Friday, March 31, 2006

Don't forget the donuts!

Customer service comes in many guises.

In one of his best books Harry Brelsford recommends throwing a party for the client after their SBS install. We don't do that, but . . .

When we have a major project such as an SBS cut-over to a new server, our service manager always shows up with a box of donuts. It's amazing how much impact this can have. It gives people a sense that "something's going on." Diet or no diet, everyone sneeks in and has a donut.

And here's the proof that this is important. Last week I asked a client (18 desktops, four remote) how their move to a new SBS server went. She said, "It was very smooth. Customer service was excellent. They brought in donuts and . . .."

Weird, isn't it? You take a potentially stressful situation, add some carbohydrates, and everyone's attitude changes. Of course you still have to provide excellent service and follow-through.

But a dozen donuts can go a long way!

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Are you Programmed to Give Service?

I had an experience recently that got me thinking about "Service."

I'm in the service business. In some sense, we're all in the service business. If nothing else, you serve your boss. If you're a small business consultant, you serve your clients.

But did it ever occur to you that you have a different definition of service than someone else? I recently had a clash between two different definitions of service:

1) Just do it. Take care of all the details. Only ask me for limited information. Present me with a finished product.

2) Work with me. Keep me informed of every step. Check everything with me. Verify my satisfaction at all times.

These are both legitimate ways of looking at service. But problems can arise when you give one kind of service and the client is asking for the other. Here's what happened to me.

I hired someone to help me do some work around the house. I wanted to (needed to) send her off to just get things done. But she wanted to make sure everything was just right. The result was, she kept asking me about all the details. I felt like it would be just as easy to do the work myself. I found someone else to do the work.

Was it done exactly and perfectly, as if I'd done it myself? No. Was it done very well? Yes. And I got to do other things at the same time. That made it worth the money.

Your customers might have the same disconnect bewteen what they want and what you think they want. You don't want to make too many assumptions, or go off doing work the wrong way. At the same time, you don't want to bug them so much with details that they just want you to go away.

The answer is communication. Don't assume that all your clients are the same. Ask them about the type of service they want. This isn't "level" of service. The highest level of service is to give the client what they want in the way they need it. So, you don't know what a high level of service is until you ask.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.

SAN Book at 99%

Wow! What a year this has been.

At the beginning of February I was working on a few projects. Then Harry Brelsford gets me engaged in Amsterdam and New York conferences. (Still earlybird deals available for SMB Nation New York! May 5-6.)

Then Harry agrees to publish my next book -- tentatively entitled the The SMB SAN Primer. We borrowed some equipment from QLogic. Very cool.

Now, the book is pretty much done. We're doing all the boring "production" stuff like proof reading and layout.

Anyway, I finished in time to go on a date with my wife! And that's a good thing since today is our 15th wedding anniversary. Wow, what a year.

There might be small changes in the book, but here a sneek peek at the table of contents:

Section One: SMB SAN Defined

Chapter 1: New Technology Frontiers In SMB
- - Introduction
- - Who's Who - Defining Small and Medium Business
- - Summary
- - FAQ: Nine Quick Questions

Chapter 2: What Is A SAN?
- - The Basics: What is A SAN?
- - Putting Storage in Perspective
- - What is NOT a SAN?
- - Alright Already! What is a SAN?
- - Introduction to Architecture and Designing Your SAN
- - Summary
- - FAQ: Nine Quick Questions

Section Two: SMB SAN Specifics

Chapter 3: SMB SAN Planning, Design and Analysis
- - Introduction
- - Discovery and Inventory
- - Building a Plan
- - Dealing with Objections
- - Getting Approval for the Project
- - Budgeting, Adjusting, and Final Draft
- - Summary
- - FAQ: Nine Quick Questions

Chapter 4: SMB SAN Deployment
- - Introduction
- - The Physical Construction of a SAN
- - Building SAN One: A Fibre Drive
- - Case Study: How Not to Build a SAN
- - Detour: More Detail on Protocols and Hardware
- - Using the SAN Software: Step by Step Out of the Box
- - More Complicated Scenarios
- - Focus on RAID
- - Summary
- - FAQ: Nine Quick Questions

Chapter 5: SMB SAN Administration and Troubleshooting
- - Introduction
- - Job One: Documentation
- - Maintenance Tasks
- - More Mundane Maintenance
- - Troubleshooting Basics
- - Summary
- - FAQ: Nine Quick Questions

Chapter 6: Extending The SMB SAN
- - Introduction
- - Learn it. Use it. Manage it. (Sell it.)
- - Really Great Uses for A SAN
- - Summary
- - FAQ: Nine Quick Questions

