My name is Billy Springs and I am the owner of a small IT shop named: Computers of Tennessee in guess where? The beautiful mountains of east TN! :)
Here is a picture of the Veterans Overlook in Grainger County near where I live. Onl.y ~ 20 mts away from me.
Let me give you my 30 second commercial to vet myself where I am at level wise. Then I'll ask my questions and will humbly be looking for other members that have been through what I am about to embark on right now, and/or have some really good feedback for me.
I have sprinkled some of the tools I use throughout. So perhaps you will find something you like that you are not using. I only like to use the best of the best I have available to me that both my clients and me can afford. So if its in here, it has my vote 100%.
I will be 49 in November. And I come from a very large background of everything!
My skills have been leveraged for my local Government clients to help keep the Vendors in line when they start finger pointing when there are problems. Wireshark for captures and then SteelCentral's Packet Analyzer Personal Edition for reporting has championed me many times! (HUGE recommendation! You don't even have to be that good at it. Do a PROPER capture to start with, then port it over to the Analyzer and start playing with the different reports. A pc infected with a bot sending emails or whatever stands out like a big red elephant in the room. Great stuff!)
And then I am naturally a complete A-Z source of IT Services for my SMB clients. Mostly Windows, very few macOS's.
I have a Degree in Electronics Engineering Technolgy; graduated with honors. At the college I attended, I started out as a Work Study Student, Lab Assistant, Lab Manager, and then was an Instructor - all by the time I was ~21 yrs old. If you went to my college and took Electronics, you would inevitably meet me along the way.
I have worked for State, Federal, and extremely huge Enterprise Environments. Helped bring in y2k - all that good stuff. The last place I was at, was celebrating being worth over $100 Billion dollars in Mortgage Porfolios, and that was b4 they got big, They were bought out by a small company named JP Morgan Chase - you may have heard of them. B4 the buyout, I kept up their main data center for the entire US. I had a server farm of over 150+ Windows server as a front end and an E10k for Oracle db on the backend. We were a Compaq shop for the servers. They were broken up into: PRD, DEV, Training & Staging - and I was forever busy with the merry go round of building, swapping, rebuilding - rinse and repeat. That and Novell & Exchange boxes. We had a very nice nt/netware synced login for our users, login scripts for drive mappings based on groups, print mappings - everything... I was the Senior Server blah blah whatever guy on site and it was my baby. Those were the good ole days... ah. :)
I went independent back in the spring of 2001 and have never looked back. I had a bad taste in my mouth for a while and took some time off b4 starting to do consulting for small SMB's. Very unfortunately for me, I had NO idea on how to price and/or run a business - a huge curve to have to go through over the years that I was not even aware of.
My marketing and business skill were extremely lacking - nonexistent really. I may as well have gone to work for someone else bc it took me soo! long to finally have the kind of quality clients I wanted. It took me a long time of doing hit and miss work. But once I got my 1st really good client, things started to slowly pick up. BNI was a big help for me for several years. I picked up my multimillion dollar clients from that group, After lots of searching, I strongly recommend out the following resources so you do NOT have to go through what I did. (These are the 2 BEST!!!!)
Robin Robins - Marketing - Technology Toolkit and everything else she has
Karl Palachuk - Procedures, MSP, Managed Services - lots of great stuff
A typical SMB client for me and their setup is really simple and usually consist of the following components:
- Dell Poweredge Servers (if u build them right - I love 'em - room for 2 processors, usually only get 1 and leave room to upgrade if need be later, 32-64GB RAM, I used to build the RAID 5 & later 10 - but with the fast SSD's now, RAID 1 with a hot spare, then a very large mirrored RAID 1 for data, support & etc. I have a large client that I will likely not do the above, but will setup a large RAID 5 with a hot spare, and a separate internal drive for local backups - coupled with some sort of online backup. Dell hates it when I spec em like they. They send me some of the drives separately, which is fine.) - Remote Desktop for some (pls see a much better solution below AND doesn't require an actual Win Server) - Microsoft Work Stations - Printers - SonicWALL Routers with site to site hardware VPN's where applicable - Ubiquiti for wireless - client/server apps - And Quickbooks - (many of my clients use QB Enterprise)
(I really like the SonicWALL's & the Ubiquiti products. Here's another BEST recommendation!)
