Wednesday, January 30, 2008

How the Microsoft Tortoise will Defeat the QuickBooks Hare

Like the readers of this blog, we wear two hats.

We are consumers of products to run our business. We are also advisors to our clients regarding their business.

Susan teaches us that we need to be leery of software providers that require us to disable User Account Control in Vista in order to run their software. (See her posts.)

And, truth, be told, this is nothing new.

Forever we have railed against poor programming and poor administration. The hallmarks of poorly written software are:
- Doesn't work with the current version of Windows.
- Requires holes in firewall (or worst, disabling firewall).
- Requires all users to have elevated security (or worst, be administrators).
- Doesn't run as a service, therefore requiring someone to be logged on at all times.
- Requires full-open permissions on shares or files.
- Requires itself to run as an administrator (or worst, "the" administrator.

and two modern additions are:
- Requires you to disable UAC.
- Requires you to disable your local windows firewall.

We've all dealt with some combination of these. Most often, it's a mission critical Line of Business application. So we can inform the client, but they basically don't listen.

They can't stop using their medical imaging software. Or their legal practice management software. Etc.

We do what we can, but there are a lot of really expensive LOBs out there that just refuse to keep up with the rest of the world. And when your business relies on this software, you don't have much choice.

Which brings us around to QuickBooks.

When Microsoft Small Biz Financials was introduced, I had the same experience as most people.

I loaded it. I opened it. I clicked through the menus. It looked like QuickBooks. I assumed it was the same, with a few features missing.

I closed it. I removed it from my PC.

And I made the assumption that someday Microsoft would own this market. But today my stuff is in QuickBooks.

As a loyal partner, I encourage my accounting clients to join the MS Professional Accountants' Network (MPAN:

Two of my accountant clients had the same reaction: I loaded it. I opened it. It looks like QuickBooks. I closed it. I unloaded it. I use QuickBooks.

QuickBooks 2006 was the problem child from hell. I lost track of how many updates they had. It was horrible and embarrassing. I bought 2007 in hopes that it would work securely on a network. Better.

My accountant bought 2008 and our machines moved to Vista, so I bought QuickBooks 2008. So, instead of upgrading every 2-3 years, I bought it three years in a row.

And after a great deal of lost productivity for three people, the only way to make this poorly written piece of junk work smoothly is to disable UAC. Oh and disable the Windows firewall. And disable local security. Etc. Etc.

The consultant in me reads about the massive waves of robots out there scouring the earth for sensitive data. I read how the threat grows stronger every day. Spyware kits are easy to get and easy to use. Stealing information has become a real money making industry.

We are under attack.

But the business owner in me has three people whose productivity has gone to zero whenever two of them try to access the same QuickBooks file. I need to run my business!


And so the future is clear.

Before this year is out, I will load Microsoft Small Business Financials. I will verify that it works with Vista, and IE7, and the built-in firewalls, and UAC. I'll verify my assumption that I don't have to stand naked and defenseless in front of a growing threat to my business.

And if it does what I need it to do, I will never buy another version of QuickBooks.

Line of business applications that require you to lower your security are, in my opinion, the greatest threat to your business. Why? Because once you accept their reduced security, you stop thinking about operating in a more secure environment.

Last year's threats won't go away.

This year's threats will be worst, and more effective.

Disabling security cannot be part of the equation.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Mini Business Plans - Part Two

This is a continuation of my previous post.

As I mentioned, creating a Mini Business Plan is a bit of a loop. Last time we started with money. Now we create a "narrative" of the project. Then we'll revisit the numbers in light of the written document.

Convincing Your Mother

Whether it's your mother, your spouse, your business partner, or just a trusted colleague over lunch, you should be able to put together five paragraphs about any business venture you're thinking of going into.

Remember three rules that will lead you astray:

1) Entrepreneurs tend to be very optimistic.

2) Everything looks good from a distance.

3) Everything costs twice what you think it will.

When you look at someone else's business from the outside, it almost always looks hugely profitable. For example, Sony makes music CDs. It probably costs them two cents each to press 100,000 CDs. These same CDs sell for $20 each. The profit is massive.

Except . . . all the details. Artists, song writers, delivery people, lawyers, musicians, unions, graft, theft, equipment.

When you look at the details, you wonder how anybody stays in business.

So reality is somewhere in the middle.

What's in a Mini Business Plan?

The basic elements of a Mini Biz Plan are:

- Overview of the project
- - Including the purpose of the project

- Marketing thoughts

- Income speculation

- Costs of the project

These are literally one or two paragraphs each. They should be written as if you're really going to do this, whether you've made that decision or not. For example:

"We will put on a series of seminars explaining the process of creating a podcast and using podcasts for marketing. We'll start with our existing clients and move to a broader audience. For our own clients, we will not charge for these seminars. After we have some experience, we'll market through the learning exchange and charge for admission."

Once you start to tell yourself the story, the details begin to emerge. So do the questions. Why do this? Is this an elaborate marketing scheme? Is this a new profit center? Is the goal to sell deeper into your existing clients, or to broaden your base and capture new clients?

Remember: Not every venture is a money-making venture. We do plenty of things because they contribute to quality of life, quality of work, marketing plans, our place in the community, etc.

The next paragraph is on marketing. Are you going to start with word of mouth? Will you engage other partners? If you already have a marketing stream (newsletter, regular mailing, column in the local paper), will you add this project to that stream? Will you buy advertising?

