (or maybe it's coming to an end ... I'm tired of saying that month after month), lots of people are finishing school and trying to decide what to do next.

Well, if you're just going out in the world and think you might try your hand as a computer consultant, let me give you a few tips. Note: You might not want to hear some of this.

First, if you have no training and no professional experience, go get training! This industry has too many "trunk slammers" who literally run their business out of the back of their car. It is bad for everyone to have amateurs in the business.

I don't mean to insulting. I want to encourage you to be in the business. But do it the right way: Educate yourself. EARN the kind of money you should be making. Many newbies charge stupid-low prices, like $25/hr or $50/hr.

With a core competency in Windows or Mac operating system, you should be able to charge at least $75-100 per hour. When you can manage servers and networks, then it's more like $125-150 per hour.

For the rest of your life, nothing has greater effect on your income than education. Don't waste time with on-the-job training. Do it right. If you are getting into the business because you're getting out of a technical school, that's perfect!

Second, once you have training, look professional. That means you need to handle your personal branding. Get business cards that are not cheesy. See my tips on creating good business cards. Get a decent logo that's not too complicated and is easy to spot.

Also in the category of personal branding is your personal dress code. Watch this blog for my tips on dress code this Friday (three days from now). But the bottom line message is this: Dress like you're a professional. Look like you're worth $150/hr!

Third, you need the right tools. These include tools to run your business and tools to deliver services. If you have never worked with a professional consulting company, you may not have experience with service ticketing systems or professional business administration tools.

It takes some effort to educate yourself about the tools you need to run a professional I.T. business. The best ways to do this are to attend conferences, join IT Pro groups, and subscribe to industry magazines. This combination will get you connected to the people and companies you need. From there you can explore the tools available and make good decisions.

Fourth, you need a business model that works. This is where MOST business go wrong. Not just I.T. businesses, but all businesses. People get into business doing what they do (in your case, configuring computers and networks). They don't intentionally build a business model: Instead, their operation simply evolves over time.

There is nothing more important to your success than a good business model.

I highly recommend you adopt a Managed Service business model. That means:

- You provide regular maintenance

- You get paid in advance every month

- You do as much work remotely as possible

- You sign service agreements with all clients

- You use specialized tools to deliver "next level" service at a much lower cost


The advantages to your client are:

- Predictable computer maintenance expenses

- Money savings due to many things, primarily advanced planning and coordinated work

- Faster service

- Less downtime

- More efficient machines/networks at every level

- and More ...


The advantages to you are:

- You get paid in advance for everything . . . NO accounts receivable

- You get almost-guaranteed income

- You don't have to guess how you'll pay your bills every month because you have recurring revenue

- You can manage many more clients with fewer employees

- and More ...


Here are two videos I'd like you to enjoy. First, a little promo for my $24.95 best-seller on building a modern computer consulting business: Managed Services in a Month.

It's fun. Enjoy.




Next, here's some information on a great Virtual conference where you can really get the ball rolling. It's the SMB Online Conference 2013:



Send me your questions!

- karlp
:-)

Monday, May 27, 2013

Blog Post 1200: Serving the I.T. Community for Seven Years and Counting

Zoooooooom!


Time sure flies when you're having fun. This blog started seven years ago and this is the 1200th blog post.

Thank you all for your support.

Rather than waste the post altogether, let me show you a cool new tool I discovered. I made the following video in about three hours this morning:


I use the free version of PowToon from www.powtoon.com. They have a paid version without their branding that is probably worth the price if you use it a lot. One month is $57 unless you buy six months or a year at a time.

Don't forget: The SMB Online Conference registration price goes up $100 on June 1st. Register NOW!

www.smbonlineconference.com

Thanks.
- karlp

Friday, May 24, 2013

SOP Friday: Managing Temporary Files

We all know that there are dozens of programs and processes that drop temporary files on your machine - and every machine at every client. These include the operating system, emails, Internet browsing, office documents, and more.

There are basically three ways to address these files: 1) Ignore them; 2) Clean them moderately; 3) Clean them aggressively. Every company needs to decide which of these is best - and implement it consistently across all machines.

As a general rule, we expect programs to clean up after themselves. Some don't, by design. Some don't because they're inefficient. Some clean up most but not all temp files. Some temp files you will never need, even if the program leaves them there in case you might. For example, Windows updates leave temporary files so you can un-install the updates and put old O.S. files back. But if you never plan to un-install the updates, you don't need the temp files.

Internet cache files can take up a lot of disc space, depending on the browser version and how many users have profiles on a given machine. Office files create all kinds of temp files and are notoriously bad at cleaning them all up. Exchange streaming media files are supposed to be self-maintaining, but success depends on the Server version, Exchange version, and the backup system (which may or may not successfully mark files for deletion after they've been committed to the database and the database has been backed up).

etc.

Excess temp files take up disc space. But they're like the laundry - you can never be rid of them. If you cleaned up every unnecessary temp file, more would appear instantly. Getting rid of *all* temp files is a futile effort. As a result, option three (clean them aggressively) is not worth the effort.

Too many temp files can eat up a lot of disc space. This affects performance and could eventually shut down your computer. To be honest, the only time I've actually seen this happen is with Exchange temp files. And back in the days of 2000 and 2003, I saw this more than once. So option one - ignore it - is also not an option.

