Friday, May 23, 2014

Join a VERY Cool Advisory Panel for a New Product - The Replacement for SBS

Support for the Server 2003 generation of operating systems ends next year - including SBS 2003.

We've been replacing these units with a combination of on-premises and cloud-based technologies. Now it's time to take that to the next generation.

I have the honor of running a new American Partner Advisory Panel for a company called Zynstra. They are based in the UK and have developed a series of great Cloud Appliances that they will be introducing into the North American market.

I want YOU to be part of it.

The product/service basically a cloud-managed appliance for for the SMB Market. The ideal end user is 5-250 users - virtually your entire client base. The ideal client will probably need some computer power onsite, and use backups and other services in the Cloud. The SMB IT Appliance can efficiently operate a wide and complex range of local workloads while integrating with public cloud services/SaaS solutions through Single Sign On.

We are looking for 10-15 partners to participate in a special program. It will involve

- Reviewing an NFR "demo" unit

- Training on the unit and installing in at your office

- Installing a unit at a client's office and configuring with appropriate licenses

- Participating in feedback (emails, surveys, forums)

- We'll help you produce a case study of your customer success (good P.R.)


Overall, we need folks who are willing to make a commitment and have the bandwidth to successfully deploy a unit within the next three months. The rewards are excellent - including some amazing incentives you've never seen before.


We think we need to get about 100 applicants to pick the 10-15 participants. So if you think this is the right thing for your company, please fill out this quick survey and we'll get in touch with you.

We plan to move very fast so that Zynstra can hit the ground running with a number of success stories under their belt by the end of the year.


You can also express your interest by sending an email to me (karlp@smallbizthoughts.com) or advisorypanel@zynstra.com. Just know that we'll get in touch with you and try to get the information requested in that form.


More Info

Here's a bit about the SMB IT Appliance. You can educate yourself about Zynstra at www.zynstra.com.

The SMB IT Appliance provides your business with:

- Web Based Console: Multi-tiered, health monitoring and administration

- Automatic Updating of Operating Systems and Managed Applications

- Automated Cloud Backup and Disaster Recovery option

- Single Sign On to Applications: Cloud credentials validated from on-site master

- Office 365 Integration: SSO synchronisation and backup of Onedrive files and .OST’s to the appliance

- Managed Applications: Gold image kept current, performance monitored and SPLA licensed (optional)

- IAAS Virtual Server containers: Supporting self-managed Windows or Linux virtual machines. (optional)

- Local Security Management: Multiple firewall layers, AntiVirus and  Intrusion Detection

- Network Gateway: Delivering DNS/DHCP, web proxy/cache and content filtering features.

- File and Print Management: Local print services, user/group shares and local backupUser Identity Management: Active Directory based Single Sign On and end user interface

- User Identity Management: Active Directory based Single Sign On and end user interface

- Multi-Site: Delivering VPN connections over standard internet or MPLS (optional)

- Resilient Cluster: High availability local infrastructure to support growth and provide enhanced resilience. Scales as required (optional)


Thank you everyone.

Comments and questions welcome!!!

:-)

Monday, May 19, 2014

GFI Launches Web Protection Service

I got a memo today from Caroline over at GFI Max.

They're going to be launching a new service called Web Protection as a new feature in GFI MAX RemoteManagement.


Here's the info:


From the RemoteManagement dashboard MSPs will soon be able to deliver web security, web filtering and web bandwidth monitoring.

Web Protection, based on the integration of award-winning GFI WebMonitor, allows MSPs to extend their services and grow revenues further!

MSPs can combine Web Protection and Managed Antivirus with Patch Management to offer clients complete protection from every security angle.

Protect clients' users from web-based security threats using Web Protection:
  • Web Security: Reduce Risk! Stop your clients' end-users from accidentally visiting malicious sites pushing malware, phishing, proxies, spyware, adware, botnets and SPAM.
  • Web Filtering: Help clients' employees stay productive with common-sense web browsing policies designed for the workplace. Protect the business from legal liability and reduce the risk of a security breach through proactive internet access controls.
  • Bandwidth Monitoring: Be automatically alerted when there's excessive bandwidth activity on a network so you can remediate quickly and maintain productivity.


