Friday, July 27, 2012

SOP Friday: Daily Monitoring of Client Machines

Daily Monitoring of Client Machines

What is the "guts" of managed services? It's managing client systems. Monitoring, automated ticketing, patching, fixing, and applying updates. It's preventive maintenance. In my book Service Agreements for SMB Consultants: A Quick-Start Guide to Managed Services, I talk about building a "roll your own" monitoring system with Small Business Server and a few other tools. That system works very well. But whether you use a system like that or invest in Continuum, Level Platforms, LabTech, or something else, the daily monitoring is critical to delivering on the promises of managed service.

As with any other tools, you can set up all the alerts and monitoring you want. With the right combination you can even have tickets created automatically. But if you don't actively manage that whole system, then you're not really doing what you need to do.

Okay, so what does it mean to actively manage? Basically, it means that you check to make sure things are working. When they're not, you create service tickets. When problems keep recurring, you escalate the issue. Here's a simple checklist. I'm going to assume you have a remote monitoring and management tool (RMM). If you do not, then you will have to manually check each of these items.

Note on the Exchange "Monitor" folder: If you have reports emailed to your from Small Business Server or various backup programs, set the email to a mail-enabled public folder named Monitor. That way, you will have all such reports in one place and you can easily address them and then move the emails to the appropriate client folder.

I won't go into a lecture about how important backups are. You already know that.
[ Insert your personal rant about backups here. ]

Checklist: Daily Backup Monitoring of Client Systems

1. Check the "all in one" report on system backups
 a. Open the Daily Backup Monitoring Record spreadsheet located on SharePoint at "Tech Documents\Daily Monitoring Record.xlsx" and update the previous night’s column with backup successes and failures.

2. Sort the Monitor mailbox in Exchange Public Folders and make necessary edits to the Daily Monitoring Record spreadsheet
 a. Be sure to check to see if there were any old backup jobs marked with an ‘R’ and replace it with an ‘X’ or ‘O’ if they completed or failed.

 b. Once documented, move all emails to their respective client folders so the Monitor folder is empty.

 c. If there are backups that were not accounted for in both Monitor email box and the RMM portal, login to the server itself and check the backup software for the status of the backups.  Update the Daily Monitoring Record with findings.

 d. Create Service Requests (tickets) as needed and set them to the appropriate priority (see below).

 e. If you have an outsourced help desk, add all necessary criteria to SRs so that the help desk shouldn’t have to ask for further information. Then assign all such tickets to the help desk to investigate.

3. Review all Backup related tickets in the PSA and move them forward
 a. Check SRs to see if help desk is waiting for information or action by us.

 b. If a backup job has failed more than once, adjust the priority as needed.

 c. If a backup fails four days in a row and has been assigned to the outsourced help desk, take it back in-house and send an urgent email to the service manager.

Backup Jobs and Ticket Priorities

Note the SOP on setting ticket priorities: If a backup fails once, the ticket is created as Priority 3 (medium). If it fails twice in a row, you can leave it at P3 as we do, or you might decide to move to P2. If a backup fails three days in a row, it must be a P2 (high priority). See the discussion of setting priorities for service tickets.

You should have lots of backups (at least one per client), so do not let failed backup jobs go unattended! There are very few things that jump right to the top of your priority list: a failed backup is one!

Daily attention matters! When you track backups every day, you quickly learn the little quirks in each client system. This is particularly true when a specific piece of software mis-reports the results of a backup job. Grrrr. Annoying, but at least you know your system works even if the software is having problems.

It is extremely rare for a client to respect the importance of backups. Even though it's in their best interest, they just don't comprehend how critical backups are. Of course it's not their job to care: That's what they're paying you for.

Other Daily Monitoring

With your RMM tool, you should be monitoring all key functions on client machines. These are an automated, minute-by-minute version of the things you should be checking on in your monthly maintenance checklist (disc space, processor usage, stopped services, critical events, etc.). For a sample of things to monitor, download the latest version (68-Point Checklist version 2.0), at the White Papers page at SMB Books. No credit card required. Instant download in PDF format.

For the most part, daily monitoring of desktop machines is very basic. Other than virus updates and Windows updates, there's not much that needs to be monitored. You should be able to find (or create) a dashboard in your RMM so you can view all desktops/laptops with green, yellow, and red dots.

Servers should also be basic, but of course they're more important. Each server has at least one critical function, so you need to verify that that function is working, along with the basics of disc usage, services, etc. Again, a nice dashboard with lights goes a long way. See the graph.

Just as with backups, your daily once-over of the servers will keep you in touch with the weird stuff that somehow develops in some machines. You'd think that every SBS 2011 server with the same hardware, same patch level, and same hard drives would be the same . . . but Noooooooooo . . .

Time and Tickets

It is important that service tickets are created for any work to be performed. The task of daily monitoring is an administrative task and the time should be logged to an internal ticket. For each client task that needs to be performed, a separate client ticket should be created. If your systems are patched up as they should be, the daily monitoring should take no more than 15-30 minutes for 1,000 machines monitored. Do not let the tech get side-tracked into fixing things at this point and muddling up the time.

Remember the mantra: All work is performed against a service ticket! That means the tech who does daily monitoring can create tickets, but must not work them at this time. Once daily monitoring is complete, any new tickets will be in the system, prioritized properly. Who knows? By the time the monitoring task is finished, the service manager may have already assigned some new tickets, or even worked them.

Anyway, daily monitoring is critical to keeping your fingers on the pulse of your clients' machines. It also allows you to create service tickets, work them, and close them before the client is aware that there was an issue. Just make sure they get a report each month telling them all the wonderful things you do without their knowledge.

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

- - - - -

Next week's topic: The Tech on Call for The Day - Managing Daily Workflow

[NOTE: This blog post updated October 2012 to reflect the new location of the 68-Point Checklist version 2.0.]


Check Out the Managed Services Operations Manual

Four Volume Set
The Managed Services Operations Manual

by Karl W. Palachuk

Over 1,100 pages - plus lots of juicy downloads

Paperbacks - Ebooks - Audio Books

Standard operating procedures, policies, and practical advice for IT consulting companies of all sizes.

From the author of Managed Services in a Month.

