Thursday, May 16, 2024

Join Me at ChannelPro Live - Columbus - June 5-6

I am honored to be presenting a couple of times at the ChannelPro Live event in Columbus, OH next month. Please join me there, if you can.

AND I'm very pleased to say that the good folks at ChannelPro have invited the entire board of directors of the National Society of IT Service Providers to meet there and hold our first in-person board meeting and team building event.

ChannelPro events are always filled with great information and networking. Please plan to join us if you can. 


ChannelPro LIVE: Columbus
June 5-6
Hyatt Regency Columbus

Register now at https://columbus.channelpronetwork.com/e/2138610096.

Secure your spot with promo code “NSITSP” when you register.


100% free for qualified channel partners, ChannelPro’s vibrant regional events feature hours of networking time, exclusive vendor demos and deals, dining and entertainment, and masterclasses presented by renowned channel experts on topics integral to MSP success.  

I will be attending to present on how to effectively market MSP professionalism. You can review the full agenda here - https://events.channelpronetwork.com/2024-channelpro-live-columbus.

Event passes, access to all sessions, dining and prizes is 100% free for qualified channel partners—simply register with promo code “NSITSP”. PLUS, if you book your hotel room directly through the registration page, ChannelPro will reimburse the full cost of your stay for the night of June 5. If you can only make it to the main day on June 6—that's not a problem at all.  

I really hope you can make it on June 5-6—I think it’s going to be a fun and educational experience for you.

Let me know if you have any questions! Thanks,  

- Karl  P.

:-)

Note: ChannelPro is a valued support and vendor partner of the NSITSP - The National Society of IT Service Providers. You can learn more at https://www.nsitsp.org.


Friday, May 10, 2024

Why don't people know WHY their job exists?

Because KPIs teach them to value the wrong thing !!!

More and more, I have come to believe that there's one fundamental reason for almost all bad service: People do not know why their job exists.

How is that possible? Well, it's surprisingly easy. People apply for jobs based on some specific "requirements" that get them in the door. Requirements are not job descriptions. Requirements do not reflect mission, vision, and values.

More importantly, requirements to GET a job are frequently unrelated to providing great service. That's normal. For example, you might need a vendor certification (e.g., Cisco firewalls) in order to get hired on at a new company. But the skills you need every day are general troubleshooting, client communications, and attention to detail. Your cert gets you an interview. It's not related to your job.

BUT the problem is much bigger than that. 

How do companies measure performance? Answer: Horribly!

As a rule, companies FAIL to tell employees why their job exists. They are given tasks, not reasons. And while good client communication is important, what gets measured? Time on tickets. Time to close. Response time. Upselling services. 

In other words, employees have KPIs (so-call "Key" Performance Indicators) thrown in their face every day. Ticket close times are posted on dashboards. Sometimes, close rates are posted on the wall. Sometimes, everyone's performance is compared to everyone else on a big spreadsheet.

Employees are told every week, every day, and every hour that they're being measured on the big red or green number on their dashboard. They're not being measured on actual service. They're not measured on contributing to a positive culture. They're not being measured on whether they're team players. 

In fact, when they have to compete with their friends, who wants to do anything for the so-called team? It's far more likely that they see employees as one team and the company as the other. They are alienated from pride in their own work.

... And then there's an annual performance review. 

Once a year, someone judges them on morale and communications and being a team player. But every day they've been judged on arbitrary targets that have a very questionable connection to actual service delivery.

People can be forgiven for not knowing why their job exists. They're too focused on KPIs that someone needs to measure because someone else told them they should. In reality, no one can really explain why those KPIs exist, except as a way to compare companies. On measures that are unrelated to actual service delivery.

It's worth spending some time with your employees. Ask the very simple question: Why do you think your job exists? Why is this question important? Because it gets to the root of what the company actually needs from the employee. And it helps the employee understand where their job fits in the bigger picture.

For more perspective on KPIs, what to measure, and what not to measure, check out this recorded webinar: https://mspwebinar.com/measuring-success/. Free. No sales. Really.

:-)


Sunday, May 05, 2024

Scoundrels in the Workplace - Employees and Employers

Over Employment is is the opposite of over-working!

In the pandemic era (2020-2022), there was lots of talk about whether remote work was going to be permanent. I always held the opinion that some people would stay remote because bosses learned what's possible - and how to manage people remotely. But I also believed that most people would go back to the office for a variety of reasons.

And, overall, most of the people in the world would finally get a realistic introduction to remote work. In the world of tech, many of us have done some remote work for thirty years. And all of us have been able to do 90% of our jobs remotely for at least fifteen years.

For me, the most unanticipated trend to emerge from the remote work movement was the emergence of a new generation of scoundrels in the workplace. For a taste of this, see the site https://overemployed.com/ or just Google "over employment."

Over employment is basically taking two or more fulltime jobs. That's the basic description without commentary. Once I start to add my thoughts to the mix, I find it hard to believe that anyone thinks this is ethical.

Note: This is NOT a discussion of contractors who take on multiple fractional engagements. This is not holding down two or more part-time jobs. These folks collect fulltime salaries from employers for multiple fulltime jobs. If the jobs actually require fulltime work, then I believe these folks are thieves. The most generous thing you can say about them is that they are giving one or more employers less than a good fulltime effort.

If you've already put in forty hours with another company, and then you want to put in another forty hours, that second forty hour block is going to be far less effective, creative, or productive. If you add a third forty-hour job, then it's probably the case that no one is getting their money's worth.

If your response is, "It's the employer's fault for making it possible for me to take their money and give them little or no work in return," you have seriously flawed ethical standards. 

In fact, if you read through the web sites dedicated to this concept, you'll find stories about over-working, massive stress, and schemes to get away with something that everyone agrees is wrong. BUT, they're "sticking it to the man," so it's okay. The overall theme is, "do whatever it takes to get the money, but do as little productive work as possible." In other words, massive effort can be expelled to log into multiple sites, keep your mouse moving to trick tracking systems, and generate random emails from appropriate addresses all day long. Just don't do anything you're being paid for.

