Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Please Join Me March 23rd . . . Super Sales Seminar

If you're like me, you're always looking for faster and better ways to increase sales and secure more clients.

And since the trauma in the economy isn't anywhere near over . . . and may, in fact, soon turn uglier . . . then you should join me at this upcoming 3-day event that is 100% focused on IT sales, marketing and business development best practices:


While there, make sure you download the free video and report, "How To Recession-Proof Your IT Services Business."

- - - -

On March 23-26, over 450 IT business owners and leaders are going to come together to share marketing, sales and business best practices.

If you want to figure out how to get your stagnant sales ramped back up and learn what's working right now for other IT services businesses in the areas of attracting new clients and boosting profits, then you ought to check this out:


However, there IS a deadline to register of December 31st in order to get the best possible seat options, early bird discounts and bonuses, so go there now before you forget and miss out.

- - - - -

I'll see you there!

-- karlp

It's Mess with a Salesman Week

This is it. The perfect week. Friday is December 31st.

Friday's the end of the week.
End of the month.
End of the quarter.
End of the year.

. . . and the end of a LOT of deadlines for sales people. They have quotas and bonus systems. They have goals that need to be met.

If you find the right one, they can really make some great deals this week. Historically, this week is rumored to be the best week EVER to buy a car. If you find the right sales person.

Quotas based on shear sales dollars are very common, so any sale adds to that goal. But some sales quotas are based on units sold. That means that moving product - even at a loss - can get someone a bigger bonus.

Some industries have been hard hit for a long time with no relief, such as real estate. These sales people are desperate all the time. So don't worry about getting a better deal on a house this week. They'll be just as desperate next week.

But if you know someone gets a bonus based on total sales, total units, number of contracts, or even the number of add-on items they push, then start dealing now. You will find this week to be a period of amazing honesty when it comes to the question of "Where is there flexibility?" In other words, which fees are simply bullshit intended to put more money in your pocket? Let's drop those so we can talk about the thing that gets you a bonus.

Note that these rules don't apply to all sales people. If a sales person is on strictly salary, there are no extra bargains this week. Talk to them next week.

More importantly, there are some sales people who are not "in the running" for any sales competition. They're number five or number ten. They have little motivation to be making big, stupid deals this week. Big, stupid deals are going to come from hungry sales people who might actually win a big contest and get a trip to Maui or a new car. You gotta find the really hungry sales people.

How do you find these folks? Easy: They're working this week. They'll be in the office at 5:01 PM. They'll be on the phone every time you call - but they're guaranteed to call you back ASAP. They'll be working Friday, including Friday night.

Yes. They'll be working Friday, New Year's Eve, doing whatever it takes to make one more deal and kick more butt.

Schmoes who go home at 2 PM Friday are either not sales people, or they're not hungry sales people.

So make a plan. Make a budget. And start working your sales target now. You've only got a few days to whip them into a froth so they'll take anything you offer on Friday.

What About YOUR Sales People?

There's another side to this coin.

If you employ sales people, how are they motivated this week? Are they hungry? Are they bringing in new business?

I love lots of people who call themselves sales people. But I have to say that most of them are lazy and won't be cutting any big deals this week. This is a week for excuses (everyone's out of the office, no one calls me back, no one's looking to buy right now, decision makers aren't around, etc.).

There are always good excuses. And there are more excuses than normal in the last week of the year.

But there are always buyers. And this week there are hungry buyers trying to find new solutions. You just have to find them. They aren't going to be calling YOU.

Analyze your sales this week. For the month, for the quarter, for the year. How have you set up incentives for the last week of the year? Intentionally or not, are you motivating sales people to try harder or take the week off?

Monday (January 3rd) might be a great time to talk to your sales people about what motivated them this week. (Don't bother them this week unless they're not busy. And if they're not busy, this might be a great week to fire them and look for someone who will be busy on the last week of the year.)

Ask about how the sales commission structure motivates them. Do they love it? Do they hate it? Yes, they agreed to it at some point. But if it's not working, fix it. Find out what would have motivated them and see if it makes sense.

What you do NOT want to see is that your year-end commission structure motivates sales people to make stupid sales that you can't deliver. Or worse, ones you can't make money on. If the sales people are motivated to make sales that cause you to lose money, something is very broke.

Where do you stand?


Join me on the:
Intel Hyrbrid Cloud Roadshow
Charlotte - January 4, 2011
Ft. Lauderdale - January 6, 2011
Portland, OR - January 11, 2011

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Save 40% Right Now at SMBBooks!

I posted a big discount coupon in my weekly email. A few people requested the discount code even though they're not subscribers to the weekly email.

So . . . first off . . . The best way to not miss big sales is to subscribe to my weekly SMB-focused email at smbbooks.com.

And . . . second . . . Here's the scoop on how you can save 40% right now at SMB Books:

Merry Christmas to All of Our Readers

Save 40% Right Now at SMBBooks!

Here's the deal: Just enter the code 40FOR2010 at http://www.smbbooks.com/ checkout and you'll receive 40% Off any order of $50 or more!

That's Huge! But you need to act before the clock ticks over to 2011. So do your year-end saving right now at SMB Books!

What are you looking for?

- Network Documentation

- Sharepoint Training

- Network Migration

- Service Agreements

- Relax Focus Succeed

- SBS Training

- Audio Training

- Managed Services

- Project Management

. . . and a lot more!

Check it out and save today! Merry Christmas.

Karl Palachuk Named to SMB Nation/SMBTN's "SMB 150" List

Harry Brelsford and the gangs over at SMB Nation and SMB Technology Network have come up with a list of the 150 most influential movers and shakers in the SMB (small and medium business) consulting world. From 900 nominees, I made the top 150 list.

I am grateful to everyone who voted for me. Thank you.

There's no indication of whether I'm a mover or a shaker, or perhaps in both categories.

The whole report is available for download here: http://www.smbnation.com/Publications/Magazine/tabid/72/Default.aspx


Lists are an interesting phenomenon. Some lists you get on because you jump through the right hoops (for example certifications from Microsoft, Cisco, CompTIA, etc.). Some lists you get on because of who you are (list of CEO's, for example).

And some lists you can't really do anything about. You just go about your day and then someone decides to put you on their list. These are like presents that show up in your mailbox unexpectedly.

The latest 150 list is a bit like that. I just hang out having fun. And one day I get on a list.

Thank you to everyone in the community who nominated and voted for me.

And thanks also go to Jim Locke of SMBTN and Harry Brelsford of SMB Nation for putting this together.

I appreciate the present, the honor, and wish you all a very Merry Christmas.


Now Shipping . . .
The Best NOC and Service Desk Operations Book Ever!

by Erick Simpson

Ships from stock right now!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Save BIG Right Now on Cloud Services Roundtable Subscription

Cloud Service Roundtable Prices Go Up January 1

We have some good news for you. I know a price increase isn't normally good news. But you have time to lock in the savings before the prices go up.

