Wednesday, March 31, 2021

How's Your Vendor BS-ometer?

Maybe I was just in the right mood at the right time, but I was thoroughly impressed with a little game show video ID Agent put together recently, promoting their appearance at the MVP Growthfest. Here's the LinkedIn post:

I didn't find the muppet/puppet particularly compelling, but I *LOVED* the game show. First, it was fun. Second, it was engaging. Third, it's so simple that I have to figure out how I'm going to do something like this - for fun or business.

As I told Matt Solomon from ID Agent, I was jealous throughout this video. It was original. And, most importantly, it wasn't just another webinar!

I shared this video with several people. One of them didn't give it a second glance before he responded that he just doesn't pay attention to vendor BS anymore. My response was that (as an old man), I try to find inspiration anywhere I can. And I don't close the door to inspiration just because of the messenger.

But that got me thinking about a couple of questions. First, how do you view vendor-generated information? Do you think it's all BS? Do you think it's sincere? Do you think vendors care about you? And, Second, how has the pandemic-induced isolation affected your view of vendors and their messaging?

For the truly cynical, vendors just want to keep singing the same old song, do nothing new, and keep signing up partners for ever and ever, amen. If you've been in the business for ten, fifteen, or twenty years, you've seen this again and again. "Channel Chiefs" get together in a never-ending series of events and award each other Lucite trophies to take home to the cash cow in hopes of living long enough to see show.

I have a different view of the world. I have always relied on good vendors to make my business better. That's why, when I have a vendor on the SMB Community Podcast, I always ask the question straight out: "How do I make money with your product/service?" Speeds and feeds are awesome. Widgets and gadgets are fun. But, ultimately, I don't care about features as much as I care about providing better service to clients and making more money doing it.

I have always relied on vendors to provide education. While they are focused on their newest product, the part I care about is how to make money integrating that product into my service offering. Whether it was Microsoft, Intel, HP, or others, I "used" vendors to improve my business. I took the free education and made money from it.

Yes, there is a certain level of selling, but that's the price of admission. Most of the shows we go to are made possible by vendor sponsors. Much of the free education is only free because a vendor is paying for it. So you sit through the pitch.

I have been honored to work on white papers, webinars, classes, and a variety of roadshows and trainings with vendors. I have been most impressed with vendors who have an ongoing commitment to partner education. And here's the trick a few vendors have figured out: The education works best when it is a sincere attempt to help IT service providers to be more successful. When a vendor "gives first" with training like this, the partners are very open to a discussion of deeper partnerships.

In recent years, I have been very impressed with the ongoing efforts of Sherweb and Acronis. Both companies have made large investments in partner training on the business side of business. Note: I consider Sherweb to be in the "young and scrappy" category while I consider Acronis to be in the "older and established" category. So, you see, vendors don't have to at a particular stage of their maturity to provide good information to IT partners.

The Current Environment

Let's face it: Vendors have had a tough year. Starting in March 2020, they had to shift (rather suddenly) to a remote-only marketing environment. Some had plans in the works already. Others had to pivot quite suddenly from an essentially in-person-only marketing program.

I would typify many of the suddenly-remote events as just plain horrible. Recorded conference presentations with no interaction were the norm. Many vendors literally took their 30 minute stage presentations and recorded them as if they were Zoom calls. 

My understanding is that most vendors actually did well and reached their target sales numbers. That's cool. But, remember, that's in a world where we, the viewers, had no other options. 

Far too many IT professionals were suddenly watching more webinars, even though the content was far from interesting, useful, or compelling. Just as no one ever got fired for buying IBM, no vendor marketing manager ever got fired for holding a boring, self-serving webinar.

As the world begins to open up, we are quickly seeing the "Live Event" market return to pre-pandemic levels. My friend Dave Sobel (from The Killing IT Podcast) and I always disagree on how many events will go back to live. My personal opinion is: ALL of them. The only ones that won't be back are events that didn't do well and were destined to go away anyway.

I hope that you seriously consider evaluating whether webinars and live events are worth your time. Ask yourself: Why are you attending? Do you want to learn more about a new product? Do you want to get an education on best business practices? 

I hope you are NOT attending events because there's nothing better to do. If that's the case, go sit in you back yard and read a good book. Don't waste your time with online events just because you're bored.

I sincerely hope that more vendors take a tip from ID Agent and do something a little different. It doesn't have to be earth-shattering or amazing. One percent different is enough to stand out in a huge cloud of same-ness.

What do you think? Has your BS-ometer been recalibrated in the last year?