And here's the "Coming Soon" video with Product Manager Brian Mackie. Check it out.




Available as a "Release Candidate" in June and will be fully released in July.

Dave Sobel from GFI tells me that they're about to reach a major milestone for partners. This kind of feature set will certainly make it easy for them to get to 10,000 partners!

:-)


Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Softer Side of Technical Support

Sometimes in business we lose sight of the fact that our clients have "unofficial" needs besides those we claim to address with our services. In many cases, it's the little niceties that separate us from our competition.

I was in a networking meeting a few days ago and people were talking about the "something extra" that separates their business from others. In almost every case the answer had something to do with the people side of business.

For example, Jason - the Dog Guy - trains his staff to pay attention to whether clients seem nervous or anxious when they drop off their dogs for doggy daycare. If they are, the employee makes a note to call that client later in the day and reassure them that Bowser is happy, eating well, and doing fine. This "service" is not related to taking care of the dog. Just the opposite: It's all about taking care of the human!

Similar stories were told about large purchases and waiting for deliverables. Yes, at some level, business is all about business. But decision makers are humans and they're spending their hard earned money. So you may need to help them get past "buyer's remorse."

That's not a discussion about technology. It's a "softer" discussion about making the client feel comfortable with their decision. You might have the discussion in terms of technology and business, but you're really working to calm nerves and address emotions.

You've heard it said that people buy based on emotions and justify the decision based on logic. So it makes sense that their nervousness about decisions is emotional and you can help support them with logic.

Something related to this happens when people have made a large purchase and they're waiting for delivery. Imagine spending five or ten or twenty thousand dollars and you don't have anything to hold in your hands and touch.

When we've had these orders, we always made a habit of keeping the client informed: We've ordered the equipment; the monitors are here; the server has arrived; we're waiting on hard drives; etc. Sometimes, if it's a long wait or we have to do a lot of prep work at our office, we'll send pictures to the client. "Here's your server. It's beautiful!"

Think about the human side of your business and how you can build in some of these "softer side" communications. And that's essentially what they are: communications between your business and the client's business. But these communications are more personal and less technical.

It's all about taking care of the relationship in addition to the customer.

:-)

Friday, May 09, 2014

Looking to Replace SBS? Zynstra has the Answers!

I got a note from Harry over at SMB Nation about some friends of ours. SMB Nation is holding a special webinar with Nick East and Rhett Ryder from Zynstra (www.zynstra.com).

I've been working with Zynstra for about seven months on strategies for bringing their products to the U.S. market. I'm happy to say that that effort is about to take off in a very visible way.

In the meantime . . .

SMB Nation is holding a webinar to bring Zynstra into the fold and help them spell out their product offering and how it works as a wonderful replacement for those old SBS boxes you'll be taking offline over the next several years.

I *highly* recommend that you attend this webinar.

Here's the announcement from SMB Nation:


The Next SBS - Part II


Registration: https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/871136088
Thursday, May 15, 2014
09:00 - 10:00 AM PDT

Presented by: Harry Brelsford, Founder and Chairman, SMB Nation, Nick East, CEO, Zynstra, Rhett Ryder, VP Business Development, Zynstra

Two months ago we hosted the first "Next SBS" webinar soliciting community input. Since that time, we have been very busy.

SMB Nation has traveled over 100,000 miles around the world hosting "Get Modern" workshops in 15+ countries with top SMB IT Pros seeking additional feedback. We have looked at different business models including angel investors, the popular Kickstarter (crowdfunding platform) and other alternatives. We have talked to each major OEM along with Microsoft and Intel about our proposition.