Starting January 1st, 2011, the monthly cost for the Cloud Services Roundtable membership will go to $9.95 per month. That's still a VERY Low price. But you can lock in the current pricing by subscribing to a one-year subscription.

On Jan 1st, the annual fee will go to $99.95.

But right now you can get the "old" pricing of $49.95 when you buy a one-year subscription.

After a year of providing podcasts and webinars, the Cloud Services Roundtable has more than 30 hours of recordings, plus spreadsheets, powerpoints, and other great resources. Check it out and save today at www.cloudservicesroundtable.com.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Take 60 Seconds and Learn Migration to SBS 2011

Well,  Microsoft has released the first draft of their migration documentation for SBS 2011.

Luckily for all of us, it fits on a napkin!

- - - - -

Migrating to Windows Small Business Server 2011 Standard

Published: December 7, 2010

Applies To: Windows Small Business Server 2011 Standard

This section includes information about migration to Windows SBS 2011 Standard, and provides information about how to prepare and plan for migration from Windows Small Business Server 2003, Windows Small Business Server 2008, or another version of Windows SBS 2011 Standard. The topics in this section also include information about how to move roles, services, and other components from their current locations to the server that is running Windows SBS 2011 Standard. The guides listed here address specific Windows SBS 2011 Standard migration scenarios.

Migrate to Windows Small Business Server 2011 Standard from Windows Small Business Server 2003

Migrate to Windows Small Business Server 2011 Standard from Windows Small Business Server 2008

Migrate Windows Small Business Server 2011 Standard to New Hardware

© 2010 Microsoft. All rights reserved. Terms of Use | Trademarks | Privacy Statement

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Building a Team - And Relying On Them

One of my favorite books is The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. One of the reasons it's a favorite is that it's filled with lessons I have to keep learning over and over again.

The book is written as the story of a woman who starts a new company and learns various lessons. At one point she hires someone, turns over all the unpleasant work to her, and then goes on to love her job a lot more. So life is good . . . until her assistant quits.

Her first reaction is to jump back in and do everything herself. She learned the (wrong) lesson that she couldn't rely on anyone to take the job as seriously as she did. So now she finds herself opening early, closing late, and doing every single thing . . . and hating her job more than ever.

Eventually, she learned the right lesson: If you're going to grow, you need to turn over some chores to other people. And you might need to take them back for a short period of time. But once it works to turn things over to others, you should never take them back "permanently."

And the broader lesson: You should be building your team at all times. You should do cross training. You should make sure that you know what to do when someone quits.


Not if.

Someone will quit. Someone will leave you hanging. Maybe not on purpose. After all, people have lives, kids, relatives, etc. Stuff happens. People move. Life goes on.

One of the hard lessons for me - that I have to learn over and over every year - is that I can't take back the work I've passed to someone else. This is a VERY natural and strong tendency. But it's also a business killer.

Building My Team

I didn't set out to build a team. I hired a guy. Then I hired a gal. Then another guy. Then some more. And on and on.

I didn't realize I'd built a "team" until Manuel took over as President of KPEnterprises and I handed him a team to execute his directives. The team changed and morphed and matured. The personnel changed. The look and feel and culture evolved. But it was always a team after that.

Over at Great Little Book, I realized we had a team when we produced our last book (590 pages plus web site, downloadable content, etc.). That book required a process for writing, editing, graphics, layout, and so forth. With smaller books I farmed out various chores to other people/companies. With the The Network Migration Workbook we did it all in-house.

So what makes a team a team? That is, what makes it a team vs. just a bunch of people who work together? In my opinion, a team is a group of positions filled with the right people and the positions are structured in such a way that the organization can accomplish something that cannot be accomplished by an individual.

That's literally the key to success. The team can do things that an individual cannot.

There are lots of really BIG examples of things that can't be done by individuals. An individual cannot build a skyscraper or an ocean liner. An individual cannot build a highway or a modern car. And there's nothing new about this. The seven wonders of the ancient world were built by large groups of people - not by single individuals.

But you might do things on a smaller scale. So why do you need a team?

Well, let's take tech support for example. With a team, individuals can rely on each other to carry out certain jobs. Rather than having a company in which every person is an autonomous "business unit," individuals play roles and specialize.

Our team includes our business partners at Zenith Infotech. They play a specific role and work is passed back and forth between people working at our location and people working at their locations. But they are part of our team and help us to do things we could not otherwise do.

In public relations, web marketing, and customer service, teams can provide a higher level of performance than a group of individuals who are not constituted into a team.

Here are the basic characteristics of a team within a small business:

- In teams, positions exist independent of who occupies them

- In teams, people "play the roles" defined by the team, but individuals can move from role to role

- In teams, people act in such a way that they hand work back and forth with the assumption that each individual (role) is doing his job. This is the hardest piece for some small businesses to grasp.

- If a member leaves the team, it is not a crisis. A new person is hired into that position.

- With a team, the boss should not be allowed to stick her nose too far into the business of the team. The boss's job exists at the level of creating ideas, brainstorming, evaluating, motivating, . . . and pretty much everything except the low-level executing.

When you hear people debating about whether they can or should delegate, those are people who either don't have a team or are not using their team effectively. If you want your team to execute and take your business to a higher level than you could possibly do by yourself, you need to turn things over to them and not take them back.

I could imagine downsizing my companies to the point where I do all the work again. But I hope that never happens. I want to keep fine-tuning the team so we can continue to do amazing things.

For example, at GLB:

During SMB Nation, we broadcast six live podcasts. These were recorded and uploaded to our skydrive. Jerry ran around and recorded Flip videos of all kinds of people. He uploaded those to the sky drive. Monica was back in the office. She produced final videos and audio files. Then she "marketed" them on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

In three days my team created, produced, posted, and advertised six podcasts and 39 YouTube videos. That is literally something I could not have done alone.

- - - - -

Now when I think about fine-tuning my team, I think about the whole team. I don't think about individuals and what they can do. I think about the roles I need played and how I can get the right people in the right roles. Then I think about all the amazing stuff we can do that we never could without a team.


Want to figure out how to make money with Cloud Computing?

Join the Cloud Services Roudtable today and listen a great series of podcasts!


Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Cloud Commercials Illuminate and Obfuscate

For some time now . . . almost two years . . . I've been saying that you need to introduce your clients to cloud computing before someone else does. What's that someone else? Well, for starters, your business partners Intel, Microsoft, IBM, and Rackspace. Well the time has definitely arrived.
Consider some of the commercials and videos out there on the internet. Let's say a client gets interested in one of those Microsoft commercials. That takes them to You Tube, which takes them to other videos. Consider what they're "learning" about cloud computing.

First the MS commercials:

That commercial is NOT geared toward your average customer. It's geared toward businesses that don't exist, don't have money, and are hoping an angel will come in and make them rich.

Which is fine. But they're probably not your current clients.

What your clients will get from this: A bit of excitement. A bit of jargon. A general sense that cloud is good.