- - - - -

FTC Note: No one paid me to say anything here. ID Agent is not a client of mine. Sherweb and Acronis have been clients of mine. Nothing here is meant to represent the broader universe or the IT Service Provider industry. And I make no claims about whether anything here represents anything other than just my opinion. (And I think the FTC guidelines are watery enough to be useless.)


Monday, March 22, 2021

Dave Sobel to Join the SBT Roundtable - April 1st

Dave Sobel
to Join the SBT Roundtable - April 1st

Long-time community leader Dave Sobel joins us for the April SBT Roundtable. Members will find the link in your Dashboard.

Dave is a former MSP and has worked with a few vendors. Currently, he runs the MSP Radio network, producing the Business of Tech podcast and videos.

And, of course, Dave is a co-host on the Killing IT podcast.

For many years, Dave has been a community builder and a pioneer in the SMB IT consulting community. He is, quite honestly, a thought leader of the first order!

About the SBT Roundtable

The SBT Roundtable is a special program inside the Small Biz Thoughts Technology Community. We meet once a month (on the First Thursday of the month) in a webinar format via Zoom.

Basically, we have a high-level conversation that we hope adds some "mental DNA" to the normal business- and tech-focused discussions that we normally find ourselves in.

Members have found these meetings very educational.

If you are a member of the SBT Technology Community: Plan to Join us! The link is at the top of your dashboard.

If you are NOT a Community member, please Join Us . . . and then you can plan to join us!


Monday, March 15, 2021

Class - Managing Your Service Board - Starts March 23rd

Managing Your Service Board - Setup, Core SOPs, and Daily Procedures

5-Week class starts March 23rd

- Five Tuesdays: March 23 - April 20 - Register Now

- All classes start a 9:00 AM Pacific

This course covers the most important pieces of making your PSA (Professional Services Administration) service board work effectively. Your PSA is the brain center of your entire operation.

Most Managed Service Providers don't use their PSA systems efficiently. In fact, most of them only use 10-20% of the capabilities of their PSA. This costs you money because you have the tool to run everything in your business more effectively. But if you don't put the right information into the tool, then you can't get the reports you need to improve your business.

This course covers the daily operation of a managed service business - or any IT shop with a service board and a one or more technicians who execute the service. It assumes you have a service board or PSA (Professional Services Administration) and a service manager.

Whether you sell “break fix” or flat fee services, a service board will take your company to the next level – if you use it right. In addition to covering setup and core standard operating procedures, we'll get into the "nitty gritty" of running a service board and managing the service department.

Which PSA?

I used ConnectWise for four years in my business. Then I switched to Autotask and used that for five years. Eventually, I moved to LogicNow (SolarWinds MSP) and used that for four years.

On top of all that, I've worked closely with coaching client who have used all of these products. This course is intended to apply to all PSAs. I will point out areas where differences are most obvious.

You will learn

  • How tickets should flow into, through, and off of the service board
  • How to set up the core components of a service board
    • Priorities
    • Statuses
    • Workflows
    • Time Estimates
  • The most important processes and procedures for making the board work effectively once it's set up
  • Introducing new processes to you employees
  • Getting clients to understand the new processes
  • Time tracking the right way
  • The most important reports you need to run
    • Every Day
    • Every Week
    • Every Month
    • When it's time for client renewals
  • Avoiding the biggest pitfalls with service board management
  • Building an Action Plan that works

Additional Topics include:

  • Welcome to the Service Department
  • After Hours Work
  • On Call and Night Staff
  • Managing Internal Administrative Tasks
  • Assign Techs or Rotate Them?
  • Approved Tools
  • Employees in The Tech Department
  • Technician Daily Time Management -- includes daily work flow
  • Time Tracking for Employees
  • The Tech on Call for The Day - Managing Daily Workflow
  • How to Maximize Billability of Technicians
  • Email Rules and Etiquette for the Consultant
  • Technician Supplies
  • Final Friday Training
  • Troubleshooting Guidelines
  • Troubleshooting and Repair Logs
  • Service Delivery Policies and Procedures
  • The First Client Visit
  • Guide to a Service Call
  • The Network Documentation Binder - NDB
  • Response Times - Guarantees and Delivery
  • Time Entry and Note Entry in Service Tickets
  • Information Sharing
  • Service Board Backlog Management
  • Daily Monitoring of Client Machines
  • Patch Management Philosophy and Procedures
  • Setting Up Alerts in Your PSA and RMM
  • New PC Checklists
  • Server Down Procedures
  • Third Party Tech Support - Documenting Calls
  • Third Party Tech Support - Rules of Engagement
  • Document Pouches
  • Service Focus: Monthly Maintenance
  • Why We Do Monthly Maintenance
  • Scheduling Monthly Maintenance and On Site Visits
  • Checklist for Major Scheduled Maintenance
  • The Monthly Maintenance Checklist
  • Monthly Single Checklist
  • Outsourcing (some) of Your Monthly Maintenance
  • Backup Monitoring, Testing, and Management
  • Disaster Recovery - An Overview

Delivered by Karl W. Palachuk, blogger and author of the very popular "SOP Friday" posts.