Like all other trends where someone's getting rich, there are a few people earning $750,000 or more holding down multiple jobs and doing little or no actual work. Their strategy is to just cash checks until they get fired, then move on to the next fake job.

Most people can't (and don't want to) work this hard at stealing money from nameless, faceless employers. But it does raise the question: Is this just a big pay-back for bad bosses over the years? Is all of this made possible because there are lots and lots of horrible bosses?

I'm afraid the answer is YES. Many of the people who read this blog became independent consultants because of horrible bosses. In fact, horrible, immoral bosses who care more about money and their own bonuses than they ever did about their team or company culture are everywhere.


Looking Forward: Do What's Right

None of us can change the past. But we all control how we will behave in the future.

Luckily for my readers, this is really a problem for large businesses. If you only have ten or twenty employees, you probably work closely enough to know whether or not you're getting value for what you pay. And, to be honest, your culture is still something you can control from the top down every day. If you have a slacker giving 20% effort, that's really your fault.

BUT, we operate in a world where this behavior exists and is growing. Eventually, those scoundrels will become victims to the pyramid in which they are currently a a brick in the wall. When that happens, they'll come looking for a real job. Most of them have enough technical skills to get an entry level tech job, fake up their resume, and interview well. But their "work ethic" has been completely focused on pretending to work. 

These folks might learn to be good, hard workers. But you can't guarantee that. Here's what you need to do going forward. (Note, most of this is common sense, old advice that you've been ignoring for years. Now you have to actually do it.)

1. Verify resume information. Ask for and verify references.

2. Ask for and verify transcripts or proof of training.

3. Give applicants simple, reasonable skills tests. Ideally, this will be in your office so you can monitor.

4. Sign employment contracts that state the number of hours expected, along with job requirements.

5. Keep your employees engaged with good culture, decent pay, and a great work place.


Please do not go down the road of the big, faceless corporations that caused this problem in the first place. That means, do not monitor their email, their camera, their mouse movement, and so forth. Yes, there are tools to spy on your employees. But if you use them, you will create a layer of expense that only serves the purpose of alienating your workers.

For the most part, we want to believe we are exempt from these problems in small business. But doesn't that sound like the client who says that they're too small to be victims of a phishing attack? 

The world of employment has changed. And whether you like it or not, this affects your business. You are now hiring in this environment and these folks are out there. Luckily, the steps you need to take are simple and inexpensive. 

And they're just plain good business, too. Luckily, most works take pride in their work and gain fulfillment from a job well done. This is particularly true in companies with a good culture and a long-term view of the future.

-- -- -- 

Have you experienced the effects of "over employment" or something similar? I'd love to hear about it.


Additional Related Material

We covered this a bit (ten minutes) on the Killing It Podcast:

https://killingit.smallbizthoughts.com/2023/10/episode-205-overworking-ai-ar-and-more/ 
(Overworking topic begins at the five minute mark.)


I did a Relax Focus Succeed video about a recent Internet blow-up regarding employees and employers. Basically, it's a conversation about how people should go into the marketplace whether looking for a job or looking for an employee.

My main point there is that we should start from a place of honesty. But, obviously, that's a complicated thing. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNUN7P6rIsk

:-)


Monday, April 29, 2024

Gozynta's Eureka Process Announces the Launch of their Groundbreaking Growth Program for MSPs

I got this Press Release from my friends at Gozynta . . .

Gozynta's Eureka Process Announces the Launch of their Groundbreaking Growth Program for MSPs

April, 2024 -

The Growth Program by Eureka Process represents a unique blend of the company's extensive expertise, crafted to support MSPs at any stage of their growth, whether at the inception of their business journey or when looking for a successful exit. This program aims to address the challenges MSPs face, including hiring difficulties, navigating mergers and acquisitions, enhancing service delivery, and much more, with a personalized approach tailored to each MSP's specific needs.

Eureka Process, a Gozynta company, renowned for its comprehensive process, tools, and strategic consulting services within the MSP industry, announces the launch of its innovative Growth Program designed specifically for MSPs seeking sustainable growth and operational excellence.

Heather Johnson, co-founder&COO of Gozynta, as well as the mind behind the Growth Program, describes it:

“It’s like having a C-suite of advisors that help you along the way… MSPs should always be prepared for what lies around the corner and not scramble when emergencies arise. That is what we are here to help achieve.”

The program covers all critical areas such as Human Resources, Company Purchases, Service Delivery, Sales and Marketing Coaching, Culture Development, Tools Efficiency Analysis, Personal Support, and Finance & Exit Preparations. Each participant in the Growth Program will also receive a sapling, representing the growth and flourishing partnership between Eureka Process and the MSPs it supports.

Eureka Process' founder, Allen Edwards, says:

"Since the acquisition of Eureka Process, we’ve been working hard to bring our existing expertise and systems to our community in fresh and new ways. With the help of Gozynta’s leadership and support teams, we realized that goal today with the Eureka Growth Program.."

The Growth Program will also be featured in the upcoming YouTube series hosted by MSP Media Network, “How to Grow an MSP,” premiering this summer. Tune in for an inspiring look into the program’s impact on Processor Centre, fall in love with the people, the story, and the mission, and really see the Growth Program in action.

The Eureka Growth Program is accepting applications from MSPs looking to elevate their business operations, strategic positioning, and, ultimately, their market success. To sign up for your call with the Eureka team, email [email protected] for any questions.

###


Tuesday, April 16, 2024

MSP Professional Sales - 5 week class starts April 23rd

The MSP Professional Sales Program - 5W22

Taught by James Kernan

Five Tuesdays - April 23 - May 21

Register Now - Only $399

All classes start a 9:00 AM Pacific


Want to master MSP sales? 

Do you want to stand out from your competitors and win more Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR)?  How about winning more business from existing customers and becoming “sticky” so you are the top-of-mind partner when opportunities arise?  By using the “Value Based Selling” sales process you will be more successful in sales!

This course will give you your own Sales Playbook template that you can customize to make your own. Get everyone on your team following the same blueprint to success!

We will help teach you how to get leads from your strategic partners and how to run more marketing campaigns for a fraction of the price of your competitors.  We will give you our Annual Marketing Plan template so you can develop your own series of campaigns that will work in your local geography.