I am reminded of very early advertising for laptop computers. The big appeal was that you could work at the beach. But the CEO making the decisions didn't want his employees working at the beach, so the message was not well received.

These Microsoft Commercials seem totally geared toward micro-sized companies who will be steered toward BPOS rather than the larger companies who need Azure.

Next up, IBM:

IBM might not be one of your key partners, but I include it here because I first saw this on an airplane with a captive audience. It is a perfect example of how one of your customers might "learn" about cloud computing while traveling for the holidays.

This commercial is an interesting mix of "workload optimized service management platform" jargon and real human speak. It's not about HOW the cloud works, but all about what you can do with the cloud.

Then there's our good friends at Intel:

What is cloud computing and how does Intel fit in? Well, this commercial claims that Cloud is just a buzzword for internet-based services. I don't think that's particularly helpful. Again, this commercial is a combination of techie speak and simple examples.

This particular video has a pretty good description of how you just call the cable company and get telephone, audio, video, and internet services delivered almost instantly. Cloud computing is just another utility service.

Another popular service your clients have heard of, is Salesforce.com. So whether users or not, they might view the Salesforce.com video:

You have big ideas . . . Streamline your business and drive sales through the roof.

This is actually a really good overall business-focused intro to cloud computing. Do you need a data center with office space for every application? No. Just use an on-demand product that is simply "there" all the time.

Again, the combination of descriptions that make sense (call technical support but they can't fix it) and enterprise jargon (solution stack). Overall, this commercial is clearly focused on the enterprise business space. They are not appealing to small business, even though they make a nod in that direction. I suspect "small" means under 250 desktops.

One more example . . .

Over at Rackspace, the approach is more technical and more down to earth:

This video is all about private vs. public clouds. It gives a very straight-forward description that your clients will understand and then immediately addresses the security questions that are so hot for some clients.

Overall, this is good stuff for you. Probably a little dry for non-techies. But your clients will understand it and get a sense that someone has actually addressed the issues they're concerned about.

Note: There are also plenty of videos about other cloud solutions, including Zenith's Cloud offerings (see You Tube or MSP TV. But your clients are not likely to stumble upon these. Here I just wanted to focus on stuff your clients might serve themselves.

- - - - -

The Bottom Line

Your clients are already hearing about the cloud. If you don't have answers for them, others do. "Others" includes AT&T, Dell, Microsoft, and 1,000 other companies who will be happy to take a credit card this afternoon.

What are your clients' impressions of cloud computing? Are they realistic?

And what are you doing to educate them?

- - - - -


Now Available:
Introduction to Zero Downtime Migrations
Seminar on MP3 Download

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Ready for a Period of Great Productivity?

Well, if the government statistics are to be believed, we're in the early stages of an economic recovery in the U.S.

A little bit at a time. We'll have ups and downs. Over time the ups will win over the downs. (That doesn't make it fun to go through.)

If you haven't been in business through a couple of recessions, let me give you a heads up on one of the unique experiences of a recovery: Productivity will peak.

What is productivity?

There are few different ways to measure productivity. One measure of productivity is the amount of work produced per person. You want this to go up. Another is the amount of money raised per employee. You want this to go up. Another is the number of hours of labor it takes to produce a specific result. You want this number to go down.

As you - and your clients - get ready to come out of the recession, you will gradually see productivity increase. There's a simple reason for this: You will delay hiring someone as long as you can.

Since one of the key variables is the "per person" part of the equation, you increase productivity by having more work done by the same number of people.

You can measure this in your PSA system. My favorite measure is billable labor per employee. Some people primarily measure billable labor per technician. In either case, you should be measuring this now so that you can set a base.

You will see improvement in this measure until you hire someone.

NOTE: As soon as you hire someone, productivity goes down. Period. It's built into the equation.

Here's the pattern:

- Set the base so you know where you stand. For example, if you have two techs billing 20 hrs/week, that's roughly 50% bill-ability.

- Productivity will increase as you take on more work but avoid hiring. Let's say one tech stays at 20 hrs/week and the other manages to eke out 30 billable hours/week. So now you're at 62.5% bill-ability.

- Then you hire someone and productivity plummets. Let's say you have Tech 1 at 20 billable hrs/week, Tech 2 at 30 billable hrs/week, and the new tech starts with a whopping 5 billable hours/week. If everyone's working 40 hours, you're now at 45.8% bill-ability.

- Assuming the new hire gradually makes it to 10, 20, and 30 hours of billable labor, your productivity will go back up. This also assumes you have the workload.

Practical Considerations

Now that you know this, what actions should you take in order to take advantage of this change you know is coming?

1. Delay Hiring

The longer you delay hiring, the more productivity and money you'll have. While you don't want to work yourself to death, you also don't want to hire someone just because you have a big migration project coming. If you don't also have more work after that, hire someone from your local I.T. Pro user group to help you out during the crunch. That way you don't make a long term commitment and have no work.

2. Expect the Bump and Start Slow

Now that you know it's coming, put plans in place. You might see if you can hire someone part time. That way you can train them on your processes and procedures, and you can increase their hours when the work shows up consistently.

Hiring the right person at the right time is very difficult. You might have an increase in work followed by a decrease. Like all economic forecasts, you'll know the recession is over only when you look back. When you're in the middle of it, it's hard to see the end.

One of the reasons that productivity increases nationwide at the end of a recession is that millions of small businesses are in this same predicament. They are delaying hiring someone until there's enough work to guarantee the position. Or they're hiring part timers rather than full timers. In either case, millions of companies are squeezing just a little bit more out of the people they have.

3. Understand Your Clients

Your clients are going through the exact same thing. They are seeing rumblings of more work, but they don't know whether they have the money to hire another person full time. So their productivity is increasing just as yours is.

The word "understanding" is very important here. When people are squeezed to the max with work, they will be a little stressed and short tempered. They will sometimes make irrational decisions. They will do what's urgent before what's important.

So they need your patience and understanding.

Interestingly enough, the best thing you can do for clients sometimes is to let them know that you're going through the same thing. Take them to lunch and whine about how hard it is to run a small business. And how it's better to fret over a recovery than a deeper recession!


Join me on the:
Intel Hyrbrid Cloud Roadshow
New York - December 8, 2010
Charlotte - January 4, 2011
Ft. Lauderdale - January 6, 2011
Portland, OR - January 11, 2011

Monday, November 15, 2010

It's SBS Essentials, Not Aurora (Istanbul, Not Constantinople)

I posted some notes on the entry-level server line-up in my newsletter this morning and a few people recommended that I repost that here. Not sure why. Just subscribe to my newsletter at this link.

Anyway . . . This note covers the Microsoft Operating system options, not the hardware options available at the small end of SMB. There's quite an array of hardware options as well.

Right now in our office we are playing with Windows Home Server on HP OEM hardware, SBS 2008 on the Intel Hybrid Cloud (Lenovo hardware), Foundation server on HP OEM, and SBS on Proliants (of course). And tonight Mike tells me that we just took deliver of the new HP Micro Server. Yeee Haww! We're going to play with that for both Aurora/SBS 2011 Essentials and Foundation server.