Learn More!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Webinar Wednesday: Managing a SBS Server Migration project Using Autotask

From Autotask:

Managing a SBS Server Migration project Using Autotask

Wednesday, July 25, 20121:00 PM (US ET)Other locations & time zones
Rich Akullian
Rich Akullian - Autotask Corporation
Business Development Manager
Karl Palachuk
Karl Palachuk - Small Biz Thoughts/Great Little Book Publishing Co., Inc
IT Author/Blogger 

Whether you are managing projects and tasks using Excel spreadsheets, a combination of disconnected and costly tools, or nothing at all, you will want to sit in on this enlightening webinar.
In this session, Karl Palachuk, Senior Systems Engineer at America’s Tech Support, will give you a framework for managing your projects using Autotask’s integrated IT Business Management solution. You’ll learn how to manage projects using service requests and tickets as well as the project module. In this presentation, Karl will walk through managing a Small Business Server Migration project to highlight key features and functions in Autotask that simplify and automate the way you work.

Key features you will see include:
  • How tickets and workflow rules work together to automate communications and activities
  • How drag and drop dispatchers workshop simplifies assigning work
  • How project tasks and phases are used to organize work and assign resources
  • How time and expenses can be easily collected for billing and profitability analysis

Karl W. Palachuk is the author of nine books including The Super-Good Project Planner for Technical Consultants and The Network Migration Workbook.

Register at:


SMB Community Survey Results - Part 3: Competency and The Cloud

In the first report on the SMB Community Survey, I basically reported on the stats and frequencies of the survey results. 

You can get a copy of all survey results here.

In Part 2, I covered 
- Microsoft's Relationship with the SMB Community
- The Passing of SBS
- Alternatives to Microsoft Products
- The Atmosphere of Uncertainty

In this final installment, let's look at 
- The Passing of the Small Business Specialist Certification and the Introduction of The Small Biz Competency
- Office 365
- The Cloud: How Ready Are We, Really?
- and Misc. Comments on Specific Products Related to All of These Topics

Happily, I think these issues are less emotional and more business-oriented that the last bundle of things we talked about. For the most part, you can look at these in terms of your business model and what you think it will look like in the years ahead. Each of these could be a separate blog post, but since they'll all be discussed for some time to come, I'll restrain myself.

The Retirement of the Microsoft Small Business Specialist Community and the Introduction of the Small Biz Competency

The timing of this announcement was very, very poor. Many people are of the opinion that they were "misled" in this announcement since the presenters clearly knew that Small Business Server was to be eliminated in a few days. I agree with that assessment. These related announcements should have been made together in a big broadcast, not treated as if they are irrelevant to one another.


Many people on the survey resisted this change. In reality, there are two changes: 1) Retirement of the old SBSC, and 2) Introduction of the new competency. I think the old program could have stayed around as a "registered partner" alternative to the Certified Partner competency. But I completely understand the desire to have one program for small business consultants and avoid the confusion of having two.

The biggest questions are: 1) Is it worth the time and trouble? 2) Is it worth the expense? 3) Is it right-sized the really small IT Pros? And 4) Is it too Office 365 focused? To find out, log into the Microsoft Partner site and look at the competency for yourself.

If you're not even a registered partner, register for free.

As for time and trouble, you need to pass two Microsoft exams and two hokey easy "assessments" (for licensing and business assessment). Or you need to contract with someone who has. In the U.S., one exam must be on Administering Office 365. The other exams can be on Windows Small Business Server 2011 Standard, Deploying Office 365, or Windows 7. In countries where O365 is not available, you just have to pass the two non-O365 exams.

Umm . . . what was that SBS exam? Yeah: If you don't want to take the second O365 exam, you can take an exam on the SBS product that has moved to End of Life, or the Windows 7 exam. Of course the Windows 7 will rev to Windows 8 very soon.

So: The exams are not burdensome. Nowadays, it's pretty rare to only need two exams for a competency. And the Silver Competency for Small Biz is the only one that can be accomplished by a sole proprietor. This is definitely worth the time and trouble.

As for price, there's a big sale going on right now: You can buy into the Microsoft Certified Partner program (Microsoft Partner Network) for only $999. A lot of people think that's more expensive than it should be. I disagree. The MSDN and Technet subscriptions alone are worth more than that.

One person mentioned here (and others have mentioned in on line discussions) that the $999 USD price tag for the SB Competency is still too expensive. I'm sorry, but if you can't invest $1,000 in your business, you have to wonder whether you're in the right business. I think there's a legitimate discussion to be had around competencies generally, the value of this competency in particular, the Microsoft Partner Network, etc. But this price is pretty small compared to what any of us spends on cable TV in a year.

Some question the value of the SBSC certification and therefore the new SB Competency. SBSC didn't make a lot of money for a lot of people. Either they didn't leverage it, or they hoped Microsoft would spend some money making the general business community aware of it. But the SBSC program DID help build the community with regard to Microsoft. It helped partners to feel that Microsoft cares. That's part of the reason there's such a strong reaction to these changes - and the way they were handled.

KPEnterprises was a certified partner for ten years. The program has some value. But since we supported SBS and the Microsoft support for SBS was so horrible, we never used our "free" incidents. The primary value to us was the software. The Microsoft branding and logos have very little value today. Clients don't know the difference, especially at the small end of SMB.

I am personally tempted to pursue the Small Business Competency simply due to the cost/benefit of the software licenses compared to the Action Pack available to registered partners (currently $429 USD). When it goes to $1,850 . . . probably not.

$999 offer:

Finally: Is this competency too Office 365 focused?

That's a tough one. You would think it would be SBS-centric. But SBS won't exist. So it should be focused on what Microsoft wants to sell into small businesses. That would be Windows Server 2012 Foundation, Windows Server 2012 Essentials, Windows desktop O.S., and Microsoft Office.

I'm going to be tackling the learning curve on the "new" Microsoft Office 365 offerings as soon as I can. But IF it's the case that Office 365 is the only Office that will be available from Microsoft, then some focus on it is fine. The only other mix that makes sense would be to choose from one of two O365 exams and choose from one of two operating system exams. In either case, you'll have at least on O365 exam in the mix.

So I think the focus is fine. Obviously, it will be revved as products emerge.

Are We Ready for The Cloud? Really?