We're left with option two. But option two has a very broad range of options.

I recommend that you do a general clean-up on machines from time to time. This includes servers and workstations. Two great opportunities are when you're cleaning up after a virus or when a client complains that their machine is slow.

I do *not* recommend that you do a regular (e.g., monthly) clean-up. This activity can take 15-30 minutes per machine and is 98% preventive maintenance. It will certainly speed up a machine and prevent problems, but if you put this much time into every machine every month, you will have a hard time staying profitable.

That means you should clean up a machine when it seems necessary or when there's an opportunity that is convenient while doing another task on that machine.

Here are a few things to put on your standard "PC Clean-Up Process" for client machines:


Temporary Internet Files
For each browser,
- Delete Cookies
- Delete Temporary Internet Files
- In older Internet Explorer, make the file usage small: like 50 MB or 100 MB. If this is huge (1,000 Mb), it just takes more time to go get a page

Temporary Files and Folders
There are lots of places where Windows hides files “temporarily,” but sometimes forgets to go back and delete them. These actions will help. Reboot before you start this process and you will have more success.
- Search your hard drives (C: or C: and D:) for *.tmp
 - - Delete everything it finds
- Go to c:\temp and c:\windows\temp and delete everything the computer will let you delete
- If you have Windows XP, go to the c:\windows\prefetch directory and delete everything you find there.
- Empty the recycle bin

Note: Don't waste a second trying to delete temp files that don't delete easily the first time. They might be locked by a program or limited by permissions. Don't fret it. Remember: Aggressive clean is not worth the effort.

Delete Acrobat temp files in:
"c:\documents and settings\yourusername\local settings\temp" directory.

Acrobat can create up to 65,535 temporary files (0 KB each) named "Acr0000" through "AcrFFFF". Acrobat uses a 16 bit counter for the temporary file names and that this counter overflows, which causes the application to hang.

Disc Cleanup
Windows has a great little tune-up utility built in, called “Disk Cleanup.” To access it, go to Windows Explorer. Right-click on the C: drive and select Properties. On the properties page, click the Disk Cleanup button. Delete whatever it recommends.

Manage Restore Points
To create a restore point, go to Start | Programs | Accessories | System Tools | System Restore.  More importantly, to manage the amount of disc space used by the System Restore application, go to Computer Properties | System Properties | Configure. Adjust the disc space usage to 10 GB or less. That should give you at least three restore points.

Databases and Line of Business Applications
Many databases and LOBs create temporary files. As a rule, you should learn the "documented" way to clean these up and don't just start deleting things. Run the approved maintenance process.

Disc Cleanup
Windows has a great little tune-up utility built in, called “Disk Cleanup.” To access it, go to Windows Explorer. Right-click on the C: drive and select Properties. On the properties page, click the Disk Cleanup button. Delete whatever it recommends.

Manage Restore Points
To create a restore point, go to Start | Programs | Accessories | System Tools | System Restore.  More importantly, to manage the amount of disc space used by the System Restore application, go to Computer Properties | System Properties | Configure. Adjust the disc space usage to 10 GB or less. That should give you at least three restore points.

Empty Recycle Bin

Reboot


Of course you need to determine the best cleanup process for your clients and the machines you manage. And don't forget - you need to do enough cleanup to keep machines from getting bogged down, but not so much that you're spending so much time on the task that you become unprofitable.

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:  Casual Fridays (and Dress Codes Generally)
:-)

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Special Memo from Karl . . . A Letter To Everyone in the SMB Community


A Letter To Everyone in the SMB Community

May 21, 2013

Hello.

Thank you for your support! Over the last seven years I have been grateful to have the support of so many people in the SMB Community.

Hundreds of you have contacted me and thanked me for my SOP Friday Series (www.sopfriday.com). I'm told that people are downloading them all, hyperlinking to them in their training materials, adding links to their SharePoint, etc.

Companies of all sizes are using these materials to improve their businesses.

Now I want to you look at a very special program that I honestly believe will improve your business immediately.

Go sign up for the SMB Online Conference web site.

Go now. Do it.

Yes, I know it costs money. And I know we're well into the fifth year of a recession. But I believe this conference has tremendous value. It will include 15 hours of education. Plus some great downloads and additional materials.

One of our keynote speakers regularly get $7,000-$10,000 to speak at events. Another is more in the $5,000 range. But for you it's all included.

What do you charge per hour? If you follow my advice, it's at least $100. But whatever. It only takes a couple hours of to pay for your first class ticket to this great educational event.

Right now the early bird price is $299 for all 15 hours.

If you use the code below, you can receive an additional $100 off the price of admission. That brings it down to $199 - or roughly $13 per hour.

I know you know . . .

The Way Things Work

The cost of putting on a conference - even a virtual conference - is largely paid for by the vendors. Vendor sponsors make it possible. I am very grateful to Autotask for committing to support us again this year.

In return, vendors need to know that they're reaching an audience large enough to make it worth their investment. That's where you come in.

We need to fill the virtual room.

If you've found value in my contributions to the community, I would really appreciate it if you register for this conference.

