Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Record Number of Posts

This is Blog Post #253 for year 2008.

Well, it has been quite a year for the old SmallBizThoughts blog. Here are some comparison stats in case you're bored out of your mind:

- I started this blog in 2006. That partial-year I managed to eke out 38 posts.

- In 2007 I wrote 132 posts, including the "Managed Services In A Month" series that still get their share of attention.
- - That means 2007 saw a 247% increase in posts.

- For 2008, I have 253 posts, about a 90% increase over 2007.

If this continues, I'll have 475 posts in 2009.

Which is about 1/3 of Susan Bradley's postings for this year.

But don't worry: I don't think I could write any more than the 250 posts in a year. That's more than one per work day!

My posts tend to be longer than most blogs, so it's surprising that anyone ever reads it. But, aparently you do.

I appreciate all the support I've received over the years.

Some people write to me as if they're going to hang on every word and do in their business whatever I do in mine. I hope you all know what a mistake that would be.

a) Unless you live in my town, have my clients, sell my services, use my employees, and have all of my processes and procedures copied exactly, then whatever I do won't work for you. You have to take the ideas that make sense to you and make them fit into your own successful business.

b) As you've seen in some recent posts (as well as past posts and future posts), I change my mind when circumstances call for it. So, if you're slavishly doing whatever I write about in my blog, you could be in trouble.

If you've learned anything from this blog, or the SMB Conference Call, it should be:

There are an unlimited number of ways to be successful.

You need to figure out what works for you, what you can get excited about, and what you enjoy.

Anyway, I've enjoyed the year, overall.

On one hand, the year just flew past. On the other hand, it's been a long road with much accomplished.

I'm ready for a new, beautiful 2009 with more challenges and opportunities!

. . .

Happy New Year.


Rethinking Tools - Part 4: Switching to Autotask

As part of our year-end procedure, we are re-evaluating what we sell, who we partner with, and which tools we use.

The first post in this series is here.

The second post is here.

The third post is here.

Now we turn to the most important tool of all: Our professional services administration tool.

This is the most important tool because it's part CRM, you use it to handle payroll, you do billing out of it, you manage clients with it, and you work all of your service tickets through it.

Effective January 1, 2009, KPEnterprises (Sacramento's Premier Microsoft Small Business Specialist) is using Autotask to manage our company.

The Past

As with the decision about delivery tools, we started looking for a PSA tool several years ago. And, at the time, the most mature tool in our space was ConnectWise.

In a previous life, I was the Site Manager for PC Software Support at HP's Roseville, CA plant. I managed a staff of 25 people who handled tech support for 5000 employees and contracts. Along with that, I managed the backup tape rotations, the Unix (HP-UX) helpdesk, the internal memory store, and the remote access program for people working from home.

In that operation, we used Remedy software for managing tickets. Naturally, when I started looking at ticketing software, I looked at Remedy. But Remedy is not designed for managing all the pieces of the business. It's over the top in terms of managing tickets, but was clearly not the choice for running a small consulting shop.

After poking around and talking to other SMB Consultants, we settled on ConnectWise.

ConnectWise is an excellent tool. It helped us control our technicians' time as we grew, helped us document all of our processes and procedures, and helped us bill clients in an efficient manner.

But ConnectWise is no longer the only game in town. Today there are other good alternatives, including tools with more advanced features.

If you don't have any tool: You need to move as fast as possible to get a PSA system. And, yes, any good system will be good for you.

Many of the promises from the PSA vendors are identical because the core functions will save you a TON of money. Time tracking for clients and employees is the most important function. Having a tool designed specifically for that is critical. And, truth be told, it doesn't matter what it costs.

In other words, anything that provides the core functions of practice management is spectacular.

So, rule #1 is get something. Now the question is, which one.

Why Autotask?

We like Autotask for several reasons. It has a modern interface that is easy to use and extremely well documented.

Autotask has an excellent, mature CRM system that manages quotes very nicely. You CAN use an external quoting system, but it is not necessary as the quoting system built into Autotask works well. It even creates "equotes" that clients can access, with links to external web sites, marketing materials, etc.

Autotask has an excellent, mature project management module that truly integrates every function your company will perform around projects. This includes project integration with team management, material costs, scheduling, etc.

Autotask has a great reporting module that is very flexible and powerful. You won't need to pay a third party to develop a module for getting usable reports here! For example, within the project module, there are 23 default reports. And you can easily create additional reports about just about everything you can think of.

One of the cool features we are looking forward to is the "Community" link right on the top of the Autotask toolbar. I hope someday we'll tease our technicians into clicking on that and learning more about the wider world of being a technical professional. It's easy for the younger, less-experienced techs to see this as a job and not a profession.

There are many other features, of course.

Technical support has been spectacular. Friendly, easy to get to. Both our transition rep and "standard" support channels have been very responsive and timely. Note: We did this transition in three weeks, so timely response was critical to our success. So far, tech support has been perfect.

For us the bottom line is: Autotask is extremely powerful at a reasonable price. In our opinion, it is the most mature product on the market today. Every feature works well, as far as we've seen.

We are very excited about moving to the next level with Autotask.

Changing Tools

In my Managed Services In A Month series, I mentioned that the choice of a practice management tool is "perhaps the most irreversible decision. It's not completely irreversible. But holy smokes, what a pain that would be."

Well, it's not as bad as I thought.

Autotask did a great job of working with us to provide training, to help set up the database to our specifications, and to transfer all the critical information from ConnectWise.

As with any major database migration, not every little bit came over, and not everything was exactly where we expected it to be. But we went in with the attitude that "This is a major undertaking. We all need to be patient with the process. And if we all keep a positive attitude, it will work out great."

That has proven to be true.

The guys and gals at Autotask did a spectacular job of getting us onboard on a very short time schedule. In fact, I think they didn't believe that WE would be able to make the transition in such a short time. But, hey, once we made up our minds, we just proceeded to the new goal.

Here's the most important thing to remember about such a change:

Once you understand the mentality of a PSA system, then the migration is very manageable. Tickets are tickets. Time entries are time entries. Agreements/Contracts are agreements/contracts.

Each of these is handled differently in the different systems, of course, but that's 99.9% a training issue and not a technology issue.

- - - - -

Change Happens

I know a couple of people will have coronary events when they read this blog post. We've been ConnectWise fans for a long time. Truth is, we still are. It's just no longer the best tool for us.

Let me answer everyone's first question up front: No. Nothing "happened." There was no event. Nothing blew up. No one yelled or screamed or cried. Arnie and I are still friends.

The world just keeps turning.

We re-evaluated our finance tool.

We re-evaluated our service delivery tool.

We re-evaluated our products and line card.

Now we've re-evaluated our PSA system.

As you might have guessed, we are re-tooling our business for 2009. And we're not done yet!

Our business (meaning YOUR business -- the I.T. Consulting Business) keeps changing all the time. I've been telling you for years that you need to keep your eye on the 3-year plan and the 5-year plan. You need to set goals, and you need to take action to move yourself and your company toward those goals.

Did I mention that we're very excited to be starting the new year with Autotask?


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Get Windows SharePoint Operations Guide NOW!!!

Here's the scoop: The price goes up January 1st.

My friend Robert Crane has produced a wonderful resource called the Windows SharePoint Operations Guide.

During 2008, the price for the Windows SharePoint Operations Guide was $239.99

. . . and that's the price right now . . . BUT

On January 1, 2009, the price goes to $299.99.

The Windows SharePoint Operations Guide includes a One Year subscription and all updates for the year.

Right now, this product is more than 1,000 Pages and growing every month.

If you are looking for information about Windows SharePoint Services V3.0 then look no further. Robert Crane has developed a guide that helps you install, migrate and maintain Windows SharePoint Services. The guide will get you up and running quickly.

The information is available as an annual subscription. This means full access to all updates and enhancements of the documentation for the subscription period. This subscription also includes a DVD of all the relevant product files and documents updated regularly with new features and best practices.

Here are some related Free Downloads:

Windows SharePoint Operations Guide - Chapter 1

Utilizing SharePoint to improve your business (from SMBNation 2008)

The SMB Conference call - September 2008

More available from: Documents/

The Price Goes Up January 1st

If you do anything related to SharePoint, this is a great bargain at $300.

So it's an even better bargain at $239.99 ! ! !

If you Buy Now at $239.99, you will receive everything that Robert adds to the toolkit for the next 12 months. And you save $60.