Whether you are an owner operator that wants to improve your sales skills, or one who is starting to hire a team, you need a sales process for ALL to follow.  In this course you will learn the “Value Based Consultative Sales” process. This is an 8-step process that will help you quickly move from qualifying to closing.  Then more importantly, keeping the customer for life with QBR’s (Quality Business Reviews)

We will give you over 10 (ten) handout exercises that will help you create your own Sales Playbook, Annual Marketing Plan, Sales Process, Qualifying Process, and more!

Furthermore, we will teach you what to do when the customer says no to your recommendations by giving you tips and techniques to win the deal.  Other documents provided are Denial of Services Letter, Letter of Understanding, Assessment Presentation template, QBR Checklist and USP.   We will help you stand out from your competition, by helping you develop your unique selling proposition.

Weekly Agenda:

1. What is Value Based Selling?

  • Why value-based selling is best
  • 5 principles of value-based selling
  • Matching your solution to their business challenge


2. Qualifying

  • Why you do not chase after every opportunity
  • 8 step process to qualify all opportunities
  • The power of NO


3. Sales Process

  • 7 step sales cycle
  • Emotional sales cycle
  • The customers buying process


4. Framework for Successful Sales Departments

  • Create your Sales Plan
  • Goals/KPIs
  • Compensation Plans
  • Sales Skill Training/Mentoring
  • Staffing the sales team


5. Negotiating/Closing

  • How to overcome objections
  • Trial closes
  • How to ask for the order
  • Letter of Understand technique


About James Kernan

James Kernan is the author of the 36 Month Millionaire Program, and recently published books, Leadership Essentials for Successful Executives and Business Tips. For the past 12 years, James has served as a Principal Consultant for Kernan Consulting and provides Coaching, Advising and Mentoring programs to entrepreneurs and leaders. Kernan Consulting offers One on One Coaching, CEO Peer Groups, M&A Consulting and online training programs.

James is a frequent speaker for TechSelect, CompTIA, XChange, Convergence, Robin Robins Bootcamp, HTG, Mastermind Peer Groups, SMB Nation, SMB TechFest, and Microsoft IAMCP events. He has been recognized and written up as an extraordinary “example of success” in industry publications such as CRN, Business Solutions, VAR Business, CRM Today, and Inc. Magazine.

:-)


Monday, April 15, 2024

Community Members - Join Our Marketing Breakout - Starts Thursday

We are VERY excited to kick off the new Community Breakout focused on Marketing!

Sign up for the Zoom meeting now so you'll get the reminders.

Starts Thursday

April 18th 

9:00 AM Pacific


We'll start with a bit of information to set the scene. Then we'll have an open discussion and begin working on helping attendees to create and execute a marketing program over the next five months.

Each month, members will report on their progress - and receive feedback and ideas from their fellow breakout members. Like a mastermind group, it's a great way to exchange ideas and help each other to improve our marketing programs.

Breakouts are a special hybrid of content, member engagement, and peer group. They're highly focused like peer groups that live just long enough to accomplish a set of specific goals. They're not intended to last forever. In other words, they're highly focused and intended to get results!

We will be meeting each month on the Third Thursday for at least five months.

FREE - for Community members only.

Sign-up is easy. 

Log into the Community and go to this link: https://www.smallbizthoughts.org/event/breakout-marketing/

-- -- --

Note: This will NOT be recorded – We want participants to feel very comfortable sharing. Given the nature of the content, recording the session might undermine that.

[Not sure if you're registered? No worries. Just register again. That way, you're guaranteed to get a reminder.]

-- -- --

Not a member and want to attend the Marketing Breakouts? Either send me a cashier's check for $50,000 - or just join the community. Joining is faster and easier.

You can learn more about the community at https://www.smallbizthoughts.org.

:-)

Small Biz Thoughts Community Refresh - What's All the Hubbub, Bub?

 With apologies to Bugs Bunny - There's a lot of hubbub over at the Small Biz Thoughts Technology Community. We have a total refresh of the site, which took more than a year to complete. It's way more than a "paint job" too. Kara, our Community Manager and web developer, built an entire new (and very fast search engine.


If you've ever wondered exactly what's inside the community, now's a great time to look. Our search engine is totally open to the public. Just browse to smallbizthoughts.org. The search engine is found at https://www.smallbizthoughts.org/resource-library/.

You'll see the quick access right away. You can also do a deep dive search of all the content. Once you try to access the content, you'll be asked to log in. 

Memberships start at $799/year for one user. We also have memberships that include an all-access pass to IT Service Provider University. And we have team memberships if you want to give everyone access to the content and the classes.


We Get Questions

Recently, someone was looking for my books and inquired about whether MY books are included in the Community. He assumed not. He assumed wrong. In fact, ALL of my books are available in the Community in all electronic formats (audio, Kindle, PDF, etc.).

Using the Seach Tool:

You do not have to enter a search term. For example, if you just wish to browse content, you can simply pick a drop-down filter by your company roll or department. Or just look for all the books or all the Word documents.

In the search pictured here, the user is looking for the client search term. They are looking for information on strategy or book handouts within the Service Department in Word format. Looks like 58 results. Notice that they are not filtering by the download type (checklist, white paper, calculator, form, class, SOP, etc.).

Two things should be obvious from this exercise. First, we have a massive amount of information. Second, we've made it fast and easy to find.

Once you are on the inside (logged in as a member), there are no limits. You can access everything. Every class, every webinar, every recording, every checklist. Everything.

  • You need sample language for raising rates? We have sample memos.
  • You need employee onboarding forms? We have the forms and the process.
  • You need an annual budget in Excel format? We got that.
  • You need documentation forms for Internet services? We have them.
  • You need basic employee training on DNS, TCP/IP, and DMARC? Yup. We have that, too.
  • Marketing, branding, sales, and motivation? We have materials on EVERYTHING you need!


Overwhelmed? 

We got you covered there, too! We have Roadmaps that focus on specific topics. For example, where do you start with Service Manager materials? If you filter by "Service" and "Management" it filters down to 90 results. But the Service Manager Roadmap boils that down to a few key elements. 