At the end of the day, $199 is $199. You might not have the money to spare. I understand. But if you can spare it, I would be very grateful.

Register Now at  www.SMBOnlineConference.com.


Secret Code:


Here's what you do.

Go to www.smbonlineconference.com
- Go to the Registration page
- Add the $299 registration to your cart.

Then enter code Secret100 to receive $100 off your registration. That's it!


Here's a Quickie Video I put together on this conference:


Thank you.

Sincerely,

Karl Palachuk




Friday, May 17, 2013

SOP Friday: Removing a Client from Managed Services

Whether you like it or not, sometimes you need to remove clients. Of course there are many reasons for this: You fire them, they quit you, they go out of business, they are merged with another company, etc. If they are managed service clients, you've got some cleaning up to do.

This is a time to be particularly careful about money. One of the best policies you can put in place is that ALL work - 100% of everything - must be paid in advance once a client gives notice. After all, once the relationship is over, there's not as much motivation to pay in a timely manner. Collect a small block of prepaid labor and plan to rebate the unused portion when all the work is complete.

Awhile back we talked about new clients and I posted a Checklist for Setting Up a New Client on Managed Service. Today we're going to reverse that process with a different checklist. Of course there are a few more steps to add.


A Few Notes

First, you should give the client a "What's Next" Memo so they understand your policies from their cancellation notice to the end of the contract. This memo should include the following:

- Note that all labor to remove the client from managed services is billable (as an add/move/change it would not be covered under managed service).

- Note that the machines may be left in an unsafe state. Unless there's a billable ticket to turn on updates of some type, the machines will not receive critical updates after you remove your RMM (remote monitoring and management) agent. If anti-virus is included in your service, the machines will be without anti-virus unless there's a billable ticket to install something.

- Note reminding the client that your contract forbids them from hiring your employees without compensating you.

- Note that your company has and will abide by a non-disclosure agreement with the client company.

- Note that you will assist the client's new tech support (internal or external) with the transition, and that all labor related to that will be billable.

- Note that you will be giving the client all documentation and a summary of all outstanding issues with their machines.

Second, if the client purchases other services from you, or receives services "bundled" with the monthly maintenance service, you need to determine whether any of these services will continue. For example, if you bundle spam filtering and anti-virus in your monthly offering, is the client going to continue buying these services from you?

Clarify with the client that other contracts will remain in place (e.g., BDR, HAAS, or telephone).

Basically, you want to be as friendly and accommodating as possible. And you want to make sure you keep the client as informed as possible. Leaving with class may serve you well down the road. Who knows, you might get this client back one day.


Here's a sample Checklist for Removing a Client From Managed Services. This checklist routes from the administrative department to the tech department and then back to admin.


Remove Client from Managed Services – Checklist


Client: __________
Date: __________
Date service will stop: __________

Who at client office is our primary contact during transition? __________
Contact Phone __________
Contact Email __________

If there's another consultant we need to work with, note here: __________
Contact Phone __________
Contact Email __________


Routing Step One - Admin Dept.

- Review client's account
 - - If there are any accounts receivable, make arrangements for payment.

- Contact client to inform them that all work to remove them from service is billable and all labor must be paid in advance.

- Collect prepayment of $__________ for __________ hours labor.

- Cancel automated recurring billing at merchant service.

- Set expiration date for Managed Service Monthly Recurring billing contracts in PSA.
 - - Leave Billable Time and Materials contract in place and active.
 - - Leave other monthly contracts in place (BDR, telephones, etc.).
 - - If client will continue with "un-bundled" services, create recurring billing for these.

- If necessary, change client "terms" in QuickBooks.

- Will client still receive our newsletter? (Yes)(No)
 - - If no, remove them from the newsletter mailing list.


Routing Step Two - Tech Dept.

- Create a billable service request to remove client from managed service.
 - Note: All work related to removing agents, services, etc. from managed services is billable and should be logged against this ticket.

- If removing email filtering:
 - - Create a billable ticket to remove from spam filter service.
 - - Determine where email should be pointed.
 - - Update MX records and other DNS as needed
 - - Test that email is flowing before you close this ticket.

- Create a client summary report of all existing issues and tickets.
 - - Service manager will email this to client.

- Verify that all documentation is up to date.
 - - Deliver a copy of client documentation to client in paper or electronic format.
 - - Be sure that client has a narrative description of their backup system.

- Determine whether any open tickets need to be worked before service is discontinued. Service manager will determine whether each of these is covered by the contract that is ending or is billable.

- Close all open tickets for this client that will not be worked. Add a note to each that the ticket was closed without completing service due to end of contract.

When all tickets are closed . . .

- Remove Continuum (or other) RMM agents.
 - - Note: unless there is a ticket to set up automatic updates or another service, we are ONLY removing our agents.

- Update the daily monitoring documentation so we don't report all those machines as missing.

- Update Managed Services Grid


Routing Step Three - Admin Dept.

- If the client will be 100% gone, set the expiration date for the Time and Materials contract in the PSA.

When all invoices are paid and everything is settled . . .

- File all paperwork related to this client.

- Remove paper contract(s) for this client from the "current contracts" folder and place in client folder.