"We found that using the Windows SharePoint Operations guide has simplified our deployment process for SharePoint WSS 3.0 and has drastically reduced the learning curve for our technical staff. The crew at CIAOPS understand the product and the needs of small and medium size business. In addition they are always there to help out whenever we have questions"
-- Andre Vittorio

"The Computer Information Agency and their Windows SharePoint Operations Guide has made a considerable difference in the way we deploy and integrate SharePoint Services within our client sites. CIAOPS regular testing of new software releases and associated updates gives us the confidence to go to our clients with the best advice that meets their own unique environment. Testing and then documenting one client deployment strategy or migration for SharePoint within our company would greatly exceed the cost of the annual subscription for the Windows SharePoint Operations Guide where most of the hard work is already done and proven. This helps keep our own internal resource costs down allowing us to pass on considerable savings to our clients. As an added benefit, the ability to gain direct support and advice from CIAOPS on a particular situation has always been met in a satisfactory timeframe. We can even engage CIAOPS at a reasonable hourly rate to provide high level SharePoint expertise on our own behalf if required. We will be signing up again."
-- Rod Arthur, LAN Creation

"I've had a chance to review his guide and found it to be an excellent resource if you are new to or even familiar with Windows SharePoint Services. It gives great overview in how to perform many of the tasks that you will need to do in a SharePoint installation, along with real world experience where it varies from the official Microsoft line. I'd suggest you check it out if you are doing work with SharePoint as it will save you time and money."
-- Wayne Small, SBS-MVP

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Web Design Notes

KPEnterprises (Sacramento's Premier Microsoft Small Business Specialist) officially launched our new web site over the weekend.

I don't like it as much as the old one, but everyone else does, AND it serves a purpose.


What are the goals of your web site?

Every site should have a purpose, just as all marketing should have a purpose.

When I ask technical people about the goals for their web site, I frequently hear a mumbled response about someplace to go or a brochure on the Internet. Marketing is in there somewhere.

Marketing is, at its most essential level, the process of moving people into your sales funnel. Marketing that doesn't do that is . . . not marketing!

The truth is, you have a marketing funnel with multiple points of entry and they all lead people to become interested in you, your products, your services, and your sales funnel.

More on this in a minute.

First, let me be very clear on this: Our old web site isn't eligible for any design awards. Marketing people hate it. Our employees make fun of it. Other consultants are smug about it because they think it gives then an advantage.

It is not uncommon, during an interview, that a prospective employee will mention how much he can do to improve our web site.

But let me tell you something: it works.

Just so we have a point of reference, here's the old site: Old KPEnterprises Web Site.

Our New fancy web site is here: New KPEnterprises Web Site.

Please note that the Content is essentially identical. So this is a glossy make-over.

Please note that the most important rule of the Internet -- and all information-based marketing -- is that Content is King.

Our web site has three basic goals.

1) Market our company. By that I mean: Get our name out there and be one of the companies people consider when they start looking. Ideally, they'll print something out and keep it in a file for the great "some day."

If you have something that pops up and has a link that says "Skip Intro," remove it from your site. I know you paid good money for that. Imagine chrome spinnners on a '62 Rambler. Just don't.

2) Provide information so clients and prospects will spend time on the site and see it as a resource. The goals here are to educate folks on the various services we provide and to be seen as a general resource when questions arise.

We want to provide a large amount of information so that when people "check us out" they are impressed with the things we do and how we do it.

3) Get people to fill out a form requesting contact. We promise free reports, webinars, network heath checks, newsletters.

And here's what we're not doing:

1) Blinking, flashing, buzzing, twirling, noisy -- annoying.

This is not Fox TV. We don't need to play "made you look" and call it marketing.

2) Open every link in a separate window. Some sites leave you with 20 pages of leftovers to clean up. Who would have a positive reaction after they clean up all that?

3) Five page web site. If you have five fluffy, meaningless web pages, then you have zero stickiness and no hope of establishing a unique selling proposition. In five pages, all you can say is "We're just like every other technical consultant."

4) Moving, cascaded, multi-level menus from hell. These are nearly impossible for people to navigate if they are not experienced techies. Sit a client down and watch them navigate your site. If it takes more than one try to get to something, change that navigation.

5) Eye Gloss. When someone looks at your site, do their eyes gloss over? Do they begin just clicking on all the links without actually reading anything they find? When you look at lots of sites, you'll find yourself doing this on some sites. When that happens, think about why you're doing that and avoid it yourself.

Again with the Content. Our site has lots of pages, about 140 pages worth of old newsletters.

That means a prospect who wanders in from the Internet can sit for hours and pour through the site. They can read about that, that, and the other thing.

- - - - -

Why I don't like the site

The old site worked. It got people to fill out forms and request appointments. Some people literally just called up and wanted to make an appointment.

Preliminary testing shows that the new site will be less effective with that -- at least with people who are like our current clients.

Overwhelmingly, businesses like to do business with businesses they perceive as similar to their own. Similarly sized. Similarly constructed. When small businesses do business, they don't want to do business with big, faceless entities. A certain percentage will just "click through" for online services, but there is no relationship and no commitment there.

We want relationships. We want to deal with human beings.

So, the new site is designed to look "professional" as defined by marketing types and techno goobers.

We will rely more on direct marketing to drive people to the web or to special offers. The web itself will be just a place to click once a decision is made.

So why the change?

Well, our goals have expanded. Our web site goals now include:

4) Look modern enough to not alienate larger clients. Whether I like it or not, there's a certain look and feel to web sites that certain people just expect. It probably doesn't sell anything, but it's required as a minimum point of entry.

5) Investors and banks expect it. Again, there's nothing here that actually relates to marketing or even the content of the web site. This is literally a checkbox: Does the web site look like every other web site we look at? Old answer was No; new answer is Yes.

As my friend George Sierchio teaches in his seminars, you need to run your business as if you were selling it.

I'm not selling the business. But we're running it as if it were for sale. That means there are certain things you do, including having a web site that looks the way people think it should look -- even if it's less effective.


Friday, December 26, 2008

Rethinking Tools - Part 3: Miscellaneous Products

As part of our year-end procedure, we are re-evaluating what we sell, who we partner with, and which tools we use.

The first post in this series is here.

The second post is here.

and now . . .

Your Line Card

One of the things I stumbled onto this year is creating a Line Card for KPEnterprises (Sacramento's Premier Microsoft Small Business Specialist). That is, the official list of products we use and rely on most frequently.

I suspect everyone has the same thing, though perhaps not organized into a binder with tabs. :-)

I love binders.

In a nutshell, here's the vast majority of what we sell:

- HP Servers
- HP Workstations
- HP Desktops
- HP Monitors
- HP Thin Clients
- HP Tape Drives (various)
- HP Printers
- APC UPSs (various)
- Sonicwall Firewalls
- Sonicwall CDP

- MS Windows Server
- MS Windows Small Business Server
- CALs as needed for all software
- MS SQL Server
- MS Exchange Server
- MS Windows
- MS Office (various)
- Trend Anti-Virus
- Symantec Backup Exec
- Diskeeper defragmentation

- Brand-name Cat6 cables
- Brand-name tapes (various)

- Reflexion spam filtering (not "sold" very often as we include this in Platinum managed service)
- Domain registration through SRSPlus (Network Solutions reseller)

Now, that's not everything, of course. We sell the ocassional network card, video card, memory upgrade, KVM switch, Adobe suite, etc.

We also like Watchguard firewalls. We're looking at the new BUDR product from Zenith.

But we don't attempt to know or carry every brand of computer on earth. We don't change brands at the drop of a hat.

Keeping our Line Card consistent over time maximizes our relationship with the vendors we choose. It also increases our knowledge of those specific products, including our knowledge of their marketing promotions, rebates, etc.

Of all the products on this core list, we have only made one change in 2008 and one change in 2007.

- - - - -

If you don't have an official line card, I recommend it. All you need is a skinny 1/2" binder. Collect the current SKUs for for the products you sell the most. If there's a current promotion, put notes in there. But be sure to clean it out on a regular basis! This is not just another junk pile.

It's also a good idea to make notes about preferred sources. You can use a tool like quotewerks to compare prices at different suppliers, but you also need to know about buying direct, current rebates, sales contests, etc.

The truth is, the smaller you are, the less likely you are to participate in the promotions being put on by your vendors. We all know that larger outfits get some serious "kickbacks" because they take advantage of all the promotions and programs. At the same time, we have limited time and this stuff adds a layer of bureaucracy.

Even if you can't take advantage of all the programs out there, look at them from time to time. Try to do a few of them. Gradually, you'll work your way into some good deals.

As for the line card generally: Just do it. Almost zero administration, and it will give you a good sense of what you sell and a sense of consistency over time.

- - - - -

Side Note on Changing Tools

My friend and fellow blogger Stuart Selbst asks the question of how much sense it makes to switch tools when what you have works. Fair enough.

Here's the great thing about the 21st Century: There are lots of tools that work. Once we have the mind set of working with tools, and trusting our business to them, we get to focus on the next level of evolution -- The strategic use of tools.

Kaseya works great. We actually have no problems with Kaseya. But we're re-tooling to take greatest advantage of our infrastructure, our current investments, our employee resources, our future investments, and the flexibility of the tools available today.

The combination of Kaseya and Zenith got us where we are today. But if you spend much time with Zig Ziglar, John Maxwell, Laural Langemeier, Brian Tracy, Karl Palachuk, Robin Robins, or any of that ilk, then you've heard this phrase:

Doing what you do
Got you where you are.

If you want to be somewhere else,
You need to do something else.

That's true whether you're in a good place or a bad place. Obviously, if you're in a bad place, you want to be somewhere else.

But if you're in a good place and you want to be in a better place, it's still true that you have to change what you do and how you do it.

Jim Collins wrote a great book based on the truth that

Good is the enemy of great.

Good is good. So why keep improving if everything is good?

We're happy and honored to be "good."

