Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Designing and Selling Cloud Services into the 1-20 Desktop Environment

Managed Service Providers looking to move into Cloud Services profitably and easily . . . Here's a great place to start.

I put up a min-site just for this at http://www.cloudcomputerusa.com/.

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by Karl W. Palachuk
90 Minute audio presentation, plus question and answer session.
This is an audio program with the PowerPoint slides in pdf format. Includes one MP3 audio file, one PowerPoint slide deckand one client-facing advertising example. All delivered in one zip file.

How Do You Get Started with Cloud Services?

It can be challenging to offer us the right cloud service offering for small clients. After all, they want a service that's as good as what they're used to with a server. You can't put in a half-baked solution and keep your client happy.

Plus, you need to make sure you get the recurring revenue. So you don't want to sell solutions that pay you $00.36/month for each user while some major corporation earns $9.64/month. You need to own the client. You need to remain the trusted advisor.

Plus, in the long term, you need to manage ALL of the client's technology. Replacing the server is fine, but someone has to tend to routers, firewalls, switches, printers, cabling, battery backups, desktop PCs, monitors, and all the other stuff that lives on site.

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This is especially true in very small businesses.

There are 14.4 million businesses in the United States with 1-25 desktops! That's a huge market.
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Design a recurring revenue model that keeps these people as your clients for the long term. After all, backing up data to the cloud is a commodity offering. You need to have a unique value proposition that keeps your clients loyal to YOU.

Delivered by Karl W. Palachuk, a managed service provider and cloud service provider with more than 16 years in the consulting business. Karl is the host of the Cloud Services Roundtable and has been on the MSP 250 List every year it has been published.

Product Description

Cloud Services for 1-20 desktop environments

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Open Letter to Vendors and Readers

I have been running this blog for almost six years. In many ways, it has remained pretty much the same. We're now pushing cloud services in addition to managed services. But, really, the blog is about the business side of running a business.

Way back when, I decided that the world didn't need another techie blog about the inner workings of active directory or how many vpn connections you could get on an SBS box. To be very honest, I'm pretty darn good on the technical side. I would put my technical abilities up against anyone in the industry. But you can get that information everywhere, from vendors, bloggers, technical schools, and mailing lists.

This blog has been about the business side of business . . . and will continue to be so. Yeah, sometimes we delve into the tech stuff. But for the most part it's about making money in the small business space.

There's really only one area of confusion I've found with readers, partners, and vendors: What I promote and when.

Blog Promotions

Here's the deal. If you send me an occasional press release, I'll publish it. If you send me an email announcement of a product or event, I'll publish it. If you ask me to publishing something, chances are pretty good I will.

Will I promote your user group? Yes.
Will I promote a product? Yes.
Will I publish promotions for a product I don't use? Yes.

Do you have to pay for any of this? No.

Podcasts? Yes.
Webinars? Yes.
Things that compete with me? Yes.
Roadshows, road trips, etc.? Yes.

Pretty much anything that anyone wants to promote to the I.T. Professionals and Small Business Specialists out there, we'll promote. If it's related to cloud services, we'll promote it.

If it focuses on the new computer consultants entering this field and trying to figure out which tools to use and which products and services to sell, we'll promote it.

Weekly Newsletter Promotions

My newsletter has a slightly different twist. That's a smaller format, so I can't load it up with dozens of press releases.

Basically, I hand select what gets published there. So give me a good reason and we can talk. Otherwise, look for it on the blog.

I do have a calendar of live events in the weekly newsletter. I try to keep that up to date. It lists live, in-person events that SMB Consultants might want to attend. The only criterion here is that they are live events.

If I tried to publish every conference call, podcast, and webcast, the calendar would be so overwhelmed it would be useless. So I stick to live events.

If you don't fit in that category and you want to get your message out to thousands of computer consultants, see the next section.

Major Promotions

Then there's the big picture. I have Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn. I have blog posts (I write several blogs besides this one). I have podcasts. I will do webinars, but I don't have them regularly scheduled. I give speeches and put on road shows.

I can promote events, products, and services on the dozen major and 300 minor web sites I maintain. We have a decent sized mailing list.

So if you want to promote something to this audience, and you have a budget, I can help. I don't mind doing an all-out push on all my lists, newsletters, blogs, etc. IF it's worth my while.

I don't get paid to blog. I like to blog.

Blogging is that happy convergence between my need to share a vision of the world with other people's desire to learn what others are doing in their business.

The bottom line: Send me your stuff. If you send too much, I'll just ignore some of it. If you "use" me in moderation, I'll help you promote. But *I* get to decide what gets published, where, and when. If you want to buy access, then you're welcome to do that.

We accept Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and beer.


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

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


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Networking is Not Sales

Networking is networking.

Networking is not sales.

What you do at a networking event is . . . network. Not sales.

There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of networking opportunities in your town. Meet-and-greets. Lunches. Parties. Gatherings. Open houses.

I love to meet people. In 2011 I was able to do some major traveling and hit some major events. I got to shake hands with at least a thousand people.

Part of meeting and greeting is talking about what you do. But believe me, it's the least interesting thing you can talk about! And, more importantly, it's the worst thing you can talk about.

There are exceptions. If you're at a nerd conference and you're talking to other nerds, then 100% business is fine. But even there, you need to know when to notch it down. At the after-party on the roof of the Rio, with free booze, great views, dancing, and music . . . don't ask me about which warranty programs we push with our servers.

Seriously. Do you like the band? Is the music too loud? Is this your first trip to Vegas? What kind of hot spots do you have in your home town? Isn't that a great outfit? I have a killer recipe for . . .

See? Talk about anything except work.

Reality Check One: You're Not Signing a Deal

When you go to a networking event, the goal is networking, not sales. No one is going to meet you and sign a deal at the buffet table. Really. So don't act as if they were.

Many people tolerate sales at these events. Some people move away as quickly as possible. Some will hold it against you for the rest of your life. Notice that two of these are negative and none of these is positive.

No one goes to a chamber mixer to find a new computer consultant.

Yeah. Really.

So, please understand that everyone wants a 30 second intro, an exchange of cards, and then move on to something else. If you need help, Google "How To Make Small Talk."

Reality Check Two: Networking is About Meeting People

Your goal at the networking events is to meet people and make a positive impression. If you do that right, you can collect business cards and write notes on the back.

What kind of notes? That's easy as 1-2-3.

1) Where you met the person

2) An interesting topic you discussed

3) Follow-up idea

- Pet Peeve Side Note
- Take out your business card. Turn it over and write on the back. 1=Small Biz Mixer. 2=Has a newborn. 3=Send seminar invite.
- If you can't write this on the back of your card, neither can anyone else! If that's the case, order new business cards.
- If the back of your cards is glossy, throw them away and order new business cards.
- If the back of your card is covered with advertising or something else, throw them away and order new business cards.

The reason you want to talk about anything other than work is so that you can get to know the people you are meeting. 99.9% will not be looking for I.T. consulting right now. And even if they were, this is not the place for that discussion. See Reality Check One.

