Most of my friends and customers don't know that I have an MBA from the Paul Merage School of Business at UC Irvine. I spent three very intense years studying entrepreneurship and service operations from some amazing minds UCI lured away from some pretty heavy-hitting business schools. One of my favorite activities in business school was presenting.  I had never used PowerPoint prior to b-school, but I immediately found that creating a story with visuals and cues to help an audience think differently, or achieve an "aha" moment, was something I was crazy passionate about.

So when Apple first came out with Keynote 1.0 in 2003, the year I graduated, I went completely nuts. It was awesome. In fact, if you do a search on my computer for presentations, you'll see everything prior to 2003 in PowerPoint, and everything moving forward over the next 11 years is in Keynote.  It's like a asteroid crashed into my Mac and all the PowerPoints ended up extinct, found only in the file-fossil record.

I also remember how absolutely awful all of the business school workshops on presenting were. MBA students almost seemed to compete for who could get the most words and bullet points on a presentation slide. Not much has changed in eleven years. Presentations in business and in business school are still generally awful. I believe employees and customer prospects alike are constantly tortured by their managers and salespeople as a result. This really needs to change.

Which brings me to David Sparks. David's a good friend and I'm a fan of his blog and his books.   And now he's written Presentations, a book that not only deserves the great reviews it's receiving in the iBooks store, but I believe it should be required reading for every new MBA candidate entering business school, not to mention every JD candidate heading into law school.  

David's done an amazing job covering the technologies and tools for presenting, from Keynote to PowerPoint, but he's also provided expert advice on how to pull a really effective presentation together, and how to pull yourself together the day of the presentation.  I've always found it rather sad to see anyone about to give a presentation looking hopeless when the equipment doesn't work, looking desperate for an IT guy.  I would recommend David's book to anyone who wants to become self-sufficient when it comes to setting up, and even a bit of a MacGyver when necessary.

You can read David's blog over at MacSparky and find more of this books there an on the iBooks store.  You can also buy the PDF version on his web site directly, which doesn't have a lot of the whizz-bang rich media, but is a great alternative if you're not an Apple iBooks user.

Thanks for such an awesome book David!

Box Sync for Mac Packages

When Box updated their sync app to work with Mac packages, it was like Christmas and Hanukkah and my birthday all rolled into one. DropBox is cute, but it has a poor track record for security and doesn't offer the fantastic business controls that Box offers.  

So what are packages?

Many apps on the Mac use packages.  Examples most people know are Pages, Keynote and Numbers.  But for power users there are a lot more: OmniGraffle and OmniOutliner files are packages, and even Scrivener documents.  Mac packages look like files, but they're not. They're actually folders filled with other files. When you control-click on a package file you can "open" it to see it's contents.   So what's the big deal about Box Sync working with Mac Packages?

Most people don't realize that switching computers, regardless of what technology you use to do it, doesn't and can't truly move your sync capability over intact.  What this means in plain English is that if you're using Box Sync and migrate over to a new or different Mac, Box Sync renames your Box Sync folder and creates a new one and has to re-sync everything, all over again.   I learned this the hard way when I went on vacation with a different Mac notebook and found out my Mac wanted to re-sync 95GB; Not a Good Thing over a slow hotel wireless connection.

Where things get ugly is if your Mac packages have not already been synced, throwing away that old Box Sync folder could result in losing hundreds, even thousands of hours of work.  We had one customer send us his MacBook Pro for data recovery because a technician at another company told him the best way to solve sync issues is to delete his Box Sync folder and simply re-download it from the cloud.  After hours of re-downloading, the customer noticed that all of his Keynote files were gone- every presentation he had ever made for his business.  All of the missing files were in directories he had put them in for months, but because they hadn't synced up to Box, there was nothing to sync down.   The good news is that we were able to recover about 95% of his documents.  But the situation still cost the customer enormous disruption.

