Tuesday, July 31, 2007

You are Who Google Says You Are

How do people stumble onto your web site?

I'm not asking "How do people find you?" With luck, we all have web sites that are easy to read, easy for search engines to find and scour. So if someone's looking for you and your business, you'll be somewhere in the appropriate search (not on top, necessarily, but somewhere in the results).

No, I mean, how do people come to find your web site generally, when their server isn't smoking and their hard drive isn't crashing?

Google and other search engines index everything about everything about your web site. Then they use secret squirrel techniques to figure out the "context" for what they've found. And they use in-bound links from other web sites to determine whether you're an authoritative source for any given material.

In a perfect world, the end-user will ask for something and the results will be the absolute three best resources on the Internet for that question. We're not quite there yet.

One of the most interesting things you can play with is your web site logs. Who comes visiting, what do they find, how long to they stay, etc.? Good, juicy stuff.

You also find some very unexpected and interesting gems. For example, one of my clients had Frank Abagnale (Catch Me If You Can) speak at their annual international conference. For years their web log was filled with links from search engines that had served up their marketing materials when people searched for Frank Abagnale.

Now, in their business (a membership association), this didn't really do them much good. People rarely wander in off the street and say "Gosh, I should join this group and lobby for legislation related to peach fuzz removal."

But in other cases, the search results can be very revealing. For example, over on my Relax Focus Succeed® web site (www.RelaxFocusSucceed.com) I get all kinds of keyword searches. The most interesting and enduring is for an article entitled "The Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living." This article tells a bit about the Socrates and why he uttered those famous words.

Here's the really interesting part: People searched on that phrase, found that link, read that article, and subscribed to my free newsletter! How many? Well, that article has been on the web site for four years and it is one of the most popular pages on the site! When people do a keyword search and decide to visit the RFS site, ten percent of them are searching for that phrase.

Note to self: Never move or remove that article!

What else are people looking for when they wander on to this site?

- Fred Flintstone
- Good Stress
- Judging Others
- Meditation
- Ralph Cramden
- Relaxation Breathing
- Setting Priorties
- Spiritual Retreats
- Workaholism

and the list goes on.

Here's the very good news: These are almost all related to the core content of the site. That one article on the Fred Flintstone-Ralph Cramden School Of Success is probably a little off topic. People searching for these names are wandering in, but they're probably looking "yabba dabba do" or "to the moon" sound files.

Another example is the Great Little Book web site. Some of the keyword searches are directly related to topics you'd expect. Some are related to people. For example, someone searched for my name. Or the other popular names: Erick Simpson, Susanne Dansey, and Robin Robins. I suspect Vlad and Harry don't show up because they each got the first ten pages of search results for their own names.

Another interesting trend is that people came here looking for product references. These include
- AutoTask
- ConnectWise
- Exchange Defender
- Kaseya
- Microsoft
- Shockey Monkey
- Technology Marketing Toolkit
- Verizon
- Zenith

And of course these lead to two other categories:

[ Product 1 ] vs. [ Product 2 ]


[ Product ] sucks; [ Product ] complaint; [ Product ] bad; [ Product ] worst; etc.

And, finally, we have the truly bizarre. I would love to see this category for Vladville. For example, someone typed in gilligan island foil hat and found This Post. Yes, the article mentions Gilligan. And, yes, it mentions foil hat. But those are found inside two unrelated sentences within a rant.

And then there's the search for nut cracking equipment that takes you to the post on Cracking the HaaS Nut. My fertile mind has to wonder about the person who was looking for nut cracking equipment and followed that lead. "Wait. What's a HaaS nut? Where do they grow? How many pounds can I get per acre? Would anyone buy caramel coated HaaS nuts for Christmas?"

But wait.

How about this one. Schmoe searches for small booty and Google serves up . . . well you'll just have to go see.


Is there a point here?

I'm not sure. But if you're not occasionally looking through your log files, you definitely should. You'll be entertained and amused. You'll also get an education on what people are looking for when they found you.

On the question of whether you are what Google thinks you are, the first step is to find out who Google thinks you are.


Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Community Filter

If you've attended SMB Nation, the IT Pro conference in NOLA, SMB Nation East, Exchange, CompTIA, or SMBTN, you've probably met a lot of the same people over and over again.

Why do people go to all these conferences? In particular, why do people go after the first two or three years? (After two or three conferences, you've been dyed in the wool regarding the E-Myth, good business practices, and introductions to the community.)

One the the most important reasons people continue to participate is due to the filtering process. The Professional Consulting Community is an excellent filter for your business and your relationship with vendors. Here's what I mean.

If you're in the technology business, the biggest filter you need is your Microsoft Filter. We've all heard the phrase that working with Microsoft is like drinking from a fire hose. We receive dozens, if not hundreds of CDs and DVDs every month. At any given time there are a dozen Go To Market campaigns. And, of course, there are waves of campaigns for licensing, new products, new initiatives, and the flavor of the month.

Other vendors are similar. Annual or quarterly pushes. Ever-changing partner programs. Educational opportunities, training oportunities, and co-marketing dollars.