In this webinar, we have important updates to share with you. We are forming a community cooperative to bring a server-side SBS-like solution to market in the second half of 2014. We are seeking selected top performing SMB IT Pro to join our advisory starting in in late May. We're all in this together. Get in on the ground floor with the new SMB Nation - a transactional community. It's not lost on us (and you) that the Windows server 2003 end-of-support deadline is July, 2015. And by any count - there are over two million Windows Server 2003 machines globally - of which Small Business Server 2003 makes up a significant share.

There will be plenty of opportunities for you to ask questions and contribute during this presentation. After a short update presentation, we'll open it up for community conversations. Don't miss this important webinar as we pivot the community to a SBS next generation solution.

:-)

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Who's In The Community These Days?

From time to time we need to take stock of who's out there in the community.

I was just talking to someone about meeting TEN years ago . . . and how much different the SMB (formerly SBS) community is compared to then.

So I've been wondering what your business looks like these days. How many employees do you have? How many clients?

Here is a super-quick survey.

No names, no email addresses. No mailing lists. No worries.

Just a few quick questions.

Of course I'll compile the results once we get a good number of replies.

Thank you as always for your support and participation.

-- karlp

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Eight Almost Obvious Ways to Make Money Right Now

I was talking to a number of partners recently about the best ways to make more money today. Much of the advice around the table was directed to one gentleman who kept stressing that he needs more money now - NOW - Right Now.

I understand that frustration. I've been there. (Some people assume that I write these blog posts and therefore haven't experienced this stuff. Trust me - I've been there more than once.)

On the plane ride home I started jotting some notes. What are the most obvious ways to make more money right now? What I came up with are some "almost obvious" ways to make more money.

Fair warning: Many of you won't like some or all of the advice that follows. Let me assure that I have done or continue to do every one of these things. If your first reaction is to argue with me, please suspect that reaction. At least consider that your gut feeling is wrong and ask yourself "What would really happen if I did this?"

And so here they are:

Eight Almost Obvious Ways to Make More Money Right Now

(Presented in order from immediately effective to those that take a little time.)

1. Raise your rates


Don't argue with me on this unless you've already raised your rates in the last few years.

The fastest way to make more money is to simply raise your rates. In my experience of twenty years in the consulting business, I think every three years is a very good average. If you haven't raised your rates since the recession started in 2008, you're overdue.

This is no exaggeration: Every single time I've raised my rates I've gotten busier. But set that aside for a minute. The fastest, easiest, most SURE way to raise more money is to charge more money. Period. It just is.

The only thing that REALLY stops you from doing this is fear. What are you afraid of? You won't lose clients. Really. If you double your rates, maybe. But if you raise your rates $5 or $10 per hour, no one will drop you. I promise.

It is even easier to raise your rates in the era of managed services. Everyone has a flat fee portion of their bill and an hourly portion. You're only going to raise one of these right now. Raise the other one next year.


2. Ignore the MSRP


Nothing frustrates me more than vendors who tell me how many points we'll make - except maybe VARs who say they can only make a few points. Learn a big lesson from the big boys: You can make as much as you want.

Our standard markup is 25%. So if we buy a toner cartridge at wholesale for $100, we sell it for $125. That means that our profit is 20% of the selling price. Simple math: markup 25% and your profit is 20% of the retail price.

Period.

That's what we do.

Sometimes we have to pay as much through distribution as the client would pay at Staples or CDW. Who cares? Our markup is 25%. Look at what the biggest, most successful consultants in your city are doing: They're charging 50% or even 100% markup.

Markup is irrelevant!

The price is irrelevant!

You are selling the right thing for the client. You're making a fair profit. If it's wrong, you'll make it right. But the goal is to give the client a perfect, trouble-free experience. If they go to CDW they are probably going to buy the wrong thing, have a horrible experience, and then you have to make it right.

The best customer experience you can give your clients is to sell them the right thing at a fair profit. That way you get paid for your time and expertise. And the client has a great experience.


3. Enforce the line between billable and non-billable


I always think the best first hire is an administrative assistant or office manager rather than a technician. One of the best things to turn over to that person is billing. Without the emotional baggage of being the owner, they'll just bill what should be billed. They'll stop giving away hours.