LOTS of comments questioned the wisdom of forcing people to the cloud when Internet connectivity is still unreliable in so much of the country and the world. There were also a lot of questions about security concerns and control over data. And many people outside the U.S. simply can't rely on certain cloud services based in other countries.

Reliability is an interesting thing. My Internet connection is reliable enough to browse the web, connect to my servers, and do what I need to do. But all of my business-critical services (PSA, phones, RMM, web sites, email) are hosted for one simple reason: They are more reliably available to my clients from the cloud than they are from my office, and at a lower price than a co-location facility.

Where does reliability fall down? It's not in the cloud. My services are always "up." Reliability falls down with my personal connection to the Internet - whether by phone, home Internet, office Internet, hotel Internet, or airport Internet. The same is true for my clients.

If clients cannot access their data reliably, then it doesn't matter that their servers are 99.999% up. If you can't get to it, your business may still be down!

I assume that Microsoft's bet is that their cloud offerings will be totally reliable, leaving them better than the competition and therefore making Internet access the only question. Today, we feel very confident with solution we've come up with (our "Cloud Five Pack" for very small businesses). It consists of local Office products, local storage, remote Exchange service, and either remote storage or remote backup.

At least among our clients, local Office products gives them complete productivity while the Internet is down. And once it's backup up, everything synchronizes again. So it works. But the Internet is simply not that reliable in many places.

There are many legitimate questions about trusting the "anonymous" cloud, opposition to monthly fees, and resistance in general. Most of that probably has to do with the newness of the technology. Most of it will pass. Having said that, there are some people who will simply never put their stuff in the cloud. We have one of these folks: An intellectual property attorney with very high-end clients. Those people will pay more for technology going forward. Period.

The more important question is: Is this the right solution for the client?

Which might be better expressed as: Is this the right solution for the client today?

As one respondent put it, "[A] couple years ago[,] outsourcing was the way to go, now it is getting more to a nice mixture of local and outsourced. We need that same balance with cloud."

Some people argue that their customers aren't asking for the cloud. I'm sorry, but this is silly. I asked a consultant last year whether he was selling SBS 2008 yet and he said no: His clients weren't asking for it. It's not the client's job to know what to ask for. Clients didn't ask for servers. You talked them into servers. They didn't ask for Windows to replace DOS. They didn't ask for SQL, SBS, SharePoint, laptop computers, iPads, or the Internet!

Is this the right solution for the client today?

Some folks are already having great luck with cloud services. Some are already customizing for their vertical markets. As one respondent said, people say they don't want cloud services in the light of this conversation. But they all have their personal email at Gmail and rely on the cloud for many things.

We are having great luck with the cloud. But we have ridiculously faster Internet that's reasonably reliable. We also have local Microsoft Office products, so we can work when the Internet is down.

Concerns About Specific Products

Many comments addressed concerns or reflected the confusion over features based on the announcements from Microsoft. In particular, there is confusion around the licensing limits of Server 2012 Essentials. How do we move from 25 to 75 and beyond? How do we transition to "regular" Server 2012 and retain SBS features and licensing?

To be honest, those technical discussions that will be well worked out by the time you have to address them. The more important discussion is around how much that will cost. From early discussions on line, it appears the cost could be easily 50% more than clients are paying today.

One of my early responses to all this was the certain belief that Microsoft will provide a right-priced alternative to stand-alone servers. So far, I appear to be wrong. But the products and offerings have not been released yet.

As I mentioned in Part 2 of this series, Microsoft may have unwittingly created a new level of uncertainty that will simply stall decision-making for some time to come. If prices are too high, clients will simply find alternatives or stop spending. They have the ability to do this.

. . . And we're back to Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. That always means clients will turn to their trusted advisers. If you've been working your way into that position for the last several years, then you'll do well in the confusing year ahead.

I leave you with two positive quotes about the future, from survey respondents:

- "Looking forward to moving forward."

- ". . . we'll simply improvise, adapt and overcome as always."


Remembering Equiq Neale - Q's Caps

Anna Neale posted this note on Eriq's Caring Bridge site. I report it here for the community:

After I last mentioned that I would be starting a project to remember Eriq by creating "Q's Caps" I never came back to this site to give you all the information. Many of you were able to come to the service or have otherwise gotten the information, but for those of you that are interested in following our progress or joining in making caps or even making yarn donations and haven't yet gotten the information, here is the blog site:

I will not likely continue to update this Caring Bridge site but I have been regularly updating the blog for Q's caps with both notes and pictures. If you would like to visit it from time to time, feel free, if you would like to subscribe, there is a link for that as well. 

As before, thank you for all your support throughout this past year and a half and the continuing support now. Many of you I don't even know but I have received great comfort knowing how many people had so many great things to say to and about Eriq. 

One last note is that if anyone is interested in the Denton (or Dallas) Susan G Komen Race for the Cure, I am a team captain for Denton and will be joining a team for the Dallas race. I would love to have anyone join me or feel free to follow my progress. 

Team Page - The Q Continuum


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Congratulations, Arnie Bellini, on Almost Crossing the English Channel!

In an inspiring and heartbreaking 13.5 hours, ConnectWise President Arnie Bellini almost crossed the English Channel. He released a video saying this was an example of failing fast - his decision to stop when he realized he had been pulled past the landing spot by the tides.

I don't mean to argue with someone who got more exercise yesterday than I have in my entire life, but this isn't failing at all. It takes far more than I can imagine to attempt to swim the English Channel.

First, this is a great example of a BHAG - Big Hairy Audacious Goal. The rest of us have lots of excuses of why we've never tried to do something like this. But at the most basic level, we simply never set that as a goal. It is appropriate that this comes so close to the Olympic games in England. There, too, the athletes each set themselves the goal of getting to the Olympics.

You have to have goals to achieve things. You have to have Big Hairy Audacious Goals to accomplish big hairy audacious things!

Second, there is massive training. You never wake up one day and swim the English Channel. I don't care who you are, you have to train for this. You have to know what it feels like to get in that water. You have to experience the waves. You have to be in great shape. You have to be able to swim for more than ten hours! All of that takes practice.

Third, it takes planning and logistics. Boats, gear, timing, etc. Again, I can't even imagine how you plan something like this. I'm sure that icy water would be a lot icier in January, so the right month matters. But I don't even know if you need permits or a special Visa to arrive in France by swimming! You have to have some kind of a team and some emergency planning. Details, details, details.