Roadmaps try to present about ten key pieces of content to give you a good head start on all the other content. If there's a particularly good book chapter, form, or checklist, you'll find that in the Roadmap. We know we have an overwhelming amount of material. Roadmaps are intended to get you started as quickly as possible.

Ask: And if you want an hands-on assist, we can do that, too. Members can always email Kara or me and we'll get back to you as quickly as we can. And, even better, we have a Concierge email for members that goes to our entire team. That way, no matter who can answer the question, they are free to jump in and make your life easier.

Check it out today. Visit https://www.smallbizthoughts.org/resource-library/. And we hope to see you inside the community soon!

We exist to serve the SMB IT consultant. Our goal is to make you as successful as possible.

Dig in - and let us know how we can help!

:-)


Thursday, April 11, 2024

AI Nagging - Technology Nagging at a Whole New Level

 Almost since the day the Internet became public, we've had nagware. You know what I mean: Software and apps that get you to install on the promise that there is some FREE benefit. But, whether they have any actual usefulness in the free version, they proceed to nag you to upgrade.


In the most benevolent incarnation, these apps have a simple "nag screen" that you bypass every time you open them. For many of us, this is simply the cost of free software. 

But real nagware is much more than one nag screen. It constantly interrupts you. It constantly begs you to upgrade. In other words, the nagging gets in the way of using the software. Many of us choose to uninstall rather than put up with the constant nagging.

Enter AI . . .

Artificial Intelligence is insanely hot. Some might say irrationally hot, given how few actual AI-enabled applications there are. We're probably at the end of the Peak of Inflated Expectations on the Gartner Hype Cycle (see https://www.gartner.com/en/research/methodologies/gartner-hype-cycle) and we're quickly moving to the Trough of Disillusionment.

For me, a LOT of that disillusionment is the nagging nature of AI chat bots, plugins, and all kinds of "features" I just don't need. These annoyances are filling up my taskbar and the periphery of almost every web site I visit. 

In the 1990's it was, "Do you want fries with that?" Today it's, "Do you want AI with that?" For me - 99% of the time - the answer is NO.

The most annoying is on my phone. Every time there's an update, all the nagging AI turns back on. Personally, I hate predictive text. I know what I want to say. I really do. If you want to offer spell checking, I'll look at that. If you were offering a thesaurus of words that might help me improve my thoughts or better express the full intellectual concept in my head, I might use that.

But what's being offered is the most common next word most commonly used by the most common English-speaking people in North America. It is regression to the mean. It takes all uniqueness that I might have and replaces it with the most average thing anyone has ever said. 

Next up is . . . everything Microsoft. I literally cannot open or use any Microsoft product without having to disable or ignore opportunities for them to up-sell me on technology I don't want. I used to think the EU was going overboard by making Microsoft split up their technology.

Note: I might want AI to help me from time to time. I'm certainly not opposed to it. I do want the option. But I don't want it shoved down my throat like a goose on a feeding tube.

Right now, the state of AI for most users is that it is as annoying pop-up advertisements. I would actually pay money for an app that disabled all offers to add or enable AI to my daily routine.

At this moment in history, I am losing productivity because a noticeable percentage of my work day is spent saying NO to AI!

When it comes to interruption marketing, I have never understood how advertisers came to believe that they could annoy prospects into buying their products and services. In my opinion, that's where we are with AI. First, there's no much "there" there. Second, they feel like they have to push it on me a thousand times in order to get me to jump onboard.

That's not being a good marketing or a good netizen. I want the right to be left alone!

:-)


Tuesday, April 09, 2024

The ASCII Group Celebrates 40 Years of Empowering IT Professionals Through Community

My friends as ASCII slipped this under my door . . .

The ASCII Group Celebrates 40 Years of Empowering IT Professionals Through Community

Washington, DC – April 9, 2024 –The ASCII Group, the original MSP community of the channel, proudly commemorates its 40th anniversary, marking four decades of unwavering commitment to its members and the IT industry at large. Established in 1984 by visionary entrepreneur Alan D. Weinberger, ASCII has been at the forefront of empowering Managed Service Providers (MSPs) and fostering collaboration, growth, and innovation.

Founded in Washington D.C. by Weinberger, alongside 40 ex-franchisees of a software chain, The ASCII Group stemmed from Weinberger's recognition of the pivotal role specialized IT professionals played in the burgeoning IT revolution. Since then, ASCII has remained resolute in its commitment to providing unparalleled support, resources, peer-to-peer education, and networking opportunities to IT professionals across North America while upholding a vendor-neutral stance.

"The ASCII Group celebrates a remarkable milestone! Their steadfast support spanning four decades has not only propelled the IT community forward but has also been instrumental in the growth and success of my company, A2Z Business IT,” said Carl de Prado, ASCII member since 2014. “ASCII's dedication to fostering connections and offering invaluable resources has made a significant difference. Here's to their profound impact on businesses like ours and to many more years of innovation and empowerment!"

Continuing its mission to equip like-minded IT professionals with the necessary tools for business growth, The ASCII Group has expanded its programs, services, and opportunities over the past four decades to meet the evolving needs of its members. By staying attuned to industry trends and embracing emerging technologies, ASCII has incorporated new committees (including its newly established AI Pit Crew), peer groups and networks within its regular community while staying connected with cutting-edge vendor partners and channel developments.

"We take immense pride in reaching this significant landmark in ASCII's history," stated Alan Weinberger, CEO of The ASCII Group. "Looking forward, our commitment to empowering our members and understanding their needs remains steadfast. Additionally, I am deeply proud of the dedicated ASCII team I have assembled. With many staff members having been with me for decades, we have shared this journey together."

The ASCII Group will commemorate its 40-year journey throughout the year, culminating in an anniversary celebration at its ASCII Edge event in Newark, New Jersey, on April 17.