So, you want to make a good impression, get a business card, and add this person to your trickle marketing. Someday, they made need a new I.T. person . You want to be the person they met who seemed amazingly normal . . . and interested in them. If you're just another geek that only cares about computers, they have no reason to remember you.

In the best case scenario, you will meet some really interesting people and maybe even make friends.

I'm sorry to admit this, but I go to lots of networking events in Sacramento, CA . . . even though I have nothing to sell these people. I'm not doing sales for America's Tech Support. I won't turn down business, of course, but we've got a full time hob-knobber. So I'm not the sales person.

I go representing Great Little Book and Small Biz Thoughts, or Relax Focus Succeed. As a result, I'm never going to meet someone who will hire me to give a speech or buy an ad on my web site. But I still get to meet people! I still get the occasional free beer.

. . . And when I go to industry events and meet people who CAN do business with GLB, SBT, or RFS, then I'm all practiced up and able to network. I've exercised my networking muscle so I'm not at a loss for words or topics when I find myself on the roof of the Rio with an hors d'oeuvre in one hand and a drink in the other.

And on the roof of the Rio, I'm not selling. I don't even bring contracts with me. I dance. I chit-chat. I network. I collect business cards. I try to make a positive impression.

99.9% of the time, I just make new friends. Because most people don't need a speaker or writer or advertising. But everyone can use more friends.

Reality Check Three: You Still Need To Do Sales

The WORST thing to happen to the economy in the last five years is Social Media. Somehow, somewhere along the line, people came to believe that networking, horsing around, and bullshit will replace sales.

"Wow. He posted a cool video of a dancing frog. I think I'll hire him to take care of my computers." Not.

Bizarre. Strange. But somehow people have come to believe that networking replaces sales. I'm not kidding you when I say that this has played some role in delaying our recovery from the recession. Somehow, people think money will simply show up in their hands. Unbelievable.

Networking is part of marketing. Marketing is getting your image and brand out there. Marketing is promotion. Marketing is filling your funnel so you can do sales. Marketing is not sales.

Sales is when you actually ask someone for their money. No amount of marketing will do that. Marketing makes sales easier. Networking makes sales easier.

But networking is not sales.

. . . so you need to follow up on your leads. You need to collect those business cards. You need to write notes on the back. Then you need to follow up with an email or a letter.

"It was great to meet you the other night. I hope that newborn lets you get some sleep. . ." (and on to the pitch).

You met this person. You reminded them of your conversation. At the gathering, you made a good impression, so your mail/email actually gets opened. Now you need to begin the (sometimes long) process of getting them into your sales funnel.

Introduce your company. Introduce your products. Introduce the latest promotion. Ask for a meeting. Make a proposal. Sign a deal.

This process -- the sales process -- might take years. Why? Because, 99.9% of the time, 99.9% of the companies are not looking for what you have to sell. So you need to execute the sale funnel process. Do the work that leads to new sales.

Your job will be a LOT more difficult if you started out as the boring geek at the party who could only talk about gigabytes of blah blah.

If you're the associate or friend that someone met at a party awhile back, and they've come to know you, then life is easier. When a prospect knows you, likes you, and trusts you, everything is easier. But if all you can talk about is business, you make it harder on yourself.

Most of the time, it will be easier to make friends than clients. So be grateful that you have new friends. Enjoy the new relationship. And when they need a computer consultant, you'll be on the top of their list.


Now Shipping:

Friday, November 25, 2011

SOP Friday: Celebrate Anniversaries and Birthdays

If nothing else, small business is a world of personal connections. Unlike mega-corps, there are few employees, few owners, and few clients. So it makes a difference when you pay attention to the little things.

One of my favorite features on Facebook is the birthday list. I like to see who has a birthday today and send a quick note. Not to total strangers (since I have 4400 connections, many are strangers), but to people I know or have done business with.

Celebrate Client Anniversaries

Early on, our company started sending birthday greetings if we know a client's birthday. Not generic corporate cards, but just fun birthday cards I bought at the store. After all, we didn't really know that many birthdays.

More importantly, we started celebrating major client anniversaries. These started at the one year mark. I bought a small gift, like a bottle of wine, and presented the client with a card and the gift. I always keep my eye out for good gifts. One time I gave a client a 25 pound Hershey's chocolate bar. It was big and fun.

For five and ten year anniversaries I step it up quite a bit, especially for larger clients. I throw an actual party with a cake and punch. Many bakeries can print a "photo" onto a sheet cake. We order up a cake with a picture of us and the client, or with our logos together and a message that says "Thank you for five great years."

Some bakeries are really sticklers about logos, fearing copyright infringement. I think they had one warning about copy rights and trademarks and they're scared to death . . . even though they display large knock-off images of Disney characters. Anyway, some won't put your logo on the cake . . . not even your own logo. Find another bakery or settle for a nice font.

The key point is to actually celebrate your business partnership.

Remember, most businesses aren't IN business for five years, let alone having a five year anniversary of doing business with another company. And ten years is very rare stuff.

Celebrate Employee Birthdays

This is very simple. You might go to lunch or just buy a cake and sing Happy Birthday at the office.

As adults we rarely celebrate birthdays in a major way unless they end with a 5 or 0. So it's nice when people in the office bring out a cake and a card that everyone signed.

It's also nice to give your team a half hour of hanging out with each other and chatting casually instead of only working together.

If you have a larger staff, you may want to combine the January birthdays, February birthdays, etc.

If you can spring for a give card to Best Buy or some other place, that's always appreciated.

Implementation is Easy

Someone (office manager?) needs to keep track of employee birthdays. Just keep a list, and keep it updated when you hire someone.

The same goes for clients: Create a schedule that includes the first month they were ever billed for services. This is very easy to figure out. Just open QuickBooks and look at the details for that client. Go back to the first entry. It will be an invoice for the first job you did.

If you would rather track the first time they signed a managed service contract, that may take a little more work. But all the answers are in Quickbooks.

We have used Send Out Cards sometimes, but we just don't have the volume to make it worthwhile. That means we need to actually buy cards for our clients. The volume is low because we rarely have more than four or five anniversaries in a month. And we only go all-out on biggies.

The bottom line is that implementing a party policy is easy. You just have to decide to do it.

. . . And remember that it's the little things that matter in the long run.

Your Comments Welcome.

- - - - -

About this Series

SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.

Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at http://www.smallbizthoughts.com/events/SOPFriday.html.

- - - - -

Next week's topic: Defining Your Company to Clients and Employees


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

Monday, November 21, 2011

Managed Services in a Month - A Great Step-by-Step Guide

Just in case you didn't know . . . I have a book that has helped thousands of computer consultants, I.T. professionals, and managed service providers in the last few years:

Managed Services in a Month

A Great Step-by-Step Guide to Managed Services

by Karl W. Palachuk

Check out the site decicated to this book.

It's not too late! YOU can get into Managed Services -- in a month.

All you need is a little guidance and how-to instruction. As Karl says, lots of people have done this and you can, too.

Even if you decide not to become an MSP (managed service provider), this book is full of great advice about taking stock of your business, "weeding your client garden," adjusting your prices, and other best practices for the SMB Consultant.

Product Description
Managed Services in a MonthThis book is guaranteed to improve your business. Thousands of people have taken the challenge and become MSPs in a month -- and so can you!