Includes five weeks of webinars with related handouts, assignments, and "office hours" with the instructor. All classes are recorded for download.

This course is intended for business owners and managers. It is particularly useful for the Service Manager or Operations Manager.

Only $299
Register Now

Check Out the #1 Best-Selling book on Managed Services ever!

Managed Services in A Month
by Karl W. Palachuk

3nd Edition - Newly Revised and Updated with TEN new chapters

Paperback - Ebook - Audio Book

The #1 best selling book on managed services ever!

It's never too late to jump into a maintenance-focused, flat-fee recurring revenue model.

Now includes information on making cloud services part of your managed service offering!

If you're new to IT consulting or ready to make the move from break/fix to managed services, this is the "cookbook" you need.

Click to view table of contents, sample chapter, and more.

Learn More!

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Join the Advancing Tech Talent and Diversity Community at CompTIA CCF

The Advancing Tech Talent and Diversity Community at CompTIA has TWO events at the CompTIA Communities and Councils Forum next week.

- Non-Members Welcome

FIRST - Register for CCF Here

THEN check out the agenda and find these two meetings on Wednesday the 17th:

How to Cultivate High Potential Talent: Nurture Diversity from Within

9:35 AM - 10:10 AM PDT on Wednesday, March 17

Competing for top talent is a thing of the past if you nurture the talent you already have. When it comes to ensuring that high potential employees are cultivated and developed, a one-size-fits all approach will miss the mark every time, especially as you look to advance diverse talent through the ranks. It’s important to know which strategies work most effectively for which high potentials. Join the Advancing Tech Talent and Diversity Community as we share methodologies and best practices to ensure that you have the leaders you need when you need them.


Advancing Tech Talent & Diversity Community Meeting

11:00 AM - 11:45 AM PDT on Wednesday, March 17

Imagine if your company did everything in its power to ensure that all employees performed to their full potential. What if you could connect, collaborate, and hear from industry peers on what works and lessons learned along the way? Join the Advancing Tech Talent & Diversity Community to hear about our latest initiatives and participate in our roll-up-your-sleeves “masters in tech” workshop. Your thought leadership will contribute to our soon-to-be-released Guide to Jobs in Emerging Tech.

-- -- --

We'll see you online March 16-17!

I sit on the Advancing Tech Talent and Diversity Community at CompTIA and I would LOVE to see you there. 


How to Build an Ecommerce Site

In the last blog post, I introduced the topic of creating an ecommerce site on your web site. In this post, I will outline the basic elements you need. Read the previous post here.

There are many ways to build an ecommerce site. Trust me: I've built most of them. In fact, I've built the back-end for ecommerce and EDI (electronic data interchange) sites since 1995. Before I got into SMB IT consulting, I designed EDI systems for Nike, Wrangler, and other major companies. I worked with one of the major retail point-of-sale software companies, and developed their first internet sites.

With my book store and online classes, I have built several sites over the years. Here are the basic elements of online sales.

First: Hosting

Whether you build a site on your own web site, or outsource to a hosting service, the store has to "live" somewhere. This might include an eBay store, an Amazon store, a fully hosted site such as Volusion, or a front-end to someone else's store.

But - as I mentioned in the last blog - you probably don't want to be in the store business. By that I mean  that the store is not your primary business. Consulting and cloud services/managed services are still your primary business. So, the store you build is not intended to compete with Best Buy or Staples. That should give you the freedom to stop worrying about the variety of your offerings or the prices you offer.

In the simplest setup, you have a simple WordPress site with a small store. That's it. A few dozen items. And lots of links that engage clients and prospects in meetings and consultation. (That's where the real sales take place.)

Here's what we recommend, and we're building for our Small Biz Thoughts Technology Community members:
  • A WordPress site on a subdomain, so it looks like your site (e.g.,
  • Secure hosting, of course
  • 2FA to log into the back end/dashboard
Your actual store will be built from there.