Now we want to be great. That means we need to keep changing.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

It's Dividend Season

If you invest in the stock market, this has been a rough year. If you don't, it's still been a rough quarter!

One bright spot for investors is that many companies are paying out their dividends in the last month of the year. So, if you invested in a stock AND they're still paying dividends, then you get a little cash in your account.

Dividends are a way for companies to reward the people who put their money at risk and invested in the adventure.

This year we learned just what it means to put your money at risk. You could be in a position of losing 40% of your investment. Now you get a $300 dividend, which is taxable.

- - - - -

But this is also the time when dividends are paid on the personal side as well.

Gifts show up that you weren't expecting. Clients seem happy to see everyone.

Last week I was doing an Office 2007 training at a client's office when the boss walked in with a Fed Ex package. Someone had made a pecan pie the day before and overnighted it to him. He described it as the best pecan pie in the world and eagerly opened it to share with all of us.

I was scooped into the celebration simply because I was in the room.

Now that's a dividend.

I hope no one takes a job so they can maximize the candy, fudge, and cookies distributed in the last week of the year. Nevertheless, these little things help us realize that we work with people as much as we work with businesses.

When times are tough, it really helps to work with nice people, for nice people.

This years we have intentionally given up about $200,000 in revenue from businesses that are difficult to deal with. Not difficult technology -- difficult people.

Difficult companies are created from the top down, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Difficult companies have higher turnover, higher sick day usage, and generally unhappy people walking around. I feel sorry for the people who work there.

Our company isn't perfect. But we enjoy working together!

And we enjoy working with our clients.

Part of our stated mission is that "We will work with people we enjoy."

That doesn't sound like a money-maker, and it's not really. But it sure pays dividends when you stop and look at the people you get to work with and for.

I hope your company pays these kind of dividends.

- - - - -

Merry Christmas to all.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Rethinking Tools - Part 2: Zenith Wins Over Kaseya

As the year winds down, we are re-evaluating what we sell, who we partner with, and which tools we use.

The first post in this series is here.

The second tool set we re-examined is our Managed Service Delivery tool set.

Here's your headline, with details below:

We are fully committed to Zenith Infotech and moving away from Kaseya.


We started, back in the dark ages, looking for a delivery tool. I asked around a lot. At the time, Kaseya was almost the only tool in town. Some others were trying to make a push, but they really weren't ready for prime time. We even bought into one tool and abandoned it because their technical support was so horrible. When we realized that the only way to get support was to call the salesman and beat him up, we also realized that would be far less effective after the sale.

So we asked what successful, larger companies were doing. Kaseya, Kaseya, Kaseya. So we signed up for Kasesya.

We still use it.

Then one fateful day I had dinner with Erick Simpson and Arlin Sorenson. See that story in This Post.

Basically, I decided to try Zenith. We connected a few servers. Then more. Then more.

Two key features caused us to rely more and more on Zenith Infotech:

1) Once we were completely convinced that they never missed a critical issue, we cranked up our reliance on their monitoring system. When a fan goes tick-tick-tick, Zenith opens a ticket. 100%.

We have turned over virtually every step of our monthly maintenance checklist (3-4 pages per server) to Zenith, because their system just works. Period.

2) Over time, we started taking advantage of the back-end labor from Zenith. If it's maintenance related (e.g., analyzing logs, checking hard discs, installing patches) then it's covered. So we started throwing work at them.

As I've mentioned before, you need to manage your back end NOC just like an employee. You need to be clear and specific about what you want. You need to follow up. You need to thank them. You need to treat them like part of the team. Let them know what you're up to. Give them guidance and hold them accountable.

Once we started giving work to Zenith, it dramatically improved our effectiveness. A server reboots for no apparent reason? Have Zenith analyze the memory dump. Driver issue? Have Zenith install the new drivers in the middle of the night (here) so the client is not interrupted.

We have a rule that makes us a bunch of money: If it can be done by Zenith, assign it to Zenith!

Last year at this time I gave an analysis of Zenith vs. Kaseya. At that time, I recommended doing both (as we do). And I said:

"If we absolutely had to do one today? . . . I think the nod would go to Zenith . . .."

Today's Commitment to Zenith

Kaseya is still a great tool.

But Kaseya is no longer the only top-shelf, spectacular tool out there.

We have decided that, going forward, KPEnterprises (Sacramento's Premier Microsoft Small Business Specialist) will use Zenith's monitoring on all servers and all workstations.

We will remove Kaseya from the servers first as we already rely 99% on Zenith for these systems.

We will gradually transition desktops to Zenith monitoring.

In addition to a spectacular tool set, Zenith gives us the ability to rely on their NOC for backend support. That turns our 12 hands into 120 at the click of a button.

Because the monitoring has proven flawless, and the backend has proven to be so successful and profitable, we're committed to moving everything over to Zenith.

We won't be buying any more licenses from Kaseya.

Looking to the Future

Looking forward, we have even bigger things planned for Zenith.

Manuel and I are working feverishly to finish the book on Network Migrations. One piece we decided to NOT include in that book is using a remote NOC to help out.

But as soon as that book is done, we're going to sit down and figure out how much of a 25-user network migration we can turn over to Zenith. If you think about it, it's a perfect next step.

In some sense, this is exactly the mindset that brought us to such a high level of success with Zenith so far: They want to be the outsourced backend for companies like ours, so we'll give them everything we can.

It makes their job more interesting, too. After all, who wants to do the one millionth printer driver update when there's a company like KPEnterprises who is trying to figure out ways to leverage them for an entire network upgrade?

- - - - -

It's easy to talk about a global economy and being connected to resources in other countries.

And, let's face it: Almost every small business owner is a control freak. We put off hiring our first employee for years sometimes because "No one will care as much as me." Eventually we get over that.

Once you have employees, the routine becomes clear: Set precise, specific expectations and follow through. That process works for an employee, a sub-contractor in another state, or an outsourced I.T. department in another country.

We are very excited to step up our relationship with Zenith to the next level. We're really looking forward to a great 2009!


Friday, December 19, 2008

HaaS Super Webinar Announced

Mark Your Calendars!

We're putting on a HaaS Super Webinar - January 13th at 11 AM Pacific/2 PM Eastern.

Here's a bit of background.

KPEnterprises (Sacramento's Premier Microsoft Small Business Specialist) offers Hardware as a Service (HaaS). Awhile back I wrote a white paper and starter kit for HaaS. That white paper explains how we offer HaaS, structure it, and finance it ourselves.

In my humble opinion, that white paper will give you a great introduction to HaaS, whether you want to finance it yourself or let someone else handle the financing.

Two prominent companies will help you with the money side of things. Basically, they help structure an agreement with your client so that the monthly payment is divided between a hardware "lease" portion and a service portion. Of course they get a piece of the action.

These companies are MSP on Demand and CharTec.

Each has a slightly different approach.

- - - - -

Since I originally wrote the HaaS Starter Kit, there have been a number of questions. The most important questions are:

- How do you license software for these machines?

- How do you finance these machines?

To a lesser degree, there are questions about Microsoft Financing, warranty coverage, and what to do at the end of the lease.

So we've decided to get together and give you a HUGE bunch of free information. Here's what we have planned:

- 90 minutes.

- Karl will introduce the basics

- Ramsey Dellinger from MSP on Demand will present their approach

- Alex Rogers from CharTec will present their approach

- A round-robin discussion

- Questions and Answers

Ramsey and Alex are preparing some information to distribute to anyone who is interested. If you purchased my HaaS starter kit, I'll send you the information kit by email when it's ready. If you haven't purchased it, we'll send a copy to everyone who registers for the webinar.

There's no cost for any of this. We just happen to be in a unique position of providing a huge amount of information.

Having said that, it's obvious that these folks would like to earn your business.

At the same time, we all believe that there is a huge opportunity in Hardware as a Service. In our company, for example, we consider HaaS to be the next step beyond Platinum level managed service.

Come and learn.

Plan to join us January 13th at 11 AM.

Register now at


Thursday, December 18, 2008

One SBS Seminar Posted - One Scheduled

The SMB Conference Call with Eriq Neale on Wednesday was great. It's posted on the SMB Conference Call page.

We had some great questions -- and some good information about the challenges ahead.

The most striking thing for me is how ill-prepared the major anti-virus manufacturers are for SBS 2008. We're not totally dead in the water, but the level of AV protection on 64 bit is pretty sad.

Anyway, listen for yourself at the link above.

Eriq's new book -- Windows Small Business Server 2008 Unleashed -- is now shipping.

Thanks, Eriq.

- - - - -

And while you're clicking around, register for the NEXT SMB Conference Call with Harry Brelsford and Philip Elder, authors of the new book, Small Business Server 2008 Blueprint.

Find out more, and register at the SMB Conference Call Page.

Harry and Philip will ring in the new year for us on January 7th. Join us for an hour-long discussion of SBS 2008, their book, and whatever else comes up between now and then.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

SMB Conference Call: Eriq Neale - SBS 2008 Unleashed

Join me and Eriq Neale on Wed. Dec. 17th at 9:00 AM Pacific / 12 Noon Eastern as we discuss his newly-minted book

Small Business Server 2008 Unleashed, published by SAM's.