For more information about ASCII Edge, visit https://events.ascii.com/


About The ASCII Group, Inc:

The ASCII Group is the premier community of North American MSPs, MSSPs and Solution Providers. The Group has members located throughout the U.S. and Canada, and membership encompasses everyone from credentialed MSPs serving the SMB community to multi-location solution providers with a national and international reach. Founded in 1984, ASCII provides services to members including leveraged purchasing programs, education and training, marketing assistance, extensive peer interaction and more. ASCII works with a vibrant ecosystem of leading and major technology vendors that complement the ASCII community and support the mission of helping MSPs to grow their businesses. For more information, please visit www.ascii.com

-30-

:-)

Friday, March 22, 2024

Newbie Terminology: What Is A "Channel" and Why Do I Care?

Our industry has so much jargon that we sometimes fail to define our terms. Folks new to IT consulting (and some older folks as well) might not be familiar with the term "Channel." In fact, some people use the term so broadly that they refer to the entire IT community as the channel. Here are some thoughts, intended to clarity.

The the broadest sense of the word, a channel is an industry-specific ecosystem that includes all the actors from the manufacturer or developer, through the distributor and consultant, to the end end user. One simple channel is displayed in this diagram.

In the IT channel, manufacturers include all the brand names you know and might resell. These might include hardware , software, and services. Distributors include aggregators (so, for example, both Ingram Micro and Sherweb).

From a broader perspective, the channel includes industry magazines, news web sites, industry analysts, podcasters, bloggers, membership communities, and all the folks who put on various events.

We frequently refer to manufacturers and developers as Vendors. Vendors make the physical and digital stuff we sell, including services. And, of course, there are combinations. Some distributors create services, so they are both the developer and the distributor of their services. And some developers combine their creations with others' creations or services and begin to look like mini-distributors.

From time to time, you might hear the terms channel-only or channel-friendly. Channel-only vendors only sell directly to IT consultants (their resellers) or through distributors. They do not sell to end-user clients. The most channel-conscious vendors will connect end users to their resellers.

Channel-friendly companies might be very friendly to their resellers, or they might be less friendly. As a rule, the companies that call themselves channel-friendly try to sell through the channel. But, all too often, they also sell directly to end users. 

And that brings us to the natural tension in channel relationships: It is very tempting for vendors to sell directly to end users and cut out the "middleman." That's you. In the big picture, there's nothing wrong with this - unless the vendor has promised to only sell through the channel. All vendors have this temptation. Over time, fewer and fewer of them manage to resist the temptation completely.

Many vendors openly sell through the channel and directly. Perhaps the largest companies you deal with on this front are Microsoft, HP, and Cisco. If you're an IT reseller, you probably refer to this as vendors competing with their channel partners (resellers). Recently, I heard this referred to as co-selling. When Microsoft first admitted that they were going to go all-out to compete their "partners," they referred to it as disintermediation (see this blog post).

If you ever need a great example of how companies do a bad job of managing channel partnerships, ask someone about their relationship with Dell. Time and time again, Dell revamps their partner program. They promise to protect you and never sell against you. They let you register prospects, so their inside sales people know to leave them alone.

But . . . they also do nothing to change the incentives of inside sales people. And because those folks make money by poaching your clients, they poach your clients. Sales people will do what they are paid to do. So, beware of the actions of your vendor "partners" in addition to their words.

Microsoft has been very honest about their approach. As they were dismantling their partner network and renaming it to eliminate the word partner, their message was: You won't make any money by reselling our products. But you'll make money selling services related to our products. Shockingly, that didn't work very well. So, now you can make a little money. But you have to sell a lot of licenses to make it worth your while.

-- -- -- 

Your Action Steps

If you're new to the concept of channel sales, or the IT channel, you need to decide how much you care. Some people do not include profit from resale into their business model. So, sometimes they make money and sometimes not. Instead, their profit comes 100% from labor - consultation. 

Other companies make a point of working with channel-only vendors whenever possible. This gives them a direct channel for acquiring products and services, and maybe even new clients. And they know that their "partner" will not be competing against them. Note: As I mentioned, pure-play channel-only vendors are becoming harder to find.

Here are a few actions to consider. First, determine how much you care. Will you seek channel-only vendors (or "channel first" or "channel friendly)? Second, evaluate your current suppliers. You may need to have discussions on forums or at conferences to find out how channel friendly your current vendors are. 

Third, learn about the channel commitment of future vendors. Remember, the channel-focused commitment goes both ways. For vendors, the commitment to channel-only sales is a tough decision. They are rewarded when MSPs commit to working as much as possible with channel-only vendors. Building a solution stack made up of exclusively channel-only vendors rewards those vendors who have made the decision to forego direct sales.

-- -- --

Please let me know if you are new to the channel and would like me to give my two cents on other terminology you've heard. Welcome - and good luck!

:-)


Thursday, March 21, 2024

The Unpopular Truth about KPIs, SLAs, and SMB IT - Webinar April 10th

The Unpopular Truth about KPIs, SLAs, and SMB IT

We all love to measure things. And we’re eager to learn the “industry standards” for successful businesses so we can see how we stack up. But we can also get carried away by measuring too much, measuring the wrong things, and implementing changes when we don’t actually understand the implications of what we’re measuring.


Please join me for a free webinar

April 10th
9:00 AM Pacific / Noon Eastern

Register Now:
https://mspwebinar.com/measuring-success/


Way back in January, I promised a focus on creating a "systems" approach to your IT business. In this informative and entertaining webinar, I begin to show you how to implement that approach. Critical to that success is to implement measures that help your business more than they hurt.

Note: I takes a very different approach from most “coaches” who are really just trying to sell something else. I am not selling anything in this webinar.

Here's a hint about my approach: Most KPIs are useless or harmful to your business. I believe you should measure frequently but make changes infrequently. Most importantly, you should not hold employees accountable for most of what you measure! But don't worry - I won't leave you hanging. There are things you should measure. More importantly, there's an overall view of your business that will lead to success.

This will be a different kinds of webinar. It is scheduled for 90 minutes and will go over if there are lots of questions. The first 60 minutes will be the primary presentation. After that, we’ll dig into some very specific examples along with Q&A. Join us – and take the time to improve your business dramatically.

As always, I promise that I will NOT waste your time! My goal is to help you to be as successful as possible. This webinar will lighten your workload, reduce your stress, and give you a better understanding of how your business works.