So here's the re-broadcast of an article from today's SMB Email:
- - - - -

A few release notes . . . SBS and Other Servers for the SMB Space

I have to learn to stop calling Aurora Aurora. It's now SBS Essentials.

I'm reminded of the song "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" . . . http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-YPnXBWl9Tk

Here's the basic line-up of Microsoft operating systems you might select for your small clients:

Windows Home Server - We call this one "Server Light"
WHS is sold as a storage server from HP and makes a VERY handy little package. It is great for onsite backups and central file storage. It also works well with cloud-based storage (files onsite, backed up to the cloud). Be aware that this operating system is limited to TEN users and has no active directory.

Sold as OEM throught HP and others.

Windows Server 2008 R2 Foundation
This is my current favorite server. Why? That's easy. 1) It exists and I can sell it to clients, and 2) It has active directory. While limited to FIFTEEN users and one processor, this O.S. is amazing in a small business. A.D. means that migration from SBS or "regular" Windows is a breeze. It won't take Exchange, but if you have hosted Exchange, this beauty will integrate onsite storage with A.D. security AND provide terminal services for up to 15 users.

Sold as OEM through HP and others.

Love, love, love the Foundation server.

Windows Small Business Server 2011 Essentials (formerly Aurora)
Due first quarter of 2011. That means first or second quarter to you and me. I think the expected release is Q1, but the official word is first half (in case there are issues). Supports up to 25 users. Like WHS and Found, there are no CALs and you can't expand beyond the limit.

The core role of Windows Small Business Server 2011 Essentials is to manage all your small business technology from one box - including connections to hosted services like Exchange, BPOS, and CRM. Official word is that it "will be available through all current Microsoft server licensing channels." I assume that means open licensing as well as OEM but I can't guarantee that.

Estimated retail pricing is $545 US.

Windows Small Business Server 2011 Standard (formally "SBS 7")
This is basically the newest version of the "Standard" SBS you've known for two versions already. It includes a backup solution, Exchange Server, Sharepoint, etc.

Expected release is December 2010 through Open License programs. Available through OEM and System Builder programs in February 2011. Those dates are specific enough that they are probably real.

75 user limit. Estimated retail pricing is $1,096 US, with CALs approximately $72 US.

Windows Small Business Server 2011 Premium Add-on is the new incarnation of our old friend SBS Premium edition. Now, the premium content is being sold as an "add-on" to either Standard or Essential versions. That's pretty cool. Premium Add-On includes a license for Windows Server 2008 R2 Standard and SQL Server 2008 R2 for Small Business.

You can use the additional server with the CALs you have on SBS (Essentials or Standard), but you'll need Premium Add-On CALs for access to SQL Server. Due in December 2010, along with Standard SBS 2011.

75 user limit. Estimated retail pricing is $1,604 US, with CALs approximately $92 US.

(Well hidden plea to Microsoft: PLEASE rev this to Server 2012 and SQL 2012, or whatever's next, without requiring a bunch of upgrade disks. Just ship the new stuff when it's released. thanks.)

. . . And, of course, you might also consider Windows Server 2008 R2 Standard.

- - - -


- Official announcement of names and prices:
- http://blogs.technet.com/b/sbs/archive/2010/11/02/announcing-windows-small-business-server-2011.aspx

-Windows Small Business Server 2011 Standard datasheet:
- http://go.microsoft.com/?linkid=9750068

- Windows Small Business Server 2011 Essentials datasheet:
- http://go.microsoft.com/?linkid=9750069

- Windows Small Business Server Family overview brochure:
- http://go.microsoft.com/?linkid=9750070

- To download previews of Windows SBS 2011 Standard and Essentials you can visit
- https://connect.microsoft.com/SBS


Sunday, November 07, 2010

A $7,000 Server for SMB

I got my feedback from my presentation at SMB Nation. Thank you. 95%. I appreciate that.

But you know how it goes. One person made a comment that stuck me in the heart. So whoever that is, I hope you'll see and consider this response.

The comment was that SBS servers don't cost $7,000 (a figure I mentioned a couple of times when comparing the expense cycle of having a server on site vs. the monthly costs for cloud services that are pay-as-you-go).

My response to this objection is very simple: HUH?

Servers cost what they cost. I don't know what everyone else puts in at their clients, but for us it looks like this:

Proliant ML 350 G6
- 2.53 GHz Processor
- 6 or 8 GB RAM
- 12MB L3 cache
- RAID Controller
- Hot plug, 500 GB hard drives (2 mirrored for O.S. and 3 Drives configured in RAID 5)
- 3-year warranty
- RDX disk backup drive w/ 4 Cartridges
- SBS 2008 Premium
- 5 additional Client Access Licences
- Diskeeper defragmentation software
- Secure Certificate for three years
- Backup Exec Backup software

Now you might strip out the backup software, secure cert, Diskeeper, SBS, and maybe go cheap on some drives. If you did that you might say the "Server" is only $3,000. But a server without an operating system is useless when making a comparison against the Cloud (or anything else.

If you sell Dell instead of HP, you might have the option to get a nice dual Celeron machine for $600. But we only put our clients on quality equipment.

We believe the equipment list above is a great little server for small business client. And it comes in right at $7,000. I think the system we installed last week was exactly as specified here and sold for about $7,150 plus tax. There are only two changes to this configuration that I would give serious consideration to:

1) Go with three drives in RAID and then create C: and D: volumes on the single RAID array. With this client, that means we'll be selling them additional drives in the next three years. The additional cost today is less than $350 so the future hassles are easily avoided.

2) Maybe go with fewer backup drives. But even at $250 each, how many would you cut? You can't leave a clean with a tiny disc rotation or you have a very fragile disaster recovery plan.

Some people will go to an inferior machine, with no warranty or something that's not business class. But you don't really save much there. The core hardware component here is $3,000. So what are you going to save? Sell them a $2,500 server that's going to give disappointing performance after two years? That doesn't make sense.

The client we migrated last week (with zero downtime, of course) has now purchased four servers from us over the last dozen years. This last one lasted more than four years because of the recession. It only lasted that long because we sold them an appropriate business machine in the first place. Performance was not spectacular at the end of that last machine's life because every other machine in the office is so much faster than the server. But it was alive and it lasted so long because it was good quality from the start.

If I had decided to "save" the client $1,000 four years ago, they would have been very unhappy with their technology -- or they would have had to do some major upgrades along the way.

Quality Matters

I know there are many ways to cut costs. And we each have to run our businesses our own way. But I encourage you to only use good equipment. It seems obvious, but it's not.

When Mike came to work for us he was amazed that our clients basically never call. Things don't break. We never EVER worry about going home at 5:00 PM or going out of town on the weekend because stuff doesn't break.

I am always uncomfortable when consultants tell me that they have some server emergency, failed drives, etc. To me this always sounds like someone sold the wrong equipment in the first place and is now charging the client for fixing stuff that should never have broken. If I had to live in fear of going home at night because my clients' equipment might fail at any minute, I'd go into a different business tomorrow.