3rd party RDP alternative that does it a gazillion times better than Microsoft:
Here is a little background on where I need help and am looking to reach out to some of you that have either already done this kind of transition already, and/or are simply doing it now.
Perhaps read through the following when you have time. And comment accordingly. A push in the right direction, and/or telling me I am on the right track is what I am really looking for and would be much appreciated.
I have included a few things here and there in my post today. So like I mentioned, I am hoping that will help you as well. Everything I have recommended is 100% rock solid and is not something you can go wrong with if you are looking for that type of solution.
...Like many of you, I am about sick and tired of being sick and tired with Microsoft's updates, their bugs and all of the hassle that comes with it. I am finally giving in and am looking at MSP Tools like Solarwinds and some offerings from Virtual Administrator - which look pretty good btw and are all affordable. I have trialed them over the years and just never really found the perfect solution. The days of 100% are over where that is concerned. I just have to pick one that meets the majority of my needs and go with it.
Clients don't want to wait for updates. They crash their computer in hopes of it coming back up quickly like their iPad does. Then they are really surprised when their Winblows station doesn't want to come back up at all. (I have this one client that is a Subway Franchisee owner with several stores that seems to have this happen at least once every couple of months.) The client is pissed. Miscrosoft is pissed and has decided to take a huge dump all over them. You know the story! LOL
And then there is mac! It is so polite. "Hello kind sir. Would you like for us to do an update now? No? - Ok oh great one. I will leave you alone then. I am here when you need me. Hug me?"
Ok. I'm sold!
Now all I have to do is figure out how to put 'em together. I have obviously always succeeded in everything I do and I have always done it very well. That is why I am now needing to know Best Practices and how to do it is the simplest way of saying it. I am learning, studying now. These scenarios and questions will help me get there.
How do I mix mac into my pure Microsoft environments now, that are Windows Server dependant and will never change?
Several of my clients are due for what I call a "Technology Refresh." Which simply means their Windows server has either just run out of warranty or is about to.
Here is the OPPORTUNITY I am looking at right now. Either replace with what I know and am familiar with. Or innovate to something better. I pick choice #2!! :)
For most of these clients, these new projects will be the 3rd or 4th server I have installed for them over the years. I pretty much have that part figured out and can replicate it in my sleep like many of you can.
I am wanting to up my game! I am wanting to be the best ME I can be and deliver the BEST environment out to my clients because they are naturally the lifeblood of my business.
I do have one client that has macs and I support them.. So I know a little. But I am ramping up my skills to do it much better for them and others. Their stuff was setup b4 my arrival and they are all just basically stand-alone machines; with their accounting department having RDP into a local Windows server for their financial software.
My mac skills are rudimentary at best. So I am working towards building that up very quickly. Hence ItPro. Yeah! :)
btw: Where are the labs for mac? I discussed it with support, which was extremely helpful. And it's apparently an Apple thing having 2b exclusively on apple hardware. I am really hoping you guys get that worked out bc I would really really like to have that and is why I came to your site. How do I setup my OWN mac in a VMWare box in Windows? I have found tutorials online and started following them. Big mistake! My test computer was acting really weird and I can only imagine what and where that was going. So I re-imaged and haven't messed with it since.
Moving forward: I am wanting to setup a very reliable environment that will put out all of the day to day fires a few of my clients are currently having now. And I am wanting to implement MSP services to keep it that way. (That is where Karl P's training comes in.)
For my clients with QB - I would LOVE to simply have a complete mac shop. A server and workstations. But I am not able to do that bc of Windows only client/server related apps, like the one below:
(If any of your clients do their own payroll, I highly recommend the following - Windows only though: http://www.ezdd.com/products/onlinebanking/ezdirectdepositqb.html)
I have been learning about how mac's with the $20 server software can centralize User Accounts, Profile Manager, ARD and several other useful things. I am just dying to get my hands on that and play with it with a couple of VM devices. Just killing me!! That is why I would so love to have the labs. Even if we had to schedule time for when we could be on one. Hopefully, the site can figure something out with that. It is very much needed! I can't stress it enough...