Fourth, it takes personal conviction and follow-through. After the goal-setting, after the planning, you have to execute that training. You have to push through the barriers. You have to do all the little things and big things that move you to your goal.

I can say that I am honestly in awe of Arnie Bellini for this feat. It would have been even more awesome if he had made that last four miles. But he has attempted to swim the English Channel 100% more than I ever will in my lifetime. He has set a Big Hairy Audacious Goal for himself and worked hard to make it happen.

At every step - the goal setting, the planning, the training, and the execution - he exceeded the achievements of most of the people you'll ever meet in your life.

While I'm sure it is a terrible dissappointment to be stopped so close to the end, I hope Arnie accepts this as one of the great victories of his life. He is an inspiration!

Congratulations, Arnie!

(Oh, and on a personal fitness note: I did yoga yesterday.)


Friday, July 20, 2012

SOP Friday: Invoice Review and Processing

As strange as it sounds, there's a simple habit that separates companies with good cash flow and companies without: Good Billing Practices. That means sending out accurate invoices, sending them out in a timely manner, and enforcing reasonable payment terms. We're not going to address payment terms today.

There are two processes detailed here since the function of reviewing Time entries is typically done by the service manager while expenses and products are reviewed by the office manager or Accountant. Once you get this ironed out, it should go very quickly. This is particularly true if your services are structured so that most labor is included in managed services.

I recommend doing your billing once a week. If you take care of this every Monday, it will be super-quick and you'll never be out of touch with your accounts receivable. One of my rules for life is that you get better at whatever you put your attention on. Put attention on your finances, and you'll improve your finances.

A Few Notes About The Process

1. Always work from the top of the list to the bottom systematically

2. Check the Company off only when the review of individual Time entries is complete

3. It is suggested that you open a second instance of the PSA system to do research or make changes. You can flip between the two instances with a simple alt-tab. (Note that some changes will not show correctly until the search is re-run.)

4. Be consistent in annotating the Notes sections of the time entries. Keep Credit notes one line below tech notes. There is a list of commonly used notes at the end of this article.

5. Remember that any system covered under Managed Services must have notes supporting why we SHOULD bill for a given time entry and systems not covered must have notes supporting why we should NOT bill them for a given time entry.

6. All steps in this process are necessary and are in a particular order. None should be skipped even if you believe you know the process.

Obviously, you will need to adjust the process to fit your PSA system.

Process One (for the tech manager): Reviewing Invoice Time Entries

1. Log into the PSA system and navigate to the Invoice Wizard

2. Set the “Through Date” to reflect the most recent Saturday or end of desired billing cycle.*

3. Sort the list from greatest Bill Amount to least. You will work through the companies from those with the most work to those with the least.

4. Select the first Company in the list to review the Time entries

5. Start by clearing all the checkboxes for Time entries. They must be reviewed before they can be considered accepted and the checkboxes will be what keeps track of your progress.

6. For each company, sort so the oldest entries are at the bottom of the list and newest at the top. Start with the oldest entries first. This is because billing of previous items can effect decisions for billing of newer items.

7. Verify that the Agreement field is cleared or set to the correct agreement based on the client and the system being worked on. Note: This may be changed later for items that are initially believed to be covered under managed services but will be billed for some reason.

8. If an item is completed but not "closed," change the status to Closed.

9. Verify the Work Type field is correct. Change as needed. Note: This is critical as the minimum hours billable depends on the Work Type.

10. Verify the Billable field is correct. By default all work is Billable, all travel is “No Charge” and we never use “Do Not Bill.”

11. Review the Time entry for Onsite and Remote Minimums.

a. For Regular Onsite and After Hours:
- If the Actual Hours is less than 1 hour, determine if there were any other time entries for the same technician on the same visit.
- If there are other time entries for the same visit, adjust the Invoice Hours field to match the Actual Hours field.
- Double check that the total Invoice Hours of all time entries during the visit do up to the onsite minimum. If it does not, adjust the last entry to bring the total up to the minimum.

b. For Regular Remote:
- If the Actual Hours is less than 0.5 hours, determine if there were any other time entries for the same technician during the remote session.
- If there are other time entries for the same session, adjust the Invoice Hours field to match the Actual Hours field.
- Double check that the total Invoice Hours of all time entries during the session add up to the remote minimum. If it does not, adjust the last entry to bring the total up to the minimum.

12. Review the main Notes section for content and clarity and to ensure it always ends with “Documented work.” Edit as needed.

13. Review the Actual hours field for this time entry. If it exceeds what is a reasonable time for the task:

a. Adjust the Invoice Hours accordingly. Note: If all time will be credited, simply change the Billable field to no Charge.

b. Enter a note at the end of the main Notes section for the client to see.

Note: Time entries that are longer than reasonable for the task must be carefully evaluated. It is most likely that the tech did not enter sufficient notes to support the time on site or the tech was in training on the task. If a little clarification from the tech can validate the billing and it is worth the time, contact the tech. Either way, the tech must be reminded of the process and encouraged to have excellent notes from the start.

14. Review Internal Notes and revise entries as follows:

a. Items marked as “Time logged against SR xxxx”
- Adjust the Invoice Hours to reflect 0 (we don't charge for internal notes).
- Enter a note at the end of the main Notes section for the client to see.

b. Items marked as “Credit Client . . .”
- Review the reason given by the tech and adjust the Invoice Hours accordingly. Note: If all time will be credited simply change the Billable field to No Charge.
- Enter a note at the end of the main Notes section for the client to see.

c. Items marked as either Not covered or Billable.
- Review the reason given by the tech and if any of the time will be billed, change the Agreement field to the "Billable Time and Materials" Agreement and adjust the Invoice Hours accordingly.
- Enter a note at the end of the main Notes section for the client to see.

15. Verify that there are not a number of duplicate notes. Basically, clean up the time entry so that is will be as easy to use in the future if you need to look at it and all people involved have forgotten the details.

16. Save and close the entry. Check the box for that item and go on to the next.

17. When all Time entries have been reviewed for a specific company, return to the search list and check the box for that company and go on to the next.