If you think you have to sell cheap equipment, I recommend you give the client alternatives. Give them a quote for cheap server and a quote for the server listed above. Let the client choose the server! When a client looks at the bottom line, they will often spend the extra money with a very simple calculation: How much extra does it cost each year? If the "expensive" server is $1,200 more, that's only $400 per year. How many hours of your time - plus downtime - do they need to save in order to make that worthwhile?

So yes, Virginia, there is a $7,000 server in the SMB space. In fact, the world's full of them.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cloud Service SuperStar Line-Up: Google and More!


The Cloud Services Roundtable has had great success this year. I guess we picked the right topic for 2010.

Well, we're not stopping now. We have a huge set of programs lined up for the end of the year. The next three look like this:

- Building a Successful Cloud Based Business with Ken Edwards from Maverick Mesa Computer Specialties

- Application Intelligence in the Cloud with Dmitriy Ayrapetov from SonicWALL

- The Google Apps SMB Channel with Jeff Ragusa from Google

We're also putting together a special program on managing a remote/virtual team in the emerging international economy. As you'll learn from all of these shows, you're about to become a global player . . . whether you intend to be one or not.

Here are the upcoming specifics:

- - -

Building a Successful Cloud Based Business
Ken Edwards, President, Maverick Mesa Computer Specialties

November 3, 2010
9:00 AM Pacific / 12 Noon Eastern

Register Now for Free:

I ran into Ken (an old friend) at SMB Nation and he was telling me about how he designed a product, arranged to have it fabricated overseas, and now has a business destributing his product online . . . with zero added employees in the United States.

This is the future, baby!

And even if you're not planning to take that route yourself, you need to know how it works. This kind of business will become veyr common in the years ahead. You want to be a consultant in the future? This is a great place to start.

More information at http://www.cloudservicesroundtable.com/

- - -

Application Intelligence in the Cloud
Dmitriy Ayrapetov from SonicWALL

November 17, 2010
9:00 AM Pacific / 12 Noon Eastern

Register Now for Free:

SonicWALL’s Dmitriy Ayrapetov joins our Podcast to discuss Application Intelligence for filtering, managing, and controlling application use in a network, especially as more applications become cloud based.

SonicWALL has been hailed by industry publications such as Network World, InfoWord, PC Magazine and SC Magazine for easy to use, high quality and high performance appliances and services. They are Business Solution Magazine’s 2010 Best Channel Vendor.

More information at http://www.cloudservicesroundtable.com/

- - -

The Google Apps SMB Channel
Jeff Ragusa, Google Apps SMB Channel Lead

December 1, 2010
9:00 AM Pacific / 12 Noon Eastern

Register Now for Free:

Jeff Ragusa talks about the Google Apps SMB Channel! Google this year launched their SMB application marketplace; a one-stop shop where users can discover, purchase and deploy integrated third party cloud applications.

The Google Apps Marketplace is a store front aimed at the 25 million individual users that Google Apps has across two million businesses.

The Google Apps Partner team recently attended the SMB Nation Vegas conference in their ongoing efforts to find leading solution providers and MSPs for their Google Apps Authorized Reseller program.

More information at http://www.cloudservicesroundtable.com/

- - -

Kicking Butt . . . one cheek at a time.

Join us live at the registration links above. Or listen anytime at http://www.cloudservicesroundtable.com/


Autotask Rock Stars

"What's all the hubbub, bub?" - Bugs Bunny

With all the SMB Nation hubbub, you may have missed the big Autotask announcement of the First Ever Rock Star Awards.

The Rock Star program is intended to "share IT Service and Solution Provider best practices and IT business management tips which lead to faster bottom line results."

See the full announcement/press release at http://www.autotask.com/company/release.htm?id=115.

So, of course, Autotask had a whole Rock Star themed appearance at SMB Nation. If you listen to the podcast with Len DiCostanzo, you'll hear Lou on the other side of the curtain playing his electric guitar for the folks at SMB Nation. We had fun at the end as Michael and Megan were orchestrating the music to "take us out" of the podcast. Fun stuff:


Autotask also had a great Rock Star party with some guy called "Diddy" at Ceasar's palace. Great pix are online at Facebook. I've never seen so many 21-year-old women in tiny black dresses in my life.

Anyway . . .

Community Dude Mark Crall introduced 28 Autotask customers rock stars, chosen because of their expertise and their willingness to help other users in the community. The rock starts are:
  • Andy Harper , Gaeltek – VA, USA
  • Travis Austin, MSPintegrations - CA, USA
  • Vince Tinnirello, Anchor Network Solutions, Inc - CO, USA
  • Alex Elliott, Advanced Technology Services, Inc. – IL, USA
  • Lee Evans, Vital – Harrogate, North Yorkshire, United Kingdom
  • Ritesh Kapadia, SynchroNet – TX, USA
  • Osama Faris, FAR Support Ltd. – ON, Canada
  • Stuart Selbst, Stuart Selbst Consulting – VA, USA
  • Jacob Braun, Wake Digital Media Corporation – MA, USA
  • Steve Meek, The Fulcrum Group, LLC – TX, USA
  • Win Pham, Performance IT – GA, USA
  • Ken Edwards, Maverick Mesa Computer Specialties, Inc. – AZ, USA
  • Tim Carney, SF Bay - Link Network Services, Inc. - CA, USA
  • Charles Tholen, Cognoscape – TX, USA
  • Brian Kerhin, Byte Harmony, Inc. – WI, USA
  • Nathan Franks, Dynamic Business Technologies – NSW, Australia
  • Steve Alexander, Third Eye Technologies, Inc. – NY, USA
  • Thomas Blandford, eTrepid Inc. – MD, USA
  • Craig Tribuno, Systems Engineering – ME, USA
  • Melanie Fricke, CMIT Solutions – TX, USA
  • Mary Beth Jokela, Concordant – MA, USA
  • Lorentz Hinrichsen, Wulf Consulting – PA, USA
  • Edd Nicklin, Future Reliance – Kingston, United Kingdom
  • Michael Garcia, LuxTech – Hertforshire, United Kingdom
  • Paul Tomlinson, Mirus IT Solutions – Milton Keynes, United Kingdom
  • Norb Doeberlein, Netzbahn – TX, USA
  • Tony Poole, Synergy Technology – Preston, United Kingdom

If you've in the SMB Community long, or gone to more than a few conferences, you've met at least one of these folks. Probably many more than one. I can name ten of theme who owe me a beer . . .



Sunday, October 24, 2010

Live Mini Podcast with Amy Babinchak, SBSer of the Year

Live from SMB Nation in Las Vegas . . .

We're going to do a quick podcast with Amy Babinchak, the newly-announced SBSer of the Year.

Amy is a Microsoft MVP, a small business consultant, a community leader, and one of the principals in Third Tier Consulting.