(Aside: I thought I'd announced this on the blog already. It has been in my SMB Email for weeks, so I somehow didn't get it posted here. If you want the latest info on what's happening, you gotta subscribe to that weekly email.)

In addition to this gem, Eriq is the author of SBS 2003 Unleashed.

This book thumps the table at about 780 pages. It includes all the sections you'd expect, introducing features and some great how-to tips. But it has plenty of surprises as well, including great information about working with McIntosh computers in the SBS environment.

In case you're wondering, McIntosh computers are a side product made by Apple, best known for their MP3 players.

Eriq Neale is an internationally-recognized Small Business Server expert and has been a Microsoft MVP since 2005.

He is the owner of EON Consulting, a small business technology consulting practice in Denton, Texas, and a partner in Third Tier, an organization that provides escalation support for IT organizations around the globe.

In addition to being the lead author for Windows Small Business Server 2008 Unleashed and the previous version, Microsoft Small Business Server 2003 Unleashed, his other writing credits include contributions to The Internet Unleashed 1997, Windows 2000 Server System Administrator's Handbook, E-mail Virus Protection Handbook and several books in both the 2000 and 2003 series MCSE exam preparation series.

Our topic will cover all things SBS 2008.

Please plan to join us.

We'll try to take questions by chat. Not sure how many we'll get in, but it should all be good.

Register Now


Rethinking Tools - Part 1: QuickBooks

As the year winds down, and we slog through business plans and marketing plans, we are also re-evaluating what we sell, who we partner with, and which tools we use.

Since I've talked so openly about the tools we use, let me take you along on my journey of re-examining the tools and relationships KPEnterprises (Sacramento's Premier Microsoft Small Business Specialist) has and what we plan to do in the future.

First, let's look at the financial tool.

The undisputed 800 pound gorilla among small business finances is Intuit's QuickBooks. No one loves it. Everyone uses it.

Overall, QuickBooks does a great job or they wouldn't be where they are. Having said that, their program is amazingly bloated, filled with annoying spam and popups, and they have some of the worst technical support in the history of software.

"Everyone" integrates with QuickBooks. That is to say, everyone does something with QuickBooks. Most of them import and export aggregate data and lose all the detail. As a result, many people who could be "integrating" QuickBooks end up doing double-entry in their line of business application and QuickBooks.

Eleven months ago I went through my annual beating-of-chest and pulling-of-hair ritual with QuickBooks. It sucks on networks, it's really expensive, etc. One year it's sold in five-packs and the next year in three-packs. No User Account Control. Sucks with Vista.

I said in a January 2008 post that I would try MS Financials before the year is out and move off of QuickBooks if it was well behaved and had enough features to serve me going ahead.

It is very scary to think about changing financial packages.

But now I discover that Microsoft Small Business Financials is going away. Microsoft Small Business Accounting is gone. That leaves Microsoft Office Accounting, and how do I know this horse will run?

My expert on such thing is Ernest Cook of Better Idea Group.

Ernest recently posted the following to our local user group forum. I think it is very informative:

Hello all,

Microsoft agreements prevent me from sharing ALL that I know on this topic but let me see if I can share enough to shed some light. The bottom line is that, in my opinion, Microsoft no longer has a recommendable accounting package for small businesses. Any customer looking for a "general purpose" accounting package for small business should be ONLY be guided to Intuit's small business package, QuickBooks.

The rational for that takes a bit of a description:

First, for those who have not met me, I am the founder of Better Idea Group, a Microsoft Gold Certified partner who started out as a Small Business Financials (SBF) reseller. I personally have the SBS credential but do not do any infrastructure work for clients. Due to my involvement in the community, I was asked by Microsoft to present and train the Small Business Accounting product at Small Business Administration centers and other forums. Later our firm earned the ISV competency by creating add-on products that work with Office Accounting and getting them certified by Microsoft. (SBA and MOA products are the same product and currently called "Office Accounting")

Due in no small part to the overlay in markets focus and similarity of the names, many people over the years have confused the Small Business Financials, Small Business Accounting and Office Accounting products so let me clarify for the group:

Small Business Financials is based on the "Great Plains" code base. I quick call to Customer Source today confirmed that I can say publicly that Microsoft has NO plans on creating any more new versions of this product. The LAST version of this program is version 9 and if you have a client on an earlier version and is still current on support they could upgrade to that version. If they are NOT current on support, they need to start planning on what they will migrate to. In short, Small
Business Financials is in fact going away +++ DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS PRODUCT TO YOUR CLIENTS +++

Small Business Accounting - This product was written from scratch in 2004-2005 with a target market of 1-5 users. The only version that has this name is the inaugural edition that was labeled 2006. Due in no small part to the iterative nature of the initial product, a "service pack" came out later in the year but was still called SBA 2006. It had SQL 2000 technology and was based on the .Net 1.1 framework. Anyone that is still running this program and "stuck" on the workflow should, at the very least migrate to Office Accounting 2009 +++ Small Business Accounting is GONE - DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS PRODUCT TO YOUR CLIENTS +++

Microsoft Office Accounting - The first version of this was in 2007 and was a direct descendant of "Small Business Accounting". The BIG difference is that the 2007 version was based on .NET 2.0 and SQL 2005 technology and Microsoft broadened the offering by creating a FREE "express" version and pushed it thru download sites etc.

In 2008, some bugs were fixed and new functionality was added to the product, most notably the addition of a Spanish language version. The most current version, 2009 was recently published and consists primarily of resolutions to issues that had been brought up by customers and partners for quite awhile.

As an ISV who has invested a SIGNIFICANT amount of money into my products that need Office Accounting to work, it would be easiest for me to tell you that Office Accounting has a bright future and tell you to recommend it to your clients. I can't do that. I am NOT investing anymore time or money in the Office Accounting product line. Not only that but friends on the list might also be interested in hearing that I am migrating my own company books BACK to Intuit's QuickBooks.

Finally, For full disclosure, let me share this news:

I have signed the contracts to become an Intuit Solution Provider and am currently finishing up preliminary work required to become certified by Intuit to be recommended as a solution provider. My goal is to be in the market place in 2010 representing QuickBooks Enterprise Solutions.

While this is may appear as a dramatic shift from one side to the other, I should say that I have had a very profitable QuickBooks customization practice since 2004 and have also created products based on the QuickBooks SDK. I owe the recent decision on my part to a "hard look" at the various offering and their position in the market. In my view, Microsoft hasn't figured out the right solution stack for Small Business and without WIDE support for a solution you are putting yourself at a disadvantage by staying on a niche product.

Better Idea Group

Reprinted with permission.

- - - - -

So where does that leave my company? Ugh!

I haven't even looked at Microsoft Office Accounting yet. I need a track record. I need to know it will exist in 1, 3, and 5 years. They're still signing up accountants for the MPAN program: MS Professional Accountants' Network.

I need to make this change once and be done with it.

The truth is, I've seen Microsoft abandon software before. (My Christmas gift exchange gift from the local user group is a shrink-wrapped copy of Windows ME.)

That's what spectacularly entrepreneurial companies do: Try lots of things and keep what works.

But let's get back to talking about me: At least for now, I don't think we'll be switching off of QuickBooks.

I hope Microsoft does something to show me and my clients that they're going to be around with this product. In the meantime, the only question is whether my accountant will make me re-buy QuickBooks again this year.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Contacting Vendors for Seminar Give-Aways

We get email . . .

Christa writes . . .

    Hi Karl,

    I’m planning our first ever Lunch ‘n Learn seminar for late January. (Thanks to Robin Robins, I’m finally systematizing our marketing efforts after 12 years in business!) I’d like to have a prize drawing or two for our attendees and thought maybe some of our channel partners or vendors would be willing to give me some items.

    Do you have any experience or ideas on this? Best vendors to approach? Key contact names? How and when to approach?

    We’re Microsoft Certified and Small Business Specialists and SonicWall, Dell, HP partners, etc.

Of course I responded to her already, but here are a few thoughts to consider when you're planning such an event.


The best place to start is whatever contacts you have. Your sales reps at sonicwall, HP, etc. Sometimes they can give product (especially software). But they can all give slick marketing materials.

Your Microsoft PAM or local office should be able to get you some goodies for the show (pens, tablets of paper, squeezy toys, key rings).

On rare occasions you’ll get some hardware give-away.

HP is really good if you get the right person. Call and ask. And ask to be transferred. And ask some more.

If you sign up for one of the Microsoft Ready to Go campaigns, some of them include a whole “kit” for such events. Tell them you’re hoping to get 30 people and they’ll send you 30 sets of goodies. If you only have ten show up, you’ll have twenty for next time!

If you hit dead ends with Microsoft, contact the partner desk. I don’t know the exact address, but start here: If you have a PAM of any kind, ask them. It's their job.

A few vendors are super good with free software. These include Diskeeper and Storage Craft.

You may even get a line on give-aways from your reseller (ingram/synnex/CDW).

Events Themselves

WHY would a vendor give you anything?

Well, this is all just marketing to them. So who is your audience and how large is it? If you're going golfing with three people, you'll have less luck than putting on a symposium.