- Add this completed checklist to client folder

### end of checklist ###


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: Managing Temporary Files

:-)

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

Managed Services in A Month
by Karl W. Palachuk

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Intel Drops Hybrid Cloud - I Don't Think This is Related to the Death of SBS


Here's a reprint of the SMB Nation blog post about the EOL for the Intel Hybrid Cloud.

Thanks for the Interview, Regina.

- - - - -



Intel Gives the Axe to Hybrid Cloud, AppUp Small Business Software Service

Posted by Regina Ciardiello on Wednesday, 15 May 2013 at http://www.smbnation.com/content/news/entry/intel-gives-the-axe-to-hybrid-cloud-appup-small-business-software-service


Many of us remember when Intel launched its Intel Hybrid Cloud device and the Intel AppUp Small Business Software Service with much fanfare just about two years ago, with tons of promise. It was ahead of its time pioneering the “devices and services” paradigm so popular today. It was the “third-way” in the polarizing argument(s) asserted by on-premises extremists and Cloudies. Many MSPs that I know had signed up for the service, and had high hopes for what it could do for both themselves and their SMB end users. Intel even went ahead and put together a launch platform held at SMB Nation’s Fall Conference in 2011 to target its sweet spot of SMB MSPs who largely attend our events…from what I understand, they came in droves to check out this new game-changing cloud product.

(Pictured at right): Karl Palachuk, Founder and CEO, Small Biz Thoughts / Great Little Book Publishing Co., Inc., said he doesn't feel there is a correlation between the end of SBS and the end of the Intel server.

I wanted to still learn more about the fanfare launch around this product, and why perhaps Intel decided to end of life it? I received my answers from one such MSP who is a friend of the SMB Nation family: Karl Palachuk, Founder and CEO, Small Biz Thoughts / Great Little Book Publishing Co., Inc.

Palachuk, who is a regular speaker at our events, and is often tapped to share his expertise on various channel trends and technologies, had first-hand knowledge of the Intel Hybrid Cloud Server at launch. While Palachuk was not part of the company’s partner program on this product, he served a much larger role in both an educational and marketing capacity; the company approached him to help them spread the word about this new server and what it could do for the SMB community.

According to Palachuk, Intel tapped for his help because they had a magic number of how many partners they wanted to sign up, and they sought out his real-world expertise to help accomplish that goal.

As a company that typically was used to selling, for instance, motherboards, and then sending people along their way, they needed someone who had experience with the services side of the channel, Palachuk says. “When they first launched it, (Intel Hybrid Cloud Server), Intel approached me, and said that they had a goal of signing up a certain amount of partners, and they told me that they heard I knew how to help them,” he said. “As a result, they offered me to head up an 11-city road show, which kicked off at SMB Nation’s Fall Conference in 2011.”

Following the SMB Nation show Vegas in 2011, Palachuk made his way around the country, traveling with Intel executives to pitch and discuss Intel Hybrid Cloud Server. He said the road shows experienced good success, with some cities garnering attendees in the neighborhood of 300-400 in the room. As a result of the shows, Palachuk says he was able to sign up around 800 partners, which helped give Intel a boost at the time of the product’s infancy.

Fast-forward to about two years later, and Intel decides to end of life the server, much like Microsoft recently did with Small Business Server. I asked Palachuk, since he has experience with both products, if he felt there was a coincidence or a correlation between these two decisions; he says absolutely not. “I don’t feel there is a correlation between the end of SBS and the end of the Intel sever,” he surmised. “The Intel product was not SBS-specific; of course you could load SBS on to the Intel server, but it had many other options available besides the operations system. It could run phone systems, backup systems, and various other operations that were unrelated to SBS.”

Palachuk did say, however, that he speculates the reason as to why Intel killed off their Hybrid Cloud Server is that there was confusion as to who the target market was. “I do think this (Intel Hybrid Cloud Server) is an SMB product, and it’s my speculation that Intel had some difficulty as who exactly they could sell to, and as a result, maybe the VARs couldn’t figure out who to sell it to?”

Aside from market confusion, Palachuk said like anything, when it comes to big business and big markets, if the money is not coming in, then the product gets the axe. “At the end of the day, a Fortune 10 company like Intel has to make X number of dollars on a product, and if they don’t meet that goal, then they drop it,” he said.

So what does the future hold as it relates to cloud now that this server has made its way out the door? Palachuk said that if he were Intel, he would try again to fill the void left by Intel Hybrid Cloud Server with some other type of service. “If I were Intel, I would look at the kinds of services that they have the tools to fill,” he said. “There really is indeed a market for a small on-site server that fits certain needs. Intel needs to find a single software partner who can help them build something that integrates with the cloud, while not trying to be everything to everyone…I fully expect there to be another attempt, especially since the services market is so appealing right now.”

- - - - -

###

:-)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Microsoft Announces Windows 8.1 as a Free Upgrade


Today Microsoft VP and Windows CFO Tami Reller revealed that Windows 8.1 will be the official name for the OS formerly known as Blue. It will include some updates to the UI formerly known as Metro. While she did not discuss the fact that Win8.1 will include an option for a start button, there are plenty of reports that "the button" will be included.