Hours are precious - and expensive in our business. Don't give them away.

I HIGHLY recommend that you draw a clear line between what's covered under managed services and what's billable. Generally speaking, Add, Moves, and Changes are billable. That's very clear and very fair. Adding a user? Billable. Fixing a mailbox? Included.

Once you HAVE a line between billable and non-billable, proceed to bill for every billable hour. Don't apologize for it.


4. Get Prepaid for Everything!!!


If you want cash flow (and you do), get prepaid for everything you do. Get 100% of managed services by the first of the month. Get 100% of labor up front. Get 100% of hardware and software up front. Get at least 50% or project labor up front.

Just Do It.

Again, this is easy. If you're arguing with me on this, you should ask yourself why.

Getting paid inn advance has additional advantages. It eliminates late payments, collections, and strained relationships.


5. Charge late fees and interest


Every single business you deal with will charge you late fees and most of them will charge you interest if you don't pay on time. Don't believe me? Pay every bill ten days late next month and see how much it costs you.

I work really hard to avoid late fees, but "stuff" happens and I end up getting dinged by the bank here and the phone company there. A few times a year I am reminded that I really need to make it a priority to pay bills on time . . . even if I'm in a foreign country. In all I probably pay $100 a year in late fees. That's a lot of beer down the wrong drain!

Now the truth is that your best clients will occasionally generate a late fee. Stuff happens. And they'll ask you to reverse. And you probably will. BUT the lesson is learned. They're not going to do that every month. They're going to say "Oh. We have to pay on time."

Again: What's your fear on this? You won't lose clients because you adopt the same policies of 99% of the businesses out there.


6. Invoice in a timely manner


Now we're getting into the territory where you already know you should do this, but you may not be doing it.

We bill all monthly maintenance in advance so there's zero excuse for it to be late. Incidentals and the odd hour of time are billed weekly.

Just as with tracking time, you need to do this in real time. Log it in your PSA and get an invoice out as soon as possible. If you wait until later, then you have to rely on a perfect memory. Which is perfectly impossible!


7. Track time thoroughly / Work in real time


As I've mentioned many times, time is the most important thing you can track. It costs more money than anything in your budget. It brings in more money than anything in your business. Being sloppy with time is the most expensive mistake you can make. If you lose just five hours a week at $100, that's $26,000 per year. That's either half a technician or a whole lot of beer!

My brother Manuel just started teaching a five-week class for us on tracking time in real time. You can get the details and catch up at www.greatlittleseminar.com.

Track every hour that move in and out of your company. That means those hours move in and out of your budget.


8. Stop saving your clients money


I know this sounds cynical but it's not.

What is your client relationship about? Is it about money? Is it about customer service? Support? Making their business run better? Keeping the technology in the background so it just works?

My friend Dave Sobel (now with GFI Max) says that the term trusted adviser is absurd. Of course you're trusted. The relationship isn't about trust. Trust is assumed. The relationship is about the advice. The relationship is about your two businesses making everything work better all the time.

You're not there to save money. That's the accountant's job or the controller's job. You're there as a consultant brought into the fold to be part of their team. You're in charge of the technology. You're in charge of UPTIME. You're the one they look for to provide what they need.

The most disheartening experience you'll ever have is when something fails, the boss asks why, and you say that you were trying to save them money. I've experienced this. When the client said, "I didn't ask you to save me money" it changed my business forever.

I don't quote cheap stuff. I don't sell refurbished crap. I don't quote second and third rate equipment. We sell the right thing at a fair profit so we can provide the first rate support our clients are looking for.


Overall: Be fair to yourself


There's one more theme, but it's really worked its way through this whole article. If you want to make money, you need to be fair to yourself. You can't cut all the prices all the time, work for free, never raise your prices, and let clients walk all over you when it comes to money.

People who do that go out of business and their clients go find somebody else.

Providing good customer service does not have to mean that you put yourself in the poor house.

You need more money? Be fair to yourself. Treat your business like a business.

:-)