18. Repeat the above process until all bills for all companies have been reviewed.

19. Compose and send an email to the bookkeeper informing them that Invoice Review is complete and indicating any issues or reservations with any of the entries.

Process Two: Bookkeeper Review of Invoice Expense and Product Entries

1. Log into the PSA system and run the Invoice Wizard

2. Change the “Through Date” to reflect the most recent Saturday or end of desired billing cycle

3. Select the first Company in the list to review the Expense and Product entries

4. Verify that our expenses are not reflected on the client invoice

5. Generate an invoice for all products. Note: We invoice products separately in case there are disputes about labor. We do not want to wait for payment on products simply because they were included on an invoice with labor.

6. Make sure invoices in the PSA and in QuickBooks are in synch. You might do this manually if you have low volume, or use the connection tool built into the PSA system.

Note: Invoices are generated in PDF format and mailed to the client contact.

Terms To Use When Annotating "Free" Time Entries

Always start the annotation with "Note: Credited x.x hour(s) -" i.e.  Note: Credited 0.5 hours – Time in excess of quoted.

Here are some sample phrases to use:

- "All hours covered under Managed Services Agreement"

- "Time logged against another Service Request"

- "Time in excess of reasonable"

- "Time in excess of reasonable for the project (or task)"

- "Time in excess of quote"

- "Duplicate work performed"

- "No billable work performed"

- "KPE Research"

- "No charge per _____[ tech/manager ]

* When billing weekly, we recommend a billing period that starts on Sunday and ends on Saturday. In addition to being a standard week, this gives you time to settle all work and time entries for the previous week before you do billing on Monday.

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

- - - - -

Next week's topic: Daily Monitoring of Client Machines


Check Out the All New Book:

Cloud Services in A Month
by Karl W. Palachuk

396 pages - plus lots of juicy downloads

Paperback - Ebook

A great resource for managed service providers or anyone who wants make money selling and bundling cloud services.

Featuring all the details you need to create and sell YOUR custom Cloud Five-Pack (TM)

Learn More!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

SMB Community Survey Results - Part 2

Microsoft Silence is Deafening

In the first report on the SMB Community Survey, I basically reported on the stats and frequencies of the survey results.

In this article, I'm going to talk about some of the topics brought up in the open-ended question at the end. As I mentioned last time, 204 people entered comments totalling more than 10,000 words. You can download a Word document with all of the comments here. (27 pages - Free, of course.)

Note: There are SO MANY topics here that I cannot possible address them all in two blog post. So rest assured we'll be looking at them in more detail as time goes by. Here I'm going to give some thoughts on:
- Microsoft's Relationship with the SMB Community
- The Passing of SBS
- Alternatives to Microsoft Products
- The Atmosphere of Uncertainty

In the next blog post on this topic, I'll look at
- The Passing of the Small Business Specialist Certification and the Introduction of The Small Biz Competency
- The Cloud: How Ready Are We, Really?
- Office 365
- and Misc. Comments on Specific Products Related to All of These Topics

My Biases

One person mentioned that my questions were biased in an obvious way. He didn't say what that bias was. All I can say is that all surveys, no matter how "professional" have bias. I don't worry too much about my bias since I don't pretend to be a reporter (and I think all reporters are more biased than the rest of the population anyway).

If I wasn't an opinionated jerk, would you ever read my blog? lol

Another person asked why I didn't ask about Office 365. Well, my bias is that I didn't see how related O365 is to all of this. But YOU sure did! There were lots of comments about Office 365, including some strong confusion about how it's related to Server Essentials. We'll talk more about that next time.

In hindsight, I should have asked about O365 in the "Will you deploy . . .?" section. Hindsight is always 20/20.

On a totally unrelated thread, I am going to be looking at O365 very closely next week in light of the announcement of the next generation and related licensing. My bias has been against O365. But if it's the only real option available, then I need to figure out what the new product looks like and what our deployment strategy will be. Stay tuned.

Community, Microsoft, and Change

The most obvious result you'll see in the comments is frustration - and a fair bit of anger. It's fair to say that these will fade once the confusion has died down. Right now there are more questions than answers.

I think a great deal of the negative reaction is related to the perceived change taking place between Microsoft and the SMB Community. Part of this is based on the real changes made over the last five years. Part is based on recent changes with the SBSC/Small Biz Competency/SBS product line. And a huge part is based on the way these announcements were handled.

I am sorry for the folks who were truly blind-sided by the End of Life announcement for SBS. But this has been coming for years. It really is the next logical progression. But there are two elements in this announcement that really pissed off a lot of people.

First, people were angry about the timing and combination of announcements regarding end of life for the Small Business Specialist program and the EOL announcement for SBS. I watched the EOL announcement for the SBSC program. After the EOL announcement for SBS, I listened to it again. It is very clear that the presenter knew about the EOL of SBS but gave no hints. Obviously, he couldn't make an announcement before the announcement, but people who attended really felt sucker-punched when the SBS EOL announcement was posted on the SBS Blog a few days later.

Second, it is very obvious that the Microsoft MVPs and PALs were left out of the decision regarding EOL of SBS, as well as the announcement. My guess is that Microsoft "took their advice," but gave them no advance notice about decisions. That left Microsoft's strongest advocates within the community confused and telling everyone, "I had no idea this was coming. We were not consulted or involved."

Now, those programs were created to serve Microsoft's marketing purposes. So Microsoft can do whatever they want. But they've spent years training the community to look to these people for leadership. When these leaders openly admit on boards and lists all over the Internet that they were not consulted, and that they were blind-sided by the announcement, the community gets a very clear message that their opinion doesn't matter. (That might not be the intended message, but it's the message that was received.)

Many people feel betrayed by the way this was handled. Community members and MVPs. In particular, many MVPs had a very strong (negative) reaction when folks from Microsoft said that these decisions were "based on feedback from MVPs and other partners." Several MVPs were very loud in their insistence that they were not involved in these decisions.

With so many changes coming all together, it would have been good to make a major broadcast from Microsoft that announced these all at once - with a super-positive spin and a clear vision of where Microsoft wants to take the small business community. What's the plan for SBS? What's the plan for transitions to Server 2012? What's the plan for the Small Biz Competency? Where do we find more information.