I think most people were expecting Windows 8 Service Pack One after a year. Then the "Blue" project was created to help people see that Microsoft was going to make feature changes to the next version of Windows 8. So instead of a service pack, it will be a (minor) version update.

Windows 8.1 will be a free update and will be delivered through the Windows Store. 

[No, not the Store. The app store, which they call the Windows Store. If you go to the Windows store, they'll just tell you to go to the Windows Store. Then you'll say "Who's on First?"]


Windows 8.1
Reller said that a public preview of Windows 8.1 will be available starting on June 26th for Windows 8 and Windows RT. The timing is set to coordinate the release with the Build developer conference in San Francisco.

Of course Microsoft is not saying when the full 8.1 version will be released, but they are very fond of October and November releases.

"Honey, I got you a Start Button for Christmas."

Another widely expected feature is the ability to boot directly to the desktop. The 8.1 upgrade is also expected to have other UI updates that make Windows 8 easier to use on smaller tablets. So they'll need to get that code to the OEMs in time to put smaller devices on the store shelves for Christmas.


Microsoft's Frank Shaw Appears Irritated That Consumers Don't Love Windows 8


Last Friday, May 10th, Shaw wrote a short post on the Official Microsoft Blog that there's a real drawback to having so many bloggers out there publishing their opinions:

"In this world where everyone is a publisher, there is a trend to the extreme – where those who want to stand out opt for sensationalism and hyperbole over nuanced analysis. In this world where page views are currency, heat is often more valued than light. Stark black-and-white caricatures are sometimes more valued than shades-of-gray reality."
(http://blogs.technet.com/b/microsoft_blog/archive/2013/05/10/staying-centered.aspx)

He points to two examples:
Tech Hub - http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/330c8b8e-b66b-11e2-93ba-00144feabdc0.html
and
The Economist - http://www.economist.com/news/business/21577371-windows-8-only-beginning-microsofts-problems-microsoft-blues

Shaw is irritated with the fact that Microsoft's reversal on some features is being compared to the "New Coke" failure in 1985 (http://www.nbcnews.com/id/7209828/ns/us_news/t/it-seemed-good-idea-time). I agree that analogy is a little extreme. As someone at Microsoft casually commented to me in a personal email, Windows 8 is essentially Windows 7 with a new user interface. So the product's not broken per se. They've just made it harder for power users to use.

As a whining blogger, I don't think I go to extremes very often. But when such a massive amount of public response to a product is focused like a laser beam on a few items, it would be foolish for Microsoft to ignore them.

I've been surprised and a little amazed that Microsoft's public stand on the "Start Button" and "Boot to Desktop" features has been 1) You don't know what you really want. 2) You don't even need an option. Get over it. 3) You really like the new interface. You just think you don't like it.

Now the message is: 1) Oh shit. You really DO want that! Okay. 2) We'll give you the option. 3) If you don't like the new interface, don't use it.

I'm sorry it will be a full year from the original release date, but Microsoft's sales will (probably) improve once these changes are in place.


For a PR-loaded version of the announcement, see the Microsoft Windows blog post: http://blogs.windows.com/windows/b/bloggingwindows/archive/2013/05/14/windows-keeps-getting-better.aspx

:-)

Friday, May 10, 2013

SOP Friday: Healthcare and Other Benefits

Most small businesses start out with no "benefits" such as health insurance, paid phones, or cars for employees. In fact, many stay that way forever. There are good reasons to add benefits, and there are good reasons to avoid it.

If you're considering offering benefits, you should prepare yourself for some serious education about what you should and shouldn't / can and can't do. At both the state and federal levels, certain benefits must be offered identically to everyone.

Disclaimer: I'm not an accountant, enrolled agent, insurance salesman, broker, Human Resources attorney, or telephone repairman. You need to do this planning in association with true professionals who can help you make the best deals while staying inside the law.

I'm going to break benefits into three separate discussions: Health Insurance, Retirement, and Other. But first a few notes about benefits in general.

First, if you have a growing business, you will have to offer some or all of these benefits at some point. So try to plan in advance - at least a year in advance. That gives you time to learn about various programs, their enrollment schedules, options, etc.

Second, whether you "want to" offer benefits or not, avoid offering them until you are certain that you can afford them. That means you are certain you can add this expense from now on forever. I recommend this because takig benefits away from employees will have a devastating effect on moral. Plus, any permanent increase in your expenses can put a serious drag on your company.

Consider health insurance. Group plans in the U.S. vary dramatically. We use an HMO/PPO plan. It varies from about $200/month for someone under 30 (most techs) to about $500/month for a 50-something year old. So a business with ten employees will add a few thousand dollars a month in expenses. Just make sure you have it.

Third, use the "pros" to educate yourself and your staff. Let three insurance sales people come in and walk you through their plans. With each one you'll learn some things you can ask the others about. Do the same with retirement plans. And when anyone makes a claim about tax benefits, ask the tax pro about that. It's not the insurance salesman's job to keep up on tax law.

Fourth, always consider how any benefit you offer will be good for your company. "Just because I want to" is a fine reason. Just be very clear that that's what you're doing. Don't pretend that you need it for competitive reasons if you don't. Some benefits are easy (cell phones) and some are more complicated (retirement). What advantage do you get because you offer this benefit?