We are honored to have Amy with us and hope you'll join us live from SMB Nation.

Register here:

10 AM Sunday October 24th.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Live Podcasts from SMB Nation

We're at SMB Nation this week in Vegas.

And we've got some great mini-podcasts lined up. Please register and join us.

Also see info over at Over at http://www.smallbizthoughts.com/

- Friday Oct. 22nd at 11:00 AM = SMB Nation Podcast - Intel
- Brief interview with Intel's Christopher Graham. Live from the Podcast Pavilion.

- Friday Oct. 22nd at 1:30 PM = SMB Nation Podcast - Autotask
- Brief interview with Len DiCostanzo re defining a service catalog, leading into discussion about our VARStreet solution. Live from the Podcast Pavilion.

- Saturday Oct. 23rd at 9:45 AM = SMB Nation Podcast - CIAOPS
- Brief interview with Robert Crane about the latest SharePoint opportunities. Live from the Podcast Pavilion.

- Saturday Oct. 23rd at 2:00 PM = SMB Nation Podcast - Zenith
- Brief interview with Maurice Saluan from Zenith. Live from the Podcast Pavilion (booth 205/207).

We're also working on a special podcast for Sunday AM. Stay tuned and connect with me on Twitter and Facebook to keep in touch.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Making Money with Hosted Sharepoint - Oct. 20th Podcast

Next Cloud Services Roundtable:

Making Money with Hosted Sharepoint

with Mr. Robert Crane, author The Sharepoint Operations Guide.

Register Now for Free:

October 20, 2010
9:00 AM Pacific / 12 Noon Eastern

Robert is the author of the Sharepoint Operations Guide, a very handy and easy-to-use guide - even though it's more than 1,500 pages!

You can view Robert's site and see what he's up to at http://www.ciaops.com/ .

Robert is one of the featured speakers at SMB Nation this week. He's in Northern California right now, wandering about and heading to Casa Palachuk for a few days. Then he heads back to San Fran while I head to Vegas. We'll meet up with him again there.

If you've used Sharepoint, and sold it to your clients, then you know that it can be a very profitable product with the right client. We'll investigate the latest developments with Sharepoint and how you can use it to make money in a hosted environment.

Register Free at . . . https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/557434224


Friday, October 15, 2010

Intel Hybrid Cloud Roadshow Kicks Off in Vegas

Intel has partnered with Small Biz Thoughts to bring you a great roadshow filled with prizes and information to help your company make money in cloud services.

Specifically, the prizes include an Intel Hybrid Cloud Server at each roadshow. We will be giving away one server at each stop. We'll also be giving away some copies of my books, including the Network Migration Workbook . . . a $300 value.

The site for Roadshow Stops and Registration is at Small Biz Thoughts. There you can register for FREE, find out more about the Hybrid Cloud, listen to relevant podcasts, see the videos we're about to post, and more.

The first Intel Hybrid Cloud Roadshow stop is Las Vegas at the SMB Nation conference. We'll be in the agenda. So plan to stop by and put your hands on this cool machine.

Other stops currently scheduled include Chicago on November 16th, Grand Rapids on November 17th, and New York City on December 8th.

This will be a great whistle stop series and we'll be posting up videos, audio clips, and more.

Check out the site. If you'll be near one of these cities, please register. We look forward to meeting you on the road AND introducing you to this cool new technology.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Catch Me At SMB Nation - Podcasts and More

Next week the SMB community will be Las Vegas for SMB Nation. In addition to being an attendee at the event, I'm bringing two staff members with me, and I'll be doing some presentations.

If you are even remotely considering SMB Nation this year, please contact me about last-minute pricing for my Preday event on October 21st and contact Harry about last-minute deals for the big show itself.

Podcasts Aplenty!

Over at the Small Biz Thoughts web site, we've listed the podcasts you can check into for live reports from SMB Nation. We'll keep you updated here and on Twitter and Facebook if there are any changes.

The full schedule is at www.smallbizthoughts.com

Stay tuned here and on Facebook/Twitter for updated information on times and topics for the live podcasts.

- Thursday Oct. 21st at 9:00 AM = SMB Nation Podcast - Zenith Info Tech
- Live from the SMB Nation Preday show with Stephan Cico from Zenith Info Tech.

- Friday Oct. 22nd at 11:00 AM = SMB Nation Podcast - Intel
- Brief interview with Intel's Christopher Graham. Live from the Podcast Pavilion.

- Friday Oct. 22nd at 1:30 PM = SMB Nation Podcast - Autotask
- Brief interview with Len DiCostanzo re defining a service catalog, leading into discussion about our VARStreet solution.  Live from the Podcast Pavilion.

- Saturday Oct. 23rd at 9:45 AM = SMB Nation Podcast - CIAOPS
- Brief interview with Robert Crane about the latest SharePoint opportunities.  Live from the Podcast Pavilion.

- Saturday Oct. 23rd at 2:00 PM = SMB Nation Podcast - Zenith
- Brief interview with Maurice Saluan from Zenith.  Live from the Podcast Pavilion.

- Sunday Oct. 24th at 10:00 AM
- - To be announced. Stay tuned.

- - - - -

On other fronts, please check out these events at SMB Nation:

Where You Can Run Into Karl

Thurs. Oct 21st, 10AM - 5PM
Preday Training
Walking Into The Cloud
Information and Registration at http://www.smbnationpreday.com

Friday October 22nd, 3:00 PM:
Hands on Lab with Intel on Intel Hybrid Cloud
- See SMB Nation agenda

Friday October 22nd, 5:15 PM:
Migration Madness: Migrating from SBS to The Cloud
My presentation in the Technical track
- See SMB Nation agenda

Saturday October 23rd, all day
Hands on Labs with HP on HP Thin Client Technologies
- See SMB Nation agenda

- - - - -

I'll be busy during the whole show. Please track me down and shake my hand. I'd love to see you there!


Sunday, October 10, 2010

If You Don't Test Your DRP, You Don't HAVE One!

In my weekly SMB Email (coming out tonight), I talk about testing backups.

I won't repeat that here, but the short version is very simple: If You Don't Test Your Backup, You Don't HAVE One!

At least you can't prove you have a backup unless you can restore from it.

In our experience, 50% of all backup "systems" with new clients are not working when we take on the client. This has held true with tapes, discs, internet backups, on-site systems, off-site systems, etc.

Why? Well . . . Something goes wrong. Some jobs don't kick off until the previous job finishes. So if that job never finishes, you're done. Of course discs go bad (spinning 24x7x365 can do that). Configurations change and backups don't, so the job is set to backup the old data and not the new. USB ports go bad. NAS devices drop a connection. Ports go bad on switches. Cables get unplugged.

And so forth. There are hundreds of reasons why a backup job can stop working.

Any good backup system will have (accurate) logs about the job, how it's performing, and whether it was successful.

But the ultimate test is that you have to restore from that backup to verify that it worked. Period. Every month. Religiously.

The same holds true for Disaster Recovery Plans -- DRPs.

