Friday, February 16, 2024

NEW - Version 4.0 of my Famous 68-Point Checklist

Karl’s Famous 68-Point Checklist – Version 4.0

Way back in 2005, I published the "68 Point Checklist" as a place for consultants to get started with network documentation and network assessments. This checklist is now famous. Well, at least it's Internet Famous. Google 68-point checklist and you'll find it! 

And now - I totally revised and update the checklist. So now you can get a Free download of Version 4.0  - Copyright 2024.


Over the years, the "famous" 68-point checklist has been used by thousands of IT Professionals to begin their network audits, provide monthly maintenance of client computers, and generally keep client computers tuned up and working great. Best of all, this checklist is FREE for the taking.

You can find it at https://store.smallbizthoughts.com

Best of all - You can use this checklist to create your own. there might be technologies you don't implement or support. Cross them off. You might specialize in something that only mentioned once in the checklist: Drill down.

As always, I offer up tools like this as a place to start. You need to edit and update to fit your business, your clients, your prospects, and your service offering. 

It's hard to edit a blank page. So here's a place to start.

This checklist will become the basis for your network analysis for new clients. That makes it a key component of your marketing process (see the video), and great fodder for a network report. Once someone signs a contract, you might install your remote monitoring tools and have great visibility into all of their network. But in a sales call, you don't have that.

The checklist also includes information you can't get from an RMM tool, like, "Why did you request this analysis?" and "Does the client have a copy of their documentation?"

NOTE: This is a major - and very detailed - update. It is a lot longer and will take longer to execute than Version 3.0. If you need a simpler version, you may wish to also download Version 3.0, also on our store site. 

No credit card required. 



:-)


Friday, February 09, 2024

How Do You Define Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 in Small Business?

What Does "Tier" Support Really Mean in a Small IT Business?

One of my coaching clients asked me to help them define first, second, and third tier support for their service desk. See below.


Before we get to that, please note that the world of SMB support is very different from large companies and even mid-size in-house IT. First of all, all of the people in these tiers know each other in an SMB company, and work together all the time. In very small companies, there might only be one or two people, in which case these "tiers" are not very relevant.

Second, as you grow to five or ten technicians, the lines are never super-clear. We are lucky that the nature of our business means that we go back and forth between dozens of technologies all day long, year after year. That "generalist" experience means that technicians move faster from Tier One to Tier Two than they might in a more focused, specialist environment.

Third, most small IT companies don't charge different prices for different tiers. A "Tier Two" technician might bounce between lower-level and higher-level challenges hour by hour. It's nearly impossible to explain different rates to the client. And, besides, life is much easier when you only have one rate (and twice that for after hours).

Fourth, most small IT companies are lucky if they have ONE true Tier Three technician. And, very often, that person is the company founder who got into this business because they are just amazing with technology. They learn new things fast. They consume technical knowledge like a sponge. And they really do set the standard for the rest of the company.

In my twenty-two years of running IT companies, I had four Tier Three technicians, including myself. And I think they run the gamut you can expect from crazy-good technicians. 

One T3 tech got bored and wandered off to take on bigger challenges than my company could offer. One T3 tech was amazing with technology but could not follow a process or document work to save his life. He came to me when I bought his company, and moved on two years later. And the final amazing T3 tech bought my first managed service business and became the owner.

In my limited, two-decade experience, you are VERY lucky if a true T3 technician stays around for five years. The longest I kept one was six years. Keep that in mind. It's not the focus of this blog post, but I'll just note that it's easier and cheaper to train your own T3's than it is to buy them from job search sites. Stay tuned for that blog post.


The Tier Definitions in SMB IT

Now, here are some definitions you can use to define three tiers of support in your business. Tweak these for you company specifics, then use YOUR definitions for both employees and clients.

Tier One is literally the first line of support. It's the entry point. All "easy" and routine tickets should be handled by Tier One. And with great documented procedures, Tier One technicians should be able to handle most normal maintenance procedures. Any service you deliver routinely should eventually be done by T1 techs (or administrative assistants, but that's another blog post).

At the end of a first contact with a client, Tier One support should have verified that there is a ticket in the system, it has the correct description and title, and that all key settings are correct (status, priority, contract, client, device, etc.). Ideally, simple issues will also be resolved at the end of this contact. 

Tier One technicians should be keenly aware of the limits of their knowledge, skills, and accountability. And that means they should know when it's time to escalate an issue to a more advanced or specialized support team.

Tier Two technicians have more skills and experience than Tier One. They understand a wider range of tools and generally have more specialized knowledge in one or more technologies, whether topic-specific (e.g., routing) or vendor-specific (e.g., Cisco).

While technical training should always continue throughout a technician's career, a good, solid training in one area is generally the basis for elevating a technician to L2. Having said that, the most important Tier-Two-and-above skill is troubleshooting. Second level techs gain troubleshooting skills due to experience with a variety of technologies, hours on the job, and the wisdom to know what to do, what not to do, and when to ask for help.

In very small IT companies, most technicians with good common sense will elevate to Tier Two after one or two years on the job. This is because of the wide variety of technologies they will see and experience. As a rule, in the small business environment, they will see a wide variety of hardware in desktops, laptops, printers, conference room setups, telephones, network equipment, and even servers. The same is true for software brands. Even within the Microsoft world, they'll experience lots of on-site software as well as cloud services.

Tier Three tech support represents the highest level in an IT consulting company. These folks essentially have "a lot more of the same." In other words, they've seen a huge amount of different technologies and have a long history in the industry. Therefore, they've seen a very large number of problems and have a lot of stories to tell.