On top of that, there are certain trends you need to be aware of (and decide whether you'll participate in). Will you tip-toe into managed services, HaaS, SaaS, VOIP, virtualization, or hosting? Will you sign up for MSPU, MSPSN, or Robin Robins?

Community filtering starts online. The Yahoo groups are filled with discussions that start with "What are people using for . . . ?" or "Have you had this situation?"

Then there's the monthly user group meeting. A great opportunity to meet people, get more in-depth discussions about all this, and maybe see a demo.

It's also a great way to avoid big mistakes and waste money with programs and products that don't work. We've all saved money by making good choices.

Conferences are the ultimate extension of all this. The stage might literally be set by the conference organizers, but the best part about any conference are the hallway and after-hours discussions.

More than once, I've grabbed someone who had the knowledge I needed and sat them down so I could get up to speed quickly on a topic. When you're working with experienced people who run a similar business, knowledge transfer can be super-fast and very high quality.

So the community is an excellent filter and teaching tool.

Why doesn't everyone get the same benefits from the community?

I think some people want to watch and learn, but they don't want to jump in and contribute. They've heard it a hundred times, but maybe they don't believe it: You get as much out as you put in.

If I want to know what's going on with a program at SonicWall, HP, ConnectWise, Zenith, or Microsoft, I know people who filter this information very quickly. Lots of people use a certain product, but who's the uber-user?

And I built this mini-rolodex of resources by participating in the community. When I ping someone and ask a question, they have a context for who the hell I am because they met me at a conference or saw a post online.

The best thing about the Community Filter is that no one has to build it or maintain it. The Community Filter simply exists as smart business people communicate with one another and try to figure out what to do next.

If you're not participating, jump in now. Everyone's welcome and the community is constantly changing. If you've been too busy to participate in awhile (I go through these phases), feel free to jump back in any time. Everyone's welcome!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Lessons from Girl Scouts and Jerks

When my daughter first joined Girl Scouts, I learned about a sales process that (as a boy) I had never experienced.

I have five brothers and no sisters. So we never sold Girl Scout Cookies.

What I discovered, going around the neighborhood with my daughter, is that

  1. Everyone loves Girl Scout Cookies
  2. When people ask the price, they aren't trying to decide whether to buy. They just need to know how much to write the check for.
  3. GSC sales are 99% emotional.
  4. People want to tell you about their fond memories of these cookies and how the girl down the street used to sell them, but she moved, and somebody else sold them when she was a little girl, and "I haven't had those in years."

As a boy, I sold stuff for Boy Scouts, school programs, clubs, and just for money. In my years on earth I've walked hundreds, if not thousands, of miles knocking on doors and asking people to part with their money. I've sold newspapers, candy, magazines, advertising, raffle tickets, yard work, computer services, and more.

And, as a boy, the most common answer I've ever heard -- no matter what the product -- was "No thank you."

But GSC are a different story. Holy smokes.

That first year, my daughter was very eager to hit every house on every street in the neighborhood. She kept track of every house where someone wasn't home so she could go back.

And then the stunner hit: Someone said no.

Let me be very clear for all the boys out there. My daughter sold more than three hundred boxes of cookies before someone said "No thank you, dear."

Guys without daughters or sisters think I'm kidding. Trust me, it's true. 300+ boxes without a single "no." She wasn't making sales, she was taking orders.

Anyway, so she gets her first "no" and she looks up at me with a puzzled look on her face. She didn't say anything, but she looked very puzzled. Nothing in her cookie sales career had prepared her for this. It was as if she was saying "I don't understand. What happens next?"

Of course we thanked the lady and moved on.

But I'll never forget that look on her face. She was blindsided by her own good fortune. Things had gone so well, with no problems, that she wasn't prepared for them to go any other way.


As adults, you would think we would be immune from such experiences, but that's not the case. For example, as my business has grown, I've been blindsided by a new kind of client: those who don't want to pay their bills. It doesn't happen much, and the amount is a microscopic percentage of my invoices.

I'm not sure how I escaped these people in the past. I can think of two incidences of failure to pay in the first ten years of business. And back then it hurt more! So when I suddenly had to start developing prepayment policies and collection procedures, it really surprised me. I just don't get how people can wake up one day and decide not to pay the money they owe.

I guess I've had that quizzical look on my face, just like my daughter.

So, unfortunately, I need to grow up one more notch and figure out how to avoid such problems in the future.

The really sad thing is that virtually everyone _does_ pay on time, but I have to have policies for everyone.

And as my business grows, and I do more business with strangers, these policies make sense. It's too bad I had to deal with jerks who don't pay their bills in order to learn this lesson.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Lessons from The Dog Sitter

Occasionally we all have those "Maybe I'm in the wrong business" moments. Here's one for you.

Best Friends Pet Care is a dog sitter. Not a kennel. They'll house your pampered pooch for $22 per night. Fine. So what. But there's a menu of extras you can throw in:

- Playtime. $6 per ten minutes
- Cuddle Time. $6 per ten minutes
- Fitness Session. $8 per 15 minutes
- Play group. $12 per 45 minutes
- Bedtime Story. $6 per day
- Doggie Dessert (pig's ear). $2 each
- Goodie Bag. $3
- Ice Cream Break. $5
- Chew toy with treats. $5
- Bottled water instead of tap water. $5/day
- Deluxe Bed (elevated cot). $3/day
- Premium Bed (elevated cot with orthopedic mattress). $5/day
- Shopping Spree. "During playtime, your dog can shop from our boutique." You set the limit.
- Oh, and you can get your dog washed, shampooed,

Of course bundled packages are available so you can save even more!