Revisit Costs

Last time we penciled out a rough idea of costs. It wasn't a full-blown spreadsheet of the final operation. But it was enough to get the brain ticking. Now we're going to revisit that.

After cogitating on the details, you've probably come up with more expenses than you had at first. One, for sure, is marketing. We somehow never include that in our first go-round.

So revisit the numbers. Include everything you can think of.

If you have some solid thoughts about production details, or schedules/timing, you may want to add a paragraph for each of those. And they, in turn, will help you with more realistic financial estimates.


Slap that excel spreadsheet into the word doc. Add a title at the top. Maybe even a title page.

Now you've got a mini business plan. Not counting the title page, it should be two or three pages, one of which is all numbers.

I always recommend that you go over this with someone. If you need to have them sign a non-disclosure agreement, do so. If it's your spouse, I'd shy away from the NDA.

Don't Forget to Have Fun

You might ask whether I really go through this. Absolutely. At least twice a month I stumble upon an idea or opportunity that grabs my attention.

Almost every idea I have, or am exposed to, is rejected with very little effort. But a handful are interesting enough to be put to the test.

As I mention in seminars, I don't know exactly what my business will be like in five years, but I know it will be different from what it is now. Five years ago I wasn't in the book business, I wasn't selling SBS2003 or Office2007, I had never installed Virtual Server, I only had one employee, my largest client was only $50,000 a year.

Five years from now my business will be very different. I don't know how, exactly, but I know it will be.

So I keep looking at interesting ideas because I intend to build my future and not simply let it happen to me. And, as long as I'm building my future, I want to fill it with projects and people I enjoy.

Once you get in the habit of making mini business plans, you'll become very fast at throwing together a few paragraphs and a spreadsheet. And if you decide to let this become a larger adventure, you'll have the basic outline of your larger business plan!


Monday, January 28, 2008

Mini Business Plans - Part One

In my last post I talked about minimum monetary thresholds for new "opportunities" that drop in your lap.

Let's say that you decide to pick up a shiny new entrepreneurial adventure. Before you claim it as your own and get to work, you need to run the numbers That is, you need to pencil out what it will really cost, and really bring in.

So sharpen that pencil. We'll walk through the process.

I always create a "Mini Business Plan" for the various ventures I'm considering. These are not full-blown, lengthy documents. But they fulfill a very imporant role:

They provide an executive summary for my wife.

If you make decisions with a life partner, a mini business plan is a good way to organize your thoughts, summarize your goals, and present projections.

This process is a bit of a loop. You start with money, move to a brief written description, and then revisit the numbers in light of the written document.

The whole thing is 2-3 pages.

No Hobbies

If you have a good accountant, you've been warned that you can't claim business expenses on something that's really a hobby. If you set up shop just so you can practice your hobby, lose money, and deduct your hobby from your taxable income, Uncle Sam will take away your deduction (and possibly your house).

Important safety tip: A business should be set up to make money.

Crazy, I know. But it's true.

So let's say you have great new opportunity in front of you. What's next?

Running the Numbers

Here's a sample of running the numbers. The sample here is a hosted software service.

Notice that this is just a "view from 10,000 feet." It's not a business plan, but it's the first step.

Basically, you pump a handful of numbers into an excel spreadsheet. What can you think of as sources of income? What can you think of as expenses in this venture?
Qty Per Monthly Annual
-------- -------- ---------- ----------
Monthly Clients 500 20 $ 10,000 $120,000
Total Revenue


Rack Space 1 600 600 7,200
Equipment 833 10,000
Programming 25 150 3,750 45,000
Insurance 167 2,000
Labor (maint) 5 120 600 7,200
Misc. / Admin 2,500
Total Revenue 73,900
Profit 46,100

You don't need to have all the details. The goals here are very simple:

1) What's the ballpark revenue?

2) What's the ballpark cost?

3) What's the ballpark profit?

Once you have a general idea of whether there's any money to be made, you can decide whether you wish to proceed to the next step.

Please make sure you know what you require as your minimum revenue or minimum profit in order to undertake a new venture (see previous posting).

If the numbers don't look good here, STOP.

It takes practice and experience -- and a few bad decisions -- before most of us learn to set limits and stick to them.

If you overstate income, it only hurts yourself. Same is true for understating expenses.

The real purpose of the budget exercise is to help you brain-storm about what's really involved in your project.

All Projects Look Good at First

Before you dig into the details, every project looks good. After you start digging into the details, "reality" begins to color your vision.

There are two main reasons to opt out at this point:

1) The startup costs are too high. You don't have the cash, can't come up with the money, or don't think the long-term pay-off is worth the initial investment.

2) The payoff is too low. We all need an extra thousand dollars (or ten or hundred). But how much effort are you willing to expend to collect that money? Will you spend $900 to earn $1,000? $800? $950?

And the non-monetary questions are just as important.

Next time we'll talk about the mini business plan itself.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

What Are Your Minimums?

When I start a longterm, serious, important business relationship with someone, I eventually ask this question:

How big does a deal have to be for me to bring it to you?

You should consider the same thing in your business. How big does a deal have to be to get your attention?

If your answer is $1, or $100, or even $500, then you are destined to be a sole proprietor who never advances beyond where you are today. Sorry. It's true.

For most SMB Consultants on a growth track, the common responses are in the range of $5,000, $10,000, and $25,000.

Perspective: What is your minimum customer size? What is your minimum service agreement size?

If you have a "silver" package with a minimum of $500 per month, then your minimum client size is $6,000.