Here's an odd but useful indicator of Tier Three technical ability: They have a deep knowledge about a technology that is no longer widespread. You might think this makes them obsolete, but if they're still in the game, it's an indicator that they have next-level troubleshooting skills. They can abstract from one technology to another. They can dig back into knowledge that underlies current technology.

These folks must also have a level of wisdom that only comes with experience. They don't just solve the problem in front of them but ask, "How else can we approach this?" They have internalized an approach to solving problems that is over and above technical knowledge or skill. They have a complex view of technology and see a much bigger picture, often solving a problem in the context of the client's entire technical infrastructure.

For this reason, you don't get to be Tier Three just because you've been on the job two or three years, or you’ve got more vendor certifications than anyone else. Very often, a Tier Three tech can see a complicated technology for the first time and still be better at troubleshooting it than a less-experienced but more-trained technician. In a perfect world, T3 techs are also patient, good at explaining problems and solutions, and very good at educating T1 and T2 technicians. In the real world, this is rarely the case. 

Most SMB IT companies with fewer than ten technicians are very lucky if they have more than one true Tier Three technician. It happens, but it’s not common.

Over and above these tiers, technicians may move to a higher level with very focused knowledge and experience in to very specific technology.  This is common in enterprise organizations and extremely rare in the SMB space. In SMB, variety is the spice of life. A T3 Engineer who specializes in Exchange and email traffic shaping would be almost useless in a small IT company.


How Do You Define Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3?

As always, your business is not my business. How do YOU define these tiers? If you have no clear definitions, start with these. Clarify your definitions and then use them both internally and with your clients. 

It's important that people know where they stand. And it's important that clients know what's what. But always remember this: Clients don't really care about tiers. Clients just want their stuff fixed. For the most part, clients see two tiers: New/unexperienced and experienced. They want the good stuff. they always want your best technician.

You should always commit to training your technicians. They should all be moving up with both topic-based training and a variety of technologies. Experience and hours build great troubleshooting. Even training in troubleshooting is useless until it's put into practice.

Most disgruntled technicians are frustrated because the industry needs a lot of Tier One technicians, but skill levels naturally move to Tier Two pretty quickly. As a result, many technicians are stuck at Tier One well past the time that they are skilled to be Tier Two technicians. Again, in small business, we don't have to worry so much about that. But always be attentive to the fact that techs who feel "stuck" will be less motivated.


If you have very different definitions, I would love to see them. Drop your thoughts in the comments.

:-)


Wednesday, February 07, 2024

National Society All-Member Meeting - Join Us Feb. 14th

The National Society of IT Service Providers is holding an all-member meeting - open to everyone!

Wednesday
February 14th
9:00 AM Pacfic / Noon Eastern

Details and registration at

https://nsitsp.org/event/q1-all-members-meeting/


Why Valentine's Day? Because we love our industry!

Join us for the All-members Meeting of the National Society of IT Service Providers (NSITSP)! This inclusive event is open to all, and we invite you to be a part of it. 

Learn about what we've been up to . . . Initiatives and opportunities to get involved and contribute. Gain valuable insights into the latest programs and upcoming activities within our dynamic association.

Mark your calendars and join us to network, connect, and learn from industry experts. Don’t miss out on this informative and engaging gathering of IT service providers. Be there with us to shape the future of our association and the IT landscape!

:-)


Tuesday, February 06, 2024

Class Starts Feb 13th - Managing Your Service Board

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

Taught by Karl W. Palachuk
Author, Speaker, Blogger


- Five Tuesdays:
February 13 - March 12

- Register Now

- All classes start a 9:00 AM Pacific
- All classes are recorded

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.

Only $399

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 more than five 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

-----

Top Take-aways:
  • Understand How the Components of Service Work Together
  • Managing all the Time in Your Service Business
  • Defining the Perfect Service Ticket
  • The Most Important Reports You Need to Run
  • Building Excellent Customer Service

PLUS lots more.
-----

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

Only $399

---

Here are the specifics of what you'll learn, week by week:

Unit 1 Core Components / Building Blocks of a Great Service Board
Unit 2 Core Processes and Procedures for Success / Time Tracking the Right Way
Unit 3 Implementation and Daily Processes
Unit 4 A Day in the Life of the Service Desk / Policies that Drive Profitability
Unit 5 Build and Maintain a Well-Oiled Machine / Getting the Details Right

---

Delivered by Karl W. Palachuk, blogger and author of the very popular "SOP Friday" posts at https://blog.smallbizthoughts.com.

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, Technician, or Operations Manager.



:-)

Monday, February 05, 2024

Free Give-Away to all IT Consultants

We bought some great blankets to promote the Small Biz Thoughts Technology Community - and we want YOU to have one!

I just posted a video announcing the details. View on this page: https://smallbizthoughts.com/blanket


I keep this in my car trunk, just in case there's an emergency picnic. Or if I need to kneel in the mud. Or if I drive by a tempting beach near sunset.

It's soft and fleecey. Pretty good size. And waterproof.


What's the Catch?

Yes, of course there's a catch. You need to agree to let us put you on the Small Biz Thoughts newsletter and the Relax Focus Succeed newsletter. We *think* you'll love them both and want to stay forever. 

The SBT newsletter comes out every Monday and is focused on helping IT consultants to be better at the business side of business. It has an extremely high open rate - not just for our industry but for email newsletters as a whole. There must be something useful in there.

The RFS newsletter is monthly and tries to be educational with my personal philosophy of Relax Focus Succeed. It's all about work/life balance and focusing on self-help and self-improvement. It also enjoys an extraordinary open rate.

That's MyCat Palachuk on the soft blanket.

Note: You can remove yourself from the list once you join. We use Constant Contact for our email lists, so if you remove yourself, we can't add you back. And we will never, ever, ever sell, loan, or rent your email address.