Now for a few notes on the three topics I promised.


Health Benefits


Everybody say "Ugh."

Everything is changing on this front. But for now, here are some notes to consider if you're considering health insurance for your staff.

1) If the owners and managers all have spouses who can provide health insurance, you might not want to offer this at all. Health insurance can be expensive. When we first started offering it, about seven years ago, a 25 year old tech could be insured under a group plan in California for about $100/month. Today I pay $481 per month for my group plan insurance.

2) Everyone has to get the same options. For example, you can't have a cheapie plan for the employees and a Cadilac plan for the boss. You CAN have a cheapie plan for everyone and let everyone upgrade themselves. But that means the part you pay out of your own pocket is not a business expense and might not be deductible on your taxes.

3) Seriously consider whether you want to cover some or all of the insurance. In some cases, you can cover (for example) 50%. If employees opt out, you pay nothing.

4) Consider whether you want to cover spouses/partners and kids. Is it fair that one employee receives a benefit of $400 while another receives a benefit of $1,200 just because he has a family? That's up to you.

[See where I said you need to let the pros educate you on all this?]

5) Set a reasonable waiting period, such as 90 days. That way, you know that new hires will work out before they get this benefit.

As a general rule, if you the owner need health insurance, group health is a great option. If you are an LLC or S-Corp (not a sole proprietor) then expenses paid to the insurance program are a business operating expense. The part each employee pays out of pocket in premiums and co-pays is a personal medical expense. These days, it's unlikely that anyone will spend enough to deduct it on their taxes.

Go talk to a pro.


Retirement Options


In my opinion, if you CAN create a retirement plan through work, you SHOULD create a retirement plan through work. Some plans such as Roth IRAs are personal. You should do that. But through the business, you can offer 401Ks and other retirement options that allow you to gain a larger retirement package while some of it because a business operating expense.

As with healthcare, you have to make the same offer to everyone. So if you contribute 5% of an employee's pay to their 401k, then you have to pay 5% of all employees' pay. Having said that, you can craft eligibility a bit. And some plans have a "vesting" component so that employees don't get to keep your contributions unless they stay a specific amount of time.

Again, there are many, many options. And again, I am not a retirement planner, investment advisor, or accountant.

Go talk to a pro.


Other Misc. Benefits


I somehow thought we were ahead of the curve on paying for employee cell phones. But over the last ten years I've realized that lots of companies do this. We pay a flat fee (I think it's $50) per month to each employee for the company use of their phone. That's enough to turn the lowliest plan into one with unlimited nationwide calling. That way we don't own the phone and we're not responsible for any part of their actual bill.

We have also, from time to time, given company-owned laptops to key employees. As far as I can recall, we've never asked for one back, even when someone left the company.

Some companies have company cars that employees are allowed to take home and use during off hours. Of course some of these are "wrapped" with advertising. That sounds like a lot, but it's not really. As I mentioned last week regarding Travel Policies and awhile back regarding Employee Expenses, we reimburse for mileage. It is not uncommon at all for a technician to drive 100 miles a week for work. That's $56.50 per week. At 4.3 weeks per month, that's $242.95 per month. For many cars, that's a car payment.

There are also "intangible" and culture-oriented benefits. Many companies supply the soft drinks. We have a lot of lunch gatherings. We also have movie days and movie nights. For about five years we brewed our own beer as a group. Today, Mike and Dana make regular trips to Sam's Club and keep the kitchen stocked with coffee, soups, and snacks. You could literally live in our office.

One other category of benefits is employee training. This is something that's good for the employee and the company. And it's totally a company expense, so not taxable to the employee (see the next topic).


Note On Taxes


[See the disclaimer above. I don't actually know anything and I'm not responsible for your actions.]

Strictly speaking, some of these things are benefits that the Tax Man wants to tax. So some benefits that employees get should be reported to the IRS. As a non-tax person, the line between taxable and not taxable is not very clear.

Right now, frequent flyer miles that an employee earns while on a business trip are not taxable. But our travel policy specifically states that the employee is responsible for such taxes if there ever are any.

Talk to the Pros.


Comments welcome! I'd love to hear what other benefits folks are offering out there.


- - - - -



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: Make Every Hour Profitable

:-)
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Wednesday, May 08, 2013

The Most Popular Blog Posts of April 2013


It's always interesting to see what brings people in. Here are the most read blog posts from last month:


#1 = Microsoft Announced the End of of SBS from June 5, 2012

This is the biggest post of the last year. That's appropriate since it was probably the biggest announcement of the year for the small business space.


#2 = SOP Friday: Service Manager Roles and Responsibilities from June 2012

Moving up from the #4 spot. This is another one from last summer. It continues to get more traffic all the time.


#3 = Most "Managed Service Providers" Do Not Provide Managed Services from April 2013

This one got a lot of people's attention. Most - a majority - of people who call themselves Managed Service Providers are not providing the managed piece of the service. Even firms who have sold themselves based on the management component are not doing it.


#4 = SOP Friday: DNS and DHCP Allocation - Server vs. Firewall from November 2012

Where do you put DNS and DHCP? This article was not on the list at all last month. Now it jumps up to #3.