This book is available in two forms:

- As a book (110 pages)
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- As an audio MP3 download (one file, 99 minutes)
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Download Table of Contents
Table of Contents
Download First 5 Pages of Part 1
Download First 5 Pages of Part 5


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Point Click Work Wins Best Newcomer Award at IT Nation

Brett Jaffe from Point Click Work is very proud of the fact that his branded cloud solution won the Best Newcomer Award at IT Nation last week. So he's come up with promotion for new partners. Here's his announcement. Note that the offer ends November 30th.

- - - - -
After several months of changes to our cloud offering, we finally launched PointClickWork at the ConnectWise IT Nation in Orlando last week. Well, we were pleasantly surprised when we won the Best Newcomer award, as voted on by over 1600 attendees! With over 60 excellent vendors at the show, what a great way to start off!

As a celebration to our new-found 15 minutes of fame, we are extending a $500 discount to all partners who sign up before November 30th! Its our own Thanksgiving to all of the great people who voted for us.

We've made quite a few changes to our partner program and want to share with you the new documents, pricing, and even some frequently asked questions before you come on board. As such, we have launched our new Website (still adding content) and have published info that you can only access here with direct links:

Partner Signup Documents: Here you will find our Partner Agreement, Pricing Schedule, and Frequently Asked Questions

Partner Agreement: When you are ready to sign up, you can complete your agreement online. All agreements that reach us before 11/30 will include the setup discount. If you are prompted for a password to submit your agreement, use pcwcloud. Note that this is the same agreement you can download and review separately.

• We have also updated our Webinar Schedule and have added a new webinar specifically to address partner questions & answers. This webinar will be held twice before our discount deadline, however you can always send questions to [email protected].

We also encourage you to browse the updated website (and let me know if the form is quirky as we have the developer looking into it).

Onboarding will happen on a first-come, first-served basis as all training is FREE and done online, so we keep sessions limited. But don't worry, we will add more sessions as necessary to meet the demand, since we are as excited as you are about transforming your business into a Cloud Service Provider.

So to summarize:

1. $500 Discount off partnership fee: deadline of 11/30/11 (Hey, a palindrome! Yes, I'm a geek...)

2. You don't need to fly across the country for training. We have this cool new technology that allows us to do training online, because that's how we roll...

3. This is YOUR branded cloud solution. You are not a reseller and are not furthering our brand and market share.

4. There is NO term or monthly commitment, so you won't go poor as you get rolling.

5. Justin Bieber is still an enemy of the people (It's late on a Friday... let me have this one...)
So I think I've officially made my "this week" deadline, and I'm willing to bet at least 75% of the people getting this are checking their email Friday night anyway...

Have a great weekend and I look forward to having you onboard!

- - - - -

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Own Web Now to Launch a New Version of Shockey Monkey

Got a memo from my friend Vlad . . .

There's big news afoot at Shockey Monkey . . . and you can get in on the broadcast details. Here's the memo:

- - - - -

Good afternoon friends.

I wanted to personally invite you to a webinar we are holding next week to explain a huge change coming up to Shockey Monkey platform:

Tuesday, November 22, Noon EST

In short, we’re launching the biggest update to SM since it’s launch last year. It’s currently used to manage over 6,000 businesses and over 2,000 of those portals are active on a daily basis. We’ve acted on all the user feedback and requested changes, integrated it with nAble, Level Platforms, Digital Architect, Kaseya, Quotewerks, Intuit Quickbooks, CentraStage, Twitter, etc as well as a more enhanced integration with Autotask and Connectwise for eventual upgrades.

The other major change is that we’re doing away with the Free, Fro and Pro tiers and will be offering all the features free of charge – but it will be a sponsored solution so this will create a huge opportunity for everyone to reach that fresh blood of IT Solution Providers. It’s an extremely lucrative marketplace and we’ll be sharing stats and financials over what we’ve been able to accomplish with it during the last year. Obviously it’s something that’s working very well for us financially and we feel it could grow much faster if we opened it up and dropped any suggestion that MSPs need to pay for anything to manage their own business as they are growing it.

I hope you can join us for the explanation, overview, demo and I look forward to answering any questions you may have. I’ll be speaking to anyone that wants one on one time over the next two weeks but Tuesday will give you the big picture for the solution and it’s potential. Hopefully this gives you some ideas so if you’d like to speak with me directly, my number is 407-536-8523, let’s schedule something.

Have a great day and a great time.


P.S. In case you can’t fit it in your schedule, don’t worry, I’ll email you a summary when all this goes public on Dec 1st.

Vlad Mazek, MCSE
CEO, Own Web Now Corp
Blog - NOC - Support - Twitter - Wiki

- - - - -


Friday, November 18, 2011

SOP Friday: Naming Conventions for Machines and Servers

I got pinged awhile back about machine names. Believe it or not, we have some rules around machines names. Actually, we have one super important rule, one preferred process, and a bunch of minor guidelines.

There are four sets of names you need to worry about on a regular basis: Domains, Servers, Workstations, and Printers. You might have additional devices (scanners, time clocks, nuclear imaging devices, etc.) for some clients. For all of these, the guidelines we use for printers will suffice.

Why Do We Have Names?

As silly as it sounds, people like to find machines and devices by name and not by IP address. Once you allow people to name things, they tend to choose things they like. In my file of strange and interesting bits of knowledge from the past, I have several printouts of various reports on the popularity of machine names.

It used to be easy to compile these before there was a distributed DNS system. Believe it or not, there was a time when you had to download the latest HOSTS file in order to access all the machines on the Internet. Of course that made it easy to grep the hosts file and run analyses.

A good example of this is found in RFC 1296. In 1992, the first most common host names were Venus, Pluto, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn. The planet theme is very clear here. Greek gods, characters from The Hobbit, Star Trek, and the Seven Dwarfs are well represented too.

But even 20 years ago, it is clear that simple workstation numbers were very popular. PC1, PC2, PC3, Mac1, Mac2, Mac3. Those series (PC and Mac) represent 28 of the 100 most common machine names.

I like themes. Just remember that one theme can simply be the machine's most basic identity (server01, workstation02, printer03, etc.). Just be prepared to take some grief if you use these labels, even though they are perfectly acceptable.

Limitations on Names

Keep in mind that there are some common sense limitations to domain and machines names. There are limits within NetBIOS, limits within DNS, and operating system limits. You should stay within the most restrictive limits. That means you should keep machine names to 15 characters or less.

Microsoft has a history of both allowing and encouraging you to make stupid decisions about domain names and machine names. Bad decisions here WILL bite you in the butt later on down the road. For example . . .

- Since Windows 2000, 64 bit machines can have very long machine names. Don't do it.
- Older versions of SBS defaulted to renaming machines for the current user. Don't do it.
- NT 3.5 and 4.0 allowed domain with hyphens. Once active directory showed up on the scene, these machines (e.g., SBS servers) could not become domain controllers. Ouch.
- For awhile (e.g., SBS 2003), Microsoft encouraged you to use your public domain name (e.g., KPEnterprises.com) as your internal domain name. This led to all kinds of problems down the road. Most people were sharp enough to use .local or some other "fake" domain extension, so they avoided problems down the road.