This offer is only valid in the US because overseas shipping, taxes, and customs fees will just make you angry. Sorry.

You may receive ONE blanket under this offer. If you want another, wait to see if we offer this again.

More details and FAQ inside the video. Check out the page https://smallbizthoughts.com/blanket/ for all the details - and the form you need to fill out to get your blanket.

Thank you for your support!

:-)

Saturday, February 03, 2024

Three Myths and One Truth about Emerging Technology

Many people (mostly end-users) hold some old and long-established beliefs about emerging technologies that simply are not true. The most surprising thing about this is that evidence is everywhere, throughout history. Here's a little perspective that might help at the next cocktail party or BBQ (Check with your local groundhog before planning any BBQs).

Here are three common myths and one enduring truth about emerging technology.


Myth: New Technology Will Eliminate Jobs

Current Example: AI

This is, by far, the most enduring myth. Musket-makers were replaced by rifle-makers. Hand-made rifles were replaced by mass-produced rifles.

It's the same story with every "new" technology replacing an older technology. Candle-makers opposed the adoption of gas lighting. Gas workers opposed the introduction of electrical lighting.

The origin of the word Luddite (n. A person opposed to technical improvements) goes back to English textile workers opposed to the introduction of mechanized looms - because they feared losing their jobs.

In reality, new technology tends to take the following path:

First, it requires new training. People need to learn to install, use, and maintain the new technology. This stage creates new kinds of jobs that need to be populated. The kind of work diversifies.

Second, some of the jobs being done by the new technology do disappear. As a rule, those old workers are most likely to be the ones trained on the new technology because they understand the bigger picture, the industry, and where the technology fits. 

Third, if the new technology is good and stays around, the entire operation is either faster, cleaner, safe, or more efficient. As a result, every piece of the business that's not directly connected to the new technology is now under stress as every piece of the business has to work faster in order to keep up with the new efficiency, or the the problems caused by the new efficiency.

You've seen hundreds (or thousands) of examples of this in movies, plays, and TV shows. The production line speeds up. Comedy ensues. Things fall off the line. In the real world, a faster process generally results in more errors in the short term, followed by more fixes and more updates to other technologies.

The bottom line is: Some of the original jobs are eliminated. But a variety of other jobs are created. And, as the updates to related technologies echo through the system, more and more different kinds of jobs are created.

Imagine all the jobs that are related to modern car manufacturing. Not just mechanics, but engineers, inspectors, equipment maintenance techs, painters, inspectors, the entire tire industry, repair people, rental outfits, electricians, drivers, and hundreds of other categories. All of which make possible the entire highway system and related hotels, motels, and all those jobs.

But, yes, people who make hand-hewn horse-drawn carriages have few jobs. But the total number of jobs lost is microscopic compared to the number created.


Myth: In the Future, We Will All Lead Lives of Leisure (because of technology)


The funny thing about this myth is that no one believes it! But it persists as the "great someday" kind of myth.

Towards the end of the 19th Century Industrial Revolution, "innovative" businesses put some limits on how many hours people were expected to work. Eventually, so did the government. 

The norm went from "unlimited" to forty or fifty hours. But even today, there are lots of jobs with ten- and twelve-hour shifts. As a rule, most people are happy to work somewhere around thirty, forty, or fifty hours per week. In fact, we know that self-employed people generally work 40-50 hours per week, although they often brag about working more. (That's another blog.)

What we do with new technology is to get more done within a reasonable amount of time. The truth is, technology should make us better, faster, and more efficient. But very few of us cut back the amount we work; we just brag about how much more we got done!

For example, consider the automations in delivering managed IT services. Way back at the beginning, I based my price on the value of what I delivered. Then I added tools like RMM and various monitoring tools to accomplish the same thing (only better) in a lot less time. 

I did not then retire to my farm, smoke a pipe on the porch, and commit my life to writing poetry. I didn't even consider it. Instead, I realized that I could serve move clients in the same amount of time. But that gave me some extra income, which I used to invest in better tools . . . until I couldn't manage it all. So I hired employees.

In other words, my use of emerging technology allowed me to get more done, serve more clients, and grow my business. It did not lead me down the road to working two hours a day and a life of leisure.


Myth: New Technology Always Drives Down the Price


I call this a myth because, while it is sometimes true, it is most often not true. There are advancements that reduce prices, and there are industries in which specific technology drives down the price. But the overall tendency of technology is to get smaller, better, and faster . . . and to then get combined with other technologies.

Best example here is cell phones. Before they were popular, cell phones were crazy expensive. Then, in order to build a large audience, cell phone providers subsidized the cell phones into their plans. More technology shrank, and that got added to the cell phone. Rinse, repeat.

Once the market was saturated (85% of the eight billion people on earth have cell phones!!!), the price started going up. As a rule, new features are added to Android phones first because it's more of the wild west, with each company doing whatever they want. After a few years, the most popular features are added to Apple phones. 

Apple introduces a new cell phone about once per year. And does the price go down? No. Today, there are a few free phones, but the price for most of us just keeps going up, up, up. Phones have not settled into the "home electronics" model quite yet, but I suspect we are close.

In the home electronics model, there are roughly four price points. We'll use home audio as an example. The price points are Super Cheap, Mid-Range, High-End, and Crazy Expensive (These are my categories. You might as a home electronics specialist what they call them.). 

In this four-tiered structure, many people start out with the cheapest. If they like the tech but not the sound, they move to mid- or high-end. Audiophiles always try to  buy at the high end if they can. When the have the means, they even try to buy at the crazy expensive price point.

Here's the pattern: The price range stays about the same for the three primary tiers. But what you get for that price gets better over time.