So let's say I come to you with a proposal to do some business with me. And let's say I offer you the opportunity to make a whopping $300. Interested? How about for $500? $1,000? As the numbers get larger, you'll eventually become interested.

On one hand, we're always tempted by money. On the other hand, what do we need to give up to make that money?

I've often been tempted to do a job because someone's in a hurry, their server's crashed, or they're crying on the phone (okay, that one's not so common, but it does happen).

I've learned to have the presence of mind to ask about the long-term relationship. The options are pretty simple:

1) "We just need this fixed. Then we're done."
- - Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Thank you for playing. Even if this job is worth a thousand dollars, it's not worth it. I have clients under contract who are relying on us to keep their systems purring. So I have to be pretty bored to take on this job.

2) "If you do well on this job, we'll sit down and talk about a service contract."
- - Ahhh. Much better. Whether they're just agreeing due to the pressure, or they're really interested, you've got an opportunity. An opportunity is pretty much all you can ask for. Once you kick butt and take names with the emergency, you'll have a chance to give your sales pitch based on past performance.

3) "You're our company! Let's sign a deal now so that as much of this as possible is covered by the service agreement."
- - Nirvana. You still have to kick butt. But now you can fix the immediate problem with an eye to documenting the network and getting the relationship off on the right foot.


Outside your core business there are also opportunities. I've had several "opportunities" to make a little extra money this month. In two particular cases, I think the folks who brought me opportunities were surprised by my resistance.

Just so you know, KPEnterprises' answer to the big question is $6,000. Last year it was $5k. The year before it was $3k. Just as with any other metric, this changes over time.

For me personally, a new venture needs to be closer to $10k in order to take my attention off the other things I have going. And that number is only so low because I have a staff I can funnel opportunities to.


Let's say I come to you and say I want to get you interested in a Podcasting business. I'll provide scripts, powerpoints, examples, catalogs of hardware and software. You can expect to make $500 - $1,000 on each entry-level job. After you hook a really eager client, they could be worth twelve projects a year at $1,500 each. Maybe more.

If your response was "Hell Yes!" click click click "Sign me up!" then you need to slow down and think about what you're doing.

1) Is this your core business? If not, where does it fit?

2) What does this cost you in real money, out of pocket, over the next few months?

3) What does this cost you in time off task with respect to your current, profitable business?

4) Is this a business you know, understand, find exciting, and want to get into?

5) Do you already have clients who would gobble this up, or do you need to "start over" with them regarding sales of this product?


As entrepreneurs, it's good for us to be excited by opportunities. We're like pack rats. We see shiny objects and we want to pick them up. But you can't pick up every shiny opportunity out there.

You have to have some filtering system. Money is one filter.

So let's say something does meet your threshold. What's next? Do you eagerly sign up, make commitments, and jump in? I hope not.

Next time we'll discuss how to come up with a quick mini-business plan.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Use Your Tools

Do you collect tools?

Not hammers and wrenches.

Do you collect books, Audio CDs, Microsoft Downloads, marketing toolkits, managed service tools, and how-to videos?

And if you do . . .

Do you actively USE these tools?


Awhile back, Robin Robins made a comment that she really wants people to use her marketing toolkit. She wants every subscriber to sell millions of dollars worth of services.

On a similar vein, Raymond over at Zenith told one of our techs that my company really uses Zenith: We push them hard and make them earn their money. He was very pleased.

The same is true with books. In chatting with various authors, we always agree that we need people to read our books.

You can spell out the obvious: We all want to play some role in making people successful so they'll buy more and buy the next product. Okay. True enough.

But the things we sell also exist for a reason. Whether it's a marketing toolkit, a managed service product, or a book.

. . .

You could buy Autotask, for example, and just barely use it. You could create a service board, enter tickets, and keep track of time.

Or you could dedicate yourself to really USE the tool and see how much of your business could be handled inside your PSA system. There's a difference between barely using the tool and really using the tool.

The more you use your tools, the more value you squeeze out of them.

We all fall into the same trap. You buy for a new shiny thing. You open it up and start to use it. But once you figure out the basic functions, the pressure's off. So you do simple, basic Kaseya monitoring and never learn scripting. Or you have Zenith generate tickets, but don't have them work the tickets. Etc.

A new year is a great time to take inventory.

Which tools do you own?

Which functions should you be using that you're not?

What else does it do that you haven't even looked into?

In the case of newsletters and books, have you even read them?

Use Your Tools!

Your competition is.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Perfect Network Migration

I've mentioned several times in recent months, on web casts, in seminars, etc., that KPEnterprises has a Perfect Migration procedure.

We promise clients migrating to new hardware
- Zero compnay-wide downtime (email, databases, shared folders)
- less than one hour of downtime per desktop.

I generally get one of three responses to this:

1) Really? How do you do that?

2) Oh yeah. We do that.

3) Wow. That's very cool.

#1 is the most honest. They believe me and want me to give away our secrets.

#2 is bullshit. This is always someone who, conversation reveals, formats his hard drive once a year to fix all his problems.

#3 is generally someone who is working to achieve the same goal, or who has achieved the same goal. I know this because they want to engage in a detailed discussion, and we end up trading information about our current approaches.

There may be more than one way to execute the perfect network migration. But there are a few key elements that are central to the goal.

First, you have to be committed to the process.
You have to believe that you can have a perfect, zero downtime migration.