Second: The Money Stuff

This is perhaps the scariest part for most people who haven't built ecommerce sites before. You may have built something like this for clients, but not for yourself.

You need software that connects your store to your money. The two primary components are very straight forward:

1) A credit card/ACH/PayPal module that allows visitors to give you money

2) A "gateway" that transfers that money to your bank account

Again, there are many options here. I have worked with, my bank, PayPal, Merchant Warehouse, and a few other merchant services. They each charge a different amount. As you might expect, the easy options take a higher percentage of your sale.

Today (early 2021), you should expect to pay no more than 3% plus a small transaction fee, around twenty-five cents. Your bank will probably be the most expensive option. 

Here's what we recommend, and we're building for our Community members:
As you can imagine, all of these accounts have very long, complicated, random passwords, with 2FA enabled wherever possible.

Do not let fear keep you from implementing this. Every organization involved here has security as their absolute highest priority. You might have hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake, but these services have billions of dollars at stake.

Third: The Actual Store

Finally, you need to define your offerings. As I mentioned in the last blog post, there will be three kinds of products and services for sale.

In addition to the simple "items" in your store, there must be a means for you to stay informed about new orders. As a rule, these are emailed to a specific address. We recommend a group email or list address, so that whoever processes orders can take a day off. This functionality is built into the store software, but needs to be configured by you.

Obvious and easy items are all the things your clients (and strangers) can buy without discussion, explanation, or higher-level consultation. This might include lots of great bundles. For example: Consider offering,

  • A Zoom Room Bundle. Includes a 60" television, a wall mount for the TV, a NUC mini PC, HD camera, conference microphone, VOIP phone, and associated cables and labor. $2,999.
    (You can make money with that, right?)

  • HP Color LaserJet Pro M454dn printer, cables, and installation labor. $599.
  • Work-from-home secure setup. 24" HP monitor, HP Workstation Z2 G5 - Core i7 2.9 GHz - vPro - 16 GB - SSD 512, Logitech 930 camera, Blue Yeti microphone, ring light, and setup labor. $2,499.

Recommended catalog items are basically your quarterly "recommended" configurations. This will primarily include a recommended laptop configuration, a recommended office desktop configuration, and perhaps a recommended file server.

If you have one or more clients with special needs (e.g., dental offices, car sales departments, or manufacturing), you may offer a handful of standardized desktop or all-in-one configurations. These are not quite the same as the "obvious and easy" items. But to your existing clients, they are probably quite obvious and easy to understand.

As a rule, you should be happy to have your clients put in a credit card and buy a new desktop setup - with or without the labor. It would be even better if they could check a box and add a new workstation to managed services!

If strangers wander in from the Internet, put in their credit card, and order equipment, you will probably also be happy to take their money. But note: Some consultation may be required. Yes, take their money. Never hesitate there. But absolutely require that they have a consultation to make sure that they're buying the right thing. 

Remember: You're not competing with Walmart here. You want to draw people into your consulting business. You may have the odd stranger who just buys top-shelf equipment for top-shelf prices, but that would be an odd stranger indeed.

Products and Services that require consultation. Finally, you will have offerings that are intended primarily for "strangers" and prospects. This is really a marketing ploy disguised as a sales offering. Here, you can list your major offerings. This might include your three-tiered offering, your Cloud Five-Pack, and even blocks of labor.

You don't need to list pricing here. The actual goal is to make clear the core offerings of your consulting business. Prospects will educate themselves about your offerings. And, once they are tempted  to buy, they will click the big button to schedule a meeting with you.

You might offer pricing on some items, strategically, so that clients have an idea of what to expect when the request a consultation. For example, an anchor price for labor will help them get used to your pricing before they see the first proposal. 

What We're Up To

Here's my bottom line: I think you need to set up an ecommerce site. I believe this is the future. More than once, I've bet on my vision of the future. So I'm happy to do it again.

I am laying out the specifics of this idea so that anyone can implement it. After many years of working in ecommerce, I have learned that there are many ways to do this. So, I am helping people to build the easiest, most obvious option.

Inside the Small Biz Thoughts Technology Community, we are building a model store site and offering our members assistance in building their stores. But don't worry, you don't have to be a member to build your site. I will give you the details of what we're doing. At the same time, I do not encourage you to be side-tracked from your primary business. 

But this is something you should do. Just keep it as a supplemental income stream.

Here's the deal: Some people will immediately realize what it takes to do this, and will jump at the opportunity. Some people will rely on us to help them build their own site. Then they will be off to manage it themselves. And, finally, some people will simply allow us to create this site for them.