:-)

Friday, March 08, 2024

Women in Tech 2024: A Failing Report Card

I'm sorry to post this on International Women's Day, but the IT industry has been failing women for . . . well, forever.

As the father of a smart, nerdy, left-brained woman, I have tried to do what I can in my business and profession to improve the environment for women in our industry. But I'm sad to report that our industry has been headed in the wrong direction for decades. Like my daughter, MOST women with aptitude for this industry never give it serious consideration as a career.

Only 27% of women ever consider a career in tech. This compares to 62% of men.* There are two primary reasons for this. The well-documented reason is that women do not advance in tech careers the way men do. The stats on this are overwhelming and not improving. We need to create paths for women to move up.

Women in IT 2024 - heading in the wrong direction

The other major reason is that women simply do not choose to enter our industry at all. Why? They do not feel welcome. While we as an industry make some effort to increase awareness and advancement, we have failed on making women feel like this is a great career choice for them.

"The numbers" are one thing. But numbers can change when attitudes change and women feel welcome to be part of our industry.

Note: The focus of my concern is not women in marketing, support services, or front office. Where we are failing is female business owners and female technicians. Those of us who are active in the industry can all name ten or even twenty women in these roles in the SMB IT community. And that is a very, very sad number.

A lot of the stats are driven by large companies (with 10,000 or more employees each). In the SMB space, the numbers are much, much worse. Twenty years ago, more than ten percent of conference attendees in the SMB space were women. Today, it's around three percent.

This is not just about "awareness training" and educating mid-marketing hiring managers. We have active discrimination against women in our industry

No one wants to talk about it publicly, but many women do not feel safe or welcome at many in-person events in our industry. So, they opt out and visible numbers reflect this. 

More than half of the women in our industry say that they have experienced sexual harassment.** But if you ask a group of women in a live setting, they will all jump on that statistic and say it is way too low. Many will argue that the number is closer to 100%.

In "Big Tech," women are about 27% of the employment force. This number is down from just a few years ago. And the situation is worse in SMB. Nationwide, women own about forty percent of all small businesses. That sounds great. But no one would argue that the numbers for SMB IT are anywhere near that.


We Need a More Realistic Action Plan

Planning
I have served on several committees with names that focus on women in IT, but time and time again, the results are the same: These committees are filled with lots of people from sales, marketing, and management, often from larger companies. There are few or no women who own small businesses or are technicians in small businesses.

These groups are very good at getting articles published and good PR. And we need that! But we also need to do more to reach out to young women and make them feel welcome in this industry. We have started the good work of making women more visible in our industry. But we are clearly failing to make them feel welcome

And we are failing at the only thing that will make a difference in the long-run: Convincing women to start IT consulting businesses or choose a career as helpdesk engineers.

A few years ago, I offered $100 stipend to any woman in our industry who wanted to attend a specific conference I was being paid to speak at. The result was tremendous - twenty-five women attended an event with about a hundred total attendees. This was NOT about the money. They could all afford $100. The difference was: There was a concerted effort to invite women and make them feel welcome.

I fully admit: I don't have the answer.

I don't know how we overcome this sixty-year-old challenge.

But we have to do something. Our daughters are missing out because they are opting out. Our industry  and community are missing out because we have alienated half of our potential membership. And women are missing out because IT consulting is a GREAT career. Technicians earn good money. And we generally have flexible hours. Business owners in IT can build a very nice lifestyle. And the flexibility for owners is better than just about any industry, anywhere.

It starts with awareness. I hope there are a few men still reading to the end of this blog. Why? Because it's the men who have to make this happen. We need to figure out ways to make this industry a place where the entire population feels welcome. 

There's an interesting irony in all of this: Tech people tend to be REALLY smart. We solve puzzles for a living. We figure things out. So we absolutely can solve this problem if we try. We just have to decide, as an industry, that it's time to try. It's time to actively encourage women to get into IT, to get the training, get the jobs, and start the businesses.

I'm sorry I don't have the answers, but I do have the faith that we can do anything we set our minds to. We can make women feel welcome and safe at our conferences. We can welcome them to our meetings and events. We can start today to figuring this out.

I am open to any suggestions you might have. Throw them in the comments. 

It's International Women's Day. And I celebrate all the amazing women I've had the pleasure of working with. I just wish more of them were in the industry I call home.

-- -- --

 * AI Bees has a nice historical summary and some sobering statistics here: https://www.ai-bees.io/post/women-in-tech-history-and-the-future.

 ** Jessica Hubbert has a great collection of stats on the Exploding Topics web site, here: https://explodingtopics.com/blog/women-in-tech

:-)

Thursday, March 07, 2024

Do You Own Client Configurations?

Recently, I've come across a new way of looking at the services we deliver: MSPs claim to "own" the configuration of their clients' equipment.

Example One: The firewall configuration is our unique intellectual property. The argument here is that the MSP takes an off-the-shelf firewall and adds their secret sauce to create a unique device. And, by extension, another MSP might be able to learn all the configuration details and thereby improve their own firewall configurations.

Example Two: An MSP has been leasing equipment to a client, including the Domain Controller. The out-going MSP refuses to share directory access so the in-coming MSP can build a backup DC and then update the FSMO roles and promote it to primary. Again, the argue boils down to secret sauce. Somehow, the configuration of the Active Directory is proprietary technology.


I strongly object to this line of thinking for several reasons. Here are the top three.

First: This is simply unprofessional behavior. While thinly veiled, the real motivation here is that the outgoing MSP (the one losing the client) believes that holding onto this information will somehow do something positive for their business. They are sore losers. And this kind of behavior will only piss off the client (and other professionals involved). 

I always think it's a good policy to lose gracefully, if you have to lose. If you handle it well, that client might see the error in their ways and invite you back some day. On more than one occasion, I've lost a client who wanted us back a year later. If we held their equipment or configurations hostage, they would never have wanted to come back.

We'll come back to this.

Second: The client has paid for the configuration work. Unless you have a contract to the contrary, the client pays you to configure all their hardware, software, and services. It's absurd to think that the selection of inputs and menu options is somehow unique and beyond the common practices of every single IT consultant in your market. 