Why does all this matter?  If you have a Mac, or if anyone uses a Mac in your business, there's now finally an effective solution for Cloud sync between Macs and PCs with a good workflow. Windows boxes still can't use Keynote or the killer apps from the OmniGroup, but as businesses start rolling more Macs into their offices and home offices, users connected via Box will be able to share files that much easier, even without a file server at all.

Now that Box Sync supports packages, we can finally have an Enterprise-grade business sync tool that keeps all our files synced and accessible on any of our devices, with the convenience of opening a new Finder window.  Neat.  Just remember that the devil is definitely in the detail when it comes to switching Macs with a Box Sync account.  If you're interested in Box Sync and how it works for business, I used OmniGraffle to create an example of Box used in business here (downloadable PDF... via Box of course).  If you like it, please let me know.

Mac OS X Server: The unbelievable IT budget

The Mac Mini Server with a Promise Pegasus storage array- A lot of power in a small package.

The Mac Mini Server with a Promise Pegasus storage array- A lot of power in a small package.

Update 2014 March 12: Just a quick disclaimer; I don't sell Apple equipment nor do I receive any kickbacks or commission on the sale of Apple product. In fact, I don't even own any Apple stock.

I am in the business of service, and helping business owners discover amazing options for their businesses that depend on Macs or PCs or a combination of the two is my specialty.  Ask most Mac techs what a Mac OS X Server costs to set up, and you'll likely get the same answer: "It depends."  That answer doesn't work, because you need to know installation costs are to help you make a purchasing decision.  But what exactly does installation include?  That question is exactly why most Mac techs get nervous about committing to a price.  It's a chicken-and-egg issue, even though it shouldn't be.


Ask me how much does it cost to install a Mac OS X Server, and I'll give you a different answer: $500 (USD, to be precise). It's really simple: We created a service for business owners that includes preparing, configuring and installing a Mac OS X Server, that includes basic capabilities like file sharing, email, calendar and contacts, for $500.  Whether it's a Mac Mini or a Mac Pro, the server installation is $500.  

Here's what's included:

  • We ask questions up front to prevent issues and surprises. You will not have a tech asking you to call your Internet Service Provider for information on the day of service, because we'll already have the information we need.
  • We'll help you design a server setup that works for your business. This includes your file sharing structure - who has permission to which folder - up front.  You will not have someone asking you to make last-minute decision that could have been made early on.  And we will help you through the process of understanding how server works so you can make great decisions about the configuration, no matter how technical you are.
  • We'll configure everything on the server up before the installation. When we arrive we'll be ready to connect the server to your network and connect your users to the server.  With the basics already done, we can focus on training- and making sure you and your employees know how to access the server.
  • We'll teach you how to transfer your data to the server.  You won't have to pay to have a technician sit there at an hourly rate, unless you want to.
  • We'll provide documentation and training.
  • We'll tell you about all the options: Other cool stuff you can do with the server that are optional, like mobile device management, Virtual Private Network setup, Windows server running virtually on a Mac server, and more.

If you need a Mac OS X Server setup, feel free to contact me. We're happy to help and keep things simple so you can stay busy growing your business.

What right-sizing your technology actually looks like

An evil mess and a disaster waiting to happen. This reflects poorly on the IT guy, and ultimately on the business owner too.

An evil mess and a disaster waiting to happen. This reflects poorly on the IT guy, and ultimately on the business owner too.

I'll start with the worst IT closet I've ever seen;  Your IT should never look like this. When I walked into this small business, I told my technician that this must be what the inside of a Sandcrawler looks like. I was waiting to hear cries for help from a dismembered C-3PO.

There are a bunch of problems here:

  1. It's disorganized.
  2. It's dangerous.
  3. It's wasteful.

The end result is that you, the business owner, spend a ton of money on wasted time and other wasted resources.  And it's also a disaster waiting to happen that could take your business down at any time.

So what should your network closet look like?