Lesson: Be careful about advice from Microsoft on computer names.

Also note that some operating systems deal with hyphenation better than others. So avoid it. Don't start machine names with a number. That can be confusing to some programs. Start with an alpha character. User numbers if you want. But avoid spaces and any special characters.

The One Big Rule

I mentioned that we only have one big rule. We have already discussed it a bit:

Do NOT name machines after their users.
Corollary: Do not name machines after their function.

When small businesses first started getting computers, they were delighted to be able to name things. The server was named Server. Bob's machine was named Bob, Carol's machine was named Carol. And that was great for awhile. Then Bob left and Ted took his place. Alice was hired and got Carol's machine as a hand-down.

So Ted's machine is named Bob. Alice's machine is named Carol. And Carol's new machine can't be named Carol because you can't have two machines with the same name.

The problem can arise if you re-purpose a server. When SQL1 is replaced with SQL2, you might want to use that old machine as a file server. So the file server is now named SQL1. Yes, you could rename it, but then you begin to create the kind of spider-webbed active directory you say you hate. Remember that renaming a machine always leaves residue. This is less of a problem than it used to be, but why take steps that "might" be troublesome down the road.

This is a pain in the neck on desktops and a minor annoyance on servers.

The One Preferred Process

I mentioned that we have one big rule (above) and one preferred process. Our preferred process is very simple. We like to name the "big" server with the date it was new. This applies primarily to small business environments. For example, our favorite server names are

- SBS2011
- SBS2010
- Johnson2009
- Unity2008
- ABC2007

The core machine name is either the client's name (Johnson, Unity, ABC), or simply SBS. The date is the year the machine was installed. Clients don't care about server versions (2003, 2008, 2011).

The date format allows you to see at a glance how old the server is. You can use this to help diagnose problems. You can also use it to remind the client of how old the server is. "Well, sir, XYZ2004 is now seven years old. Some of the slowness you're experiencing may be related to that!"

In addition, this habit allows you to quickly identify machines. If all your servers are named SBS or Server, that's not helpful. It reminds me of all the resumes we get named "resume.doc" (not helpful).

Bunch of Minor Guidelines

So, how do we recommend naming machines? Here are some miscellaneous guidelines.

First, if you can get the client to go along, try the basic Station1, Station2, Station3 or Workstation1, Workstation2, Workstation3. Yeah, I know it's boring. But it's easy and straight forward. More and more clients are accepting this. Unlike ten years ago, desktop machines are now just another part of business. They're no longer a play-thing.

Second, pick a name that includes part of the company's name and a workstation number. This is our favorite. ABC01, ABC02, ABC03, etc. It is handy if you already have a 3- or 4-digit code for each client. Just use that.

Third, if the client wants something more imaginative, have them pick a theme. Depending on the size of the office, you'll need to pick a theme with enough options so that you won't run out of names. If you pick planets, for example, you won't be able to have more than ten desktops without using planet names you heard on Star Trek reruns.

Some good themes we've seen include:

- Car parts
- Planets
- Greek alphabet
- Rock bands
- Flowers
- Geographic locations (states, mountains, lakes)
- Colors (again, not too many options here unless you run a paint department)
- Elements

Fourth, consider a generation-based naming scheme. For example, when a client does a technology refresh, give a standard name with a two-digit number. For example, Alpha, Beta, Gamma generations will have Alpha01, Alpha02, Beta01, etc. So you know that Beta machines are all newer than all Alpha machines. This might not be worth the trouble.

Fifth, you might use a department name along with a counter. Sales01, sales 02, finance01, finance02, etc. This works best in large offices. As with personal names, you don't want to find yourself with machine finance02 in the sales department. :-)

Plan on Retiring Machines

One of the key things to remember with computers is that machines die, get old, become obsolete, and are retired. So the names need to allow for this. Ideally, you will be able to retire a name and not reuse it. Or at least not reuse it for a few years. This works well with Station01 ... Station99. It's not as successful with the Seven Dwarfs.

Server01 might be a SQL server this year and an Exchange server next year. But after that, it might be a donation to the local charity. So the name Server01 should be retired and another server added to the end of the machine list.

This policy -- not reusing machine names -- saves confusion in the long run. This is particularly true with RMM tools and PSA systems. You don't want to have sales03 in your paper documentation be different from sales03 in your PSA and even different from sales03 in your RMM tool.

So think of machine names as single-use resources.

We have a spec sheet for machine names. That's where we lay out the plan for machine names. In some cases (e.g., flowers or Greek alphabet), we find a good list on the Internet and put a copy in the network documentation binder. That way a tech on site can just look up a new name and not waste any time.

It is important to keep track of all machines on a network. We have layers and layers documentation on this. As I just mentioned, there's paper documentation, Autotask documentation, and Zenith documentation. Keeping this straight is a lot easier if you never reuse a machine name.

And therefore, it makes a lot of sense to plan out your machine names as early as possible.

And when you get new clients, set up a policy and begin putting new machines into the new naming scheme as you can.

Implementation Notes

The most basic element of implementation is to simply write 1-2 sentences explaining the naming scheme for each client. This should live in their network documentation binder. You might also put a note in Autotask or other PSA.

Machine Spec Sheets will of course help in this process.

Your Comments Welcome.

- - - - -

About this Series

SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.

Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at http://www.smallbizthoughts.com/events/SOPFriday.html.

- - - - -

Next week's topic: Celebrate Anniversaries (Employees and Clients)


SMB Books, Audio Programs, and More 

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- Technical - Business - Marketing - 
- Managed Services - Cloud Computing - 
- Network Migrations - Sales - 

All these resources and more. 

SMB Books is THE resources for the small business IT consultant who wants to move up to the next level. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How is Zero Downtime Migration Different from Swing Migration?

How is Zero Downtime Migration Different from Jeff's "SBS Migration?"Network Migration Workbook

We get this question a log.
Actually, there's no comparison.

We've always been a little confused by this question.

Many people ask us about the tools at SBSMigration.com. These are great tools. We endorse them. We even call them out in the book several times.

But there is no real "choice" between Jeff's tools and our process. Jeff's tools simply don't cover the migration process. They handle one very specific piece of the migration. And they do it extremely well.

First, Jeff's process has downtime. But more importantly, it doesn't cover MOST of what you need in a migration.

Basically, Jeff walks you through cleaning up active directory so you don't have to re-create users and computers. A key factor is the size of the client. If you've got 50 workstations, you might want to use Jeff's toolset in addition to our book.

If you've got 1-15 users, there's no way you'd spend all that time cleaning active directory and bringing over all the "garbage" from the last eight years. Just use our ZDT process.

In between . . . you need to see for yourself.

In our opinion, there really isn't a choice to be made between our book and Jeff's toolset. We cover every bit of the migration project in excruciating detail. We refer to Jeff's tool in the list of tools you might use, but Jeff's toolset addresses about three pages worth of material in our 590 page book.

I know this sounds very self-serving, but Jeff does not address
  • Migrating exchange
  • Migrating sharepoint
  • Migrating IIS
  • Migrating SQL
  • Migrating line of business applications
  • Migrating old desktops
  • Migrating printers
  • and a whole lot more.