Partners feel squeezed out by Microsoft. Part of that is the disintermediation created by Office 365. And part of it is created by suddenly dis-engaging from a community that has been heavily engaged for almost ten years.

Having admitted that my hindsight is much better than my foresight, I can't complain too loudly about Microsoft not foreseeing this reaction. Still, it seems hard to believe that you wouldn't expect people to have a strong emotional reaction when you discontinue a product line on which they've built their entire business . . . to Microsoft's benefit.

The strangest part of this is the silence from Microsoft in the last week. I've been contacted by MVPs, user group leaders, and lots of consultants - all wondering what's going on and what's next. I'm sure (I hope) Microsoft folks are preparing a response. But the longer silence goes on, the more people will fill in the blanks themselves.

The Passing of SBS

I've addressed the element of surprise elsewhere, so I won't rehash that.

In the big picture, I think this move was inevitable. I think the future is very bright. I think we have lots of options.

Sometimes stuff happens and you can't do anything about it. This is, in the end, a business decision. It's not personal (Let's be honest, Microsoft doesn't know who I am or who you are.). There's nothing going on here except business. So I think anger is probably misplaced with regard to the EOL announcement. In terms of P.R., the announcement could have been handled a lot better. But the actual end of life is just a thing.

There's s lot of worry about what to sell next, should you sell and EOL product, and what replaces the SBS we've been selling?

First, you now have 17 months before SBS is gone. I have to say, that's plenty of time to figure out what's next. Many people are worried about this. But I think far more people will have figured out a plan than originally believed they would.

Second, in this case there's no problem selling SBS as an EOL product. In fact, you can use it as a sales incentive! Every product bundled into SBS is a Microsoft product. So when the client is ready to move on (in 2015 or 2016), there will be a clear upgrade path to Microsoft products. Or you could migrate away from Microsoft to alternative products. This is not like Response Point, where there was no path at all except to throw the system on eBay.

Some people clearly intend to sell SBS Standard as long as they can and then keep the old servers around as long as they can. This has the potential to create another XP experience for Microsoft: SBS - the server that never dies.

And to be honest, there are plenty of people who are totally okay with the change in product line-up. If you're not totally wedded to the way things used to be, the future looks pretty good. It will be much more expensive for end users, but there will be no shortage of things to sell.

One very positive reaction from the survey: "Been working with SBS since v4 so sorry to see it go. But given cheap hardware [and] easy virtualisation there is little reason to have 1 server. I'm pretty excited about Office365 and implementing more. As long as there is a good migration story I don't think I'll have too much to grumble over."

And one respondent put things in perspective about the realities of the world we live in: "I'm more worried about the guy who posts a yard sign I Can Fix Your Computer in 24 Hours devaluing my worth than the loss of SBS."

Non-Microsoft Alternatives
(Party Like it's 1999)

Probably the biggest thing Microsoft should be paying attention to is the very high number of responses that mentioned moving away from Microsoft products and onto alternatives. Time and time again, people talked about moving away from Microsoft. As I've said many times, once Microsoft opens the door about whether I should sell a specific product, that door gets opened all the way!

Alternatives specifically mentioned include Linux (Unix, Ubuntu, Red Hat), Kerio, Google Apps, Open Office, Dropbox, Zimbra, and Freeware.

There's great irony in breaking apart the SBS product back into its component servers. Way back when, we hobbled together storage, logon, email, backup, and remote access. As consultants, we had to pick a group of products that worked well together and didn't break the client's budget. When SBS is gone, we'll be doing that again, just like we did in 1999 (SBS didn't really have much traction until the 2000 version).

Time and again, partners have said that, if Microsoft doesn't have a right-priced upgrade path, the competition will. And if the competition doesn't, then we'll each be back to building our own.

There is no scenario in which Microsoft will continue to own as much of the technology in client offices as they own today. Again, once the door is open, it's open all the way.

FUD: Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt

Right now there's a lot of confusion over the product line. There's confusion over certification (which I'll discuss next time). Microsoft's complete blackout of communication with the community doesn't help.

As for clients, relationships, and Microsoft: Some partners feel very strongly that Microsoft is pushing us away. I just talked to a reporter who asked me, "Do you think Microsoft just decided they don't need all those small businesses and small business partners?"

If reporters are asking that question, you can be sure partners are as well.

If we stick with Microsoft products that are too expensive for small businesses, will we make any money? And if we push them to cloud-based products with paper-thin margins, will we be forced to have ten times as many clients just to stay in business?

Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt.

Some have said that we all need to become mass-marketers focused totally on quantity sales. Well, there can only be a limited number of people in that space. We can't all be mid-sized partners for Microsoft! But there's a very bright future here: As on respondent said, the mid- and large-size integrators can never take our jobs because they cannot provide personal, dedicated service or true consulting (advice). They must become commoditized box-pushers. They cannot provide the patience, flexibility, and hand-holding required by the small business client.

Microsoft has never really understood small businesses. That's why they engaged the community.

One of the primary reactions to uncertainty in any market is paralysis. Look at buying habits since the economic collapse in 2008. Many, many clients have simply stopped spending. Or put off spending until something broke. In times of great uncertainty, they simply retract and keep doing what they were doing until some clarity emerges. Microsoft may have unwittingly created a new level of uncertainty that will simply stall decision-making for some time to come.

Eventually, Microsoft will release white papers, go to market campaigns, and hands on labs for all this stuff.

Right now we don't know enough about Windows 8, Server 2012, Server 2012 Essentials, Office 2013 /365, or the process of moving from EOL SBS that we'll need to have in place by 2015.

But we'll learn. We'll come up to speed. We'll figure out how to make money - as we always have.

The future will have a lot less Microsoft in it.

But if you're a true consultant - a technology adviser to your clients - then you've got years of work and massive opportunity ahead of you. Remember, FUD=$.

. . . To Be Continued.


Still the best Quick-Start Guide to Managed Services: 

by Karl W. Palachuk 

Now only $39.95 at SMB Books!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cloud Services Roundtable (and Karl) Evolves to the Next Big Thing

One of the interesting things about "living out loud" is that you expose the world to parts of your personal life. And if you don't manage that well, you give up some of your privacy.