It's actually more about what it can look like.  Everything's changed in the past few years.   I actually have the ability now to take the typical small business network closet and seriously shrink it.  Not just size, but also cost of hardware.   This is now possible because of a few really great technologies:

  1. Virtualization.  It's now possible to run a high-performance Windows server as a virtual machine.  This changes everything for any business that has PCs or Macs.
  2. The Mac Mini- as a PC or PC server replacement. I recently replaced a $7500 HP Proliant Server with a $1000 Mac Mini running all of my Windows Server and QuickBooks Enterprise software that was previously on the HP Proliant.  And it's about 10X faster.  My bookkeeper and CPA access QuickBooks daily via Windows.  They don't even know it, but they're connecting to a Windows Server running on a Mac Mini.  Need more horsepower? The new Mac Pro is about the same size and is insanely powerful.
  3. Attached storage.  Apple's new strategy for desktops is about attached storage.  And their integrating Thunderbolt 2 pushes 20Gb/s, over three times faster than a typical hard drive.  Need 5 servers?  They can all live on one box the size of a toaster.

An example of the "new" business IT system.  This 2.5' square cabinet contains almost everything a business of 20-50 people needs.

The picture to the right is of a wall-mounted, lockable cabinet that's roughly about 2.5' square.  And inside this little cube is more than enough power to run an entire business of 20-25 people, and possibly more.  There's a Mac Mini, an attached RAID (18TB of storage, in this case) and a some fantastic cloud-based networking equipment from Meraki.  The intelligent, power-conditioning backup battery on the left takes up almost half the rack, and safely shuts down everything in case of a power outage.  The rack in the image to the right has more capability than the horrid mess pictured at the top of this article.

It's clean, and it's secure.  In fact, it can be mounted in the kitchen right below the ceiling, or installed under a desk.  It's also safer from earthquakes because it's in an enclosure and the RAID (the box with the tall row of pretty blue LEDs) can't just fall over.

Who can benefit from this?

  • Interactive agencies, design firms, engineering firms, law firms, architects and more: You can run a Windows server at both a fraction of the cost, and with the freedom of switching hardware anytime without having to reinstall or reconfigure the server.  Less tech time, more uptime for your employees.
  • Companies that are depending on a Windows-only software application, but want to use Macs.  Some examples are Nextech and PatientNow, two medical practice management applications that are used by plastic surgeons.  Now you can use your iPad or Mac and just remote-desktop right into your Mac Mini server running Windows.  You don't need to run Windows on your Mac at all.
  • Any company that wants to have more Macs but doesn't want to screw up their existing Windows users.  There are currently (as of 10.9.1) issues with Windows file sharing via Mac OS X servers.  Business owners who need to keep supporting PCs in their office might ditch the Mac entirely, but now they don't have to.  You can have the best of both worlds.

Finally, it'll save you a ton of cash.  My current IT system costs 75% less than the previous system.  That money goes straight to the bottom line (profit).  

The next time you walk into wherever it is your server or network lives in your business, if you're even remotely upset or slightly embarrassed by what you see, give me a call.  I can fix it for you.

Where do I get new PCs for my business?

The new PC you're buying may not last as long as you think.

The new PC you're buying may not last as long as you think.

Things got really ugly this year in the PC market, which should have most small business owners concerned.  If you're a business owner and you need new PCs, who do you buy from?  If you don't think this is a big issue, just read the news: Earlier this month Sony announced that it's getting out of the PC business by selling off its VAIO product line. This begs the question: 

  • Will the PCs you buy today be supported by the company who made them next year?  
  • Will that company even be around?  
  • Will the cost of support triple, or in the case of some PC makers like HP and Gateway, will it take weeks to get a service part, putting your employee out of commission until you buy a new PC while you wait for a repair?  
  • Which PC company is a safe bet?  How can you be sure?  

I found a really great solution that business owners love.  It's worked brilliantly in several different businesses, including law firms, art dealers, accounting firms, and in architects' offices.  

First, a couple disclaimers: Neither I or my company sell PCs.  We're not an authorized reseller for anyone. And we don't receive commission or kickbacks from PC makers.  TechRoom is a multi-vendor service-only provider, which means we're experts on Microsoft and Apple Mac.  And we have hundreds of customers carry almost every kind of Windows PC you can imagine into our office, ranging from Dell to HP to Alienware to some of the most ugly generic PC boxes you can imagine folks buy from the techie-Jawas who make a living building those poor things.