He doesn't cover
  • Project management
  • Using a PSA system to assist in a migration
    ( ConnectWise, Autotask, Tigerpaw, etc.)
  • Using an RMM tool to assist in a migration
    (Zenith, Kaseya, etc)
  • Handling communications
  • Working with vendors
  • Working with employees
  • Working the clients
  • Project proposals
  • Money
  • Profitability
  • Staying on time
  • Staying in budget
  • etc.
Please take a look at the Table of Contents and sample chapter on the Network Migration home page.

We feel very strongly that we cover every aspect of a network migration. Jeff's tool addresses one step of that process. Basically, he spends time cleaning up AD rather than creating new users and computers on the new domain. But that's just one piece of a migration.
Without downtime . . .
  • You can do network migrations during the workweek
  • The client doesn't have to ever send people home because of you
  • You can work when 3rd party support is available
  • You don't have to pay overtime
  • and Neither does the client
  • You look like a hero!
Now includes the complete checklist for SBS 2011!

Comparison: Network Migration Workbook and SBS Migration Toolset
ProcessNetwork Migration WorkbookSBS Migration Toolset
Introduction to Migrating the Windows EnvironmentYes
Modern Migration StrategiesYes
Multi-Server EnvironmentsYesYes
What's The Best For Your Client?Yes
Working During Normal Business HoursYes
Consulting Assistance AvailableYesYes
Tools and RulesYes
Using a Ticketing System to Track MigrationsYes
Dealing with Interruptions from Clients and EmployeesYes
Documentation Templates for Everything!Yes
Communication Processes and TemplatesYes
SMB Consulting Project ManagementYes
Network Discovery and InventoryYes
Inventory: Physical AssetsYes
Inventory: Services and ResourcesYes
Building the PlanYes
Writing the PlanYes
Goal Setting: Treating Your SBS Migration Like an EmployeeYes
Dealing with Client ObjectionsYes
Pricing Your ProjectYes
Security ConsiderationsYes
Getting Approval for the ProjectYes
Budgeting, Adjusting, and Final DraftYes
Running Successful Migration ProjectsYes
200+ page checklist SBS 2003 to SBS 2008Yes
200+ page checklist "Anything" to SBS 2008Yes
200+ page checklist SBS 2003 or 2008 to SBS 2011Yes
Methods for Achieving Zero DowntimeYes
There Are No Emergency MigrationsYes
The Network Documentation BinderYes
Quoting the Migration ProjectYes
Project InitiationYes
The Reality of Quoting in the SMB SpaceYes
Your Line CardYes
Labor EstimatesYes
Producing Two QuotesYes
Client Approval ProcessYes
Focus on Desktop MigrationsYes
PSA Project ManagementYes
The Checklist As A Living DocumentYes
Best Practices and Core PhilosophiesYes
Using a Troubleshooting and Repair LogYes
Microsoft-Centric HabitsYes
Your RMM as A "Best Practice"Yes
Profiles and ExchangeYes
Focus on ProfilesYes
Understand DirectoriesYes
Copying Profile PiecesYes
The User State Migration ToolYes
SBS Migration and Active DirectoryYesYes
Exchange MigrationYes
Database MigrationYes
Service Requests in Your PSAYes
The Big Picture on Timing: From Sales Cycle to Project CompletionYes
Major Work Before the Server MoveYes
Moving the Major ComponentsYes
Desktop to Desktop ProceduresYes
The Golden HoursYes
A Low-Stress Process That Can't FailYes
Spinoff ProjectsYes
Project CompletionYes
Project EvaluationYes
Case StudiesYes
Online ContentYesYes

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Service Agreements for SMB Consultants - Now an Ebook!

Just in case you didn't know . . . I have a book that has helped thousands of computer consultants, I.T. professionals, and managed service providers in the last few years:

Service Agreements for SMB Consultants

A Quick-Start Guide to Managed Services

by Karl W. Palachuk

Check out the site decicated to this book.

This great little book does a lot more than give you sample agreements. I start out with a discussion of how you run your business and the kinds of clients you want to have. The combination of these -- defining yourself and defining your clients -- is the basis for your service agreements.

Includes sample contracts with commentaries. All text, as well as some other great resources, all available online to registered book owners.

Product Description
Service Agreements for SMB ConsultantsEveryone knows it - spoken agreements aren t worth the paper they're written on. The SMB Consultant is facing changes we never imagined a few years ago. Managed services are everywhere. Franchised tech support is taking off.

And now big corporations are trying to compete in the SMB Space. Whether you like it or not, you need to make some changes in order to meet the challenges of the next few years. Service agreements literally define your business. If you re not using them, you need to start today.

If you are using them, great! Just make sure that they truly represent who you are and how you want to define your business.

Whether you sell your services hourly, in blocks of time, or with a Managed Services plan, you need a good service agreement.

You need this book! As with my other books, I give you more than just the forms. This book includes best practices and lots of great information to help you run your business more prosperously!

Only $39.95

Also Available as an e-book.

Download Table of Contents
Table of Contents
Download First 4 Pages of Chapter 1
Download First 5 Pages of Chapter 8

PLUS Online Content

When you buy Service Agreements fro SMB Consultants, you can register it online at www.smbbooks.com. Once we verify that you are a book owner, you will have complete access to the online content.

Online content includes
  • Sample Service Agreements in Word doc format
  • Excel spreadsheets, as discussed in the book
  • Sample Cover Letters for clients and prospects
  • IRS Goodies and information about taxes
  • Links and Resources
  • and more!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Add a Logo to Your QR Code

A few days ago I posted a blog about creating your QR Codes for free. Reader Sean gave me a link to a very cool web site called Hack a Day.

After a very minor investigation, I was able to place my logo into a scannable QR Code. Like this:

I'll let you review that blog post. But here are the basics.

QR Codes consist of primarily black and quite pixels. These are placed in squares so that a scanner can easily identify the black vs. white and return a scan result in a timely manner. There are some basic elements of the QR Code construction, such as the three large squares to anchor the scan. Then there are "timing" patterns across the top and left side of the QR Code.

In addition, there are a few areas you can't touch, and lots of space for data to be written.

The QR Code we use today is based on a standard created by DENSO WAVE in 1994. See the spec at QR Code.com. Denso owns the patent but has allowed the code structure to become "open" by not enforcing their patent rights. Because the code pattern is interpreted both horizontally and vertically, it is basically a large mathematical matrix that can store a lot more data than a "bar code" such as an ISBN.

One other cool feature is built into the QR Code: It is intended to provide valid information even if the code is dirty, obscured, or damaged. For example, if your FedEx box gets scraped and the QR Code is only partially complete, it can still work . . . to a point. The important point here is that the QR Code graphic can be "polluted" and it will still work.

Another cool feature is that checksums are built into the QR Code spec. That's what makes them work even if obstructed. You can choose the error correction level. Depending on how you construct your QR Code, up to 30% of the codewords (one codeword = 8 bits of data) can be restored from checksum.