We pay attention to the fact that a basic [ whatever ] keeps getting cheaper. But the reality is, we buy at our price point. So, for example, you might be willing to pay $400-$500 for a television. Within that price range, the televisions just keep getting bigger and better.

It's true that new technology is much more expensive, and that each distinct technology goes down once it achieves widespread adoption. But over time, we settle into known, well-trod paths for price ranges.  And we just keep adding newer technologies to the bundle to maintain the price range. How do you keep people buying $1,000-$1,500 laptops? Give them more features!

This is a primary driver of bundle pricing. Has technology dropped your cable TV (and cable Internet) bill to one dollar per month? No. Not even close. The average cable bill is well over $200 per month. Why? Because you want that Super Bowl game, and the extra fancy channel, and the Internet. People have access to an average for 190 channels and watch an average of 15. All of this is by choice.

Could technology drive all these prices to zero? Yes. But why would a company provide that? Technology exists within a social and economic context. We choose to keep prices up because we choose the bundle. You could choose to get a super-cheap cell phone and only watch free TV. But you'd whine about it a lot.



Truth: Old Technology Does Not Disappear 

Finally, there's a long-established truth that gets ignored a lot. Old tech is almost never replaced quickly. You've all read about adoption curves. New technology get adopted slowly over time. Then there's a sudden bump, and eventual mass-acceptance.

But old tech stays around forever.

The last telegram was sent in 2013. That's probably 50-75 years after you might have assumed. Cobol (introduced in 1959) is so widely used today that Cobol programmers are highly sought after and very highly paid. Dot matrix printers are still widely used. Twenty-seven percent of US homes still have a wired landline phone.

Your car probably has an old-school power supply that used to be the place where the lighter plugged in. That form-factor may never die. Faxes are still widely used. 

In fact, one of the biggest problems software developers have is that people refuse to give up their old operating systems. Microsoft kowtowed to these people forever, until Windows 10. And even now, they force compatibility with older versions of hardware and software.

To maximize compatibility, my brand new HP desktop computer with a Xeon processor has interfaces for PS2 keyboard and mouse. One one hand, it will connect to four different gigabit networks and four HDMI monitors, but it will work perfectly with a serial devices, parallel ports, and PS2. That's only built into this brand new machine because all of those devices are still in use by someone.

My point is, people fear that emerging technology will suddenly make them and their technology obsolete. But the reality is, it will slowly make the technology obsolete. As for the humans, training solves all problems.


Almost everyone has time to get used to the new stuff coming down the road. So, the next time someone starts to panic about AI or any other emerging technology, encourage them to relax and go get some training!

:-)


Friday, February 02, 2024

Moving from QuickBooks to Xero - One Year Later

In very late 2022, I started my transition from QuickBooks (online) to Xero for my financial software. I went live on Xero in January of 2023. It has now been a full year on the new package. Bottom Line: I love it. Bonus bottom line: No matter what happens in the future, I don't believe I will ever go back to QuickBooks or another Intuit product. And that feels good.

This blog has three parts: The decision to choose Xero over QuickBooks, the Transition from one to the other, and my final thoughts a year later. If you only care about the conclusion, feel free to scroll down.


Part One: The Decision

Like many of you, I hade been shackled to QuickBooks for many years. In my case, I bought my first license in 1995. Back in the days of QB Desktop, I skipped upgrades many times because the product was so expensive and the functionality I used never changed. For about ten years, I had a three-person license. when I sold my first IT company, I happily moved back to a one-user license.

Overall, QuickBooks has long been the leader for financial programs in the small business space. But many of us (perhaps most of us) consider it overpriced. And, in my opinion, the online product has never been equivalent to the desktop product. It is certainly slower, more cumbersome, and has fewer reports.

And so, like many companies that move to an online version, QuickBooks has opened the door for competition.

There's great irony in how QuickBooks contributed to their competition. Perhaps this will be a case study for future business schools. QuickBooks is famous for not working well across a network, for having poor customer service, and for being over-priced. "Everybody" used them, but almost nobody loved them.

Microsoft took a stab at this market, but didn't have a commitment to keep up the pressure. Microsoft Small Business Financials died at the end of 2008. Perhaps if they could have foreseen QuickBooks' fumbling into the cloud, they would have stayed.

QuickBooks had two options for "going to the cloud," and they picked the wrong one. They could have used a licensing model like Microsoft of Adobe, with software installed locally but the licensing managed in the cloud. Instead, they opted to keep the entire product in the cloud so they don't have to worry about keeping local files updated and secure.

Some people still use the desktop edition simply because the cloud version is so hard to love. If they had kept the program on site and moved licensing to the cloud, QB Desktop would always be fast and full-featured.

But the greatest bit of irony is that competitors don't have to be cheap in order to take business away from QuickBooks. In fact, they can be almost as expensive - because QuickBooks has built up decades of bad service and customer resentment.

I like to say, "They've worked very hard to lose my business. I don't want to disappoint them."

So, beginning January 1,2023, my companies moved to Xero.

This decision had been coming for a long time. I needed to find a product that fulfilled the requirements we have. It needed to be good at the features we use. And, like most small businesses, we never used all the features of QB - Desktop or Online. 

Note: We also looked at Freshbooks, but found it to be clunky and mostly featureless.


Part Two: The Transition

We signed up for Xero in December 2022, and configured it to fit our business. We officially finished 2022 on QuickBooks and Started running everything on Xero on January 1, 2023. This required us to stay subscribed to QB for a month so we could balance bank accounts and generally let everything settle so we could print out final reports for taxes, etc. 