Second, you have to understand every function within the domain.
In other words, you need to break the job into it's pieces. How will you transition users and permissions? How will you transition domain control? How will you transition email? How will you transition data access?

Third, you have to be detail oriented.
Not only do you need to list every single action you will take in the process, you need to put them in the right order and execute in order.

As I mention in the Super-Good Project Planner for Technical Consultants, most consultants don't plan their work. They just jump in. And that may be fine for a small task such as reinstalling Office.

But on a network migration, you better be a lot more organized.

Or simply charge time and materials, because you'll do quite a bit of backtracking, rework, and inefficient work because you don't have Standard Operating Procedures and a process for success.

In my Relax Focus Succeed seminars, I sometimes ask who wants to be rich. Almost everyone raises their hand. Then I ask how many have formulated a plan of any kind to become rich. Almost no one raises their hand.

Network migration isn't much different.

How are you going to get there if you don't plan to get there? How will you get there if you don't make it a goal, create a list of things to do, and start working through it? Will a perfect network migration simply "happen" one day? No.

You can get started with your very next server install. Write down everything. Break chores into distinct pieces and document each.

Don't just DO the project: Do it carefully and write down everything you did. Make notes about what to do differently.

And the best time to start is . . . now.

That way, you'll have something under development as Cougar rolls into play.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Open Value Subscription

Even though I heard about this on the SBSC Advisory Panel, it is not covered by an NDA.

I hereby vouchsafe, foreswear, forsooth, forsake, forgoodnesssake.


In the good old days, back when the earth was warm, I ran an HP 3000 house. We had nearly-identical servers in two states, a continent apart.

In those days, when you bought a computer for, say $250,000 with all the goodies, you also agreed to pay for maintenance. Roughly 20% per year. That gave me all rights to all the updates.

Ever since then, I've been sold on the subscription system for updates. As long as I come up with my annual payment, I get all the updates. AND I don't have to come up with big payments every few years. I have a pretty stable, lower payment every year. Makes budgeting a lot easier.


Here's the gist of the new OVS (Open Value Subscription) system.

1) The license is a subscription type (not perpetual).

2) To get started, the license program must be company wide.
    For example, if you're buying Office, you need to put all the machines in the company on Office OVS. When you add a desktop, you can simply install the Office license on the new machine.

3) Annual "True-Up."
    Each year, the company reports the number of licenses in use. If it's higher than the original agreement, the price goes up. If it's lower, the price goes down.

4) Discount for existing licenses.
    Assuming you have some licenses in place, you get a 50% discount for those licenses for the first year.


Wait. It gets better.

OVS is offered on a wide variety of products (and combinations). These include:

- Office Pro Plus
- Office Small Biz
- Core CAL
- Windows Vista Biz Upgrade

- Small Biz Desktop Suite
- - Office Small Biz
- - Windows Vista Biz Upgrade

- Desktop Professional
- - Office Pro Plus
- - Core CAL
- - Windows Vista Biz Upgrade


Wait. Wait. It gets even better.

If you're like most of us, your new clients come to you with a collection of whatever the hell they happened to buy over the years. They have Office OEM versions, boxed product, and maybe a few licenses.

They all qualify.


It's true.

If your clients have a hodge-podge of current and n-1 versions, this program allows them to scoop it all into a new "legal" license agreement. And they save 50% the first year for all existing licenses.

That means Office 2007 or 2003; Server 2008 or 2003; Windows Vista or XP; etc.

Basically, if your clients have a motley collection of products, you finally have a way to put them on a licensing program that will give you a good, solid annuity income for years to come.


This program will be announced officially on 2/1 and will be for sale on 3/1.

In the meantime, you can learn more, figure out all the details, and get all of your questions answered by attending one of these webinars:

- January 23rd 8AM PST
- January 29th 11AM PST
- February 6th 8AM PST *
- February 14th 9AM PST
- February 19th 1PM PST
- February 28th 9AM PST


* We don't recommend the 2/6 webinar as it conflicts with my SMB Conference Call. Let your conscience be your guide.

SMB Conference Call Posted

The SMB Conference Call MP3 from January 16th with Erick Simpson has been posted.

You'll find it at

We filled the 100-line conference bridge. So if you missed it, here's your chance to download the call.


As long as you're at it, mark your calendar for February 6th at 9:00 AM PST.

That's when Matt Makowicz joins us to discuss Selling Managed Services, as well as his new Ambition Mission community.

Matt and I have something very special lined up for this call. Don't miss it!


And on February 20th, Mike Iem joins us to talk about SMBTN's SMB Summit.

Always stay tuned to for more info.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Call for Papers

Here's the view from 30,000 feet:

SMB Books ( wants to be a lot more than a place to buy books.

Yes, it has books from Erick, Matt, Arlin, Stuart, and Karl. Yes, we'll be adding Harry and Beatrice's books soon. And, yes, we'll carry all the good books coming out on SBS 2008, home server, server 2008, etc.

But SBS Books wants to be a lot more.

Let's go in the back door at

Here's the vision thing.

We want to make SBS Books the greatest collection of white papers available to the SMB Consultant.

We have the HaaS white paper, which has been very well received.

But we need more. We need YOUR white paper.

How does your company succeed at . . . [some task]?

If you think your techniques and experience might be helpful to the larger community, we'd like to help you spread the word.

Here's how it works:

- You propose a white paper.
- We'll let you know if we think it's interesting.
- You submit the white paper.
- We have our Editorial Board review it.
- If they like it, we'll agree with you on a price and post the white paper.
- When others buy your white paper, you earn money.