Section Three: SMB SAN Success Stories

Introductory Comments

Chapter 7: Medium Space SAN Success: St. Mary's
- - Introduction
- - Case Study Overview
- - Background
- - SAN Solution Gets An "A" for Scalability
- - From Minor Investment to Major Performance
- - Summary

Chapter 8: Small Space SAN Success: SMB Nation TV
- - Introduction
- - Small five-person business uses SAN to manage
- - Summary

Chapter 9: More SMB SAN Success Stories
- - Introduction
- - Five other SMB clients featured, one-page each
- - Summary

Section Four: Conclusions

Chapter 10: Bringing It All Together
- - Where We Came From and Where We're Going
- - Next Steps

Appendix A: Resources

Appendix B: Glossary

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Catch-Up 2

OK. So February was busy, too. Looks like that kind of year.

But aren't they all?

Mostly in February I've been writing. The next book is a SAN Primer for the SMB space. Ryan Klein from QLogic has been proofing chapters. Harry B's supposed to get me a chapter before the end of March.

In the meantime, I've got one SAN set up and working on my SBS network. Very cool. The next storage array arrives today or tomorrow. W00-hoo!


I'm also busy getting ready for SMB Nation Amsterdam!!! Finalized my hotel reservations this morning. At $115 US per night, it's cheaper than traveling domestically.

I think Harry's not writing his chapter because he's out scouring the landscape in Europe for attendees.

While in Amsterdam, I'm going to hop over to Prague (Czech Republic) for a day to run a seminar their--One of Harry's Birds of a Feather seminars.

After Amsterdam I'm headed to the U.K. where Robbie Upcroft has organized (organised) a handful of User Group get-togethers.


See you all in Amsterdam!

Saturday, March 04, 2006

There Are Two Types of Computer Consultants

Someday I’m going to write a book called There Are Two Types Of People. I know you’ve heard the jokes:

  • There are two types of people in the world: Those who can stay focused, and . . . Did you get a haircut?
  • There are two types of people in the world: Those who divide people into two types, and those who know better.
  • There are only 10 types of people in the world: Those who understand binary, and those who don't.

Well, I say there are two types of computer consultants: Those who are willing to share their business ideas and those who want to keep such things secret. I’m sorry to break it to you, but there are no secrets.

You might have more knowledge or less knowledge about some aspect of your business. You might have more experience or less experience. But you don’t really have secrets.

I raise this issue because of my participation in several groups, including the SBS User Group community, IAMCP, SMB Nation, and related gatherings. Every once in awhile I run across someone who is afraid to participate in these forums. They believe that revealing their business techniques will somehow allow the opposition to get the upper hand.

For example, last year at SMB Nation, a gentleman came up to me and asked me why I had written my Network Documentation Workbook. He said “You’re giving away all your secrets.”

My response was, “So what? Are you going to move from Schenectady to Sacramento, open an office and compete with me on my terms? And even if you did, knowing how I run my business doesn’t mean that you will implement it the same as me.”

Awhile back I was in an airport and the TV was on. Two sportscasters were talking about the football playoffs. One said something to the effect of:

Well, right after the kickoff Johnson went to the running game. All through the first half he relied on the running game. When they were behind, he relied on the running game. When they were ahead, he relied on the running game. Now we’re down to the last five minutes. What do you think the coach is going to do?

The answer, of course, is that the coach is going to play his game his way!

You see, here’s the thing about any business: There are no real secrets. There’s only excellent execution. If you knew every single thing about my business, it wouldn’t matter.

You can know about my marketing plan, about my budget, about my hiring process, about my installation checklists. About everything. And it won’t make difference.

The “worst case scenario” is that you look at my successful business and decide that you’re going to do everything single thing exactly as I do, and go after the same customers.

Bring it on.

To beat me, you have to work harder and execute flawlessly. You have to be better than I am at every single thing I do. Every day.

That’s the only real secret there is.

Knowing how the coach is going to play the game doesn’t mean there’s one single thing you can do to stop him. If his team executes flawlessly, they're going to win.

Your job is to get up every day, go to work, and do the very best you can.

There’s a lot to be gained by sharing information with others in your business. And there’s really nothing to lose.

I participate in IAMCP and the various online forums because it’s fun and interesting and useful to talk about the business side of business. In ten years, I’ve never lost a client (or an employee) to another consultant. But I have gained wonderful insights into the many ways to run a business.

Two great online communities to join are the Small Biz IT Group at and the Managed Services Group at

But don’t just lurk – participate!