Exporting the chart of accounts from QBO was easy. We also ran a complete P&L for the last two years, so we could easily highlight accounts that haven't been used in a while. If we need them again, we can create them again. Basically, it allowed us to import a clean chart of accounts.

We have never used account numbers since we didn't set them up long, long ago. Xero automatically created account number for our chart of accounts and I adjusted the number so it's easy to align Cost of Good Sold with the corresponding goods (and services) sold.

We hooked up Stripe, PayPal, and the Chase bank accounts. The transition was surprisingly easy as we entered the beginning balances on January 1st and all new transactions simply showed up as they occurred. 

We went through a nearly identical process for the list of products and services. So, we began 2023 with a nice, clean list.

Looking back, it was not as scary or nerve-wracking as I had feared to set up the new system and move everything over. It could easily be done without waiting for the new year. But it does make a nice break. And since we took months to make this decision, waiting was a minor inconvenience. We made a plan and executed it.

We found Xero extremely easy to use. We updated our in-house documentation for all daily and weekly tasks (for example, invoicing and cash flow). Running basic reports is easy and obvious. As with all software, some features are hidden in places that are not obvious to new users. But, again, we wrote our version of documenting our processes using the new Xero product. That made the transition quite smooth.

I would say our "transition" period continued until we had run all reports for the first month, first quarter, first tax filing, and the first quarter's payroll.

One very important part of the transition was creating "rules" on the fly. When a transaction showed up on a bank account, we had to define how Xero would identify transactions like that. For example, when a sale for membership showed up in PayPal, it needed to be added to the appropriate account in the chart of accounts. And when an invoice was created for the sale, the connection between the sale and transaction needed to be identified.

Xero is much, much better than QuickBooks with rules like this! I was shocked at how much better it is. After just a few months, pretty much everything just flowed as it should. A few rules needed to be tweaked, but the logic is detailed enough that things just showed up where they should. We still approve almost everything with human acknowledgement, but 99% of the time, Xero identifies what each transaction is and properly adds it to the appropriate account. It is also about 98% accurate on pairing transactions with invoices, which is impressive since we have thousands of transactions for the exact same dollar amount.


Part Three: Final Analysis One Year In

As you can imagine, my prep work (importing a clean list of accounts and items/products) was time well spent. This made the training of staff on the new interface much easier. We did have to enter a number of things by hand as they came up, but this was not unexpected.

Overall, it was pretty easy to learn how to generate all the reports I needed. It did take about one calendar quarter to feel that everything was in place and that all reports have been generated at least once. That would be the same with any QB alternative.

Hardest part of the first year: It takes time to figure out where things are and how to do the same thing in a new system. This was expected.

Best part of the first year: The Rules mentioned above. After training, Xero is phenomenal with properly identifying sales, money transfers, and transactions within and between bank accounts. Our experience is that this process is so good that balancing three bank accounts takes about five minutes total. With QuickBooks, this could be an hour or more per bank account. For this reason alone, we LOVE Xero.

Worst part of the first year: After a year, I still find that a number of features are hard to find. Yes, it's an unfair comparison since I used some form of QuickBooks for 27 years. But Xero is one of those software programs that places one set of controls in the obvious menus and another set of controls in a completely different, rarely-used location. When I try to do certain things, I Google how to do things in Xero.

For non-technical people, this is a clear sign that the program was written with a lot of programmers talking to each other and not enough input from end users. It will get better over time, but it's a never-ending, low-level of frustration. (For me, anyway.)

But let me be clear: This "worst part" is not bad at all. The well-hidden second set of controls is filled with less-frequently-used features. So it's not that big of a deal

Overall: I think I switched to Xero at the right time. It was a surprisingly easy transition, in large part because I took my time to prepare the move. I have no idea how good or bad Xero was before I signed up. But today it is a great replacement for QuickBooks at a lower price.

We waited until we were sure that Xero integrated well with all the software we use for sales, banking, web sites, training, products, services, and so forth. QB has been the standard in part because it plugs into everything. Xero plugs into everything we use.

I do have to make a note on customer service because this is one of the greatest frustrations with QuickBooks an Intuit. Intuit is famous for having some of the worst customer service in the world for more than thirty years. They might actually have the worst service of any popular company in history. They are the market leader despite horrible service.

This question is basically irrelevant with Xero. I found all the answers I want on their help menus, in their videos, and sometimes via Google search - which led me back to the Xero site. I entered exactly ONE service request to Xero itself and received the correct help within three minutes. I've had zero disasters, zero crashes, zero data corruption. 

I admit that I'm comparing twenty-seven years with one product and fourteen months with another. But my businesses and accounts are as complicated and busy as they've ever been. And Xero just works. So I haven't had problems that require "customer" service.

I am a fan of Xero and my experience has been very positive. If you're thinking of a QuickBooks alternative, you should take a look. I can't promise it will work for your business, but it certainly works great for mine.

-- -- --

Some of the "back story" in this post was previously addressed in my newsletter, which you can subscribe to at https://www.smallbizthoughts.com/newsletter

You can find out more about Xero at https://www.xero.com.

This article is not an endorsement or a paid placement. I am not claiming that Xero is right for your business (I can't promise it's right for mine). I'm just letting you know what I'm up to.

Comments and questions welcome.

:-)

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Blog Roll Update for 2024

I tuned up my blog roll recently. It's on the right side of my blog. 

This resource is updated from time to time as the world evolves. For example, we used to have a few Microsoft blogs. But as products evolved, those blogs fell into disuse and were removed.

Here are the current blogs I follow. If you have (or know of) a particularly good blog I should be tracking, please let me know. My primary focus is the business side of running an IT business.

Here's the current list - in order of most recent post as of today. 