So . . . If you can have a distorted or polluted QR Code, and you know that a fairly high percentage of the code can be obscured with no effect on the result . . . then you can play with putting your own graphics into the code. For Example, these two codes both return the exact same result:


Note that a more complicated QR Code will actually let you distort a larger space.

To accomplish this, first create the QR Code you want. Then you have two options: the hard way or the easy way. For the hard way, see the links above and figure out the math. The key to a "large" logo space will be to create a QR Code with error correction of Level H (30%).

Here's the easy way.

1. Generate a QR Code. You can use my QR Code Generator or find one at qrstuff.com or somewhere else.

2. Save the QR Code and make a copy. You'll edit the copy, of course.

3. Open your logo in your graphics program.

4. Select your logo with as tight a selection as possible (invisible background, not much edge, etc.).

5. Paste your logo into the QR graphic. Size as needed. The best locations are the center of the tag and the lower right hand corner.

6. To test, deselect your logo so the code appears "clean" and scannable. Then scan it from your monitor. If the logo is small enough, the code will scan.

7. If the code DOES scan right away, consider enlarging your logo. Keep making it larger until the scan fails. Then go back the the most recently successful version.

8. If the code DOES NOT scan, decrease the size of the logo. Keep testing until it works.

9. Save the result as a new file.

Note: You will want to work with a hi-res file at first and then make it a reasonable size for your medium (print, web, business card, etc.). Be sure to test, test, test.

One of the key factors to consider is speed. Because your phone is doing some error correction on the fly, you may be able to get a logo'd QR code to work after several scanning attempts. But you don't want that. You need the logo to be just a little smaller so the error correction is very fast and unnoticeable to the end user.

Finally, please note that most free QR Code generators on the Internet do not let you choose the error correction level, and do not provide a high error correction level. That means your logo is limited in size. There are several commercial packages that create bar codes and QR Codes. Start with a commercial package if you want to maximize the correction level and therefore your logo size.


Now Shipping:
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Zero Downtime Migration Strategies for Microsoft Networks

Friday, November 11, 2011

SOP Friday: Firing Process

Perhaps the hardest lesson I ever had to learn as an employer is to fire - or lay off - employees. It is still very difficult for me.

Layoffs due to lack of work are a different animal from actually firing for cause. But if you're in business long enough, you'll eventually do both. In either case, there are two basic components of letting someone go. The first is the decision to get rid of someone. The second component is the process of letting someone go.

I'm not going to talk about the decision to lay off an employee due to lack of work. That's another topic. So I will discuss the decision to fire and the process of letting someone go. Note that this process is essentially the same no matter why an employee is leaving.

The Firing Decision

There's an old adage: "The best time to fire an employee is the first time the thought crosses your mind."

Unfortunately, this is a lesson some of us have to learn over and over again. When I have a troublesome employee, I tend to work on changing behavior, changing attitudes, and changing motivations. In some cases we have been able to turn an employee around for six months or even a year. But eventually, when an employee becomes unhappy, they end up leaving.

And whether you like it or not, when an employee's behavior interferes with the smooth operating of your business, you need to let them go. We all know that, but it's very difficult to execute in a small business because we know these people better, and work with them more closely than you would in a large business.

Something happens when an employee is no longer contributing to the success of the company. Almost imperceptibly, they work less, they work more slowly, they argue more, they become sloppy with details.

In other words, they begin to cost you money.

Sometimes, employees just aren't getting enough of your attention. Or they've hit a wall and need training (on technology, on customer service, on processes, etc.). So don't fire too fast: Find out why performance is affected. Fix the problem if you can. After all, there's a lot of work and expense to hiring a new employee.

But you also need to be honest with yourself. Talk things through with a spouse or friend. If you find that your heart tells you what you need to do but your brain won't let you make the decision, then you're stuck. You end up spending more and more time on an employee who is contributing less and less.

Once you realize that it's just not going to work - give up. End the relationship. Again, I don't want to make this sound easy. Once you execute the decision, you'll realize you should have done it sooner. Hence the adage: "The best time to fire an employee is the first time the thought crosses your mind."

The Firing Process

Whether it's a layoff or firing, the process of moving someone out of your company is pretty much the same. Of course you need a checklist to make sure you don't forget anything. Here are a few things to start with.

1. Letter of Termination/Layoff
No matter what the circumstances, the employee should receive a letter of termination. It only needs to be a few sentences. If it's a layoff, you don't even have to state "why" the layoff is taking place. If the employee is being fired, you should state some reason, but you don't need to go into extensive detail. Some states have "at will" employment, so you don't have to give any reason. When in doubt about what to say, consultant an employment attorney.

State the day employment will cease and whether any benefits will continue. If there are any loose ends, tie them up here.

Note: This letter should include a statement reminding the employee that they signed a non-disclosure agreement when they came to work for you, and that the NDA remains in effect with regard to information within your company and for your clients.

2. Determine the Last Day of Employment
For practical reasons, the day you tell someone they're fired is probably their last day.

3. Prepare a Final Paycheck
Whether or not it's required by your state laws, you should settle up your account with the employee on their last day. The exception would be someone who was "on call" and you simply need to inform them that you won't be calling any more.

If you provide holiday pay, accrued time off, or similar benefits, make sure you are in compliance with your stated company policies here.

Subtract from the final paycheck any money owed to you by the employee. This might include advances, repayment for lost tools, etc.

Add to the final paycheck (or a separate check) any money owed to the employee. This might include mileage or meal reimbursements, etc.

4. Collect Company Property
At a minimum, your employee might have a set of keys. But they may also have a box full of cables, documentation forms, network cards, tools, parking permits, and other company property. This includes a company gas card or credit card. You will have a company property form for each of these items. Make sure you get them back.

In one case, we found out that a technician had lost the "scary box" of equipment that we require all technicians to carry in their cars. He was afraid to tell anyone, so we didn't find out about it until we asked for it back. It represented the kind of behavior that led to his dismissal.

5. Meet with the Employee
Despite the ridiculous advice that Hollywood writers repeat over and over in the movies, DO NOT hold this meeting in a public cafe. Just go into your office and call the employee in.

Very briefly state the fact: We are laying you off.

Hand the employee the letter of dismissal and a copy of the Non-Disclosure Agreement they signed when they were hired. Tell them what happens next. Thank them for their service. Answer their questions.

Do not be surprised the first time someone cries under these circumstances - including yourself. As I mentioned, small businesses are made up of a handful of people who work closely together and become friends. This is the human side of parting ways.

6. Do a Quick Exit Interview
Unless you are literally kicking someone's butt out the door, try to do a quick exit interview. Ask what the employee thinks went wrong. Find out their side of the story. Soak it in and be honest with yourself about things you might need to change.

7. Update Address Information
You will need to send a W-2 or other paperwork at the end of the year. Make sure you have an accurate mailing address for the employee.

8. Let The Employee Clean Out His Desk
Let the departing employee take a minute to clean out his desk and say goodbye to other tech. Again, this isn't the movies are you're not running a CIA branch office, so you don't need to have goons in suits escort employees to the door.