Note: no one's going to get rich off this. If we sell 100 of your white papers at $10 each, there's just not enough money for anyone to retire on.

But you can help your fellow SBSers and earn a little pocket change.

The Bigger Goal

Here's the really big picture: There are tens of thousands of SMB consultants out there. We all support different products with different methods. We see each other at one conference or another. And we all have something to share.

Let's build a library where we can all find really great information at a reasonable price.

And everyone in the SMB community wins.

Propose a White Paper Today

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Doing a Bit of Everything

What a strange, fun, and interesting day.

The bookends of the day were presentations to the community.

We started with a conference call featuring an interview with Erick Simpson. WOW! Thank you for a great response. We filled the 100-line bridge!

I'm sorry for the folks who got shut out. And particularly for those who couldn't get back in.

Matt Makowicz will join us February 6th. I promise we'll have a 250-line bridge.

If technology is on our side, I'll have the audio posted at on the conference call page in a couple of days.

Obviously, I am very grateful to everyone for turning out. The feedback has been very positive.

Thank you, Erick, for all your help.


Popped into the office. Got out a couple of good quotes. Had lunch with the company pres. Shuffled a few papers. Got payroll approved.


Finally, I finished up the day with a Live Office presentation to Amy Babinchak's SMBTN user group. The topic was "Relax Focus Succeed." Apparently, they talked about the subject for an hour after I got off the line. You can learn more at


A quiet evening with the family.

All in all a very satisfactory day.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Conference Call tomorrow: Erick Simpson

Quickie Reminder:
Erick Simpson Conference Call

Please mark your calendars for tomorrow. Tell your friends and neighbors!

Here's your Conference Call information:

Date / Time
Wed. Jan 16, 2008
9:00 AM Pacific Time

Dial Conference Bridge:
(319) 279-1000
(U.S. phone number)

Your participant passcode is 1024518.

This call is limited to the first 100 attendees.

For more information, see

Monday, January 14, 2008

Contrast in Marketing

You never know where you're going to find something interesting. That's why it's important to read everything you find. (See this article.)

Right now, I'm reading The Non-Designer's Design Book by Robin Williams. One of the basic principles of design is contrast.

And a key piece of her advice on contrast is:

"If the elements . . . are not the same, then make them very different." (Her emphasis.)

There are two primary purposes of contrast. First, create an interest. Second, aid in organization of information.

Contrast should never confuse. It should only make things clearer and easier to understand.

She's talking about the printed page. But it seems to me that these rules also apply to your marketing and your sales pitch.

How can you focus on contrast to make your business stand out? How can you use contrast to make the choice clearer and easier to understand?

In the marketing and sales process, you need to show the prospect that you're not the same as the competition. After all, "We're just the same, only better" is a horrible sales pitch.

Here's roughly what doesn't work:
- We set up MS office better than anyone.
- We can install any program.
- We really understand error logs.
- You should see us rotate backup tapes!

So how can you say that your company is not the same and therefore make it very different?

Consider what your company does better than anyone else. I know you've heard that before, but REALLY think about it. Now, how can you state that difference in grand, bold terms?

Can you guarantee five-nines of uptime? Can you cut support costs by 25%? Can you manage the client's technology department better than they can?

I think you can.

Now, can you say these things? Can you make the difference as different as possible?


If the purposes of contrast are to create an interest and aid in organization of information, then the approach to marketing becomes one of educating the prospect.

In particular, you need to educate them about the problem. State it in your terms. Don't let the prospect formulate the problem as "We need another computer guy." Instead, tell them what they need.

You need to secure your data and cut labor costs.
(or whatever plays into your strengths)

Pose the problem as one to which your company is the solution.

Be as specific as possible.

Your data's growing at an alarming rate and you need to get it under control. No one can do that better than KPEnterprises!

You state the problem and you state the solution. You're the solution.


Practice, practice, practice.

Before you talk to a prospect, you need a plan. And the plan is to restate their problems into terminology and categories that highlight your strengths.

You've got viruses? I know it's painful, but fixing a virus outbreak is very straight forward. Your real problem is securing your network so this never happens again. No one can do that better than KPEnterprises!

You installed your own Small Business Server. It mostly works okay, but you've got some major problems? We can fix that pretty easily. But the bigger problem is that your system needs to be properly documented and properly maintained so that problems go away and never come back. No one can do that better than KPEnterprises!

Your employees are streaming internet radio and downloading huge files, so your bandwidth is being gobbled up by junk? What you really need is for someone to set up rules and filters on the firewall so these problems go away forever. No one can do that better than KPEnterprises!

See the pattern?


And in this political season, remember to avoid the negative. You can win with a great program that's presented with enthusiasm.

There's no reason to trash the competition.

Let the prospect make the comparison.

Your job is to create a high contrast comparison. If they get three quotes from three boring techno-goobers who all claim to do the same thing, then it comes down to price.

If you stand out -- if you describe a problem they didn't know they had, and a solution that they want -- then you give them a reason to go with your company. And price is no longer the issue.

Remember one of the great truths about sales: People buy for emotional reasons and justify it with logic. Give them what they want: A great emotional excuse and a great logical argument to back it up!

DON'T give them the same old arguments they'll get from the competition.

Friday, January 11, 2008

CES Report 3 - Marketing Thoughts

As with all shows, the greatest value is in the "hallway" conversations. Here the hallways are filled with slot machines and juggling bartenders.