Many people might be surprised, given my activities on Facebook and this blog, that I have all kinds things in my personal life that you don't know about. On a few ocassions I have had to actually ask people to keep some of my personal stuff off the blogs, etc. The primary example of this is my divorce a few years ago. But there are other things as well.

I only tell you all that to tell you all this:

I have been implementing a series of major changes this year. I've added a few things, removed a few things, and changed a few things. The overall effect is to help me move closer to the life I want (personally and professionally).

Today I am announcing that I have disbanded the Cloud Services Roundtable. That URL now points to its replacement, the SMB Community Podcast. Really attentive people will note that I've been using that name for some time, sprinkling SMB Community Podcasts in with the member-only podcasts.

Effective immediately, all of my public podcasting will be done through SMB Community Podcast.

All Cloud Service Roundtable podcasts have been moved over to the SMB Community Podcast site and are available free to the public. Very shortly, all of the old "SMB Conference Call" podcasts will also be housed there. (They are currently hiding over at the Great Little Book web site.)

Stops and Starts

Awhile back I announced that I was putting an end the Promotion Monkey Newsletter and the Freeday Friday call-ins. See the blog about that. Now I am putting an end to the CSR - even though it was a paid subscription program.

A few days ago I announced that I am taking on some coaching clients.

All of this is intended to help me move toward my big picture. I want to write more. I want to do more speaking and more training.

I'm not done evolving, but the last month has certainly brought some major changes that will help me move in the direction I hope to go.

Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Check out those archived podcasts!


Monday, July 16, 2012

Podcast from Robert Crane: Microsoft Changes

I mentioned in my weekly newsletter this morning that you should keep your eyes on Robert Crane's blog for a podcast. Just got the official announcement that the podcast has been posted. It's a conversation between Robert, Ken Shafer, and Jeff Middleton.

Here's Robert's notice:

- - - - -

Episode 33 - Ken and Jeff

In this episode I'm joined by Ken Shafer and Jeff Middleton to discuss the recent changes to the Microsoft Small Business Server offerings. We chat about what the changes mean and what impact they will have on resellers and the community at large. We look at some ideas for what needs to happen in the SMB technology reseller space. If you sell or support Windows Small Business Server don't miss this episode.

Don't forget all the other podcasts at and appreciate a like over at

Remember if you want to be a guest please contact me.

Robert Crane


Sunday, July 15, 2012

SMB Community Survey Results - Part 1

Last week I put together a survey and asked the community to respond. Boy, you sure did! We had almost 500 responses (498, actually). Of those, 204 people entered in comments. Some of them were quite long. In all, you gave more than 10,000 words of feedback.

Twenty-four countries were represented (Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greenland, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, US).

Here are the core survey results. I've added just a few notes at the end for some stats that are not immediately obvious.

I have a press release coming out with some commentary on this. You can get a copy here:

If you are interested in a Word document with all of the comments, you can request that here. (27 pages - Free, of course.) I have stripped out individual names and and email addresses. Other than that, it's just as entered in the comment section.

Tomorrow I'll give a little more analysis and my current opinion on a few things. Here are the summary stats:

Question Responses
n =
1. How surprised were you by Microsoft's announcement to discontinue the SBS Standard product? 1. Not at all Surprised
2. Not much
3. Somewhere in the Middle
4. Somewhat
5. Completely Surprised

2. The new Small Business Competency only requires one MCP and costs $999. Is this a competency you will seek? 1. No Way
2. Probably Not
3. Maybe
4. Probably Will
5. Yes Definitely Will

3. How many Small Business Severs (any edition or year) did you install in the last 12 months? None
21 or More

4. How likely are you to sell these services in the next 12 months?
> Hosted Exchange Server/Mailboxes
1 - We Will Not
2 - Probably Not
3 - Probably
4 - We Will
5 - We Already Are

4. How likely are you to sell these services in the next 12 months?
> Hosted Spam Filtering
1 - We Will Not
2 - Probably Not
3 - Probably
4 - We Will
5 - We Already Are

4. How likely are you to sell these services in the next 12 months?
> Cloud Based Storage
1 - We Will Not
2 - Probably Not
3 - Probably
4 - We Will
5 - We Already Are

4. How likely are you to sell these services in the next 12 months?
> Cloud Backup
1 - We Will Not
2 - Probably Not
3 - Probably
4 - We Will
5 - We Already Are

4. How likely are you to sell these services in the next 12 months?
> Cloud DR
1 - We Will Not
2 - Probably Not
3 - Probably
4 - We Will
5 - We Already Are

4. How likely are you to sell these services in the next 12 months?
> Hosted Content Filtering
1 - We Will Not
2 - Probably Not
3 - Probably
4 - We Will
5 - We Already Are

4. How likely are you to sell these services in the next 12 months?
> Other Cloud Service(s)
1 - We Will Not
2 - Probably Not
3 - Probably
4 - We Will
5 - We Already Are

5. SBS Standard Edition will continue to be available via the OEM channel through December 31, 2013. Is that enough time for you to determine what your revised business model will be? 1. No Way
2. Probably Not
3. Maybe
4. Probably
5. Yes Definitely

6. Have you looked at SBS Essentials and Foundation Server to determine where they fit in your business model? We have looked at SBS Essentials Only
We have looked at Foundation Server Only
We have looked at both SBS Essentials and Foundation Server
We have looked at Neither







7. If you stopped selling SBS tomorrow, do you have a solution package already mapped/planned out to replace it? No

8. Are you a regular participant in an IT Pro group or SBS User Group? No

9. Are you currently a Microsoft Small Business Specialist (SBSC)? No

10. Do you believe you will be able to develop a successful cloud-integrated I.T. offering in the next 12 months? 1. No Way
2. Probably Not
3. Maybe
4. Probably
5. Yes Definitely

11. Do you anticipate becoming More or Less involved in the SMB I.T. Community in the next 12 months? 1. Definitely Less
2. Probably Less
3. Not Sure
4. Probably More
5. Definitely More

Additional Stats and Notes About the Numbers

- A total of 498 people filled out the survey.

- 62% of respondents were somewhat surprised or completely surprised by the announcement that that SBS Standard would be discontinued at the end of 2013.

- 65% of respondents identified themselves as Microsoft Small Business Specialists (SBSC).

- 65% of respondents say they definitely will not, or probably will not, seek the new Small Business Competency.