Here's the bad news: DRPs are even more fragile than backups. By definition, you need a great backup in order to perform a disaster recovery. But you also need many other things. Perfect documentation. Replacement hardware. Tech support for business applications. Communications. Insurance information. Account numbers. A chain of command. Authorization processes for all kinds of subsystems. A triage system for old equipment. And so forth.

Imagine that a client's office was destroyed by fire. You have no equipment. No printers, no server, no desktops, no hard copy files. No nothing.

[Side note: You have to think in these terms in order to create a workable DRP. A failed hard drive is not a disaster; it's a minor annoyance. In fact, a failed server shouldn't be much of a disaster either. A business runs on all the hundreds of things and processes that are inter-connected and used to make the operation flow. A disaster affects the organization itself, not just the technology.]

The client needs to continue taking orders, delivering products/services, paying bills, paying payroll, etc. In other words, they need to do everything they did yesterday. And they're all stressed out. And short-tempered, frustrated, and generally not fun to deal with. They might not have a place to work or the tools to get the work done.

They turn to you because you're the highly skilled technical professional. If the first words out of your mouth are "I don't know what to do," they'll be referring to you as their previous consultant.

So, lesson one, you need at least a basic, rudimentary plan of how you will recover their business when disaster strikes. Do you have DRP information stored somewhere in your PSA system (Autotask, ConnectWise, Tigerpaw)? Is it stored at the client's house or in a safe deposit box? Does the client know where to get this information, or is it stored in their garage, in an unmarked wooden box, next to the Ark of the Covenant?

Just as with a backup, we take great pride in our DRPs. And just as with a backup, we never know absolutely for sure that the DRP works unless we test it.

Please be very clear on this point: A Backup Is Not A Disaster Recovery Plan. A backup is one key component. It should be tested every month. But a backup won't help you with the control software for the welding machine, the impact printers for purchase orders, the customized invoice paper, new chairs, insurance claims, emergency bank loans, rental laptops, and a million other details that you won't be able to think of while pointing to the melted server and wondering whether you'll be able to get that hard drive out.

For most small businesses, a DRP is pretty simple. There's a very small, and obvious, chain of command. P.R. and press relations is minor. With modern backup strategies, temporary systems can be set up in virtual machines or in the cloud.

In other words, getting the client limping along is usually not a huge undertaking that requires teams of specialists.

But to get the client fully functional, there need to be checklists, processes, and a prior agreement on how things will flow. Yes, the owner will likely make changes to the plan in the middle of the crisis. But those decisions should be made with an understanding of what the plan is in the first place!

The only way to make this go smoothly is to . . . .

1) HAVE a Disaster Recovery Plan

2) Walk Through the DRP with the client . . . at least once

3) Test the pieces of the plan that you can test

4) Keep the DRP up to date

The plan does not have to be excruciatingly detailed. In fact, it should be simple enough that you can cover it with the business owner in an hour and have everyone feel like they understand it. No one will read this plan during a disaster. In all likelihood, no one will ever read it except you. But you need to explain it to the client so that you get sign-off for the plan.

The DRP walk-through is a simple presentation, probably with a white board, so that everyone knows what to expect. We all know what to do in a fire. Many offices even practice this. But most offices have no idea what to do after the fire.

The initial walk-through should be with the owner/manager. Then, after revisions are integrated, the entire staff should sit in on a revised walk-through. You're obviously not building up a new office, just talking through it, answering questions, and making sure everyone has heard the process once.

Many pieces of the plan can be tested. The most obvious of these is restoring the server. But you can also do things like have the boss bring in the insurance contact list, the employee phone contact list, etc.

Some pieces of the DRP cannot be "tested" but can still be verified. For example, if you're going to need three specialized printers, you can research what you need, where you'll get it, how much it costs, how to expidite the order, how to place the order, and additional information that's needed. All of this information might change, so it should be checked at least once a year. In a real disaster, you probably won't have access to the office to look on the back of a machine to find out what the model number is.

And, to be honest, you don't personally have to update all this info. You can help the client collect it the first time and then just work with their staff to verify information each year after that. In this way, the client's employees will actually have a little "hands on" experience with what they will be asked to do when the "big one" hits.

- - - -

The bottom line: If you don't test your DRP, you don't have one.

And if you're not offering such services to your clients, you should be. No one else is! Besides . . . once you make friends with their insurance rep, that person will introduce you to more people who don't have DRPs at all.


Join Me In Las Vegas

October 21, 2010 . . . for

Walking Into The Cloud

* Six-Hour training *

Get ready NOW to start making money with Cloud Services in the SMB Space.

Find Out About Migrating from SBS to The Cloud

Registration is only $249!

Monday, October 04, 2010

Cloud Marketing Info Request

As you may know, Jeff Johnson from Technology Marketing Toolkit is going to be our guest on the next Cloud Services Roundtable broadcast.

October 6th
9:00 AM Pacific

Register Now at https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/674967817

This is a hot topic and we have a lot of people registered.

I have a small favor to ask. I’m not offering a reward, but in the end, you will certainly benefit.

Let me explain...

Jeff is going to be covering marketing strategies for selling more cloud services to your clients and prospects.

But since this is such a broad topic, I wanted to narrow the content down to a few key points for Jeff to focus on. To that end, could you take a few seconds to answer 2 very important questions?

They are:

1. What is the single most important question you would like us to cover about marketing cloud services?


2. What is the single biggest problem, headache, or pain you have in marketing and selling cloud services?

Please take a minute to reply to this post, or send me an email with your answers. Any feedback you have is appreciated so that I can make sure we create a very informative and enlightening session for you and our other clients.



Join Me In Las Vegas

October 21, 2010 . . . for

Walking Into The Cloud

* Six-Hour training *

Get ready NOW to start making money with Cloud Services in the SMB Space.

Find Out

About Migrating from SBS to The Cloud

Registration is only $249!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Vendors Waste Money at SMB Events

A few days ago I posted an article about Vendors Are Not Evil. And you might call this one . . . but They're Not Good Marketers in The SMB Space.

Please note this very important message from last time: We need vendors at these events. We need them to engage. We need them to have a two-way dialogue. We need to educate them on our clients and their needs. We need them to educate us on where the products are going.

But . . .

Vendors frequently show up at SMB Events and they have no idea why they're there. Someone, somewhere knows why they're at the event. But not necessarily the people at the event.

One of my favorite activities at conferences is to ask the people in the booths why they are there: "What are you hoping to get out of this show?" On VERY rare occasions someone will say "100 new names on our mailing list; six new sign-ups; or one big sale."

99.99% of the time, the answer is, "We just mostly need to be here, improve name recognition, and make sure people are aware of our product."

WTF? You're [Microsoft / HP / Intel / Zenith / Connect wise / Autotask / Cisco / etc.] - People have heard of you! The people at this show have heard of you. Name recognition should be off the table as a "reason" to be here.