#5= SOP Friday: The Monthly Maintenance Checklist from October 2012

This item was gone from the top-ten list for a long time but certainly deserves a spot. This is one of the core pieces of our business, affecting recurring revenue, server health, and profitability.


#6 = SOP Friday: How to Work 8AM to 5PM in I.T. Consulting from March 2013

One of my long-standing philosophies is that you need to relax and take some time off so you can be more productive when you work.


#7 = SOP Friday: Organizing Your Company Files and Folders from October 2012

Another new addition to the list for this month. Organizing your electronic files is critical. Duplicate files and time spent looking for data you know you have are big resource-wasters. This article has become a consistent favorite. I think we're all trying to practice consistent improvement, so looking at someone else's system is helpful.


#8 = SOP Friday: Using a White Board from April 2013

This article appeared in April and made the top ten. Whether you use a white board for tracking metrics, making announcements, or brain-storming, you should have at least one large board and keep it centrally located.


#9 = SOP Friday: Is This a Profitable Hour? from March 2013

Who is responsible for profitability within your company? Everyone.


#10 = Windows Azure Active Directory has Reached General Availability from April 2013

Active Directory integration has been an ever-present pain in the neck with cloud offerings. Azure has finally released their AD to the entire product base. If you haven't looked at Azure lately, this is a great time.


As always, the SOP (standard operating procedure) Friday series dominates the list. Sometimes it's hard for "old favorites" to be eclipsed, like the "Death of SBS" posting. But we have a number of recent entries on the list - five in total from March and April.

Keep reading! I appreciate your support.

And let me know if you have suggestions or comments.

:-)

Friday, May 03, 2013

Jenny Hallmark Named President of SMB Nation

Got a press release over the transom this morning.

My friends Jenny Hallmark and Chris Bangs have been promoted to major new positions over at SMB Nation.

Jenny Hallmark and Chris Bangs

This news will be announced live in about 30 minutes. Luckily, I have access to a time machine.

Here's the official press release:


- - - - - 

For Immediate Release
For more information, contact:
Harry Brelsford
Founder and Chairman
SMB Nation
206-201-2944

SMB Nation Elevates Longtime Team Members to Executive Positions


Media integration company promotes Jennifer Hallmark to company President; Chris Bangs elevated to VP of Sales & Marketing.

Redmond, WA – May 3, 2013 – SMB Nation announced today that it has promoted two longtime team members to elevated roles within the company. As noted during Chairman and Founder Harry Brelsford’s keynote speech this morning at the 2013 Spring Conference, SMB Nation has promoted Senior Manager Jennifer Hallmark to the role of President, and Chris Bangs, Director of Business Development & Strategic Relationships, to the role of VP of Sales & Marketing.

Known as familiar faces with the SMB Nation tribal community, both Hallmark and Bangs will continue to bring their high level of industry expertise and dedication that they have implemented within their previous positions.
Hallmark, who is taking the reigns as President, joined SMB Nation in 2007. She most recently served as the company’s Senior Manager and Partner. She has almost 10 years of experience in various operational and event roles, primarily in the technology field, and currently is tasked with spearheading and directing all of SMB Nation’s worldwide event logistics, conference development, contracts, and conference communications. In addition to her new responsibilities as President, Hallmark will also retain her current duties, which involve the organization and production of SMB Nation’s live and online events.

Prior to joining SMB Nation, Hallmark worked at Microsoft in the conference center as an event manager. Her extensive work experience of event management; coupled with her analytical abilities has added to her past and current successes within SMB Nation, and will undoubtedly contribute to her successes as company President.

“Through my new role as President of SMB Nation, I will be focused on continuing to bring our community the best live and online events in our industry,” Hallmark said. “In addition, I will now be working with Harry (Brelsford) and our entire team to ensure that SMB Nation continues to hold its top spot in the industry as ‘The Channel’s Best Friend,’ and the IT community’s single resource for information.”

Bangs, who also joined SMB Nation in Since 2007, has been exclusively focused on furthering SMB Nation’s Business Development, Internet Marketing and Technology departments. In addition to his current position as VP of Sales & Marketing, Bangs also provides his expertise and industry knowledge as it relates to SMB Nation’s online media products. In his new role, Bangs will be tasked in working with current and potential business partners to further their presence within the SMB IT channel. In addition, he will also work to craft individual marketing plans that will be specifically tailored to each business partner’s specific needs.

Prior to joining SMB Nation, Bangs served as a top sales/marketing educator and motivator to the retail, financial, and real estate industries. Through curriculum, seminars, webinars, and products, he has trained literally thousands of salespersons throughout the United States.

“I’m very much looking forward to being part of the team that is positioned to steer SMB Nation into the future as a leader within channel education and emerging technologies,” Bangs said. “My main goal within my new position is to maintain our leading role within the IT community in 2013, and beyond.”

Both Hallmark and Bangs will assume their new tenures immediately, as announced today by Brelsford during his keynote at the SMB Nation Spring Conference.

“The promotions of these two dedicated longtime team members is definitely well-deserved,” Brelsford said. “Through both Jenny (Hallmark) and Chris (Bangs), as well as the entire core SMB Nation team that is currently in place, we now have all of the players to continue to take SMB Nation to the next level as your trusted IT community resource.”