- Of those who identified themselves as SBSC, 58% say they will not, or probably will not, seek the new Small Business Competency.

- Over half ( 54.5% ) of respondents installed between zero and five Small Business Servers in the last year.

- For each of the cloud services that we asked about, 20-50% of respondents are already selling the service.

- When you combine those who probably will, definitely will, and already are selling each of the cloud services we asked about, the totals are in the range 50-70% for each service.

- An amazing 76% of all respondents have looked at either SBS Essentials, Foundation Server, or both.

- While 67% of respondents said that they would not have a solution to replace SBS if it disappeared tomorrow, 58% of them believe they will be able to revise their business model by the end of next year. 46% believe they will have a successful cloud-integrated offering within the next 12 months.

- 83% of respondents participate in IT Pro groups at some level. 35% say they expect to be more involved in the SMB IT Community in the next year while 24% expect to be less involved.

Comments welcome. More to come!

Thanks again to everyone who participated.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

HP and Microsoft Discuss SMB Operating Systems and Hardware for the Next 18 Months

Please check out the HP/Microsoft Coffee Coaching blog. You'll find their blog on my Blog Roll at my Small Biz Thoughts blog.

Anyway, they're holding a special webcast Wednesday, July 18th to talk about operating systems from MS and hardware from HP in the months ahead.

Here's their announcement:

- - - - -

Small Business Server Update Webcast 
July 18, 2012 at 8:00 am PT

During this week at the Microsoft WPC 2012 in Toronto, Microsoft announced the release of Windows Server 2012 Essentials edition beta see  HP information for Windows Server 2012 Essentials edition beta can be found here:

Join Lucy Ellis (HP) and David Fabritius (Microsoft) for a live webcast on July 18, 2012 at 8:00 am PT

Topics covered will be the following:  Microsoft Windows Server 2012 Essentials features and benefits, customer scenarios, HP Product portfolio and transition plans.  We’ll do a Q&A session for 20 minutes. We hope you can join us.

Here is the information for the meeting:

Join by Phone



Conference ID: 25291428

- - - - -

If you follow me, you know I live the HP Micro Server "cubes" for my SBS Essentials (soon to be Window Server 2012 Essentials) and Foundation Server installations.

Check it out.


Friday, July 13, 2012

A Memo from Karl about Coaching and Consulting Services

I know most people don't actually follow my blogs and other writings. But those who do are aware of some changes I'm making this year. I have closed down my Promotion Monkey newsletter and the Freeday Friday podcasts.

Karl W. Palachuk
The reason is no great mystery: I am a firm believer in trying new things. That means I also have to stop doing some things. Sometimes I stop because they aren't profitable, aren't fun, or take up too much time. Mostly, I stop doing things because they no longer promote my long-term goals.

In my book Relax Focus Succeed, I spelled out my vision statement for my life: "My vision is to inspire success through a balance of serving myself and serving others." (p. 93) And while many, many specifics of my life have changed, that vision has not.

There will be more changes for me this year. I have three more pieces of the puzzle to put together in the next few months. Here's one of them, based on a letter I sent to a number of IT consultants recently, and posted on the Small Biz Thoughts web site.

- - - - -

Dear I.T. Professional:

It can be quite a daunting task to re-tool your business for the future. But when you step back and realize that you are smack in the middle of a period of huge changes affecting every business customer, every vendor, every distributor, and every IT consultant, you also see that this is a very exciting time to be in business.

Let's be honest: If you're reading this, you have somehow survived the biggest recession of our lifetime. You might not be sleeping on a mattress stuffed with money, but you've survived!

That puts you in a very small group.

Our mailing list has shrunk by more than 25% as we have cleaned it over the last two years. I'm not talking email. The postal mailing list has shrunk that much. That means those folks just aren't in business anymore. So when I give you kudos for surviving, I am very sincere.

But now it's time to look to the future.

I would like to help you fine-tune your business, make some big changes, and take full advantage of the emerging market. As part of some major changes I'm making this year, I have launched a new coaching program for a limited number of consultants. Don't worry - limited number doesn't mean expensive. It just means that I am going to dedicate time to this, and I have other things going on (such as writing). So I'm not going to over-promise and under-deliver.

I am very confident that I can help you analyze the business you have today, design a plan for the future, and execute that plan in short order. The analysis and planning is a lot easier than you might think. You need to step off the treadmill and put some attention on it.

The real key to success is ACTION. That means creating successful processes and executing them.

We are sometimes overwhelmed with excellent advice. My recent SMB Online Conference is an example. 18 hours of education with hundreds of great suggestions. No one can do all that!

But you can do a few things that make a huge difference!

Let me help you make a few key decisions to turn your business around.
Let me help you pick a few important action steps and execute them quickly.
Let me help you grow your business to the next level and become a leader in the emerging world of Small Business IT consulting.

But I am also setting up appointments to talk about how I can help IT consultants today. If you are interested, please let me know and we'll arrange a free 30-minute consultation to talk about your business and see whether you and I would work well together.

Please Note: I am only taking a limited number of clients. It's just in my nature: I'm not going to do a half-assed job and then disappear. If I take you on, we're both going to work hard to take your business to the next level. I can't do that with 20 or 30 clients.

If I have too many sincere applicants, I will create a waiting list. But I won't leave you hanging. I have good relationships with the best coaches in the MSP/SMB community. I'll make sure someone helps you build the business you want.

We all know that there are businesses that flourish no matter what the economy is doing. In times of great change, only a few people will step up and become one of those flourishing businesses. Is it your time?

Contact me to set up a 30-minute consultation and we'll find out!

Email me at [email protected].

Thank you for your time. I know your time is valuable and I appreciate that you allowed me to use a bit of it.

Wishing you all the luck in the world!

- Karl P.

- - - - -

Don't worry: If you have no interest in coaching, I won't be bothering you with it! And I'll continue podcasting, speaking, training, BS-ing on Facebook, and most of the rest of what I do.

My SOP Friday series will continue. It brings me joy and gets a lot of positive feedback. (Plus it's not a bad place to start with coaching clients.)

Thank you to everyone who has supported me over the years. I really love this community and feel blessed to be a part of it. I hope this new addition to my activities will be a welcome change for a handful of partners.