The Microsoft Ready Set Go programs are spectacular because you put out some effort and Microsoft puts out some effort.

Our best events have been ones where we did lots of marketing on our own (email, direct mail, telephone, etc.) and engaged more than one vendor.

You can also combine marketing campaigns from HP and Microsoft with your own stuff. Extends the number of "touches" for very little extra money.

And, if you have staff, here's a very simple way to pick some low fruit: Have a well-spoken administrative assistant call each contact on your mailing list just to enquire whether they think they'll be there, "So we know how much food to have on hand."

Every once in awhile you'll get someone who says "I won't be there, but I'd like to talk to someone about . . .." That's a win for the vendors who are helping to host the event. They want to know how many warm leads and hot leads came out of this activity. This counts.

Another helpful tip:

Host events with other partners. I love to do things with our local New Horizons learning center. For 25 people and under, they can provide a room with all the presentation equipment. And since we both market to our mailing lists, we cross-pollinate those lists. Always a good thing.

I haven't had luck partnering with multiple partners at once. I end up doing all the work and then I have to chase down someone to get their share of the expenses.

We have had one event at our Co-Lo facility and we're planning another. That's pretty cool because you access the mailing list of the co-lo, the training partner, and your own. We gave tours of the facility, had a catered lunch for cheap, and did a 15 minute commercial in their meeting room.

A lot of work came out of that, from current clients and new prospects.


Events are a pain in the neck. Planning, organizing, marketing, begging, execution, . . . and paying for it all.

So it's easy to forget to do the follow-up. And that the most important part!

Here's the coolest thing about follow-up: The people who missed it don't have any idea whether it went smoothly or was well attended. So you can call them and say "I'm sorry you missed our event. It was really great." And then close them on whatever your action step was (68-Point Problem Prevention Audit or something else).

Don't have time to get in an event before the end of the year?

No problem: Second half of January is a perfect time, and you won't have much competition. Remember, in January, the Grasshopper is out freezing his tail off while the Ant is reaping the rewards.


Friday, December 12, 2008

Technology Risk Checklist

Every once in awhile we're asked to fill out a major technology assessment and security audit form for one of our clients. Normally, these are requested by THEIR clients, who are big league businesses exchanging data with "third parties."

I've wanted to blog about this topic for some time, but I didn't want to violate client confidentiality by releasing the questions involved.

So I went looking for examples of the kinds of questionnaires we've been filling out. Found some great examples with this search:

Google Technology Risk Checklist.

Great resources.

Notice that one resource shows up a lot: The World Bank Technology Risk Checklist from 2004. A bit long in the tooth, but still an excellent resource.

These questionnaires are great for general awareness purposes, but really spectacular when it comes to a thorough security assessment.

I know everyone wants to do everything electronically: Enter an IP address and push a button. Okay, in one of these questionnaires, that will cover about one question. The next question is: Do you address all the problems uncovered in the probe?

An electronic probe cannot reveal whether the ceiling plenum in the computer room is open to the office space next door.


- Whether you have a written security policy

- Whether there's a system in place to measure the success of security objectives

- Whether you have usable documentation of all access points on the network

- and adequate systems for monitoring these access points

- What your procedures are for addressing non-compliance at high, medium, and low threat levels

- Whether there are there ongoing training programs for security policies and procedures

or even the basic elements:

- Is there a current network diagram easily accessible onsite?

- Have you documented the process of retrieving a single file from backup in case of accidental deletion?

- Have you documented the complete process for disabling a user upon termination and dealing with that user's data and email in an appropriate manner?

PLEASE don't just look at one of these documents and be done with it! Each of these documents has hundreds of questions. Some are easy, some are difficult.

Look at several of them and consider the different perspectives each brings to the question of security.

The longest questionnaire we have filled out for a client was 84 pages. Guess what? Small font, too!

Consider creating a template so you can produce a report based on a question/answer format.

Reality Time

Most small businesses don't need this level of assessment or security. But 1) you should expose yourself to it and know how to provide if if asked, and 2) we are constantly bringing a higher level of operation to the SMB space. Consider how much of a "thorough" security audit is useful and justified.

Most of us could benefit greatly from an audit or two like this. Obviously, our clients could as well.

We're pretty good at making sure there's a firewall in place, and spam filtering, and virus scanning. Zenith Infotech takes care of patch management.

But most of us are not doing much with encryption, intrusion detection, manual processes, policies, procedures, risk assessment, documentation, or incident response.

- - - - -

I know you're busy. But print out two or three of these and consider what new service you can offer in the new year.

Hey, you gotta sell something!


Tweak on Layout

I kept trying to come up with a format for this blog that was a little wider than the last one.

When you're verbose, like me, the narrow format results in a long-looking blog post.

But since every syllable I write is like a drop of gold, I'm reluctant to cut. :-)

So, I adopted a wider template.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Webinar with George Sierchio: Exit Strategies

Thursday, December 11th.
9:00 AM Pacific / 12 Noon Eastern
Estimated Time: 75 minutes

Topic: Exit Strategies -- Selling Your Business and Other Alternative Exits.

You can learn about George here: George is a success coach and author. His book and coaching system are available at SMB Books.

In particular, George and I will discuss two topics:

1. Maximizing profit for the owner.

2. Maximizing value from the buyer's perspective.

And, of course, this discussion will touch on . . .
- What are potential business buyers looking for?
- What's the current value of your business?
- How can you maximize your business value to you and to a buyer (even if you're a 1 person show)?
- What positives can happen NOW as a result of structuring your business for a future exit?

Here's the link for the webinar signup:

Additional links:

George's Blog

Karl's Blog


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

GenNext Consulting -- Get It Free

One of the more interesting panels I sat on in 2008 was the ICCA pre-day "Super Star" event (Stuart Crawford, Erick Simpson, Dave Sobel, Matt Makowicz, Arlin Sorenson, me). It was particularly interesting because it was the only event I was involved in during 2008 that took a serious deep dive into considering the next generation of technology buyers and users.

Who are these GenNext people?

Well, consider this:

- They have never used a "wired" telephone (or a rotary phone for that matter)

- They have never lived without cell phones

- They have never lived without wireless internet

- They have never lived without Starbucks

- Their technical intuition is extremely well developed (e.g., "When I right click on that, it should give me more information.")

- They were born and raised at a MUCH higher level of technology than all of us born before Ronald Reagan was elected President. Gulp.

- They understand and relate to the generation that's about to hit the market: Those born about the time Bill Clinton was elected President. Gulp, spit.

- They have never experienced a world without the well developed Internet.

- They assume massive video on demand.

- They have no idea what a copyright is or why anyone would find that useful.

- Gigabit USB drives just exist -- There's nothing special going on here.

GenNext Citizens Think Differently

If you don't know a 16 year-old, borrow one for a few hours. Watch them use a computer. Pay very close attention to what they do and what they don't do. Video tape it and play it back a thousand times and you'll begin to understand how different these folks are.

They assume that, as they're going through a technical experience, the options that make sense to them at each specific moment are available. So they point and click and do what makes sense in the technical moment.

And here's a weird thing: They assume things that would never occur to you.

And here's another weird thing: They're right most of the time.

In other words, the software writers and UI writers have been building this Next Generation stuff right under your nose for YEARS and you didn't notice it. Just as you say "That won't . . .", the GenNext clicks on it and it works.

"What? I didn't know that. Do that again."

Here's the deal: You're going to be selling services to these people in the not-too-distant future. And they understand a world that (right now) you don't understand. But that world exists.

You see, the GenNext users have grown up without all the biases and technical stuff WE grew up with while they were getting born. We have a "world view" that is based in the past.

GenNext users have a different set of biases and a different world view. It's time to start learning them.

You know the joke that says "Can't figure out your new phone? Give it to a teenager for five minutes."

Well, that's true because the phone is built the way the teenager thinks. WE grew up learning to limit our thinking to what the computer demanded of us. Those days are gone.

There are three ways that the GenNext will affect your technology business:

1) If you develop software
You MUST take a page from Microsoft, Adobe, and the other "big boys." Make your software act and look the way the GenNext people are thinking.

If your interface hasn't changed in ten or fifteen years, you're losing money. And you're about to start losing it at a faster pace.

Behind the scenes, you might do miracles. But if you can't get the people who count to use the software, then you have nothing.

2) Buying Software
Stop buying old, clunky looking software. You are just investing in lower productivity.

Remember: the tools that got you where you are today will NOT get you to the future. They'll get you where you are today.

Yes, it costs money. But as things evolve, and we buy services instead of software, then we can always latch onto the newest, latest, greatest techniques and user interfaces.

We're talking about much more than "look and feel" here. This is fuctionality as it relates to human/computer interaction.

The difference between old school and GenNext can be dramatic.

Selling Software
Your current clients might be very happy using the same program for the NEXT ten years that they used for the LAST ten years, but your clients are going to change.

People born in 1990 are now starting businesses and buying hardware, software, and services.

They WILL buy something different from what you've been selling your average client.

What do you have to offer?


Monday, December 08, 2008

The First Time I Rode a Horse

A bit of humor to lighten your day.