Your world consists of a very large funnel with many layers. Every single thing you do at these conferences should either move people into the funnel or through the funnel to a sale. Recognizing the name Microsoft is the stupidest excuse possible for being at a show. Computer illiterate people know the name Microsoft.

So, at a minimum, the person in the booth has no idea why they're at the show. That's okay as long as someone does - AND the activities in the booth are designed to advance that goal.

(One huge exception to this rant is the Exchange/Everything Channel events. The featured sponsors there have a lot of fun and orchestrate a whole series of activities over several days to advance their goals. That's not true of most vendors at the show, but clearly true of the featured sponsors who do the "board meetings" and related activities.)

We (VARs, MSPs, etc.) tend to think in terms of the 2-5 big shows we go to every year. But vendors frequently do 12-24 events a year. Some large vendors do 100-200 events a year. Some do much more than that.

Consider 100 events at $25,000 to $100,000 each . . . and pretty soon it adds up to real money!

They spend millions of dollars . . . frequently with no idea of why they're doing it, how they will measure the outcome, or what they specifically want. As I deal with these large companies I'm amazed at how ineffective their marketing habits are.

Just to pick on Microsoft again . . . Does anyone remember the week a bunch of us received pineapples with no marketing message or indication of why it showed up? We had apparently been in some marketing program, and one piece of that was to send us a pineapple. But there was ZERO communication about why this thing just showed up.

No connections. No call to action. No story about sales. No link to a web site.

Building an SMB Strategy That Works

So what can vendors do to get value from their conference appearances?

In my opinion the key is to Engage us in a discussion. Don't come down like Moses from the Mountain and tell us the way it's gonna be.

We are business owners. And the people who go to conferences tend to be successful enough to shell out money for a conference, airfare, hotel, meals, and maybe some entertainment. In other words, we have the money to there. Trunk slammers with two clients charging $40/hr are NOT attending these conferences.

So, as business owners, we don't expect to be told what to do. Especially by people who want us to give them our money.

Here's big shocker: We want to make more money. We want great products, great tools, new customers, and things that differentiate us from the competition. Here's how you can help:

- Have a program that allows two-way communication
Listen to us. You will sometimes get little or no feedback. You will sometimes be ignored. And other times you'll get a confusing collection of requests that seem to conflict with each other.

Lesson: We're not the homogenized, unified "type" your marketing people came up with. We're entrepreneurs who want to have a conversation about our collective future.

Commit to this communication. Don't allocate $50,000 to one project and then cut it because it wasn't what you wanted. Commit an ongoing piece of your marketing budget to user groups, focus groups, forums, Facebook personnel, feedback, interacting with us as human beings and business owners.

(Note: Microsoft has absolutely excelled at this with their Small Business initiatives for Partners. No relationship is perfect, but you can't argue that they're not trying. They have engaged the SMB/SBS community for YEARS with one initiative after another.)

- Give us access to your programs/tools/products

Some vendors make it so difficult to do business that small I.T. companies simply can't participate. For small items, this means free NFR copies, free 60-day trials, etc. For more expensive products and services, we don't expect to get everything for free. But there should be some kind of NFR program that's EASY to engage in. You don't have to give away $1,000 products. But have an X% off NFR program that doesn't require a mound of paperwork.

If you sign people up for FREE marketing materials and free/paid NFR programs, you will give and get great value at the SMB conferences. You will engage people in a discussion (see previous item) and learn how their businesses work.

- Address the Business Model

Technology is great. We're all nerds. When we get a new PC, we open it and look around. Geek Geek Geek.

But that's not why we're at the conference. Don't spend your time going through menu options. We can do that. We're very technical. Point, click. That's a skill we all share.

We want to know how "this" fits in the small business stack. How will your management tool save me money? How will your tool help me run my business better? How will your product make my client's drool because it improves their business?

Our clients are generally LESS interested in bits and bytes than we are. So gigabyte is just a thing. How will your product help them make money? Because if we can help them make money, they will engage us. And that helps us make money. And that helps you make money.

- Support your products!

This sounds stupid . . . but it's amazing how many people have good-to-great products with horrible technical support, zero technical support, or expensive technical support.

There should be a separate support line for technicians. You can screen for stupidity. Those of us who know what we're doing and learn fast will not be offended. We tend to sell more product than the newbies who should be transferred to the end-user support line.

But your VAR partners deserve a support line that gets answered and provides good support. And I know you need to have a layer for incompetent technicians. I get that. But there should be some way to skip that layer quickly and easily if we're competent.

When I call tech support, I deserve to only talk to someone who knows more than I do about your product. Period. One of the reasons we stopped using Microsoft support several years ago is that the first-line techs were absolutely incompetent AND made it difficult to escalate a call.

We don't sell Dell, but I am always happy to call Dell's Gold Support because every person I've ever dealt with there is a rock star. Yes, the client has to have a support contract. But I think that's completely reasonable.

At a minimum, support to simply install a product should be free unless the product is very complicated. Backup and anti-virus programs do not fall into the category of "complicated." Simple programs that should simply work should simply provide free tech support.

If you're losing money on this, ask your engineering team to create a better installation process.

A Sad Example

Back in the day . . . we used to bounce back and forth between the two major backup products on the market: Backup Exec and ARCServe.

Gradually, ARCServe's tech support went downhill to the point where they apparently just stopped answering the phone.

ARCServe support seemed to simply after the client bought it. So we stopped selling it. Apparently, so did everyone else. Over time we stopped selling ARCServe and only sold Backup Exec.

ARCServe got bought by CA. Backup Exec got bought by Symantec.

About five or six years ago CA made a MAJOR push to re-enter the SMB community. They gave away thousands of copies of the CA ARCServe product. They sponsored events. They engaged in discussions. They tried really hard to push their product on us.

But I had such a bad taste in my mouth from their previous experience that my for-sale copy of the brand new ARCServe sat on my shelf for several years before I put it in the box for Goodwill.

I could not bring myself to trying that product, no matter how good it was technically, because of my bad experience from the past. Apparently many other people had the same experience.

CA might have worn me down with a two-way communication process. With user group support. With engagement. With programs to educate me. With GREAT tech support. With an active role in the community.

Instead, they faded away. They checked the box that says "We tried selling in the SMB space" and chocked it up as a loss. They might still sell their products to the SMB space, but they certainly don't work hard to engage us and listen to us.

And that story is not about the quality of the product.

It's not really about the quality of their tech support because I never gave their revised tech support an opportunity to help me.

That story is about failing the SMB VAR and then failing to engage the community in order to make a come-back. It's about using a top-down command structure view of the world to spend millions of dollars fruitlessly pushing a product without creating any kind of relationship with the potential partners.

I'm not saying every company out there needs to have a "Head Schmoozer" to engage with the SMB Community. But there should be some process to work with us in the way WE are comfortable working. Small businesses . . . and virtually all SMB VARs are small businesses . . . like to deal with people, with straight-forward process, and with programs that have a pretty direct effect on the bottom line.

- - - - -

Maybe I'm getting old, but I want to be seduced.


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