I already blogged about the key to the solution a while back.  Here's the link.  The big news back then was that Microsoft officially announced that Apple's Mac OS X is upgradeable to Windows.  Yes, Microsoft says Mac OS X is upgradeable to Windows 7 or even Windows 8.  So what does this mean?

Let's say you're due to replace a bunch of Windows-based computers. Or even one. But with PC makers going belly up, or with the bulk of their service and support personnel being laid off (link to San Jose Mercury News), you're wondering which PC will be reliable in your office.  You also want inexpensive.  The computers might only be needed for administrative work including Microsoft Office, Internet apps, printing and basic network needs.

Enter the Mac Mini.  It's inexpensive at $599.  And it runs Windows.  Assuming you don't want to buy new displays, you don't need to.  The Mac Mini uses standard PC displays and mice and keyboards, so you really don't need to buy any more peripherals.  All you need to do is get a Microsoft license and now your cost of Windows is the upgrade price, not the full price.  

And it gets even better:  You can run Windows 7.  Yes, you can avoid Windows 8 entirely. Try doing this with Dell and you'll end up buying machines you become completely dependent on. The licenses don't move from Dell to Dell.  That means you get stuck with hidden expenses later. With the Mac, you can keep and move your Windows license from Mac to Mac whenever you want, probably for several years.

Now it gets even better.  Let's say you are interested in eventually switching your business to Mac. Or maybe you're hiring employees that are just coming out of school that are used to Mac and never used a PC. Now you don't need to go buy a different computer.  All you need is to reboot and configure it for the new employee.  Nifty, right?

When a business owner asks me if Macs will work in their business, I tell them it's not an all or nothing decision.  You can have both and they can play well together.  The Mac Mini is a great way for businesses getting ready to move offices, or replacing computers, to make a great investment that will pay off in the long run.  And Apple's not going anywhere.  Last time I looked at their market cap, Apple was almost 19X bigger than Dell, and they could buy Dell cash without borrowing a dime, and Apple has almost 7X more cash in the bank than Dell is even worth on paper.

RAND used to be hot.  Times change, and new thinking helps us survive change.

Back to Sony for a second.  A lot of folks who watch stocks claim that Sony's intent to sell off VAIO wasn't a huge surprise.  I find that assertion rather silly if they don't understand the Japanese. Back in the 1990s that Sony continued pushing into the American personal computer market for years, even selling computers at a loss for years just to gain marketshare. But things have changed for the Japanese. In the past two years many Japanese companies did what was necessary to regain profitability when the Japanese Yen, imports and a distraught American economy all hit home, and hard.  The biggest things they did were sell off unprofitable businesses, ranging from TVs, radios, home appliances, and yes... PCs.  Sony's not the first, but they are the biggest.  The hint here is that what the Japanese do is often times a foreshadowing of things to come in the US market.  

How long until your PC maker cuts bait?

Have you been played?

Screen Shot 2014-01-25 at 9.02.39.png

Yesterday I met with a good friend of mine who manages operations for a small professional services company. After catching up on life and family and other personal topics, she shared with me that she's reached a point of frustration with their IT service and she wanted my advice on a problem she's dealing with.

She told me that they have an IT service firm that promised them a low monthly fixed service fee. The IT firm told her that with their 24/7 remote monitoring and unlimited help desk support, their low fixed service contract would help keep IT costs under control. So I asked her how it's working out for her. She explained that she's concerned about their backup system after receiving a call from a tech at the IT provider telling her the backup is full and needs to be replaced now. She said he wanted her to buy a cloud backup service because it's great and it's what they use on all their clients.  This for her was the first warning sign.  She didn't know why, but something felt wrong about the conversation.