Blog: Net Sciences Blog
Post: The Benefits of Mobile Computing for Small Businesses
https://www.netsciences.com/


Blog: Business of Tech - Dave Sobel
Post: Insights into Product Management and Revenue Growth with Jessica Nelson Kohel
https://www.businessof.tech/


Blog: Robert Crane - Computer Information Agency
Post: Microsoft 365 Backup pricing
https://blog.ciaops.com/


Blog: ChannelE2E
Post: TD SYNNEX Expands Copilot for Microsoft 365
https://www.channele2e.com/topic/latest


Blog: Rich Freeman - Channelholic
Post: Big Security Sees Big Money in SMBs
https://www.channelholic.news/


Blog: Richard Tubb's Tubblog
Post: Untold Cyber Attack Stories: A Shocking Perspective For MSPs
https://www.tubblog.co.uk/


Blog: SMB Community Podcast
Post: What is The Best Business Structure For MSPs?
https://smbcommunitypodcast.com/


Blog: What's New in the SBT Community
Post: Chip Reaves from Bigger Brains to the SBT Roundtable
https://www.smallbizthoughts.org/


Blog: Amy Babinchak - Third Tier
Post: Useful AI: IFTTT Summarizer
https://www.thirdtier.net/


Blog: Relax Focus Succeed
Post: Kind Goal-Setting for the New Year
https://relaxfocussucceed.com/


Blog: Killing IT
Post: ChatGPT Year 1, Robots Multiplying by Thousands, and Destructive Private Equity
https://killingit.smallbizthoughts.com/


Blog: The ChannelPro Network
Post: CrowdStrike's New AI-Powered Cybersecurity Product Offers Access to Enterprise-Grade Solutions
https://www.channelpronetwork.com/


Blog: Howard Cohen - The Business Technologist
Post: Celebrate National CyberSecurity Awareness (NCSA) Month!
https://biztechjournal.substack.com/


Blog: MSP Mastered
Post: Jan 24th: MSP Cybersecurity Predictions 2024: Using AI for Sales Emails, the Good and the Bad
https://mspmastered.com/


Blog: National Society of IT Service Providers
Post: Catch-up with our webinar recordings
https://nsitsp.org/news/


Have fun reading!

:-)


Thursday, January 18, 2024

A Five-Step AI Strategy for SMB IT Professionals

We get questions . . .

Someone in my Small Biz Thoughts Technology Community asked me about how to make money with AI in the SMB market. And while this is new technology, I would recommend the same basic five-step process I always use with all all technologies and all major technical challenges.

I hope this blog post helps you with the current challenge of AI as a new technology. But, more importantly, I hope this approach helps with other technologies as well. I have used it about a dozen times in the last thirty years, and it has served me well.


Step One: Educate yourself and your team

You need to "get your arms around" the new technology. If not you, someone on your team must become the AI expert, the person who knows more about AI than everybody else. Ideally, your in-house expert will be able to explaining it to other people and making sure that your team knows how to talk about this new technology in human terms. Right now, AI is at the peak of its hype cycle. That means that many people are just talking about it and talking about it, and nobody actually knows what it is. 

I love the Gartner web site's current example of the hype cycle. Their current example is . . . AI! See https://www.gartner.com/en/research/methodologies/gartner-hype-cycle

You've seen this with cloud technology, with remote work, and with hosted services of all kinds. If you're old enough, you may have seen it with the Y2K rollover and with the launch of the public Internet itself. The beauty of the hype cycle is that there's money to be made for consultants well before there's money to be made by everyone else. Why? Because we figure out the solutions and start to teach  the rest of the world.

It's always your job to help small businesses make wise decisions about their technology. Sometimes, that also involves educating them. But before you can teach, you need to learn. Where does AI make business sense inside small businesses? Where can it help them automate things? Where can it help them to be more successful? 

Most MSPs and ITSPs today have grown up selling bundled services. (I taught some folks how to do that, so I can take some of the blame.) But with emerging technologies, we need to get back to being true consultants

A true a consultant goes into a prospect's office, finds out what they do, figures out what their problems are, and designs a solution that helps them to make money. Or save money. Or improve their services. Or simply do something bigger, better, or faster than they've ever done it before. 

True consultants create very bespoke, customizable solutions. You should NOT go to every client and simply say, "buy Copilot." That won't work today. The products are not mature enough, and the clients are not educated enough. Microsoft would love for you to take that path. But you should never let vendors determine what your business model is. Instead, figure out what the client really needs and build a business around that. 

Once someone on you staff (perhaps you) has learned about AI, they need to educate the rest of your team. Perhaps everyone will go take some different classes and come back to share the knowledge with everyone else.


Step Two: Implement AI inside your own company 

I've never liked the term, "Eat your own dog food," but I've never created dog food. I don't really understand where that term came from. The message is: Used what you sell!

Whether it's Microsoft Copilot, Adobe Cloud products, AI "Companions" if various products, AI note-takers, or even decision-making tools, implement something. Implement commercially-available AI in your business and see where it's actually useful and where it's not. Remember where you are in the hype cycle! We're either at or near the peak. That means you can look forward to the Trough of Disillusionment this year.

Right now, there are all kinds of AI offerings that promise the moon. YOU need to filter out the useful from the useless. Your clients will turn to you and ask what they should do. You can either stare blankly or tell them about your real-world experience. That means you have to have real-world experience. This might cost some money. Consider it an investment in your future.

Steps One and Two will allow you to gather examples of good AI technologies and not-so-good technologies. You'll also collect stories about what exceeded your expectations and what let you down. You might have a story of being surprised with the results. Whatever your stories, collect them all for step five.