The most important thing I have found is that mac can use Microsoft AD. I haven't gotten to the point of figuring out how that actually works yet with 2 user accounts and just need to keep learning about that.
Now that you know my main scenarios for clients, here are my questions: (there are several of these related - I'm not expecting someone to research all of that as related to Best Practices)
Where can I find mac Best Practice setup info? books, articles - what is YOUR goto place?
Is there a place I can get "Best Practices" of setting up a hybrid Windows Server for QB access with mac work stations? or a pure mac client/server relationship?
What are my Best Practices for setting up a QB relationship with a mac client and a windows server? This is in reference to using RDP and/or client/server setup for QB. I have a large client that likes, needs to do both.
What are the best practices for setting up the said hybrid up above, syncing up the mac & Win logins? Can they be synced somehow like the Netware/Windows login client does things?
Besides here of course!, where and what is the best-written documentation available I want to get to reference?
Apple Training recommends out a company named Peachpit below for books. Before I spent any $$, I wanted to make sure I got the right stuff the 1st time. I don't need a book that tells you about the electrons in each of the different kinds of Microchips. I don't want to pass any more tests! EVER! I just want to know Best Practices of how to set the damn thing up, right? LOL
BIG QUESTION: How are you guys pricing anything and everything you do?
I am much lower than I should be. But considering I started at $25/hr way back when, I am doing relatively good. (I did not know where to start. Had been charging $75/hr back in the early 90's when I was installing & maintaining Netware boxes - back when Microsoft couldn't even spell network.)
I am now at $100/hr. Existing clients get a 25% discount. And I pretty much give everyone the discount simply bc they like to hear the word discount. I JUST hired on these 2 new Tech guys. I am wanting to get all of these projects done this year so I can create a perfect, cookbook system way of doing things. Document it into a nice Blueprint. Then replicate it to new clients.
I am already warming clients up to the fact that I have already been underpricing my work. But with a total of 4 new hires (a bookkeeper and a web designer - let me know if u need a great web dev - I have a referral for you - he's the BEST and he is affordable - he specializes in WP & automation - knowing him, I am guessing Mautic but am not sure.)
Minus the Web Dev, we have a different flat rate deal my goal is to get both of my Tech's and Bookkeeper to $25 an hour as fast as possible. I have got to do something different to maintain paying these people on a consistent basis.
Sounds crazy I know. 80/20 rule covers spreading out tasks to the most qualified and letting them focus on their 20% strengths that trumps everything else they do. I am a Dan Kenndy, Gary Halbert, Robin Robins marketing kind of freak now! I am teaching an advanced Productivity course and am implementing the tools into my business and it has had a very good start!
The reason for saying that is, through all of that, I have found that 80% of my output comes from 20% of my input. My other 80% sucks and needs somebody else to do it. I have really lucked up with the talent I have been able to hand pick. But I have got to get these guys mac trained! They are young, sharp and willing. After that, I can focus on MY 20% and do it very well. And then let the others handle the parts they excel in. And right now, we are all needing apple looks like and a plan for plowing it in.
Along the way here, I have been working on a spreadsheet, started it way too late, but at least I have it now - which has now turned into a real beast! I need a little over $30k minimum / month to be able to provide the level of services I intend to provide to existing and new clients. I have already budgeted in training for here, pluralsight and testout. Some MSP tools. And for another position. You guys and my Bookkeeper are the only ones that know the xtra position. I am not sharing that with my team. I will use that position to buy the necessary training, tools and etc that are static purchases. Next, that will be used for profit, and then eventually to the hiring of a new Team member. W/o building in profit margins, I may as well as just have a regular ole job. But for now, in the beginning, it will be my flexible area.