So . . . Pooch needs to spend the night. If I really love the dog, it would be no problem spending $100 for a one-night stay. Meanwhile, I'm paying $89 for my hotel room -- with none of these extras.


Are you in the wrong business? Do you hand your clients a list of clever and fun options and have them pick what they want?

Remember: Everybody loves to buy, but no one wants to be sold.

What can you offer your clients so they can pick through the list and choose to buy additional services from you?

Is your list of services short, boring, and basically useless?

Labor $150 / hour. Take it or leave it.

Or do you offer some goodies for your clients?

- Remote Server Monitoring. $125/month
- Network, printer, and ISP management. $250/month
- Server remote maintenance and patch management. $350/month
- Desktop remote maintenance and patch management. $60/month
- 24 hour help desk. $250/month
- Annual machine tune-up. $25 per PC.
- Disaster Recovery Plan. $1,000 for up to two servers
- Server imaging. One time. $250
- Desktop imaging. One time. $60
- Customized Tech Policies handbook. $500
- Email Spam Filtering $4/mailbox/month
- Desktop with MS Office - HaaS. $149/month
- Laptop rental. $100/day
- Projector rental. $100/day

Your services and prices will vary, of course.

But the point is: are you just selling labor (and they'll call you when they need you), or are you selling services? If your clients know you, love you, and trust you, then they'll want to buy from you. They'll want to shop!

Consider how you present your services to your clients. Do they feel like there's an opportunity to buy, or do they feel like they're being sold?


Unlimited Bottled Water - $5 per day!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Announcement: One More Stupid Blog

I know what the world needs: One More Stupid Blog. So I'm here to oblige.

I've been planning the RFS (Relax Focus Succeed) Blog for some time. The book is . . . Well, it's a book. You either read it or you don't. The monthly Relax Focus Succeed newsletter tends to have longer articles.

The RFS Blog will be different. It will occasional have a longer post, but the goal will be to post 1-2 times a week with shorter content. Of course the first post is long. I have to work on the short thing.

The content is intended to provide balance, motivation, and maybe a little inspiration.

If you use RSS feeds, blogs can interrupt you at random intervals. When that happens with the RFS Blog, I hope you'll find the interruption pleasant, positive, and something that will help get you through the day.

Oh, and I'll sprinkle it with some of my world-famous humor.

Please check it out at www.RFSblog.com. Give me a month. Then, if you don't like it, drop it.

And please tell your friends. If everyone tells 10,000 people, then the whole world will be subscribing by the end of the week!

My first post is about drinking the Microsoft Kool Aid. Enjoy.


Farewell to some Great British Friends

Three major players in the SMB space have moved on recently.

People come and go all the time, in our business and every other part of life.

Part of being in a community is to take note of these changes. We don't just let people wander off without a fond farewell.

Three very successful people have been tapped for additional success in G.B. (More, I'm sure, but I will note the movement of these three particularly.)

David Overton (uksbsguy.com) is moving to evangelize ISVs and to feed them Microsoft Kool Aid in large drums. I pinged Dave before the WPC and he told me that he wouldn't be there because of the "pending" change. I've bumped into Dave in London, Amsterdam, and the U.S. Always a good guy. Always willing to help. Always has a positive attitude.

I met Robbie Upcroft during a fateful SBS User Group meeting at SMB Nation a few years ago. I introduced myself so I could apologize on behalf of the entire United States of America for the asshole who had just embarrassed himself, Microsoft, and the U.S.

Robbie's an Aussie transplanted to a small island half a world away from home. He did an amazing job with the SBS consultants down under. With raving fans behind him, he did a stint working with the user groups in the U.K. Again, always a good guy. Always willing to help. Always has a positive attitude. Now he's off to be successful working on MS relations with one of their major U.K. vendors.

Susanne Dansey (www.uksmbgirl.co.uk) has been a force in the SBS/SBSC community for several years. In addition to giving her family's business some international exposure, she's built and supported user groups in the U.K., Europe, and everywhere else she could. You might know her as "Queenie" from the SBS Show. After climbing to the top of the world, followed immediately by a marathon, I know she's up to the challenge of helping Westcoast kick licensing booty in the U.K.

Sorry to be repetitive, but Susanne's always a good person to know and hang around with. Always willing to help. Always has a positive attitude.

I'm very grateful that I got to bump into Robbie and Susanne at the WPC. I'm sorry Dave couldn't make it.

These three people are truly giants in the SBS User Group community. And between the three of them, they are largely responsible for the development, implementation, and success of the SBSC program in the U.K. Damn big shoes to step into.

But change happens. I know they won't disappear altogether. But they will be missed.

At the end of the day, we're all human beings with families and personal lives. We meet at conferences and events, and we see each other in this "business" settings. But that's not who we are.