The really good news about AI is that some very good, useful examples of productivity enhancements are coming to market. Some will pan out and some won't, but clients don't need to be convinced when they are willing to go find and install these themselves. Your challenge for some technologies is to keep up with your clients. You should be leading them, not following them!

Internal use of a variety of new AI technologies will also help you create policies that you can use to apply future technologies to your clients. For example, many AI tools can analyze large amounts of data very quickly. But no one should just point AI at a data share and let it run wild. "Data" is just a techie term for the critical information inside a business. It might be salary information, client information, security information, historical business records, or company secrets.

Most companies of all sizes are horrible at isolating sensitive information from all the other information. This includes small businesses and even IT consultants. So you need to create policies and procedures around security, data management, and privacy policies. I don't think, "We mis-used artificial intelligence" is going to be a good defense. 

Installing and using AI-powered technology will help you see the challenges and opportunities you will bring to your clients when the time comes. You'll learn all the juicy details you can then use to teach your clients.


Step Three: Train your clients

Create a basic training or two. I recommend creating a basic forty-minute training and an even more basic twenty-minute training. Both should elicit lots of questions. 

Early on, cover topics like:

  •  What is AI? With examples.
  •  What is not AI?
  •  What are the dangers of AI?
  •  What kind of rules do we need to have in place?
  •  What are the promises of AI?
  •  Example of how AI solves real-world problems in a small business.

On the topic of "dangers" and rules, you really need to be clear about potential down-sides. Artificial Intelligence does not know right and wrong. It doesn't understand privacy policies, discrimination, security, compliance, copyright law, or the subtleties of HR regulations. Mis-use of AI will result in lots of lawsuits before the year is over. This will help define the limits of liability for various actions taken by humans and businesses in the name of AI.

In the meantime, you need to make sure your clients understand that they need to take these things seriously. They need to embrace the productivity and accept the responsibility of using this technology. YOU can help them with that. 

Everybody needs to know that AI is like every other technology in one important way. You are responsible for using it responsibly. When you go to market and you talk about AI, you have make sure people understand. They need a data management policy. I hope everybody's already got a privacy policy and that you're helping your clients develop privacy policies. Now you need to help them develop data management policies regarding AI.

Believe it or not, you can cover the dangers and warnings pretty quickly in a few slides, but you need to do it. Then you can focus on the productivity opportunities. What are some basic practical uses? Where is AI already inside of their business? 

Training your clients is always a great idea. I highly encourage you to put one hour of onsite client training into your more-expensive managed service tiers. Most clients won't take advantage of it. But those who do will welcome you into their office with open arms. They know they're not being charged for the hour. But, more importantly, you increase you non-technical relationship with the client. You get to know their people a little better. They get to know you. It's relaxed. It's comfortable. And it establishes you as the expert - so the client doesn't have to turn to someone else for their AI knowledge.


Step Four: Sell AI solutions 

This is the selling part of "Use what you sell." If you are a Microsoft cloud service provider (CSP), you should be able to add these to your bundles. You should be able to figure out how to sell this as an add-on and figure out how it fits in your bigger, bigger picture. So make sure that you've got some system for reselling that you understand how you're doing this. That might require some training up on licensing and so forth and so on, make sure that you go through that process.

Note that the Microsoft offering just announced is very expensive. Why do I say that? Well, it's more than most people are paying for Office 365. It's more than the entire Adobe Creative Cloud suite. It's more than most other currently-available AI tools. Copilot is $360/year for the business edition. The home edition, Copilot Pro [not a typo], is $240/year. 

As usual, the Microsoft licensing is a confusing work in progress. Don't be surprised if some subset is named "Intune" for a week or so in 2024. [set SnideComments=off]

My point is: You should also look to see which other AI-powered technologies you can be using, learning, and selling. You may also be allowed to make higher profits on other technologies. Stay tuned and keep your eyes open. Microsoft has left a large opening for services to enter the market cheaper than their offering. Remember what I said above: YOU need to help your clients make good decisions around this technology.

The good news for your clients, in the short run, is that you are climbing the learning curve now. You are taking the classes. You are learning the best tools and the quick tips. So when they buy from you, they will be buying from someone who has actually deployed this technology and can help them when they need it.


Step Five: Make yourself the local expert

This is a bit of an extension of Step three. Once you have a solid training figured out, you will have heard a lot of questions. You will build the answers into your revised presentation. Or you will be ready to give the answer live.

So take your training public! This is one of the absolute best ways to grow your business. Remember your 20-minute and 40-minute presentations? Those are great for chamber luncheons, Rotary clubs, Kiwanis clubs, networking meetings, and even internal business trainings. Offer to give that training to every group and business Meetup in your city. Give it again and again and again. Every one of those people will leave the meeting knowing that YOU are the person to talk to about AI.

Pro Tip: Always have a handout. Not an advertisement. A handout with tips and tricks. It might list the best YouTube channels to watch on AI for small business. Or the ten most successful prompts for generative AI. Or books, blogs, and short-cuts. If you drill down into a specific brand of AI tool, create a tip sheet for that.

Just remember: It might not be an ad, but this handout does have your logo, your web site, and your email address. It does have your company name. And it *might* just end up on the bulletin boards for ten percent of every group you talk to. Maybe it just gets you another opportunity to present, but maybe it gets you a request to come in and talk about implementing AI in a prospect's office.


I often use the line that "some new technology" is being invented right now. Someone will be the first expert at that. And five years from now, that technology will begin to fade. But in that window, lots of experts will emerge. And someone will become the premier expert in the whole world before that technology fades. It happens every day.

YOU can be one of those experts. That's the real beauty of being an IT consultant. You can master the next great technology and become a world expert - just as easily as anyone else. You just need to choose your technology and start teaching yourself.