9. Shut Down Access
On the computer systems, you need to change the employee's passwords for the PSA, email, domain account, etc. I recommend that you do NOT delete these for at least a month. You might need to go find something in his email, on his PC, etc. That will be easier if the account exists.

You should make a checklist for you company of all of the access services that need to be shut down. This includes PSA, hosted services, vendor sites, resale or service administration sites, SharePoint, hosted storage, email, etc. Everything you can think of. NOTE: If you have an accurate list of access setup during your employee onboarding process, that's a great start for the exit process.

For PSA systems or other systems that charge you per user, you need to decide when to eliminate these accounts. Don't forget them. As a general rule, it's better to create a new account rather than rename an existing one. If you simply rename, then the system might give you reports with the new employee's name on work that was done by the former employee.

On the physical access side, you need to change alarm system codes. And if you have any facilities with combination locks, you'll need to change those.

Archive Note: I recommend that you export the employee's Outlook data to a PST file and store it on your server. Then simply redirect that email address to the relevant manager. This insures that no email direct to the employee is lost.

10. Telephones
Have someone change the greeting on the phone system, voicemail, etc. If employees are allowed to set personalized voicemail passwords, resent the password.

Check the departing employee's voicemail - old and new. Create service tickets for any items that need to be done.

Change the phone tree as needed.

11. Dealing with Clients
For the most part, we don't inform clients of personnel changes unless the departing employee is a very visible manager. For technicians, we wait until clients ask. At that time, we just say that they are no longer working with us.

We never discuss why an employee is no longer with us. If there is any concern, we do take the opportunity to remind clients that all employees are under NDA and that a reminder of the NDA is provider upon departure.

High Profile Employees and Managers

You may need to have additional processes and procedures for key managers and other high profile employees. In such cases, a letter to the clients or a press release may be in order.

For corporate directors or partners, you may have a much more gradual exit process as you deal with money issues and legal issues.

If someone is a true stakeholder in your organization, you may want to meet with an attorney to verify your process and communications.

. . . As always . . . Your feedback is welcome.

Related Blog Post:

First You Hire, Then You Fire

Can Do vs. Will Do

- - - - -

About this Series

SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.

Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at http://www.smallbizthoughts.com/events/SOPFriday.html.

- - - - -

Next week's topic: Naming Conventions for Machines and Servers


Still the best Quick-Start Guide to Managed Services:

Service Agreements for SMB Consultants: A Quick-Start Guide to Managed Services

by Karl W. Palachuk

Now only $39.95 at SMB Books!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Learn About Lotus Live - November 16 Podcast

Please join us on the next Cloud Services Roundtable, November 16, 20ll.

Register Now.

I am going to be interviewing IBM's Rebecca Buisan to discuss LotusLive. LotusLive offers award-winning, online collaboration tools, e-mail, and social networking services that work together. LotusLive can help businesses of all sizes reduce IT costs, increase productivity, and save money.

Rebecca Buisan is the Director of the Product Management and Marketing, IBM Social Business Cloud

In this role, Rebecca and her team are responsible for the product and market strategy for the IBM Social Business Cloud SaaS offerings. Rebecca joined the Cloud team in 2011 after several years leading Product Management for Web Experience solutions, including the IBM Customer Experience Suite and WebSphere Portal.  Prior to IBM, Rebecca held product management and technology leadership roles at companies including RSA Security, FTP Software, and Nike.

Join us:
November 16, 20ll
9:00 AM Pacific
Register Now.


We Have a Super Nerd!

Yesterday I posted a challenge. Thank you to all participants, and those who just went looking.

The challenge was to find a reference to the movie Pulp Fiction at www.smbbooks.com.

Harold W. is the winner of a $100 discount at SMB Books. Harold was the first to identify the following snippet of code:

The "Arnold the Charming Pig" reference is found in the source code. It is a reference to this clip from the movie:

Caution: Bad Language Alert. This is from a Quentin Tarantino movie.

Congratulations to Harold!


Wednesday, November 09, 2011

I Created My Ingle-jay Ells-bay Ingtone-ray . . . And You Can Too!

Check the right side of my blog and you'll see I added a new QR Code that leads to an MP3 file. Kinda like this:

Download IngleJay Ellsbay MP3 for Ringtone

The file has Jingle Bells in pig latin.

If you click on the link with your PC, it will simply play the MP3. But if you scan the QR code with your phone, it will move the MP3 to your phone. From there you can make it a ringtone.

One more use for QR Codes!

Enjoy the holiday treat.


Check Out the #1 ranked Managed Services book at Amazon:

Managed Services in A Month

by Karl W. Palachuk

Buy it as a printed book, Audio CD, or ebook!

Super Nerd Contest: Earn $100 credit at SMB Books

How Nerdy Are You?

I hope you know about SMB Books (smbbooks.com). That's where we sell books, audio CDs, video trainings, and more.

I was playing around with it the other day and remembered that I had hidden a reference to the movie Pulp Fiction on that site.

It's so well hidden, in fact, that I wonder whether anyone would ever enjoy my whacky sense of humor.

So I decided to see how well I really hid it. Here's a contest for you.

- Find the reference to Pulp Fiction that's hidden at www.smbbooks.com

- Email a very specific description to me at [email protected]

The first person to send me the right answer will receive a $100 credit to spend on any product(s) at SMB Books.

Good luck!

Check Out Erick Simpson's
Network Operations Center Operations Guide
The Best NOC and Service Desk Operations Book Ever!

by Erick Simpson

Ships from stock right now!

Friday, November 04, 2011

SOP Friday: Hiring Process

There's an old adage about employees: Hire slow and fire fast. There are two powerful lessons there. The first lesson is about making good hiring decisions. We'll look at hiring this week. Next week we'll address the second lesson.

"Hiring Slow" really means hiring carefully. You need a process for hiring. I know it seems silly to say so, but hiring the wrong employee can be very costly. You will invest time and money into your employees. You will probably invest in their training. And, in a small business, you will probably invest in their friendship.

All of that makes it very difficult and expensive to make the wrong decision.

Every time we've made a bad hire, it was because I (the boss) went outside the process and just picked somebody. Or I short-circuited the process by taking a personal reference and didn't check out the prospect myself. We have a process that works. When we use it, we get great employees. When we ignore it, we get headaches.

Some people have argued that small businesses should not have a formal "big business" hiring process. But that's absurd. What's the alternative? You could hire your friends and cousins. You could just offer a job to someone who meets the basic requirements on a resume and hope you get lucky. But those don't lead to good decisions.

You have two goals here: 1) Make good hire, and 2) Avoid a bad hire. Hiring the wrong employee can damage your business. Any process that helps you avoid a bad hire is worth doing. Erick Simpson has a great discussion of the hiring process in his book The Best I.T. Service Delivery BOOK EVER!.

- - - - -

In the related posts, listed below, I talk about job postings, strategies of filtering, and some related topics. I won't repeat that advice here.

Here are the elements of organizing your hiring process.

First, Define the Role.

You should ideally create standard job descriptions for each position in your business. Realistically, you will probably write these at the time you consider posting a position. That's fine. But be sure to save them in a folder so that you have them all in one place. If you need a place to start, look at other job postings on various job boards on the Internet.