At one point, we were waiting for Dave Sobel. Katie Mazek sat down at a 2 cent slot machine because she needed to rest her weary feet. Within ten seconds, a hostess came by and asked if we wanted drinks.

Wait. We're not gambling. If we were, these are the two cent slots. In fact, we're on our way to dinner, so we're not going to gamble.

When I relayed this story to Dave he proceeded into a soliloquy about service delivery. All the big casinos have great, personalized customer service around everything in the casino area. These casinos serve thousands of strangers a day. But they never make you wait for anything. It's easy to do business with them.

I don't have a thousand clients. I don't even have 500! How can I make them happy to turn over their business to my company?


One of my hobbies at these shows is to ask the boothfolk why they're here. Most of them are confused by the question. They certainly don't know the answer. On the edges (in the cheaper booths), there are more owners. They frequently tell you why they're at the show, even without being asked.

The most memorable yesterday was the guy who said "My first goal is to sell you parts. If you do that, I'll try to sell you on the inventory management software for the parts."

Perfect. Easily defined and therefore easily quantified. Success has been defined, and when he leaves the show, he'll know if he's been successful.

Compare this to big vendors (HP, Intel, MS). They say stuff like "We're showing off our new goodies so you'll know all about what's out there."

Useless. As a stockholder, I'd rather you didn't show up if that's the goal. Realistically, I'll never talk to the person at the show who knows what the goals are.

I hope there's some goal.

In the middle are big but not monstrously big companies.

The best of these was Why are you at the show? "Well," she says somewhat conspiratorially, "It looks like we're here to give away free domain names. But really, we're scanning badges so we can filter people out and sell them services that are appropriate for them. And if we can win over some resellers, that's the ultimate goal."

WOW. Do you own the company? No?

Well, tell your boss I said to give you a raise.

It is extremely rare that an employee will have that level of understanding of the marketing process, and their role in it.

[ Side note: Almost no one at this show did any screening. They gave away the give-aways to everyone who walked past. They talked to everyone without screening. In other words, they went through their sales spiel with people who can't do anything more than nod politely. In the process, I'm sure they missed many opportunities to actually engage people who need the product. ]

I may have the only hobby without a dedicated yahoo group.


Final note: The hottest product on display was Guitar Hero. Not the game, directly. But indirectly, it owned the show because it was used to demonstrate monitors, screens, controllers, guitars, etc. In other words, when people were thinking about a cool thing to use to showcase their product, they all came up with Guitar Hero. Very cool.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

CES Report 2 - The Show

Did the show. Spent time with Dave Sobel, Dave Seibert, and Vlad and Katie Mazek. Did a call-in to the Portland Technology Wizards in the afternoon. Their meeting happened to be today and they had a polycom phone available.


First, the Home Server Report. Then everything else.

Ran into Dave Seibert from SMBTN (see He counted five home servers at the show. Two at Microsoft. Two at HP. and one somewhere else. I went in search. Found two at MS and three at HP. One of the HP ones was quite separated from the others.

I don't know if there's much of a market for home server (at least in the home). See

Microsoft certainly hasn't made any effort to build any buzz about it.

But they did produce a great book. It's called "Mommy, Why is There a Server in the House?" and it's styled after a kids book, like bringing home the new baby.

Best lines in the book:
"Big people have a server at the 'office.' The office is a boring place where big people go and do boring things. Offices are why big people get grumpy and say bad words."

Second best lines:
"When a mommy and a daddy love each other very much, the daddy wants to give the mommy a special gift. So he buys a 'stay-at-home' server."

Funny book. Look for it in book stores everywhere.


But 99.9999% of the show wasn't about home server.

Perhaps 20% of the show was directly related to what we do. This includes the Microsoft and Intel booths, some very cool stuff for people who build machines, and all the little stuff that goes with computers. Some comptuer stuff was strictly high end (monitors galore), other low end (routers, firewalls, etc.).

I think I was most impressed with the fact that show floor monitors all took a big step up. No matter what was on display, the monitors were huge. If it was on a 17" monitor last years, it's on a 27" monitor this year.

One could argue that there's no practical purpose for a monitor that big -- until you put on one your desk. I think you'll be selling a lot of 22 and 24 inch monitors this year.

The other thing that's here is opportunity. If you're interested in expanding your business a bit, consider the high end of home theater. Just as in your current business, you need to create products and engagements that are going to be profitable. So don't go into the business with a plan to buy crap at Fry's and just make money on labor. The home electronics business has a lot of really great high-end catalogs.

I'm not saying that's a business you should go into, but it's certainly ripe for the picking.


Pet peeve of the show: Everyone wants to put bulky paper products in my bag. Vegas' hotel garbage cans are full of crap no one wants to take home.

A few vendors did what everyone should do: They put their catalogs on CD. Not only is it small, but I'll take it home and look through it in my spare time. Some vendors told me to go to the web site. But their web site's been up for years and I've never gone there before. After visiting 900 booths, I'm not going to remember all those web sites.


A magazine reporter asked me the $60,000 question yesterday: Why is someone from the business consulting business coming to CES? Here's what I told him.

Not very long ago some businesses decided to go around to every sports bar and Japanese restaurant in America and sell them each five or ten huge, expensive flat screen TVs. This was done overnight while I was paying attention to something else. That's probably still a good business to be in, but the super high margins are gone.