I'll spell out more details on this blog, so stay tuned.

Please post questions and comments here. I'm happy to discuss. 


Monday, March 08, 2021

Selling Directly from Your Web Site

 It is past time for this idea: You should be selling a selection of products and services from your web site. There are two obvious audiences for this: Your current clients and your future clients!

The world of ecommerce is about twenty-five years old. And the pandemic of 2020 demonstrated that it can continue to grow at an astounding rate. According to Digital Commerce 360, online commerce grew 44% year over year in 2020.

I hope you're asking yourself, "Where's my share?"

What is an Online Store?

Let's start by defining our terms. I *do not* recommend that you open a big, monster, full-featured store to compete with Best Buy, CDW, or Dell. I'm not recommending that you get in the commodity mass-sales business. But I do encourage you to build a store that increases and improves your business.

But there are plenty of things you should be offering your clients. I hope you see that we've been moving in this direction for a long time. 

When I had an MSP, I always tried to be my client's source for ink, toner, cables, keyboards, UPSs, speakers, and so forth. These are consumables and smaller items. You can see that these are just a step away from printers, monitors, scanners, and other common equipment. 

Stop and think.

Do you think that printers are clearly in your product line, but toner is not? Many MSPs have never focused on the smaller items and consumables, but they are a natural extension of what you already sell. And let's be honest: There's a massive markup with these smaller items.

Look at what you pay for CAT6 cables versus what clients would pay at Office Depot, Staples, and Best Buy. Even at "discount" web sites, you can sell cables priced by the foot and be cheaper. But . . . I don't recommend you sell on price.

Three Types of Products

I recommend that you divide products/services into three broad types:

1) Easy and self-explanatory. This includes all the little things listed above as well as big-screen TVs for the conference room, cameras, lighting kits, all-in-one workstations, VOIP phones, and cell phones.

2) Your recommended catalog. This includes your "recommended configuration" for a desktop, laptop, and even entry level server. Yes, I know that prices bounce up and down, but you know you can define a machine that you can sell at a good price for three months. Re-evaluate and repost your recommended configurations each quarter.

3) Consultation required. This is the really juicy good stuff. This category divides nicely into two sub-categories. The first sub-category consists of larger items that businesses might want, and might even buy without consultant. BUT, once they start exploring something like a high-end firewall, they will be invested enough that you can engage them in a conversation. In fact, you might be able to ding their credit card for something like $3,000 and then engage them in a discussion.

The second sub-category is your primary offering: Managed Services, Cloud Services, and major projects. You probably don't want to post this pricing on your web site. But that's perfectly fine. Once a prospect has read through your site, spent time educating themselves on your company, and reviewing your services, the button to schedule a consultation will be a natural next step.

You're Not as Unique as You Want to Believe (Sorry)

I addressed this in Managed Services in a Month and other places. Time and time again, I hear the argument that "every" client is unique. And our offering is unique. And so, we can never have a standardized offering.

But, of course, we've all figured it out. Yes, there's always some unique element. But you have certainly figured out a Cloud Five Pack offering and three-tiered price list by now. If not, re-read Managed Services in a Month and Cloud Services in a Month.

My point is simply that there is a role to be played by a standardized offering, and you will always need to add your consulting to every engagement. 

What About Price Competition?

STOP worrying about price! 

I wish I could scream this from the mountain tops. 

Pick an item. Anything. Absolutely anything. Cars, houses, cameras, computers, cell phones, and even ball point pens. Anything you want to buy has a very large price range. And people who could afford the very expensive option often choose the lesser priced option. Similarly, people who can barely afford the lowest price option somehow figure out how to buy a more expensive choice.

Price is all about value - not dollars or pounds or Euros.

I have met many IT professionals that have a flat 50% markup on everything they sell. I applaud this. We always had a flat 25% markup. If you have a policy such as this, you find yourself selling products far above the "suggested" retail price. What you won't find is that clients run down to Best Buy. Instead, they either buy what you sell, or engage you in finding another alternative.

Remember: If you choose to compete on price, two things are always true:

1) You probably won't make money

2) YOU made this choice

The best thing you have going for yourself as a consultant is . . . consultation. 

When you sell equipment, it should be business-class equipment with a three-year warranty. It should actually last three years. And your clients should know that you are committed to selling them the right solution. That often costs more. But in the long run, you can dramatically improve your clients' experience with the right equipment.

-- -- --

In the next blog post, I'm going to lay out what it takes to build the kind of store I'm talking about.

Post comments and questions here. I'm happy to respond.