We have family challenges, personal goals, financial needs, educational goals, career opportunities, etc. And so we lead our own lives, occasionally bumping into one another.

I have been honored to bump into these three people. I wish them all the luck in the world. And I'm sure I'll see them again as the world keeps spinning.

On behalf of the SBSC community, I thank them for everything they've done.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Future of Your Clients

Here are some thoughts about your future and how it's tied to your clients' futures.

Idea Seed One: Susan's blog post of 7/9. Think about the different kinds of clients you have.
- I.T. Basic;
- I.T. Strategic;
- I.T. I don't know but can you fix it?

See http://msmvps.com/blogs/bradley/archive/2007/07/09/aim-for-the-convertible-smbs.aspx

Idea Seed Two: Vlad and I were walking from Point A to Point B at the WWPC and we were talking about how big (nameless) corporations don't always understand what goes on down here on Earth. For example: If you assume that everyone wants to grow, then you will design and build things for companies that want to grow.

But what about companies that don't want to grow?

And what about consultants who don't want to grow?

Many of us contribute with the assumption that those of you who read these blogs are interested in growing your business. Growing the number of dollars, growing the size of your profit, and growing the number of employees.

But that's not always the case.

I hope everyone is interested in growing the number of dollars you collect and the size of your profit. But not everyone wants to have employees and payroll and the associated hassles. That's totally understandable.

Your clients are similar.

You may have clients who are sole proprietors and intend to be that way forever. We have decided not to pursue this market, but many consultants literally live off this market.

Some clients are in the very tough 1-2 employee range. If they're new to that, they are definitely going through some trials. You should be aware of these. Help the client see the long term picture. Don't press them to buy a new server today, but make sure they know they can't put it off forever.

If the client has been in that space for quite awhile, they are probably not going to grow, and you can plan on a future that looks very much like today. In other words, you need to help them develop a strategy that evens out the costs over the years. Spending here will never go up much, but it probably won't go down much either.

For larger clients, even up to 100 and above, it's very helpful to know what they expect out of the next three years. Are they growing, shrinking, staying the same? If you don't know, don't assume. Ask.

One of the most important part of the Technology Assessment Toolkit (now the Business and Technology Assessment Toolkit https://partner.microsoft.com/40029617) is the section on what they client will be doing in the next year.

It is AMAZING to me how easy it is to get clients to tell your their dirty little secrets. We're having financial problems and need to cut back. We're going to add three more people this year. We have $3 Million in revenue and expect it to be $3.5M within 18 months.

This is great stuff. You get this stuff by asking.

But you can't casually ask. You need to have a process and procedure in which 1) they've agreed to process, and 2) these are just a few questions in a longer list.

We use our own "Roadmap" process, but many of the questions are either similar to, or taken from the Business and Technology Assessment Toolkit. We print out our questions on blue paper with a cover sheet so it looks like there really is a standardized process here.

When clients are growing, you can give them the big heads up that technology spending will increase. No "sales" necessary. Just say things like "You know you can't add three people and all their data in that old server. So you don't need it today, but you know you will."

There's no sales here, so they'll just nod their head and say "I know, I know."


And while it is rare for people to change their spending habits quickly, it can be done over time.

One of my favorite clients is Hank. He absolutely resisted having us take care of his computers, or getting a server, for years. When we finally came in and set him up, he was ecstatic.

Then one day his "server" hard drive crashed! We got him back in business with zero data loss and almost no downtime. After that he bought a real server, signed up for monthly maintenance, and now he does whatever we say.

He went from penny pincher to big picture.

Of course we were patient, long-suffering, and we planted seeds for years.
Bottom line: If you assume every organization wants to grow, you will completely misunderstand the market. In fact, you will not serve your clients if your vision forces you to serve people who are different from your clients.

I like reality. It becomes addictive over time.


Please see other roadmap discussions: http://smallbizthoughts.blogspot.com/search?q=roadmap

Thursday, July 12, 2007

WPC take 3.5


I did one thing yesterday that was totally SBS: The SBSC Advisory Group met with Robert Deshaies (vice president for the U.S. Partner Group) and a handful of other SBSCs.

Some great ideas got floated. In particular, some great marketing campaign ideas got floated. Good brain-storming stuff. Microsoft folks (n=8?) seemed very receptive.

Also mentioned that the sbsc partner finder tool isn't quite what everyone hoped it would be. They're working on it. Again, MS folk seemed receptive to the feedback of the room.

Short meeting, but you lose focus if a focus group talks too long.

So here's one more benefit to attending WPC: You get invited to focus groups, advisory councils, and "executive" meeting in secret rooms with guards at the door. This gives you some insights you can't get anywhere else, and gives you at least a tiny bit of influence on the Mother Ship.

WPC take three

My head hurts. Never trust Vlad and Erick when they get together. You don't know where you'll end up, and you might not remember how you got there. Grab some free food here, trick your way into a party there. The fun never stops.

- -

So yesterday was a bit different. The only events I attended were labeled as "mid market."

The good news is: actual knowledge about licensing isn't much better in the MM than it is in the SMB space.