Your role descriptions don't have to be big or verbose. Just start with the basics. You can refine for the rest of your business life.

Second, Post an Ad and Gather Resumes.

We have settled on (Craigslist as an excellent place to find technicians. I've heard of some problems with Craigslist in other professions and other cities, but it works great for us in Sacramento.

See the articles below for juicy details, but we post some specific requirements in addition to just describing the job. Note: In the current economic environment, many job seekers are NOT reading the job posting. They read the job title and the salary and send a resume. Be prepared to be inundated.

Third, Do a Quick Sort of Resumes.

We have tried to make the job posting work for us. That means that some filtering takes place in the process of responding to the ad. We require that people send us a note and link to their Microsoft Certification transcript. Then we ask for a resume.

As we quick sort, the sort starts with eliminating those who are not qualified. That means no certifications, or clearly does not meet other requirements. This removes most resumes from consideration. Next, we eliminate people who are just blatantly stupid or not trying. If their email address is related to drugs or sex habits at AOL.com, we eliminate them. (If you think I'm kidding, welcome to the world of "Human Resources." This is a very small group.

The remaining resumes are divided into "High" and "Maybe" categories. Basically, the highly qualified group is truly first-tier people. MCSEs with lots of experience who have held related jobs for a long time. The maybe group is people who are clearly qualified but just don't look like superstars at first glance.

If we can hire from the High group, we will obviously do that. But sometimes this group is very small and we don't make an offer in time. The Maybe group consists of qualified people, and is often filled with technicians who are "diamonds in the rough." We have hired a handful of these people in the last ten years and we have been extremely pleased with the results.

Fourth, Make One Minute Phones Calls.

From the Highly qualified candidates, do a 60 second phone call. This is a super quick smell test. Ask whether they're still looking. Make sure they understand the wage range and verify that they can produce a clean DMV record.

The real task here is find out whether they can hold a conversation and operate outside the world of Active Directory and IP protocols.

For all candidates who pass the smell test, schedule Interview One. Simply conclude the 60 second phone call by asking whether you can schedule a time. For those who don't pass the smell test, just say "Okay. We'll let you know if we want to schedule and interview. Thank you for your time."

Fifth, Interview One is Conducted by a Manager.

We actually try to schedule all of our interviews in one big visit, but this doesn't always work. Ideally, we want to interview the candidate in three different environments. So the first interview is a one-on-one between the candidate and manager.

The manager fills out an evaluation form based on the qualifications you established for the position. This includes technical knowledge, fit with the team, ability to think on their feet, etc. The manager must complete the evaluation form.

We try to schedule this interview at 10:30 AM. Then the second interview is in a different location (office, conference room, coffee shop) at 11:15 AM.

Sixth, Interview Two is Conducted by 2-3 Technicians.

We like to have two or three techs interview the candidate in order to see how they interact with the team as well as evaluating technical knowledge. There are some questions that only the manager asks and others that the techs ask. This way, we get lots of information and feedback about how everyone feels about the candidate.

The techs each fill out the same evaluation form that the manager used. This makes Step #9 possible. :-)

Seventh, Go to Lunch With The Candidate.

Ideally, this will be the manager and at least one tech. The more the merrier, to be honest. You want to see the candidate in a very relaxed atmosphere. At this point, if you do everything on the same day, the candidate will be with your team from 10:30 am to about 1:00 pm.

This kind of exposure should really give you a sense of whether you can work together and whether you think about technology the same way. Plus, it's a great opportunity for the candidate to open up about his world class porn collection or the largest library of illegal software on earth. You'll be amazed what people some up with!

Eighth, Give the Candidate a Homework Assignment
We have used a few questions for years. Many years ago, my friend John Endter from E Squared C in Mindon, NV sent me a question that we have used ever since. I think we have had three people answer this question correctly in six years. Two of them were named Palachuk.

Getting this question wrong does not disqualify a candidate. But it does reveal how they think and a surprising amount about what they know. The question:

"A company with two sites purchased two identical firewalls and used the default configuration on both firewalls. Both sites can connect to the Internet with no problem. They are now trying to configure a VPN between the two sites. The VPN is configured correctly on both firewalls but they are unable to pass traffic between the sites. What is wrong with the configuration?"

The point of the exercise is to see how the technician thinks, writes, and presents an idea. After all, the candidate will have to fill out a LOT of documentation and ticket notes over the next few years.

Ninth, Compare Evaluation Scores.

Once the candidate is gone, the manager and all techs who scored the candidate sit down for a quick review. If everyone agrees on a score, discussion is irrelevant. So focus on differences, and on big differences in particular. If one person says 1 for networking knowledge and someone else says 5, then you need to discuss why those scores were given.

This is a great overall opportunity for your team to give feedback on both "hard numbers" and all that squishy human stuff that will make the team work well.

It's pretty amazing, with three or four candidates, that one person will usually emerge as the clear front runner. If you're lucky, you'll have two that are hard to choose between. In a perfect world, everyone you interviewed will be a good fit, so you can make an offer and know that you have more candidates if the first choice is no longer available.

If you really can't make a decision, bring candidates in for a second round of interviews.

Tenth, Make an Offer.

The way we work, the price is right out in front, so the only real offer is "Do you want a job?"

Once you've chosen your first place candidate, call and make the offer. One of the questions in the interview is always "If we made you an offer, would you accept it?" Another question is, "Is there any reason you cannot work on this job Monday through Friday 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM?" Those two questions eliminate people that have other obligations or want to open negotiations for some other kind of position once you make an offer.

In a perfect world, you have a perfect new employee.

We'll talk about the employee onboarding process in a future post.

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I know there will be people who say this is too complicated, too sophisticated, and that the best people in the business won't ever apply, etc.

All I can say is "WhatEVER!" We have used this process for many years. When we go around it, we have trouble. When we short-circuit it, we get losers. When we are convinced to hire the best technician in the history of the world by someone we really respect, we get a bozo.

When we use this system, we get a winner every time.

Here's a great (GREAT) RS Animate video about motivations by Daniel Pink: http://youtu.be/u6XAPnuFjJc.

The gist of that video is that money is not the primary motivator of people in professions like ours. After a certain monetary threshold is met, people want to have an environment that is supportive, challenging, interesting, and in which they can feel like they're contributing to the bigger picture.

I was recently criticized (by a friend) for helping my employees with rent, side businesses, and personal relationships. But I'm adamant on this matter: I WANT TO work with nice people. I want a fun, intellectually stimulating, supportive work environment. I want a team that will show up eager to be at work. I want people to LOVE their job every single day.

That means we have to work really hard to build a successful team.

And that hard work means that we get the amazing team we deserve, because we've built it. Amazing teams don't happen by accident.

You certainly don't need to follow this SOP exactly, but you should do something intentionally. That means with intention rather than simply letting it happen.

Having the wrong employees can be devastating to a business. Having the right employees is like a super power that lets you do amazing things that you never imaged. Whatever your style, create a system for finding employees that maximize your success.

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Hiring the Best Employee

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Your Comments Welcome.

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About this Series

SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.

Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at http://www.smallbizthoughts.com/events/SOPFriday.html.

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Next week's topic: The Firing Process


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