I don't want that to happen to me again.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

CES Report I - Getting There

Learned two lessons from my trip to Vegas yesterday.

1) Wives are always right. Repeat as needed.

2) Even if you can't define customer service, you know it when you see it.

On lesson one: I was scheduled to fly from Sacramento to San Francisco and then on to Vegas. This was to take 40 minutes and save $100.

My wife travels less than I do. But she piped in: "That's never worthwhile. Pay a little more and fly direct."

So on the day I fly, we have gale-force winds and almost no one's getting out of Sacramento. My flight goes from "on time" to "delayed" and then to "cancelled."

Instead of a flight, I now have a story. I'd rather have a flight than a story. But it's a good story.

The sign flipped from delayed to cancelled. Instantly, United Airlines announced that everyone from that flight should go to the international desk, collect our luggage, adn get on a bus.

Within fifteen minutes, everyone who needed to catch a connecting flight was on a blue Super Shuttle bus to SFO.

100 minutes later, everyone on my bus made their connection in San Fran.

I was scheduled to have dinner with Arlin Sorensen, so I called him to let him know that I may be late. When I told him that United had put me on a bus to S.F., he said "What?" An appropriate reaction because you just don't expect that kind of excellent service.

United can't do anything about the weather. But they sure put a premium on getting me to my connecting flight.

This kind of effort is not in the contract. It's not what you expect. It don't ever expect it to happen again.

But I recognize that it makes me feel good about this relationship. That's customer service.

What extraordinary things have you done for your clients recently?



Had dinner with Arlin and Nancy, plus Dave Sobel.

Good company. Vegas buffet food.


Live video cast from CES

Last night was the meeting time for the Sacramento SBS Technology User Group. So I cranked up the laptop, hooked up the video cam, connected via sprint wireless card, and "poof" we had ourselves a video report. I dialed Bob Nitrio via Skype.

So we had CES reports from Dave, Arlin, and me. At that point, Dave was the only one who'd actually been to the show. Arlin did chat with the crowd about the Heartland Technology Group.

Tonight I'll try to connect with the Portland Technology Wizards.


Spent the evening with Dave. We need to connect once or twice a year to make sure we exchange all the good ideas about what our companies are up to.

Dave was also gracious enough to show me how to lose as slowly as possible in BlackJack.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

New Year's Resolution: Don't be Interrupt Driven!

We get mail. Some time ago, Mike asked me about the practical side of monthly maintenance:


When you go in to do your monthly maint., how are you able to stay focused? How do you handle end users coming up and asking you questions and wanting you to work on other things while you are there?



It's a great question.

The essence of the answer is that we refuse to be interrupt driven.

We enforce that, in large part, by another hard, fast rule: We only work off of service requests.

We actually have a "welcome to KPEnterprises" meeting with the client. We explain how we operate. We only work off of service requests. We work those SRs from highest priority to lowest, from oldest to newest.

And here's how we explain it to technicians:
1) We are a for-profit enterprise.
2) You have to have a container that allows you to collect money. That container is called a service request.
3) Every service request has a definable point of success.
4) With rare exceptions, one technician can only open one container at a time.

Once you have this vision of the world, it is very easy to remind clients that we only work off of service requests. You can create the request while I finish the monthly maintenance. Or I can create the request after I finish the monthly maintenance.

If you've got a long list of things that need attention, open a service request for each one -- while I finish the monthly maintenance.

The key thing is that technicians have to be rewired. Technicians are born with a desire to solve problems, fix things, and squish bugs. You have to retrain them to understand that the big picture is: We trade time for money.

After they accept the time-for-money view, then we solve problems.

Customer service does not mean letting yourself be interrupted constantly. Just because someone taps you on the shoulder does not mean that you should stop doing one thing and do another.

In fact, even before I had all these rules, I never had much trouble being interrupted while working. Maybe I just come across as interruptible.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Anonymous Blogging

What is the deal with so many anonymous bloggers?

Every once in awhile I go in search of blogs and web sites in the SMB space. I do google searches, go down the blog rolls on sites I visit regularly, and follow the trail to find even more.

I find them. But very often, with the blogs, I have no idea who they are.

If someone points me to a blog and says "This is John's blog," then I know.

But when I go to the blog, there's no information there. The content might be good. It might be great.

But no picture. No profile. No links to a corporate web site.

Some have pictures. In fact, some very well know bloggers have pictures, but no name. If someone did not point me there and say that's John's blog, how would I ever know?

If you're really ugly, like me, have a caricature made and use that. Or put a picture of your cat, your dog, or your avatar from Gaia.

Please, at least put up a profile.
Hi. My name is Joe Schmoe. I run an SMB consulting company in Nowheresville. We specialize in Small Business Server, Server 2008, and Virtualization. Blah blah blah.

Why do people need to know who you are?

Well, that depends on why you're writing your blog.

As with everything else, you need to know the purpose behind this activity. What's your purpose? What are you trying to achieve? What one, or two, or three things do you want from your blog?

Whatever you wish to achieve, you will be more successful if people can make a personal connection to you.

All that secrecy stuff worked fine for Batman and Robin, but here in the real world, I want to know who you are!

Friday, January 04, 2008

Major Conference Call: Erick Simpson

Major Conference Call Scheduled:
Erick Simpson Conference Call -- Free

Mark your calendars for Wednesday, January 16, 2008 at 9:00 AM Pacific time.

Erick Simpson will join me for a special FREE conference call.