Question: "Can I buy twenty OEM Windows licenses and use them all on the same device, thus allowing me to run twenty-one windows instances on a single PC (1 physical and 20 virtual)?"

B. How does your brain come up with this stuff?
C. The best Microsoft can hope for is that most people will try to follow the rules.
D. NO!
E. All of the above.

(Answer: E)

So the really good info on licensing -- really understandable, Eric Ligman type stuff -- can be found on the partner site here: http://www.microsoft.com/licensing/resources/volbrief.mspx. The particularly good stuff for your future business is Licensing Microsoft Server Products with Microsoft Virtual Server and Other Virtual Machine Technologies.


Because virtualization is going to be everywhere and you better learn it or start getting your drivers license in order so you can deliver pizzas for a living.

It's funny that MS sees this as a mid-market thing. The potential for small consultancies is phenomenal.

Sales training: I expect a mid market sales training to be focused differently than the SMB space. The training was not dramatically different than what we get in the SMB space.

It was a bit uninspiring (which I thought was ironic), but with some great links and resources. Dude did an excellent job of printing off his PPT slides in a handy booklet. Very professional.

- -
So what's an SMB weany doing in the mid-market sessions?

Learning. Figuring out stuff I don't know. Thinking about how much of this applies to my little company.

And trying really hard to figure out what the future looks like.

Sometimes I think the WPC exists so that I can clean my crystal ball and get a better vision of the future. At other times, I get so much info that the crystal ball seems all muddy.

Must process new data before continuing . . .


I missed Huey Lewis and the News. Sad about that.

Stayed up way too late last night. Feet hurt. Sad about that.

Big party -- the mother of all parties -- is tonight. At least I can get a bus back to my hotel.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

WPC Notes -- SaaS (I mean software plus service)

Okay. So I'm always saying that 1) You go to these conferences for more than the parties. and 2) You are responsible for looking ahead 1- and 2- and 5-years down the road.

What are Microsoft (and Symantec and Citrix and everybody else) planning? What do they think the future looks like? Because if you stay in this business, you need to know that. And that's true whether you agree with their vision or not, and whether you think they'll be successful or not.

You need to see and interact and understand the message. Filtering 12 hours of conference activity into the three or four blogs your read will not do the trick. People here are running around and schmoozing and tired. They can't put all the details in their blogs.

Having said all that, here are a few notes from yesterday.

Normally, keynotes are totally worthless marketing BS. That didn't change yesterday. But they were a lot better than last year!

Big, interesting change of focus for Microsoft.

First, Kevin Turner twice mentioned "Software plus Service" and made a point of saying "We're not talking about software as a service." Hmmmmm. Then Steve Balmer mentioned "Software plus Service" and made a point of saying "We're not talking about software as a service." Hmmmmm.

Hmmmm. Can I find a more direct way to distance myself from SaaS?

But wait.

Over at https://partner.microsoft.com/US/program/competencies/isvsolutions it's all about SaaS. Did someone fail to tell Steve Balmer that my "#1 Profitability Resource" is the SaaS vision thing?

Perhaps my future includes only Microsoft-hosted systems and Microsoft-hosted office and Microsoft-hosted services.

And what do I get to do in the future? Help people learn how to use Outlook, I guess.

Or maybe I need to think a bit more about how all this fits together.

- -
Final note: I am planning to release a white paper on Hardware as a Service (HaaS). To make sure you don't miss any announcements, please sign up for my email newsletter at www.greatlittlebook.com.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

WPC Small Biz Symposium Kicks Booty

Small Biz Symposium notes

Thing One: Access to Microsoft. Pretty much every MS employee in the SBSC community is here.

That includes World Wide team leaders, the people who run the show in the U.S., members of the SBS development team, and the people who design, build, and support the SBSC web site.

Uh. . . No one from PSS/CSS.

Thing Two: Not sure why, but this is the only small biz event I've been to that hires a real motivational speaker to jazz people up and get them buzzed for the day. Robin Crow was entertaining and excellent. They did the same thing last year with the Sloan Brothers. Hope more folks do this.

Thing Three: Got some info on Microsoft's strategies for the next 12-24 months. Security campaigns; helping customers get more customers; productivity; business solutions. All "branded with SBSC." Looking forward to the materials on that.

Side note: I can't forget to remember something I've heard twice from two different people:
SBSC will be revised with SBS 2008. There will be requirements. Cousin Larry's Pretty Good Technical Consulting may not get to stay SBSC without actually knowing something about the product.

I consider that good news.
Side Note 2:
Public announcement (promise) that the action pack will begin to have some requirements.

There will be online training requirements and online assessment requirements.
So Cousin Larry's Pretty Good Dental Office will have a tougher time being an Action Pack subscriber.

I think everyone considers this good news.

Afternoon sessions were good.

Afternoon networking and schmoozing was excellent. The only drawback is that it's hard to break away with one person unless you get in a taxi and go to the other side of town.

Of particular interest was Susanne Dansey. See http://www.uksmbgirl.co.uk/blog. Awesome as usual.

To be honest, her seminar sounded a little "old school." Providing business value through great customer service. I went cuz I'm a friend.

But it was awesome. I took notes through the whole thing. Turns out she's an MVP for a good reason. Great material, well thought out, and very nicely presented.