Clearly, the operating system of a firewall is the intellectual property of the firewall designer. But the configuration of a specific firewall is not really some kind of secret sauce, right? That’s just a collection of settings enabled by the OS.

I have seen this kind of behavior (trying to keep owners out of their firewalls, routers, switches, servers, services, etc.) for thirty years. It never works. Ever. Once a client has decided to change IT consultants, the out-going MSP has lost the job. It's too late to try to hang on by denying the client access to the configurations and settings they've already paid for as "work for hire."

A few years ago, I went looking for consultants that would help me fine-tune my Google ads. Some of them were upfront about the configuration changes they would make to my Google Ads account: They considered their genius to be so great that, if I were to ever leave them, I had to agree that they would set my entire account back to what it was on the day they took over. This was written into their contract. 

Of course, I did not hire any of these folks. I think it's a horrible practice, BUT they were not being unprofessional or dishonest. They made it clear up front, so I could choose whether to do business with them. 

Third: There is no secret sauce. Aside from being unprofessional, all of this behavior assumes that an MSP has some amazing Secret Sauce that no on else possesses. I've only been in this business professionally for thirty years, but I have never actually met anyone who has secret sauce. 

Firewalls can be configured well or poorly. Active Directory can be set up sloppily or precisely. Documentation of these might be thorough or sparse - or even non-existent. So, the only "secret" is to do your job well and to act as professionally as you can. Work a bit harder than your competition. Work a bit smarter. Be more consistent. Have better daily practices.

I have long argued that Secret Sauce comes in a clear glass jar with the ingredients labeled on the back. In other words: Everyone knows what it is! If you are dedicated to great service, and providing excellent technical support, then you will always have customers who love you. Your unique selling proposition is the totality of your company, your employees, your processes, and your documentation.

Who needs secret sauce when you have YOU, your processes, your employees, and your excellent habits? 


I hope this trend of claiming "intellectual property" for doing your job is short lived. It is just the latest manifestation of unprofessional people pretending to be professional IT consultants and making our industry look bad in the process. Every time one of these losers gets away with thing kind of behavior, one more client has a story about how horrible IT consultants behave. That reduces trust in all future relationships with IT professionals.

Once again, the warning goes out: Don't let our industry slide into the kind of reputation enjoyed by car salesmen!

:-)


Monday, March 04, 2024

The ASCII Group Introduces the Channel Legacy Partnership Awards at ASCII Edge Events 2024

The ASCII Group Introduces the Channel Legacy Partnership Awards at ASCII Edge Events 2024


Washington, DC – March 4, 2024 – The ASCII Group, a renowned membership-based community of independent North American Managed Service Providers (MSPs), is pleased to announce the introduction of the Channel Legacy Partnership Awards at ASCII Edge Events 2024. As The ASCII Group commemorates its 40th anniversary this year, they are honoring channel vendors who have demonstrated unwavering commitment by partnering with the ASCII community for 20 years or more.

The Channel Legacy Partnership Awards serve as a testament to the enduring relationships between The ASCII Group and its esteemed channel vendors. Through their sustained partnerships, they have played a pivotal role in fostering growth, facilitating networking opportunities, and driving innovation within the MSP community. 

Legacy Awards will be presented at ASCII Edge, the premier multi-city events where nearly 2,000 industry professionals, technology vendors, and leaders come together for two power-packed days of collaboration and growth. With events in nine cities across North America, ASCII Edge is specifically curated for the modern MSP. 

"We are delighted to introduce the Channel Legacy Partnership Awards as part of our 40th-anniversary celebrations," said Alan Weinberger, Chairman and CEO of The ASCII Group. "These awards are a tribute to the exceptional dedication and contributions of our long-standing channel partners. Their steadfast commitment to The ASCII Group and its members exemplifies the spirit of collaboration and community that defines our organization."

The first Channel Legacy Partnership Awards were presented on February 29 at ASCII Edge Costa Mesa, and the recipients included Kaseya, D&H, CompTIA, and Sophos.

"We are proud to celebrate these exceptional channel vendors who have been by our side for over two decades," added Weinberger. "Their commitment to The ASCII Group and the community at large is truly commendable."

For more information about ASCII Edge Events 2024, please visit https://events.ascii.com/


About The ASCII Group, Inc:

The ASCII Group is the premier community of North American MSPs, MSSPs and Solution Providers. The Group has members located throughout the U.S. and Canada, and membership encompasses everyone from credentialed MSPs serving the SMB community to multi-location solution providers with a national and international reach. Founded in 1984, ASCII provides services to members including leveraged purchasing programs, education and training, marketing assistance, extensive peer interaction and more. ASCII works with a vibrant ecosystem of leading and major technology vendors that complement the ASCII community and support the mission of helping MSPs to grow their businesses. For more information, please visit www.ascii.com

:-)

Thursday, February 29, 2024

The ASCII Group Launches AI Committee to Drive Industry Advancement

 Announcement . . . live from the ASCII Edge event in Southern California . . .


The ASCII Group MSP Business Community Launches AI Committee to Drive Industry Advancement

Washington, DC – Feb 29, 2024 – The ASCII Group, a renowned membership-based community of independent North American Managed Service Providers (MSPs), today announced the establishment of an Artificial Intelligence (AI) Committee. As the tech landscape continues to evolve, The ASCII Group recognizes the critical importance of preparing its members for the next phase of industry evolution – the integration of AI technologies into their service offerings.

In an industry marked by rapid transformations, MSPs have consistently demonstrated resilience and adaptability, transitioning from resellers to Value-Added Resellers (VARs) and then to MSPs. As AI rapidly progresses, the managed services sector anticipates significant transformative shifts. While AI integration offers unprecedented efficiency and innovation, challenges persist, such as optimizing operations and tailoring customer solutions. Nevertheless, forward-thinking organizations can seize opportunities by strategically and responsibly embracing AI, unlocking new avenues for growth and differentiation.