And there's always a new technology. So you get kick-start that pathway to success any day you want. Just pick a technology and go. 

AI is one option you can pick today.

Comments and feedback welcome.

:-)


Wednesday, January 03, 2024

Recording Available: My 15th Annual State of the Nation Address for SMB IT

My how time flies . . . Register now for my 15th Annual State of the Nation Address for SMB IT.

This year's focus: The Dawning of a New Era for IT Consultants


Why is it a new dawning?

Watch the recording and find out!
 

Recorded January 10, 2024

View Recording on YouTube



Find out more at MSPWebinar.com.

A quick look at 2023 and the year behind us.

Then a major focus on 2024 and the year ahead. From there, a look to the rest of the decade. 

In particular, we’ll focus on the challenges and opportunities in the years ahead.

As always, I bring my personal biases: A positive attitude. A focus on processes, with a strong believe in a holistic systems approach. And, of course, I try to do a bit of analysis.


Topics Include:

  • Highlights and low-lights from 2023
  • Technology Updates 2023 . . . and what’s next
  • We WILL address more than AI and ChatGPT
  • The Economy
  • Speculations about 2024 – and beyond
  • A strategy for balancing the challenges and opportunities we have in our industry
  • I have some specific thoughts about the affect of private equity and private financing on the SMB IT economic space
  • PLUS, we’ll have time for questions and answers. 

So plan to take notes.

-- -- --

A note on the MSP Webinar site:

One of the great sites we manage is MSPWebinar.com. Take a minute and check it out. You'll find the last two "State of the Nation" addresses along with lots of other useful webinars.

One of the great examples is my Sample Security Training with a slide deck you can download for free. Another good one is the Seven Stages of Wealth and the Economy. 

All those recordings are free, and many of them have handouts you can download.

Enjoy!

:-)


Tuesday, January 02, 2024

All New Class Starts Jan. 9th: Navigating Emerging Technologies for MSPs

Navigating Emerging Technologies for MSPs


Explore the dynamic landscape of emerging technologies to make informed strategic decisions for your Managed Services Provider (MSP) business. Gain practical skills in evaluating, adopting, and scaling new technologies, while incorporating financial modeling and risk management.


Taught by Dave Sobel

Technology Analyst and Podcaster

- Five Tuesdays

- Jan 9 - Feb 6


Register Now - Only $399*



In this five-week course, you will delve deep into the strategic facets of leveraging emerging technologies and trends for Managed Services Providers (MSPs). As the technology landscape continually evolves, the ability to identify and integrate new technologies into your MSP service offerings can be a significant differentiator. This course is designed to equip you with the tools, frameworks, and practical skills necessary to not only adapt but also thrive in this fast-paced environment.

Week 1 sets the stage by helping you understand the analysis process of current technology trends and how they can impact your MSP business. You’ll learn forecasting techniques that empower you to anticipate technological shifts, giving you a competitive edge.

Week 2 focuses on equipping you with decision-making skills tailored to technology adoption. By understanding how to evaluate and prioritize technologies based on various criteria, you’ll be well-placed to make choices that align with both market demand and your company’s capabilities.

In Week 3, you’ll gain financial literacy specific to technology investments. Whether you are a business owner, a manager, or a technical lead, understanding the financial implications of your choices is crucial. You’ll learn about building financial models to calculate ROI, TCO, and payback periods, enabling you to make fiscally responsible decisions.

Risk and compliance are the central themes of Week 4. In today’s complex regulatory environment, integrating new technology into your offerings isn’t just a matter of technical compatibility; it also involves meeting compliance standards and managing risks. You’ll acquire skills to navigate this intricate landscape effectively.

Finally, Week 5 enables you to put all the pieces together. You’ll engage in practical exercises that teach you how to create pilot programs, adjust your existing service offerings, and develop strategic roadmaps for incorporating new technologies into your business.

Through a blend of lectures, examples, exercises, and group discussions, you will emerge from this course with a robust understanding of how to strategically leverage technology trends. Whether you’re a seasoned MSP professional or aspiring to become one, this course will provide you with valuable insights and skills to elevate your career and business.

Key Objectives:

- Technology Opportunity Identification: Gain the ability to identify and assess emerging technologies and trends relevant to Managed Services Providers.

- Decision-making Skills for Technology Adoption: Gain understanding in using frameworks and criteria to make informed decisions about integrating new technologies into service offerings.

- Financial Literacy for Technology Investments: Acquire skills in building and interpreting financial models to evaluate the ROI, TCO, and payback periods of technology investments.

- Risk and Compliance Management: Learn about risk assessment frameworks and compliance requirements for adopting and implementing new technologies in services.

- Practical Implementation Skills: Develop skills for creating pilot programs, adapting existing services, and formulating strategic roadmaps for technology adoption.


Specialist Certification Pathways

MEETS ELECTIVE REQUIREMENT:

  • Management
  • Service Manager

This class will be recorded. Each unit is generally posted within 24 hours of the live class. These recorded units will become the On-Demand class and you’ll have lifetime access to it.


Course Outline

Unit 1 Scanning the Technology Horizon for Opportunities

Unit 2 Evaluating and Prioritizing Emerging Technologies

Unit 3 Financial Modeling and ROI for Technology-Driven Services

Unit 4 Risk Management and Compliance in Technology-Driven Services

Unit 5 Incorporating Emerging Technologies into Service Offerings


Live, interactive classes

5 Consecutive Tuesdays

Jan 09, 2024 - Feb 06, 2024

9am Pacific - 50 minutes


Handouts & Resources

Full Lifetime Access

Log in to Register for Class

Specialist Certification Pathways


* Members of the Small Biz Thoughts Technology Community enjoy significant discounts.

:-)