I learnt a lot.


Final lesson: After three Microsoft Intergallactic Partner conferences, the entire show continues to kick ass and take names.

Well worth the money.

And the real show doesn't start until today.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Leading Like a Third Grade Teacher

Leaders -- including business owners -- tend to have a "built in" weakness when it comes to communication. This is interesting because they also tend to have natural leadership skills.

Let me propose a three-tiered communication structure:

  1. Leaders / captains / owners
  2. Managers / lieutenants
  3. Staff / soldiers

Leaders tend to be strung a bit tight. So they are very active and want to tick through tasks very quickly. As a result, when they communicate, they tend to say something once, check it off the list, and move on.

Managers need to have a very different skill. When talking to leaders, managers need to say yes, no, or let's discuss that. They need to know how to stop the leader in his tracks, get his attention, make sure that communication is understood on both sides.

When talking to staff, managers need to present a clear message -- and present it over and over again. For example, telling technicians to fill out all the paperwork, document their time, and fill out Autotask at the end of each job. Why do they need to hear this again and again?

Staff (at least in our business) are very focused on doing the thing they were hired to do. They want to fix computers and apply security updates. They don't want to document networks and fill out time cards. This is natural. This is what you want. You can force habits upon them, but you can't change their nature.

They say that if you do something 40 times in a row, you'll have a new habit. That means exercising 40 days in a row. Or not smoking 40 days in a row. Or turning in a time card on time 40 weeks in a row. The problem with time cards is that we pay every two weeks. So you only have 26 per year. Which means it takes 1.5 years of turning in time cards on time for that to be a habit.

Good luck with that.

The point is, the manager/lieutenant must get in the habit of over-communicating with the staff. Leaders get very frustrated with this because leaders want to speak the words, check it off the list, and assume it will be done. A good manager knows that the staff are not "resisting" but merely doing what comes naturally. So she repeats the message again and again and again.

If your business looks like this:

  1. Leaders / captains / owners
  2. Managers / lieutenants
  3. Staff / soldiers

you can have some serious frustration. If the leader/owner does not have the patience to over-communicate, this environment can be very stressful for everyone.

In the example above, there's a "manager" layer between leaders and staff. If you have that layer, you need to find managers who can take specific instructions from above and translate into over-communication down below.

If you don't have that layer of managers, then you -- the leader -- need to start over-communicating.

Think about a third grade teacher. Do you think she ever gets tired of asking kids to stop talking, pick up that paper, clean up your desk, write legibly, don't throw things, etc.? I'm guessing she gets tired of that every single day. But that's what separates teachers from non-teachers. A true teacher simply accepts that this is part of the job. She doesn't yell or over-react.

And she doesn't think it will be different tomorrow.

A true teacher knows that this is simply part of the job.

A true manager needs to learn the same thing. If the leader/owner is the manager, he needs to learn the same thing. You need to over communicate. You need to repeat the same messages over and over and over. It's not wrong. It's not bad. Your people are not stupid. You've got a staff full of people who want to fix stuff.

They don't want to document. They don't want to fill out time cards. They don't want to schmooze with the clients.

If you're going to make this thing work, you need to accept that this behavior exists. Don't let it frustrate you or slow you down. Simply figure out how you're going to integrate this knowledge and move to the next level.

It is what it is.

So what do you do when it's time to hire a manager? Be careful and think before you leap.

Technical types have a tendecy to build "technocracies." That is, we somehow think that the top-level person has to be the most technically skilled. And the manager needs to be second best. And so on.

That tendency can get you in trouble, because a good technician may not be a good manager. Good managers need to be good communicators. They need to be patient. And they need to focus on improvements and people.

It's pretty rare for an owner-type to actually, honestly care about the little improvements that technicians make. Good managers, however, naturally see these improvements and are quick to point them out to technicians. In addition to encouraging further improvement, this also builds a bond. Technicians want to do all those things the manager asks.

The interesting irony is that the owner/leader wants to make a list and tick things off, and the technicians want to make a list and tick things off. But these two don't communicate well without without a lot of effort. The hardest job in any organization is to translate between these two.

You're truly blessed if you can find an uber-tech who can communicate with owners, technicians, and clients. Make that person a manager.

We've got one, and it has contributed to our success in the last year.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Really Bad Business Advice

After the last post (Falling in Love Again -- With Your Business), I got to thinking about energy and success.

Make a quick list: What gives you energy?

It's different for everyone. It might be activity, money, being around fun people, being the center of attention, doing good work, working for others, contributing. It could be almost anything.

Now let's make a slightly narrower list: What sucks your energy at work?

Again, it could be anything. In fact, it could be stuff that gives energy to someone else.

So, now you've got two lists:
1) Things that give you energy (not limited to work)
2) Things that take away your energy at work.

Now think. What's the worst business advice you could give someone about these two lists?

Really Bad Business Advice

I think the worst business advice anyone could give is to spend your time working on things that take away your energy. Why?

First, you are going to be least productive in the activities you enjoy the least.

Second, you are going to be most productive in the activities you enjoy the most.

Third, you are going to have a bad attitude about those un-enjoyable activities. You'll put them off and not do a very good job.