She went on to tell me how their service plan works:  The IT company takes unlimited calls when they have problems, and if the problem can't be corrected over the phone, a tech will come out to them at a discounted rate. And phone support sometimes takes a day or longer to complete. I asked her if the charges for on-site service were all she's paying for above and beyond the monthly fee (which happens to be $1000 per month). That's when she became noticeably upset and pulled invoices to share with me charges she doesn't understand for "cloud" and "remote access and monitoring software-as-a-service".  It wasn't the fee- just a little under $500.  It was that she didn't understand it. And the owners of the IT company hadn't paid a visit to her in over a year.

So we sat down for 30 minutes during which I asked her about a dozen questions about her business. As she answered each question I took notes and sketched on my note pad.  At the end I turned the notes around and showed her what her business looked like, where the paid points are - her employees' problems, the waiting time to get them corrected, and the downtime that costs the business billable time - and where the big risks are - that their backup is incomplete and how long it would take to restore their business on the Amazon backup that was pitched to her (3-4 days). When I explained that their Internet connection would have to be increased to make restore faster, she exclaimed "that's what they told me!  They wanted to sell me a bigger Internet connection too!".

On the same sketch I showed her some alternatives that make more sense for their business. From what she shared with me about 90% of their problems are the same problems every month and every quarter, and are only being dealt with at the symptom level.  I suggested that she have two onsite visits of 2-4 hours each per month to get the problems' root causes identified, solutions worked out, and the problems completely resolved.  One networking issue was actually a device in their closet that is known for a particular bug, but the techs had focused on solving the secondary symptom at the user's computer for over 18 months, leaving the cause of the problem like a ticking time bomb until the next panicked call. I also suggested a standard 3-week rotational backup system, including getting their data off-site in case of a complete loss like a fire or theft of the server.  Or worse yet, if the owner's computer fails, it isn't being backed up. She told me that their IT service said he works off the server so he doesn't need to be backed up.  I asked her how long it would take to put a new machine together in a way he likes.  She only responded with a look of combined frustration and understanding.

I shared three red flags with her, as well as the top five things she should expect from an optimal IT service for her business:

  • Be cautious of "fixed fee" promises. Anyone can have a fixed fee by limiting their service. Promises of "low monthly fixed fees" are just marketing gimmicks designed to play on the pain small businesses feel from consultants and other firms that prey on billable hours. It's better to have an agreement to manage the budget to the customer's desired expense, together with a promise to advise them on what additional work or resources are needed, regardless of the budget.  The business owner should have the right and privilege to understand the expense and decide whether or not it's important enough to pay for. This brings me to point #2:
  • Be careful of service plans that market "unlimited" help desk. Help desks are by definition designed to triage symptoms or provide quick fixes. Help desks don't and can't address your system. You should still expect 100% of calls get priority attention.  That's a given, but the call is just a step in the process, but by itself can be ineffective and leave root causes to create a perpetual need for the help desk.  It may seem less expensive (which is where the marketing gimmicks originate) but think of the time you're bleeding out over and over again.
  • Be cautious of reseller models. Most techs and service providers "resell" cloud services. Some examples including Microsoft 365 licensing, Google Apps for Business, and countless others.  Sometimes the bill will say "Software-as-a-Service" or SaaS. It's not that these are bad. Almost all of them are great services.  The problem is that product is like a drug for a tech or IT service provider. All of these services come with about a 20% margin to the service provider. That's a conflict of interests for an IT provider who is supposed to ensure you're always in the right service.  My company, TechRoom, is a Google Apps partner so we can have the tools and support we require to help migrate customers to Google Apps if it's right for them, but we have a standard process of spinning customers off to "direct bill" within the first month following migration.  

The solution for a small business needing their IT system to always be up and running is really simple on the surface, and very difficult to deliver on for the IT provider:

  1. They need to know what's important to the business owner. This usually boils down to "no problems, no downtime".
  2. They need to go onsite consistently (as part of the device) to confirm and make sure things are working and won't stop working.  Is the hard drive getting full?  Are updates applied?  Is anything out of alignment that can be detected before it reaches a crisis?
  3. They need to check in with everyone, employees and owners, regularly.  They are the only ones qualified to tell you if everything is really working or not.  Their perception is reality, regardless of what a tech says the system looks like.
  4. They need to think and do their homework.  For example, the principles of a backup and restore system are always the same, but every customer has a specific set of business requirements. The backup and restore plan must be tailored to the business operating requirements, not a set of products (e.g. cloud) for resale. There are no shortcuts in service.
  5. They need to know the business they're really in.  They call themselves a service provider, but are they really a reseller that happens to deliver products via service and are just confused?