A few minutes before the scheduled time, please dial into the conference bridge at (319) 279-1000.

Your participant passcode is 1024518.

This call is limited to the first 100 callers.

Please dial in a few minutes early. Our plan is to start on time and end on time (9:00 AM - 10:00 AM).


Erick Simpson is the author of two awesome books on managed services: The Guide to a Successful Managed Services Practice and The Best I.T. Sales & Marketing BOOK EVER! (available at, and is the VP of Intelligent Enterprise and Managed Services Provider University (MSP University).

Erick has been a featured speaker at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference, SMB Nation, and many other venues.

Erick's second book is part of the Super Success Bundle that was launched at SMB Nation (available at

Erick is also a member of the very first Heartland Technology Peer Group, and co-authored their first book Peer Power - Powerful Ideas for Partners from Peers, also available at

Erick was instrumental in helping Intelligent Enterprise (MSP University's parent organization) achieve sales of over $2MM worth of Managed Services Agreements in 18 months, and his previous background includes building enterprise-level Call Centers and Service Desks for Fortune 1000 organizations.

So, the bottom line is: We can talk about ANYTHING with this guy and it will be worth your while.

Mark your calendars now and stay tuned for the details.


Please pass this information to your friends, associates, and partner group members. This will be great material you can't get anywhere else!

New Year Organizational Tips

Before the year gets too far under way and you put aside the final task of 2007, do yourself a favor: Clean up after yourself.

It's human nature. We keep plugging along. Doing the next thing. And the next. Before you know it, January's gone. And whatever you needed to do to clean up for 2007 is gone, too.

Here's a draft checklist to get you started on the last thing you need to do for 2007:

1. Create your 2008 physical files.
However you file your stuff, take an hour and create at least the structure for what you'll do in the new year. Get our your label maker and create file folders for clients, contracts, credit cards, vendors, etc.

If you are keeping things from the old files, move them to the new files.

You may want to use a different color for 2008 than you did for 2007, although there's an extra expense in that.

2. Pack up the old files.
Move the 2007 files into paper file boxes. Keep these around for the month of January. When you need something from 2007, move it to the 2008 file cabinet. But most of your stuff should just be moved to the paper boxes.

3. Outlook new folders.
Repeat this process with your Outlook folders. Create 2008 folders (or perhaps create one 2008 folder and create a series of folders inside that).

Unlike physical folders, with outlook you can copy things you need from the old folders to the new ones. Better yet is to use the .pst procedure below and not copy anything into the new folders.

4. Outlook old folders.
Move all the 2007 folders (clients, vendors, products, etc.) into one core folder.

Then export that folder into a .pst. When you do this, be sure not to just click next, next, next. Two key points: 1) Give the file a useful name (e.g., karl2007, not "personal folder"); and 2) Do not add password/encryption. You're going to place this file in a safe place, on your server, with NT file security.

You might just take your entire mailbox and put it in a .pst.

Place the .pst file on the server. Create a copy and make the original read-only. Then open the copy in Outlook. Now, along with inbox, sent items, etc. you'll have your 2007 folder.

My experience is that I keep this around for a couple of months before I realize I never open it any more.

5. Ask the tax man for a list.
Most enrolled agents and CPAs send out tax prep kits. These list all the crap you need to gather up so you can do your taxes.

Truth be told, putting everything from 2007 in one or two boxes will go a long way. Worst case scenario: take the whole box to the tax appointment.

But it's also handy to actually separate all this stuff and have it in one place.

Important note for 2008: Congress is still debating the exact extent to which they're going to screw the voters with the Alternative Minimum Tax. As a result, the high-end tax software will have a major update. Probably in February.

As a result: January is a great time to do corporate and LLC taxes. Assuming you're an S-corp, all that needs to be done before your personal tax return. So this year, your tax person will probably not be too busy in January.

6. Complete copy of network documentation binder.
Assuming you have a network documentation binder, make sure all the pages are up to date and make a photocopy of the whole thing. This will go offsite with your end-of-month backup tape. Together they really are a "snapshot" of your network.

You should do the same thing for all of your clients.

7. Don't keep things to yourself.
Whether you're a sole proprietor or a larger company, there's a tendency for owners and managers to break all the rules about file storage.

Stop it.

If your files need to be in with the company files, integrate them now. Move things off your desktop and onto the server where they belong. Move things out of your "personal" file share area and put it in standard company folders (operations, marketing, employees, etc.).

Once you've done this once, get in the habit of storing things where they belong and you won't have to do this again next year.

8. Verify your end of year backup and take it offsite forever.
You should verify your backup every month (verify info from each drive, from system information, exchange, and key data areas). Then make the tape read-only and label "End of Year 2007."

If you're doing backups to hard drive . . . I guess you unplug the hard drive and label it "End of Year 2007."

It is more important every year that this information is stored permanently. Of course it should be stored offsite. Keeping your archive backups at your site is reasonably useless. The flood or fire that takes out your server will probably take out the room next to the server.


General tip for filing projects: NEVER touch something twice if you can avoid it. Once you touch it, either
- Delete it (shred it)
- Put in in an archive
- Put it in a current, active folder (even if you have to create one).

Do not sort through a pile and create eight different piles, then sort through each of them, filing some stuff, and creating new piles with the rest. That approach will eat up your life.

Once you touch a file, folder, or piece of paper, you're responsible for putting it in it's final resting place.

Again, once you do this once, it's easier to keep up than to catch up.

Have fun.

Welcome to the new year!