The newly established AI Committee, dubbed the 'ASCII AI Pit Crew,' serves as a central hub for knowledge sharing. The objectives of the group include 4 pillars: Identify – Define key areas for future service delivery within the market; Research – Conduct thorough research to assess and validate potential solutions that meet identified market needs; Partner – Forge strategic partnerships with new services to enhance offerings for the community; and Engage – Empower the community by providing market-ready campaigns for the promotion of these AI services.

"Just as our members successfully navigated previous industry shifts, we are committed to equipping them with the tools necessary to embrace the potential of AI," said Jerry Koutavas, President, The ASCII Group. "One of the challenges MSPs face is identifying emerging trends before they become mainstream and through the ASCII AI Pit Crew, our members will have analysis and insight enabling them to stay ahead of the curve and seize new opportunities in the AI space."

The committee is comprised of ASCII members including Mike Bloomfield, Carl de Prado, Kathy Durfee, Lynette Furr, Michael Goldstein, Denase Harris, Lisa Hendrickson, Jason Knowles, Joshua Liberman, Rob Lloyd, Stephen Monk, Jay Parisi, Srikanth Pinnaka, and Craig Vickers.

For more information about The ASCII Group and its AI Committee, visit www.ascii.com.


About The ASCII Group, Inc:

The ASCII Group is the premier community of North American MSPs, MSSPs and Solution Providers. The Group has members located throughout the U.S. and Canada, and membership encompasses everyone from credentialed MSPs serving the SMB community to multi-location solution providers with a national and international reach. Founded in 1984, ASCII provides services to members including leveraged purchasing programs, education and training, marketing assistance, extensive peer interaction and more. ASCII works with a vibrant ecosystem of leading and major technology vendors that complement the ASCII community and support the mission of helping MSPs to grow their businesses. For more information, please visit www.ascii.com


-30-







:-)


Monday, February 26, 2024

Leap Day Say - One Day Only - Save 29% off Everything

Maybe I'm not very creative - but that's okay because YOU can save 29% off everything at our store on February 29th.

I thought about limiting my promotion to expensive stuff, or downloads only, or up to a certain amount. But I'm a big believer in simplicity.

So, we're holding a sale and the only rules are:

1) To take advantage of it, you need to browse to https://store.smallbizthoughts.com

2) On February 29th you'll see a code that takes your purchase price to 29% off your entire order.

3) The sale is on a timer, and I live in the Pacific Time Zone.


You can browse the store now, of course, and even fill up your shopping cart. Don't forget to come back and finish the sales on Thursday.

I recommend you set yourself a reminder. This .ICS file might be helpful:

https://mspwebinar.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/01/Leap-Day-Sale-at-Small-Biz-Thoughts.ics


What Will You Find?

Great resources for IT Consultants! Authors include Erick Simpson, Manuel Palachuk Amy Babinchak, Debbie Leoni, Jenifer Novak Landers, Dana Goulston, plus me (Karl Palachuk). When no author is lists, the book or resource is by me.

Titles Include:

  • Absolutely Unbreakable Rules of Service Delivery, The 
  • Best I.T. Sales and Marketing BOOK EVER! (Erick Simpson)
  • Best I.T. Service Delivery BOOK EVER! (Erick Simpson)
  • Best NOC and Service Desk Operations BOOK EVER! (Erick Simpson)
  • Business Plan Worksheets – Free
  • Cleaning Up Your Email (Manuel Palachuk)
  • Cloud Services in a Month
  • Core Competency Matrix (Manuel Palachuk)
  • Culture and Compass: Cultivate a Successful Environment (Manuel Palachuk)
  • Five Tools That Could Transform Your Company Overnight (Manuel Palachuk)
  • Fully Expressed Living (Jenifer Novak Landers)
  • Getting to the Next Level (Manuel Palachuk)
  • Guide to a Successful Managed Services Practice (Erick Simpson)
  • How To Build A Valuable Local LinkedIn Network (Amy Babinchak)
  • How To Document Any Process (Manuel Palachuk)
  • How to Hold a Hugely Successful Event (Amy Babinchak)
  • I Am Fearless (Debbie Leoni)
  • Karl’s Cloud Readiness Checklist – Free
  • Karl’s FAMOUS 68-Point Checklist - Free
  • Managed Services in a Month – 3rd Edition
  • Managed Services Operations Manual – 4 Volume Set
  • Meditating with Pebbles Audio – Free
  • Most Important Documents Every Company Must Have (Manuel Palachuk)
  • Network Documentation Workbook Ebook
  • Network Migration Workbook – 2nd ed. (Karl W. Palachuk and Manuel Palachuk)
  • Process Control for the IT Industry (Manuel Palachuk)
  • Project Management for Small Business Consultants (Dana Goulston and Karl W. Palachuk)
  • Quick Start Guided Meditation – Free
  • Quote Me On This: The Wit and Wisdom of Coleman Cox
  • Relax Focus Succeed – Revised Edition
  • Relax Focus Succeed | An Audio Introduction – Free
  • RFS Sample Chapter – Workaholism – Free
  • Service Agreements for SMB Consultants – Revised Ed.
  • Small Biz Quickstart Workbook
  • SOP: Monthly Maintenance Checklist
  • Standards & Procedures Seed Document (Manuel Palachuk)
  • Successes that Happened without any Effort 
  • Taking Your Business to Version 3.0 and Beyond (Manuel Palachuk)
  • Ten Golden Rules of PSA and Service Ticket Systems Training Webinar (Manuel Palachuk)
  • The IT Consultant’s Year of Intention
  • Working and Tracking Time in Real-Time Whitepaper (Manuel Palachuk)

PLUS there are bundles - so you'll save even more. The bundles are good any time. But when you take off another 29%, they awesome.


Note to Small Biz Thoughts Technology Community Members: You already have access to ALL of my books and white papers inside the Community. They are free in all e-formats. What you will find in our store includes 1) Paperback books, and 2) books and white papers by other authors.

All Community members can find a huge discount code for the store anytime among your regular discounts at https://www.smallbizthoughts.org/member-account/coupons-and-discounts/. It's not quite 29%, but it's pretty good. 


Please join us for the big sale - February 29th!

:-)


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

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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.
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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

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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

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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.



:-)