I'm pleased that my company TechRoom will be taking on the responsibility of IT for my friend and her company, and I will be personally responsible to her and her boss to make sure they're satisfied.  If you are looking for more information about how a real IT service can give you more time back and help your business be more profitable, please contact me.  I provide consultations to business owners as a courtesy and I have helped hundreds of small business owners understand how to keep control of their technology and get the results they want.

3 deadly sins small business owners make with their technology

Little missing details can result in a big mess.  Don't let your business suffer from a little mistake like what happened here.

Little missing details can result in a big mess.  Don't let your business suffer from a little mistake like what happened here.

Small business owners are resilient. They are entrepreneurs, and they know that mistakes can be overcome. Part of being in business is working through problems to keep your company going in the right direction. Some mistakes are more difficult to overcome than others, which is why business owners hire trusted advisors.  Your CPA advises you on tax matters to keep you from getting into trouble with the IRS.  Your attorney is there to keep you from getting sued. Your benefits person should have been in touch with you last September to start the process of helping buy you get through one more year before health care reform really does a number on your business.

IT and technology is not any different, but the reality is that over 97% of small business owners treat it differently.  If you aren't aware of the risk to your business, you and your business are in jeopardy and you are probably already paying a price in lost profits every day.  I picked the top three deadly sins I see almost weekly as I meet with business owners about their business and technology:

Small Business Deadly Sin #1: A "Break/Fix" mentality:

If you ask any small business owner if they prefer to be reactive or proactive, they'll almost always tell you proactive. But small business IT is anything but proactive for the majority of small businesses. 

Think about this question for a moment: When do you need an IT person? 

The answer that just went through your head was probably: When something doesn't work.

Now take that mentality and apply it to your car. Would you drive it without service until the engine light turns on? Get ready to pay thousands for what could have been a routine oil change.  How about waiting for the police officer that pulls you over to advise you that you haven't paid your registration? You can always take the five minutes to pay it after you pick up your car from the impound for several hundred dollars (plus a cab ride if you're in Costa Mesa). Last week I worked with another business that didn't even know what domains names they owned, and it only became a priority when their main domain was cancelled due to non-payment and their email system shut down.  They called me after their IT guy said "it's an accounting issue".  It was like having the entire business IT system impounded for two days.

Small Business Deadly Sin #2: Abdicating your backup

So you think you are backing up?

I hear the same horror stories every day because I operate a repair business: A business owner discovered that there was something he wasn't told by their consultant or IT person that they should have known, and now they are down for days, sometimes even weeks, or worse if the data is unrecoverable.  Most business owners are never told (and don't necessarily know to ask):

  • Why you need to backup every computer, not just the server
  • Why Apple's time machine isn't a backup
  • How to back up an iPhone, including all the data and the organization of apps on the home screen (iTunes doesn't do it)
  • Why automated backups fail and what you have to lose
  • How long will it take to restore when you really need it?

At a certain point the single most important part of your IT system must be entrusted to and reviewed by a professional who is trained, certified and experienced in backup management.  I remember my backup management certification training; I learned that most if not all technicians are doing it wrong, and most business owners who think they are safe are operating without all the information they need.

Small Business Deadly Sin #3: Underestimating the cost of switching

Switching to a new technology is easy, right?  Just go buy the new device, purchase the app, or subscribe to the new service. That's easy. But what if it doesn't work?  When you're a sole practitioner you can experiment on yourself and know your limits of patience and time.  But when you're operating a business of 5 or more people, the consequences of a messy switch are severe.  