Please give a listen to "The First Time I Rode a Horse" on

The SMB Books Free Audio Page


Sunday, December 07, 2008

End of Year Sale

We're having a Great end-of-year sale at SMB Books. We're calling it the 20-08 sale:

If you spend at least $20, you'll get $8 off your purchase just for asking.

See the code at the bottom of this post.

We've added a lot of new products in the last few months. Most people haven't seen all of them yet. Please check out the New Resources for SMB Consultants page.

Just as an example, Here are ten great products you probably don't own:

Microsoft Response Point Primer
by Harry Brelsford
Paperback 440 pages
Designing, Implementing, and Making Money Virtual Environments
by Karl W. Palachuk and Dave Sobel
Seminar on DVD and audio CD
Now only $79.95 -- before your dicount!
The Best I.T. Service Delivery Book Ever
by Erick Simpson
Paperback 568 pages
Perfect Profitable Projects
by Karl W. Palachuk and Matt Makowicz
2 audio CDs plus additional materials
Consulting & Service Business Success System
by George Sierchio
Book in a binder plus 6 audio CDs
White Paper: How To Create A Great Backup System,
Avoid Failure, Be Prepared for Any Disaster, and Sleep Soundly at Night (Because Your Company is Safe)
by Karl W. Palachuk
Only $4.95! Combine with other products to get your discount.
White Paper: Cleaning Up Your Email.
A Series of Proven Processes for Users of Microsoft Exchange and Outlook
by Manuel Palachuk
Only $9.95! Combine with other products to get your discount.
White Paper: Building a Referral System
by Dave Sobel
Only $9.95! Combine with other products to get your discount.
A Guides to Marketing Managed Services
by Matt Makowicz
Paperback 260 pages
Managed Services in a Month
by Karl W. Palachuk
Book, audio CD, or MP3 download
Only 19.95!!!

The following code is good through 12/31/2008:


- - - - -

Thank you all for your tremendous support in 2008!


Two Webinars from Stuart Crawford

My good friend Stuart Crawford has written a few books. One of them is a great workbook called Goal Setting for IT Professionals.

Stuart is doing a couple of special webinars in the next few weeks:

First, on December 17th, Stuart is joining a panel of technology leaders from Canada on a new panel called TBA: Trusted Business Advisor.

For more information, see

Second, on December 19th, Stuart is doing one of the great 5w50 webinars with Mike Iem. The topic is "Goal Setting for I.T. Professionals." As Stuart says: "Now more than ever, goal setting is very important."

For more information, see

- - - - -

While you're at it, I highly recommend you check out Stuart's Goal Setting book at SMB Books.

AND you can buy his book in combination with Relax Focus Succeed(R) for one great price.

Just a thought.


Friday, December 05, 2008

Comments Require ID

Well, I've given in.

I like having open comments with no screening. But after spending time turning ON moderation so I could clean up a bunch of SPAM, I've decided to stop wasting my time.

This blog now accepts comments for registered folks. Google logins or OpenID work.

I'm sure it won't be a burden for anyone. Just hate to have to go there.

Anyway, thanks to all.


Thursday, December 04, 2008

Erick Simpson Offers Free Boot Camp

I posted the SMB Conference Call with Erick Simpson on Service Delivery. We've already received some good feedback.

Check it out on the SMB Conference Call Page (It's actually on the "Past Conference Calls" page).

Please note: Erick offered up some great FREE boot camps. Check those out on his Erick Simpson Blog.

Also, if you are looking for a great book on designing, implementing, hiring, and running a great service delivery system, please look at The Best I.T. Service Delivery BOOK EVER!.

Thanks, Erick.


Go Giver Gets Going at SMB Books

We've added a new book over at SMB Books: The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann.

This is one of Arlin Sorensen's current favorite books.

I mean real favorite. See Arlin's Blog Postings.

This book is subtitled A Little Story About A Powerful Business Idea. It follows in the tradition of The Secret by Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller and The Present by Spencer Johnson, both of which follow in the footprints of Og Mandino's The Greatest Secret in The World.

Each of these is a story -- a parable, if you will -- that lays down a few rules to govern your life.

If you follow the major blogs in our online community, you've met go-givers, even if they haven't read the book.

A go-giver is someone who actively seeks to help others. The result of this approach to business (and life) is that you fill your life with people who sincerely and honestly want to engage with you. I know from my own experience that I've made a lot of "just plain friends" through my involvement in the community.

Yeah, it might be good business. But it also makes business a lot more enjoyable!

Many of the Go-Givers in our community give so openly and freely that others cannot see the payback. They give to people who just need a little help here and there. And most of those people are not in a position to give something back. At the same time, there are others who want to engage with people who give freely to others.

The point is not to give with the intention of getting back. Rather, it is to give freely and openly -- and see what a great difference that makes in all aspects of your life.

Yes, the book contains the "Five Laws of Stratospheric Success." But the focus is not on greed, but the positive effects of giving.

This dandy little book will make a difference in your life. And it's only $17.95!

We've filed it under "Business" Books. It's not a technology book. It belongs in there will The E-Myth, Getting Things Done, and Relax Focus Succeed(R).

Available as a printed book or audio CD.

Find out More at, where you'll find all kinds of great resources for SMB Consultants.


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Quick Audio Update: MSPSN Standardizes on IT Control Suite

I just had a GREAT ten minute phone call with Amy Luby from MSPSN.

They've announced that they're adopting IT Control Suite as their "Master" MSP Control software of choice.

In addition to being a ringing endorsement of the IT Control Suite product, this is big news for the SMP community as well as MSPSN's partners.

I was intrigued by Amy's press announcement, so I called her up. We rolled tape on the conversation (OK, we rolled zeros and ones).

You can listen to the free audio on the Free Audio page at SMB Books.

Please Note: Amy's did a webinar about IT Control Suite and this announcement yesterday. She'll be doing another one tomorrow -- Dec. 4th.

To register, go to and click on the BLOG tab for info.

Also: If you missed all that because you're reading this after Dec. 4, 2008, then go to Amy's blog for the latest information. With luck, the webinar will be posted.

A few things you'll learn on the free audio:

- The Master MSP Model

- IT Control Suite (

- What this means for partners

- Some general observations about tools -- and changing tools -- in the MSP environment.

- - - - -

Worst case scenario: You waste ten minutes of your life. :-)

Thanks, Amy.


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Erick Simpson on Spectacular Service Delivery

Please join our SMB Conference Call
Wednesday, December 3rd, 9 AM Pacific

Erick Simpson
Author / Trainer
Managed Service Provider University

Topic: Designing and Implementing a Spectacular Service Delivery System

Erick Simpson is one of our perennial favorites on the SMB Conference Call. This time he's going to talk about his latest book
The Best I.T. Service Delivery Book Ever!

Erick started us down the road to managed services with his great book The Guide to a Successful Managed Services Practice.

Then he wrote a great sales book called The Best I.T. Sales & Marketing Book Ever!

Somewhere in the middle, Erick and the folks at MSP University developed a huge amount of training materials for I.T. consultants of all sizes.

Now comes The Best I.T. Service Delivery BOOK EVER!

Join us to discuss the most important elements in building a great service desk. Erick will talk about different models and how they each require a different focus.

Of course we'll cover real-world examples service delivery, checks and balances, etc.

Whether you manage only yourself, or a large staff of technicians, this will be a valuable conversation to tune into.

Listen in and find out more.


Find out more on the SMB Conference Call page.

Tell all your friends and colleagues!

Register for the next free SMB Conference Call at

or at the SMB Conference Call Page.

Mark Your Calendar Today!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Our Hearts Go Out to Mumbai

When the plane crashed into the Twin Towers, we got a real sense of how connected the world is. My wife received an email that day from a store owner in Germany. She'd bought shoes over the internet and exchanged a few emails.

When the London Metro was bombed, I was at SMB Nation. The television kept showing the Russel Sqare tube station. Six months earlier, we'd stayed at a hotel near there and used that station several times a day.

It's just a tiny thing, but makes us feel connected.

With the horrible bombings in Mumbai, and the senseless deaths of so many civilians, our hearts go out again.

We "know" people who help us with support in India. Many are from Mumbai. They work for Zenith, HP, and others. Between emails and phone calls, we talk to someone in Mumbai every week.

In particular, I feel connected to our friends at Zenith. We actually communicate with some of them on an ongoing basis.

We pray that they and their families are safe.

And it occurs to me . . .

If there's one thing that we can count on to save us from the insanity of terrorism, it's our totally-connected, "flat" world.

We just got back from a Thanksgiving get-together up near Crater Lake, OR. One of the couples there was from Kent, England. They met another couple some years ago on a cruise. The Americans visited England. Now the English were visiting America and investigating our Thanksgiving holiday.

More and more, we find ourselves having true friendships with people in other countries.

While there will always be people who simply refuse to get along with one another, there is also a natural tendency in the human spirit to make friends -- and to band together in times of adversity.

As Christmas approaches, let's take a little time to pray for world peace. I don't know if it's any more possible than it was 50 or 100 years ago. But it just seems that our technology, our communication, and our inter-connectedness ought to be useful for something besides making money!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Super Amazing Productivity Tool

Here's a little Holiday Fun . . . and a reminder that you need to make changes if you want to have changes in your life.