About SMB Nation
SMB Nation is a media integration 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, print magazine, online services, and worldwide seminars, workshops and accredited Pocket MBA certificate.  As an active participant in the technology community, SMB Nation has a long history of enthusiastic advocacy and evangelism. The SMB Nation tribe exceeds 54,000 followers worldwide. For more information, visit www.SMBNation.comwww.CloudNation.co and www.Telephonation.com. Follow us on Twitter @SMBNation, and join our Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/SMBNation.

 :-)

SOP Friday: Travel Policies

Earlier, we covered in-town or local travel as part of normal Employee Expenses. Here we cover out-of-town travel.

From time to time you need to travel out of town. As with everything else, it's good to have a travel policy in place before you need it. If you're a one person shop, it's good to have a written policy (and follow it) so you can justify your expenses if you get audited. As you grow, members of your team may need to travel for business.

Out of town travel almost always falls into two categories: Service delivery or training. Training includes conferences. In some cases out of town travel might include sales.

Travel policies are pretty straight forward. So I'm going to post a sample and then discuss the few variables you need to make some decisions on.

Policy Memo: Out of Town Travel

Date: November 2013

To: Staff of KPEnterprises

From: Karl W. Palachuk, President
 KPEnterprises Business Consulting

Re: Travel Out of Town

Please note the following guidelines for out of town travel:
  • “Out of Town” travel consists of any travel to a location more than 30 miles from downtown Sacramento.
     
  • Day travel (without overnight) consists of driving, train travel, light rail, and the occasional plane ride.
    • If travel is by mass transit, driving to the station/airport is your commute. Therefore it is not covered by our reimbursement policy.
    • If travel is by mass transit, your time is paid from the time you arrive at the station or airport until you depart the same for home.
    • If travel is by automobile, your mileage is covered from your house to your destination and back to your house.
    • If travel is by automobile, your time is paid from the time of your departure to the time of your arrival back home.
    • Mileage will be reimbursed at the current rate.
    • Meals will be reimbursed at a reasonable rate.
    • Meals with clients will only be reimbursed if approved prior to the trip.
       
  • Overnight travel must be approved by the Service Manager.
    • You will take into consideration the balance of labor costs, travel costs, and the time constraints of client. These factors will help determine whether legs of travel will be by public transportation, car, plane, etc.
    • If a car is rented, it should be an economy class car. Accept the insurance options even though they are a total rip-off. There’s no point in increasing our liability unnecessarily.
    • If you wish to pay for a rental car class upgrade, you may pay for this yourself.
    • If a hotel room is approved, it should be a Courtyard by Marriott or similarly-priced hotel.
    • If more than one employee is traveling to the same location, each employee will be allowed to have a separate hotel room.
       
  • Airline Travel
    • We will pay for economy class fare for airline travel of four hours or less (total travel day) and business class travel for any travel day greater than four hours. If you want additional upgrades such as first class, you may pay for these yourself.
       
  • Reward Programs
    • KPEnterprises does not have any company-sponsored or company-enrolled reward programs for “frequent flyers,” hotel awards programs, frequent car rental programs, etc.
    • If you use such programs, all “rewards” are yours to keep and use as you see fit. They will not be considered compensation by KPEnterprises and are not part of your employment or benefits package. If any government agencies tax such programs, you will be responsible for such taxes.
    • KPEnterprises will pay for the lowest priced alternative that fits within reasonable travel parameters. If you wish to spend more in order to obtain miles or points, you will be responsible for the difference in cost.


Notes Regarding the Travel Policy

The key to success with a policy like this is Keep It Simple. Your travel policy should be fair and common sense.

The mileage and "commute" rules are similar to those discussed in the Employee Expenses post. The goal is to mesh well with that policy and stay within the spirit of tax regulations. You also don't want the employee to be out of pocket for reasonable work expenses.

You can define out-of-town as you see fit. We used Microsoft Mappoint to plot the expected driving radius for 30 minutes and 45 minutes from our office. The resulting map included almost every client we had. Rather than make technicians look up a convoluted map, we just drew a circle around it and that came about to about  miles. That's where we came up with that number.

When I travel personally, I never accept the insurance add-on rip-offs because my insurance company is always reminding me that I am covered and don't need them. But when anyone else rents a car on my behalf,  I absolutely want the "walk away" coverage. This is a reasonable expense and you need to figure out how to pass it on to the client.

One item where you might want to save a little money is with shared hotel rooms. I travel a lot and I really appreciate the opportunity to have privacy and feel that I am truly "off work." So I never share a hotel room. The two times I have made an exception to this I did not sleep well. That's just me.

Another area you might want to look at is frequent travel programs. I don't need the hassles of trying to maintain a company-wide program and split up points among employees.


My final advice on travel policies is to make them as short as possible. Don't worry about complicated scenarios unless they arrive. Update the policy when you have some new or different circumstances. And be flexible about one-time events. For example, if and employee wants to take a side trip to go to a wedding as long as they're across the country, just work out a fair deal. Start with an "exceptional" ruling and don't create a complicated policy that will never be used again.


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: Healthcare and Other Benefits

:-)

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