I met a small law firm recently that switched to Microsoft 365 on a recommendation by a friend at another firm.  Easy enough, right?  Just buy the cloud subscription and start using it.  Six months later they were trying to use Apple Macs in their office, and they discovered that Microsoft 365 isn't quite Mac friendly. Now they're trying to switch to Box and finding that the six months of energy organically expended to set up their structure in Microsoft's platform could take even longer and at more expense to move to a different platform.  

The real cost? By my estimates the firm lost about 20% of their billable time during the day.  If they made it up, it was at the expense of a lot of hours of time - frustrated time - trying to get things done in a system without a planned structure and without training.  

When switching, it's critical to consider:

  • The real cost of switching into a new device, application, system or any technology
  • How to reduce the complexity of your IT system, not bolting something on and increasing it's complexity
  • A plan to stay free from entrapment by a vendor's technology, what I call Switchability™
  • The return on investment you expect: How will switching to the new technology bring more time back to you, and put more dollars back into your pocket

The Solution: How to prevent yourself from making a deadly mistake with your small business  

Every aspect of technology, from the registrations and subscriptions, to the careful balance of versions of your software that work together, to the age and integrity of your network all need to be reviewed, understood, documented and managed proactively.  Business owners typically shop for an IT service based on what they know, not what they don't.  

So they hire based on one of two things:  Either cost, or slick marketing. Promises of "fixed fees" cater to business owners who are tired of reactive "break/fix" service that also comes with lots of billable hours, only to discover that with fixed fee, you get what you pay for, which usually means absentee service without the hands-on management and advice you need on a part-time basis for your business.   

The key is establishing a budget, knowing everything you need to know, and then carefully managing within that budget.  That's it.  There's no slick marketing, no gimmicky promises that take advantage of your worst fears. I have been serving business owners' needs for nearly two decades, and I understand a business owner's needs.  I'm a business owner myself.   If you're interested in how I can help you run your business more effectively with part-time IT management and service, contact me here.

Baking Betty's

One of my favorite things about working with the TechRoom team are our customers.  They're just great.  It's not just luck, either.  Years ago I made up my mind that TechRoom was going to focus on a certain kind of customer: Someone who believes in working hard, having fun, making a difference, and treating other people the way they want to be treated, and always with kindness. I've kept us focused on forward-leaning, professional and passionate people who we want to help and love serving.

Then there are the cookies.  

We didn't expect it, but when Emily Osterberg, founder of Baking Betty's walked in to TechRoom this morning to pick up her computer, she placed a beautiful robin egg blue box wrapped in a gorgeous red ribbon (perfectly tied, I should add) on our reception desk.

The box felt substantial, something told me it had extra goodness inside. I opened it and my jaw dropped.

Thank goodness I went on my run this morning.

These cookies are simply amazing.  Check out at the art that Emily creates here (links to Baking Betty's website).  I'm holding an M&M cookie in my hand that is the most amazing thing I've seen with M&Ms.

The TechRoom team send a big thank you to Emily!  We're glad we had the chance to serve you, and we now know where to send everyone and anyone who wants an amazing cookie and incredible dessert!

I was blown away by the love and care that went into this.  And look at cookie #3 from the front- yes, those are peanut butter cups.

I was blown away by the love and care that went into this.  And look at cookie #3 from the front- yes, those are peanut butter cups.

How much I.T. tax did you pay in 2013?

Gifts to Charity are only good when they're voluntary.

Gifts to Charity are only good when they're voluntary.

It's that time of year again when we turn our attention to taxes. There are two kinds of taxes, the ones you know about, and the ones you don't.  You know about your income tax and sales tax. Then there are those sneaky taxes you find after the fact, like when you pay for your car registration. Those line items don't make sense unless you're a CPA, and even then I have yet to meet a CPA who can explain what they all are.

There are invisible taxes you're paying in your business too. Having worked with over a thousand small business owners, I have learned that over 97% of business owners are unaware of these hidden taxes, they don't know that they are mostly voluntary, and they have not been informed by their CFO, CPA or other trusted advisor to really look hard at whether or not they want to keep paying the tax in 2014.