Fourth, someone else will almost certainly do a better job than you at the activities you don't like.

Fifth, when activities steal away your energy, that energy is gone -- even for activities you do enjoy.

Sixth, your greatest potential for growth is in the things you already do well. Strange as that sounds, it's where you've already taught yourself how to teach yourself the fastest. The more you do the stuff you're already good at, the faster you'll get to the next level.


Who hands out this advice to focus on the things we don't like?

Oddly enough, we hear it from well-intentioned people who are trying to help us. They say we need to be "well-rounded" and work on our weaknesses.

Here's a secret for you: You will be unhappy, unproductive, and unprofitable if you spend your time working on things you don't like to do. But more importantly: If you want to super-charge your own business, your productivity, and your profits, focus on the things you love.

Talk to people who are successful in their businesses -- including your own clients. Ask them whether they spend a lot of time on the chores they hate or the activities they love. Overwhelmingly you'll find that most successful people spend most of their time on the things they already do well.

Yes, you still have to do your taxes. But if you hate it, or aren't good at it, hire a CPA! They love doing taxes.

- - - - -

Two Lists

Notice that we made two lists: Things that steal your energy at work and things that give you energy (not limited to work). The first is focused on work because it gives you a very clear sense of what you need to do less of. Start figuring out how you're going to do that.

The second one is not limited to work because it's always a good idea to consider how you can use your talents and hobbies in your job. If there's something you really enjoy doing, is there a way to do some of that at work? Maybe you like to paint or write, to play music or work with graphics, to sing or collect baseball cards. How can you combine these interests and talents into your job?

Whenever I hear anyone complain that they don't like their job, it is very difficult to resist the temptation to give the following advice: Get a different job or change the job you have. The same is true with business. You don't like your business? Turn it into a different business -- one you do like.

I know there are a lot of menial, horrible jobs that someone has to do. But I'm only talking to one person at a time. And I'll tell you this: YOU don't have to do those jobs. You deserve a job and a business you enjoy. Find it or make it. The choice is yours.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Falling in Love Again -- With Your Business

Remember the last time you fell in love? You thought about that person all the time, wanted to be with that person all the time, and suddenly every little thing seemed to give you energy instead of taking it away?

That's the normal course of events. Life is -- and should be -- like that.

But slowly over time we get used to new people, and new adventures, and beautiful things. What was fun and exciting and new becomes normal and regular. Not necessarily boring: just normal.

It's an interesting trap. Most of us resist change. We somehow believe in a fantasy world in which things can stay the way they are, and we can be comfortable. Okay, we don't really believe in it. Our intellectual side knows it can't be. But our unreal, emotional side just wants something to be the same.

So we seek happiness and comfort in stability. But that stability becomes "old" and normal and boring. Our lives and our jobs become less interesting because of the stability we asked for. Ooops.

Here's the good news: Change is a beautiful thing.

Change in your business can make it all new again. Change in your business can be something that makes you fall in love with your business again.

I don't mean change as we normally talk about it in the technology business. Not new service packs and new product releases. Those certainly help. But because we swim in a river of change, these become normal over time.

Real change -- major operational change -- can make your business much more exciting.

We've made some major changes now in our business over the last few years. And we're planning more. Somehow, the time spent on excel spreadsheets and strategy meetings doesn't take time away from the work that needs to be done. It adds energy and excitement.

- - - - -

Phases and Stages

When I started my business I was eager and full of energy. It was new and fun and exciting.

Then the company grew. It was challenging. Difficult. Still pretty exciting.

At some point it "floated" to a nice, manageable, level. Didn't grow much. Didn't shrink. Zero turnover. Happy customers. Same old same old. Very profitable. Same every day. Same every night. Blah blah blah.

In other words, it became profitable but pretty boring.

I didn't feel "trapped," but I wasn't quite sure what to do next. I couldn't walk away just because I was bored. Plus that would be stupid. Or at least unprofitable.

So then things started changing. I hatched a plan to invest some money back into the business and grow it. Spend money to make money.

What followed was a series of challenges, including some rather difficult challenges. Problems with growth, employees, new customers, and more. Suddenly my business wasn't boring at all.

I'm not saying I like tough times and tough decisions. I don't like firing people I've hired, or getting rid of clients who no longer fit our model. Some days I don't like having a model into which some clients don't fit.

But I have to admit this: My job isn't boring anymore. Every day's interesting. Every day's a challenge. We have a great team who are excited about what they do. We have interesting projects and new opportunities.

Projects make life even better.

Projects, like adopting a product line, or creating a new service, can bring even more energy into your company.

When you get excited about your business and want to steal time to be there instead of anywhere else, that's falling in love. That's a great, exciting, fun feeling.

If your business has become a little boring, it won't be much fun. With luck, you can capture some excitement by making changes. They don't have to be too dramatic. But who wants to work at a place that's not fun anymore?

- - - - -

Change happens. One of the things I tell people when I speak is that you will do better if you accept an attitude of change. You, your life, and your business are going to change. You will all be different five years from now. Will that change be something you let happen to you or something you helped plan and execute?