I am literally on a shoestring budget right now and am broke as crap. I have some big invoices out and working on getting out. So I am going to have a little cushion to get started. (I have worked these guys a little. Supposed to start in November.) As long as I can have at least 2 billable people out of 3 techs, including me, I can make it. The goal will be to get all 3 billable when there are times that we can all be effective for the client. Honesty is a big thing for me. I do lots of local government work. State and Federal certified with Level III CJIS. So yeah, any billable hours are really going to be productive or I'll take the hit. With that, it is up to me to make those opportunities. And with the projects I need to plan for, those times will be abundant in the beginning for sure.
Dan Kennedy is very serious about this and I have heard it for years. If YOU think are not charging enough, you need to double your prices. So if my math is correct, $75 /hr x 2 = $150. I don't even know what others are charing in the area. Not recently anyways. Last # I heard from a company that has my kind of background was $125/hr and that was 10 years ago. I know other guys that charge even less than me. I've been on their butts to go up. And I need to do the same. Again. I've done it a number of times over the years. But I"ve never doubled it. I'll discount down to $100 / hr for those that get some type of monthly service. So that is probably a good part to share in the story here.
As part of my advanced productivity, I journal allot. I even have different journals now bc they have gotten so out of control. That goes to a very special kind of planner and then onto a Kanban board. I share this because I would never ever of been where I am at now w/o it. I lost my momma back in January and has been the worst year of my life. I cry daily, but I push on. I"ve cried in front of clients - everybody. They all want to console me and I can't even say the word w/o tearing up. I stay away from that subject and I'm just fine. So I can honestly say that had it not of been for me doing a deep dive into my productivity tools and then taking action and implementing it into both me and my business - there is no telling where I would be at. When I say I am literally rebuilding my business from the ground up, that is exactly what it is I am doing. Why not. I already need a new structure. Why not make it complete? So here we are. (let me know if you want to know more about the tools. I can summarize them quickly.)
What I am really wanting to do and am already warming clients up for the pitch is for a yearly maintenance agreement broken up into monthly services. It is for both their piece of mind of having a consistent running business and a few discounted billable hours each month. And also for me being able to hire AND keep the talent I need. Rich one month, poor the next two really sucks. Of course it helps when you send out invoices. That is why I got a Bookkeeper. Worth every penny!
Oh yeah. I'm thinking $3k / month for these services. I am going to greatly up the standards for my company so I can provide the high level of services they need - which are dependability and consistency. And to do that, it is going to cost both of us. I have to be able to have enough work for my team. To pay them. To pay me. :)
I don't know what the others are charging in my area, or anywhere else for MSP stuff. I do know I can find the right clients with Robin's materials though. I'll tell you. You have GOT to check her out if you haven't seen her stuff b4.
I am hoping I am right up in the ballpark. Curious as to what others are willing to share since I have opened up.
I apologize for the very long post. But if you have taken the time to read this, hopefully, you have found something that helped you as well.
Thank you ahead of time for any and all feedback.
Have a great weekend folks!
Billy Springs :)
PS: Here's a BONUS for having to read through all of that. :)
If you haven't seen this or haven't been there in a while, be sure to check out www.zoho.com. AWESOME stuff! I was going do use INVOICE. But found out I couldn't do payroll. But if you don't need that, then its golden. I had already done a couple of invoices in it filling out a simple time sheet, and BAM! - I was done. And its free for 1 user. I had to goto Quickbooks Online and am slowly learning to fall in love with it all over again.
But ZOHO:, check out CLIQ - it's like a fancy GUI IRC. I use it for work texting. Can be private or in a channel. CONNECT - a fancy forum with lots of functionality. I am using it as a private, internal wiki kind of sorts of different topics that are open for discussion - like what you would find in any forum - threads and posts. I am thinking about creating a private channel just for the client and use it for updates on projects so they are not wondering, feedback, etc. DESK - ticketing. I have the guys work off of tickets. Then when they are putting in their timesheet for the day with QBO, the 1st thing they do is reference the ticket #, like this: [Ticket #123] And then a very brief one-sentence description. QBO does not offer a client portal. But INVOICE & DESK does. You can optionally give the client access. And btw, that is free too. They all are. Then you can start to pay for little small upgrades for more. They even have some remote control stuff that I haven't even had time to look at yet. Just wait 'til you see www.zoho.com. It's crazy over there man! :)