The Super Amazing Productivity Tool


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

We Can Fix Everything We Touch

Didya ever have a client that wants to "replace" some of your services with an in-house technician? You know, the guy who knows all about installing games and therefore must be really good with computers. He even opens them and does stuff.

Freakin' genius.

We kindly refer to him as Cousin Larry.

Cousin Larry can be there all the time. He doesn't cost much. And he can fix lots of little stuff.

So the client wants to step down from Platinum to Gold. Cousin Larry will handle all the rest.

In our case, that means you just dropped support for the network, firewall, routers, switches, and printers. Oh, and the spam filtering. And vendor management.

Cousin Larry is a hobbyist who knows deep in his heart that he's just tinkering with computers.

Is is Vlad's SPF writ large.

But knowing you're competent, and that your client is considering relying on someone who isn't, does not help you right now. What can you tell this client?

After all, they're just trying to save money. The stock market is down 50%. Everything related to the housing industry is down. Everything related to the car industry is down. We're told that the times ahead will be bleak.

Your client wants to save money. You charge $125/hr. Cousin Larry charges $10/hr.

Consider three important points:

1) The client doesn't understand computers any more than you understand law, accounting, dentistry, etc.

2) For twenty years, people have been used to the "fact" that computers are unreliable and stuff just breaks for no reason. (This is not true and never has been, but people believe it.)

3) You and your staff are supremely more qualified than Cousin Larry. You need to communicate this to a client who doesn't understand the technology.

First, do not try to educate your client on technology. They don't care or they'd be in this field instead of that field. What you can tell them is that it is extremely important that they place their computer systems in the hands of someone who really understands the technology. This is the only way they can maximize the value they receive from their investment.

Second, ask the client to think back to the "before time" (when you weren't around). Remember when machines rebooted randomly for no reason? Remember when everything was slow? Remember when the Blue Screen of Death was a regular occurrence?

Those things don't happen anymore because you have excellent technical support. Computers can and should be trouble-free background technology. Virtually all of their bad experiences with technology can be traced to incompetent technicians. Computers don't show up broken or mis-configured.

I once gave evidence in court about improperly sold and configured hardware. The loser party wanted to argue that he sold a perfectly working device and that the software (drivers) were to blame. I had to explain to the judge where the line is drawn between hardware and software.

What it came down to is: The technician has to have the skill to make these things work together. We can't throw junk at the client and expect them to make their stuff work. Does the refrigerator repairman throw you compressor and a screwdriver? No. If you're inclined, you can figure it out. Or you might totally screw it up and break other things while you're at it.

But you're paying a professional to just do it right the first time.

Computers should be like that. Computers can be like that. Computers ARE like that when you do the work.

When Cousin Larry does the work? Who knows.

Third, use this extremely powerful phrase with your clients:

We can fix everything we touch.

We all know that Cousin Larry can set up a monitor, keyboard, and mouse. But we've also had "helpers" like him get the keyboard and mouse wrong and blow out a motherboard.

Here's a great rule to put in your contracts: All work must be completed by _Your Company Name_. Any work performed by you to fix up after someone else is completely billable and outside the managed service agreement.

We've had them spend hours and hours working on stuff they couldn't fix. Eventually it gets turned over to us. We have to charge for all of our labor to un-do what he did, and to provide the real fix. In the meantime, your downtime is significantly longer than it should have been.

We can fix everything we touch.

Cousin Larry can fix some things. But everything he can't fix makes a bigger mess for us. Everything he can't fix becomes a bigger expense for you.

$10/hr doesn't seem so cheap any more.

Tattoo it on your arm: We can fix everything we touch.

- - - - -

I've mentioned before that we sometimes need to step back from what the client is asking us for and figure out the real problem. For example, a client calls and says "We need a new router." What are you talking about, John? Why do you think you need a new router?

The Internet is suddenly slower than it was before. The collision light keeps blinking.

You could just order a router, grab some juicy installation labor, and be on your way. But you probed and discovered that there's a 99% chance that the client's problem has nothing to do with replacing the router.

When it comes to hiring Cousin Larry the Wonder Tech, you need to do the same kind of probing.

Why do you think you need to do this? Is this just a money saving adventure? Is it a permanent situation, a temporary cash flow problem, or is this guy just looking for a job?

Probe. Talk to your client.

If the problem is about money (and we expect to see more of this), find ways to save them money. We've blogged about this before. (See Making Money When Clients Want to Save.)

Just remember, in the end, competence matters. Make this about competence and efficiency and you will win the day.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Business Plan in a Month - Final Thoughts

Quick links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

Final Thoughts on a Business Plan

I hope you have a 3-ring binder with a few paragraphs and lots of notes.

Here's an outline of what we've done so far:

    - Get a 3-Ring Binder (Part 1)

    - Download the excel spreadsheet (Part 1)

    - Commitment 20 mins/day (Part 1)

    - Examine 2008 finances (Part 2)

    - Create first-run draft of 2009 financial projection (Part 2)

    - Set goals for 2009 (Part 3)

    - Draft mission statement (Part 3)

    - Draft 3 goals for Q1 2009 (Part 3)

    - Draft 3 goals for year 2009 (Part 3)

    - Begin creating written business plan (Parts 1-4)

    - Revisit numbers from 2006-2008 (Part 4)

    - Project numbers from 2010-2011 (Part 4)

    - Draft Marketing Plan / Revised Budget (Part 5)

This is what's called an iterative process. That means you keep going back and doing it again. With each iteration, the plan becomes more real.

By real, I mean the numbers are more realistic, the projections are more realistic, the costs are more realistic, the effort is more realistic, and the results are more realistic.

We started with the proverbial view from 30,000 feet. I hope you spent a little time each day on this, at least for part of the month. We examined 2008, where we are, and how we got here. Then we speculated about 2009, where we're going, and how we'll get there.

The mission statement is critical because it helps you focus more clearly on both the WHY and the HOW. All too often we accept that our business exists to grow, but that may not be your personal mission for your business. Why are you in this business and what do you want your business to do?

Goals help us focus even more clearly.

Small businesses need this focus more than large businesses. We're easily side tracked. And, more importantly, very specific goals are easily attached to very specific actions. If I have a goal to get out a newsletter every month, then the actions needed to accomplish that are pretty clear.

Goals and mission statements won't motivate you to get off your butt. Or out of a rut.

But once you get off your butt, or out of a rut, then having goals and a mission will help you figure out what to do next.


Central to all of this is your budget -- income and outgo.

Whether you plan it or just do it, every significant action you take will cost money. Every significant success you have will bring in money.

Does all that "just happen" to you, or is it planned?

It could be planned. It should be planned.

With every iteration of examining your business plan, you also re-examine the budget. Your budget should become more accurate every time you touch it.

Looking ahead, notice that the spreadsheets you downloaded in Part One had a row with the work "Projected" above some months.

As you complete the finances for each month, fill in the monthly column with real numbers from your QuickBooks of MS Financials. When you're sure that all the credit card stuff and little slips of paper are accounted for, you can remove the "projected" label.

As the months roll on, you have a part of your year that is based on what really happened and a part that's based on what is projected to happen.

As things move along, you'll be tempted to play with your projections. This is fine in small doses. Remember that your projection represents a great deal more than idle speculation. It is the financial representation of your goals in support of your mission statement.

I recommend that you revise you financial projections once a quarter. As you add clients, you can adjust the revenue numbers up for future month. Assuming you're selling managed services, you'll have a very good idea of what the ongoing revenue will be.

If you get increases in major expenses, you should adjust them quarterly as well. This might include more licenses for Kaseya or another product.

It is also extremely important that you look at your projections vs. reality on all the little costs. You though office supplies would be $500 (because you've never tracked it before). Now it's consistently $1,000. What can you do?

The point of having a budget is that you can track these things and adjust as needed. Buy supplies as needed and not just because there was a good price when you walked by a stack of paper. Hint: We cut our supplies budget noticeably when I stopped going to the store. I have the power to impulse buy whatever I want. Jennifer buys what we need.

Weekly Routine

Most small business owners hate finances. That's one good reason so many go out of business. They're no better off than someone who doesn't know a balance sheet exists! If you don't pay attention to money in and money out, I promise that more will go out than in. That's the nature of the universe.

Each week, you should look at a few key numbers:

- Accounts receivable (money owed to you)

- Accounts payable (money you owe to others)

- Billing for the week. (I highly recommend billing your clients every week. Just do it and it will become a small chore very soon.)

- Balance in your check book / other bank account

- Available credit (cards, leasing arrangements, financing, line of credit, etc.)

On any given day, these numbers will give you a sense of where you are financially. Over time, you'll get a real sense of whether you're expanding or contracting, becoming more profitable or less, etc.

Your finances are the pulse of your business.

At lease once a month, you should review your income and expenses and update your excel spreadsheet. Is your spending under budget or over? Is revenue coming in at the pace you need to meet your targets.

Monthly Business Tune Up

And on the business side . . .

Post those quarterly and annual goals where you can see them.

Post your mission statement where you can see it.

Once a month (at least), review how you're doing. Are you moving toward your goals?

If these are the most important things you need to achieve, then what next action step will you take to achieve each of them?