Part of falling in love with your new business is falling in love witht he process of making things new again.

- - - - -

For more thoughts on change, see http://www.relaxfocussucceed.com/Articles/Index.htm.

ConnectWise Will Set You Free

[Note: in late 2008, KPEnterprises switched from ConnectWise to Autotask. I didn't want to re-write this whole post. So please understand that we now say "Autotask will set you free."]

[The key point here is that a good PSA system will set you free. ConnectWise set us free and gave us spectacular documentation. Now Autotask sets us free and gives us spactacular documentation. Use your tools.]
- - - - -

You may have heard the saying "The truth shall set you free." Or its direct corollary, "Perfect documentation shall set you free."

In our company this equates to "ConnectWise will set you free."

(Note: We say ConnectWise because that's what we use. You might use Shockey Monkey, AutoTask, or some other practice management software. The important point is to have best practices and use your tools to make money.)

One of the most important concepts in managing the profitability of your service business is to track how you use your time. The only thing that comes close to that in importance is to make sure that nothing on your "to do" list gets dropped or forgotten.

We know we can't bill for everything we do. But we still need to make the client aware of all the things we do.

Enter the "Zero Time Entry."

With a Zero Time Entry, we put time against a service request to note that we did some little thing, but the actual time worked was too small to bill. The best example is a phone call that resulted in a voicemail. Or a quick email about an issue.

Zero time entries are very useful in two specific circumstances. First, when we or the client want to know where we are in a project, we just look in Connectwise. Second, when a client wants to dispute whether we're giving adequate attention to an issue, we have a trail to follow. We might see entries like this:

    Friday June 29th 9:45 AM - Called [client] regarding email archiving. She hasn't had a chance to clean out sent items. Time 00:00 billable.

    Friday June 29th 2:45 PM - Called [client]. Left voicemail. Time 00:00 billable.

    Monday July 2nd 8:30 AM - Called [client]. Left voicemail. Time 00:00 billable.

    Monday July 2nd 4:30 PM - Called [client]. Left voicemail. Sent email requesting status. Time 00:00 billable.

    Tuesday July 3nd 9:00 AM - Called [client]. She needs handout on cleaning and archiving email. Sent this via email. Changed priority to P4. Time 00:00 billable.

    Thurday July 5th 8:30 AM - Called [client]. Left voicemail. Sent email requesting status. Time 00:00 billable.

    Friday July 5th 8:30 AM - Called [client]. Left voicemail. Sent email requesting status. Time 00:00 billable.

    Monday July 9th 11:00 AM - Called [client]. Too busy to work on this now. Will call when she has time. Changed status to "waiting on client." Time 00:00 billable.

Now, please understand that this example could have included a series of communications that actually moved a project forward. In this case, however, you see that we've documented the fact that we tried to work on this service request for ten days, the client did not make herself available, and the SR was placed in a holding pattern until she gets back to us.

(Note, also that this SR will be closed the next time we call and she doesn't have time. We'll close it with a note that client can create a new SR when the problem comes up on her radar again.)

Why do this? Because we have too many service requests for anyone to keep track of. When the Customer Service manager gets a call from [client's] boss, wanting to know why her email hasn't been taken care of, he can look in Connectwise and read through all this.

We put these entries as Zero Time Entries rather than internal notes so that they show up on the invoice.

One of the really great things about Connectwise is that all your tech notes get printed on the invoices. Even Zero Time Entries. So a client who cares can look through all these notes and see why they're getting billed. Or not billed. In either case they see the progression of each SR to completion.

Another great example of Connectwise setting you free is when a client comes to you and says "We have _this problem_. It's been going on for over a month. What have you done about it?"

Well, let's see. On your last invoice, SR 12345, we noted the problem, documented it, developed a plan to fix the problem, made a list of affected workstations, and fixed three of them. We are currently working on the other three.

How may I provide you with excellent service today?

- - - - -

But Connectwise is much more than a time tracking tool.

    What's the external IP on that firewall? Did you look in Connectwise?

    Where's the license file for [client's] new Office licenses? In Connectwise.

    Who was the last person to work on that PC? Check Connectwise.

    How many times have we had problems with that switch? Look in Connectwise.

    And most importantly . . .

    Where can I get a list of every single activity, project, and problem that needs attention by someone in my company? Connectwise.

If it's not in Connectwise, it doesn't exist.

When we add up all the outstanding Service Requests, projects, and activities in Connectwise, we get a tally of how many hours we have "in the pipe." When we don't put in accurate estimates for work to be done, then we have an inaccurate estimate of work in the pipe.

When we maintain Connectwise the way we're supposed to, we can use it to make decisions about staffing. After all, there's a difference between a 2-week backlog and a 5-week backlog. If the numbers are accurate, we can make decisions with confidence.

If you've bought a professional services tool and not yet implemented it, get your butt in gear.

If you're keeping track of your clients using Outlook and Excel, get a professional services tool.

How do you pay for it?

Guaranteed more billable hours. Better scheduling. More productive use of your time, and your techs' time.

How can I run off to the Worldwide Partner Conference for a week with a senior technician on vacation and my service managager leaving for two weeks on the day I get back? Because Connectwise has set me free.