If these are not the most important things you need to achieve, then re-write your goals.

There's no cheating here. You get to decide what your goals are. If you change your mind, nothing bad happens. You just start pursuing different goals.

The biggest excuse in the world for not reaching goals is that there's too much little stuff to do, and not enough time. That's a bunch of baloney!

We all have the same time every day. Are you spending it focused on the goals you stated, or are you allowing yourself to be distracted? When you decide to focus on your goals, you will achieve them. You have every excuse not to. But when you choose to be successful, you'll have every reason to do whatever it takes to advance your goals.


One of the key tenets of the Relax Focus Succeed philosophy is that you get better at whatever you put your attention on.

You don't have to be a business major or a financial wizard to do the few things outlined here.

Just work on it. Use that 20 minutes a day to think about your business. As Michael Gerber (and now everyone else) says: Work ON your business rather than IN your business.

If you spend a small amount of time working on your business every day, every week, every month, then you will tune into the goals and the financials that will move you forward.

It can take a long time to form a new habit. Some say you have to do something 42 times (of course that's a number picked out of thin air, but let's roll with it). So, if you spent a little time every day for a month, plus a little weekly time, it would still take you five or six weeks to develop the habit of paying attention to the goals of your business.

Don't let all of this become overwhelming.

I hope you have something written down, some kind of budget, and at least enough of a "business plan" to get you started.

Please don't hide it on a shelf.

Put that little binder where you'll see it all the time. Pick it up occasionally and flip through it.

Anything you do to plan your future will be good.

A business plan is a great way to start holding yourself responsible for moving ahead.

Please don't let the next year sneak in without planning. Every day makes it a little easier to put off planning. Every day is an opportunity to START planning and moving in the right direction.

Good luck. Let's make 2009 a spectacularly successful year!


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Business Plan in a Month, Part 5 (Marketing Plan)

Quick links:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Now to Marketing

This is not the big, global, spectacular, everything-you-need-to-know discussion of marketing. For that, see Robin Robins.

We're just going to give a quick overview and throw out some ideas.

Overwhelmingly, when you ask SMB consultants what they do for marketing, the answer for most is "We live off referrals." And when you ask how they get those referrals, there is no clear answer. It just happens.

I hope you see why that's not a plan.

Let's look at what you do. It's probably more than you let on. Get a pad of paper and a pencil. Write down everything you do to promote your business.

Once again, QuickBooks is a wealth of information. If you paid for something, there should be a note in QB.

Brain Storm. What have you done in the last year?

- Web
- Business Cards
- Email newsletter
- Printed newsletter
- Events with Microsoft, HP, Sonicwall, etc.
- User group
- Memberships
- Networking (Chamber, breakfast groups, etc.)
- Mailings
- - lists
- - postage
- - printing
- - etc.
- Press releases
- Mouse pads, cups, squeezy toys, etc.
- Radio advertising
- Having your car "wrapped"
- Newspaper ads
- Listing in various professional phone books
- and . . . [other]

So, putting it all together, what's the plan?

Just as with finances, we'll use the last year to help us plan the next year. But rather than just spend money whenever it seems like a good idea, let's lay out a plan for 2009.

If you haven't done any of the items above, make a list of the few you're going to try in 2009.

Warning: Don't overwhelm yourself. Revamping your web site might be a fast job or a long, involved process. Only you know that. But think realistically. All market-related planning will involve a handful of activities:

- Write up a plan (even 1-2 paragraphs)
- Determine which resources you'll need (tools on hand, envelopes, stamps, etc.)
- Costs. This includes the resources you just listed, plus labor
- Timing. When will you start? When will you finish?
- Evaluation. How will you measure your success?

So, for example, let's look at the reality of doing a mailing.

Sample Direct Mail Campaign

Timing is critical in a mailing. If you write up an amazing letter and send it out, then start working on the second letter, you probably won't have time to get it out in time to make a connection.

Mailings should be close enough together that the reader actually connects them in his mind -- at least to say "I've seen that name somewhere before."

Here's a typical sequence for us:

- Agree on target audience (see previous blog post on targeting clients

- Acquire a list (Zap Data or some place else)
- Note: There's a cost here. The more names you mail to, the higher your cost is for everything. Don't forget the postage.

- Do you need a bulk mail permit? Or does your mail house have one? That will save you money.

- Prepare letter one. Write the letter. Determine your offer (free network checkup, etc.).
- Note: There may be a cost to the offer

- Determine what goes in the mailing (6x9 envelope, 5 page letter, plastic lumpy thing from Oriental Trading)
- Note: There's a cost here

- Prepare letters two and three. Write the letters. Determine your offer (same or different?).
- Note: There may be a cost to the offer

- Determine what goes in mailings #2 and #3
- Note: There's a cost here

- Send out mailing One
- Note: There's a cost here

- Note: always ask for address correction. IMHO, a corrected address is yours to keep and not part of the list you bought. There is a small cost for address corrections. But there's no point in continuing to mail to people who don't exist or are otherwise undeliverable.

- Prepare mailing Two; Send out mailing Two. Should arrive 8-10 days after previous mailing.
- Note: There's a cost here

- Prepare mailing Three; Send out mailing Three. Should arrive 8-10 days after previous mailing.
- Note: There's a cost here

- Start Calling. To the extent possible, you should call every single person who received a mailing from you. This is a huge weakness for SMB consultants.

Just ask yourself this for 2009: Do you want to be comfortable where you are, or do you want to grow?

If YOU aren't the kind of person who calls prospects, find someone who is.
- Note: There may be a cost here

- Evaluate Your Success. How many letters did you send out? Waves two and three will be smaller than wave one. How many contacts did you make? How many wanted more info? How many became meetings? How many became clients? How much did those clients agree to spend?

That's one mailing. Isolated from everything else, it will take an experienced campaigner 8-10 weeks to complete, start to finish. If it's your first mailing, it could take six weeks to prepare and six weeks to execute.

Other Marketing Campaigns

Microsoft has "Ready-To-Go" campaigns you can use for graphics, marketing material, etc. Some involve training or special offers. Go to, find the Ready-To-Go link, and click on it.

I'd direct you right to it, but it will be changed by the time I finish typing this.

HP and other vendors have great programs where you can get really nice marketing materials for free. Some (e.g., HP) also have co-marketing dollars. Check out their partner portals.

Obviously, you could make a full time job out of this. That's why marketing people exist. I think I mentioned before, don't take on too much.

Planning and Money

It should be clear that "real" marketing takes planning. It takes money, in most cases. And it takes evaluation. At the end of the day, marketing is successful when it moves people into the sales funnel. No amount of marketing expertise can sell for you.

But good marketing can make your phone ring; good marketing can make prospects feel they know you; good marketing can get you in the door. Selling is up to you.

As you plan your year, consider which marketing campaigns you want to invest in. Consider some of the most common (successful) marketing activities for SMB consultants:

- Direct Mail (may 3-4 campaigns a year)

- An "event" of some kind. Perhaps a tour of your data center, lunch for prospects, Microsoft Bus visit, chamber of commerce business fair, etc.

- Telephone calling campaign

- Speaking at events (marketing breakfasts, various professional groups, etc.)

Schedule these per quarter and then estimate the cost of each.

Now place those costs into the spreadsheet you've been building (see links above).

Here's the good news: Assuming you have a decent marketing campaign, the result will be New Clients (yeah!). That means you also get to adjust your income UP.

Again, don't overdo it. It is much better to over-estimate costs and under-estimate results. Plan on getting one decent client from each major direct market campaign.

My experience is that the other "events" are not as fruitful. They're good fun, and they warm up people to the fact that you're on the move. So, even if they never attend, your reputation goes up. Anyway, I'd plan on a minor increase in sales from the other events.

Of course your experience will be different from mine (unless you're using the same list, the same letters, and the same events, AND you're doing it in Sacramento, CA).

But you should plan on some increase in revenue for your efforts.

If you don't plan an increase in revenue, then don't spend the time on the marketing!

[Side Note: Your Name On A Race Car]

I love Eric Ligman.

But what the hell?

Have you ever sponsored a Nascar driver? Even if you did, would anyone know?

Boys like shiny objects. My guess is that ZERO female SMB consultants considered the offer to put their logo on a race car.

Remember that last stage in the campaign: Evaluation. How do you tie these dollars spent to that income? Improving your reputation in the community? Sorry, too fuzzy for me.

You need money directly tied to your efforts. That means a prospect calls you and says "I met you at the Chamber (or received your letter) and I want to talk about our network." Bingo. That's a result. Again, sales is up to you.

Unless you've already done a bunch of other marketing, do NOT flush your money down a campaign that only vaguely improves your name recognition.

And don't ever spend a nickel on improving your name recognition outside your core marketing area.

If some good old boy in South Carolina sees my logo on a race car, tracks me down on the Internet, and asks me in for a sales call on his 6 desktop network, I'm going to have to turn him down.

[/side note]

Bottom Line

Most people haven't done much "real" marketing.

Start small, but please do something.

Plan what you do. Don't just jump in and try stuff haphazardly.

Plan the expenses. Put them into your budget/excel worksheet.

Plan the rewards! Get those clients and schedule the revenue in your budget.