This invisible tax is I.T. tax, and like government taxes, they come in two ways: You either know you're paying them or you don't. I have worked with two businesses recently that are good examples of both:

One business owner runs a successful architecture firm. He has about ten employees and a good niche in industry. He pays about $1000 each month to his I.T. service provider, and outside consulting firm. When he has a problem they call it in and wait for a response from a help desk, someone who's never been at the customer site, doesn't understand the customer's business, and has only one direction on how to prioritize issues: First in, first out. It's been over 12 months since anyone visited the customer at the business. When an onsite does occur, they get a supplemental fee, albeit marketed "at a discount".

Another business owner runs a successful legal practice. He has attorneys that thrive on efficiency and truly care for their customers. As far as visits from his I.T. service provider, he has the opposite problem: They are at the customer's office putting out fires every day. The firm has a relatively new server and decent computers, but nothing seems to work consistently. And the bills for all the service keep coming, "per the agreement."

In both cases, there are two kinds of fees to the customer: The obvious fees, and the not so obvious. The first customer shared with me that they don't see any value in what they're paying for.  He explains, "it feels like insurance, and I still have to pay a 100% deductible every time someone comes out here". Things are much, much worse for the second customer. Not only is he paying for monthly service, but the additional charges add up to several thousand dollars over the year. He feels equally bad about the value received.  All he wants is for things to work.

How much did you overpay in I.T. taxes last year? Are you prepared to do the same in 2014?

How much did you overpay in I.T. taxes last year? Are you prepared to do the same in 2014?

Then there are the hidden fees. What does one hour of service from your I.T. firm really cost? In both customer cases, thousands of dollars per hour.  Think about it: In a situation where the system is down, you have billable employees, architects or attorneys, who you pay hourly at a very good rate, unable to bill your clients at your firm's rates. For five attorneys, that's approximately $1500 lost per hour.

Do you run a business between 5 and 25 employees? Is your I.T. service provider just a charitable cause that you pay to each month, or do you feel like you wish you could be refunded for much of what you've paid?  If you're not completely satisfied, it's because you need a non-traditional service plan. No shortcuts. No managed service provider marketing.  Just pure and simple management of your technology, aligning it to your business and keeping it available so you can be profitable and have more time back to you. If you're interested in learning more, contact me here for more information.

Digital babies

We all want friction-free™ service that saves time.

We all want friction-free™ service that saves time.

A good friend and customer, as well as fellow Provisor member called into TechRoom just a few months after service.  He had some issues with his 27" iMac and wanted to know if he should bring it in to TechRoom again. I could hear the hesitation in his voice. When he and I last talked we had a great conversation about how the Apple Store experience is really awesome with maybe one exception: Transporting your desktop computer in to the mall.  I've always seen my job as trying to engineer a solution for my customer, and if the Apple Store can help more people like me when I need them for a business matter or to answer questions for the myriads of friends who are interested in Macs, I'm going to go all out to help the GB (Genius Bar) by designing services that complement what they're all about. So I gave my friend Tom an option he didn't expect. More on that below.

The issue with transporting your computer?  It doesn't matter if it's a desktop or notebook, but desktops are worse.  It's more than just unplugging the machine. Think about all the reasons why it's a not-fun experience: What if you have a huge desk that's hard to move?  With cables hidden that could fall behind and require movers to get out? How many people even want to know about which cable goes into what plug? How do I transport it safely? What if I scratch it? Is my data safe if there's an accident.  How do I know everything really works until it's back and completely re-installed onto my network. What if you didn't need to be without your machine for a day or more?  Wouldn't it be nice to just get a professional attention on the issue on your terms, at your convenience?

I've been working closely with my team to make TechRoom service friction-free™.  That means we're thinking about each stage of the customer experience, from the very moment they notice they need service.  This means that we need to think about what our customer is doing before they even pick up the phone to call us.  Some really cool things can come out of this kind of thinking and intention.  The majority of our 27" iMac customers can get service without needing to bring their computers in to us. Some options we now have for any customer (for both Apple Macs and PCs) include:

  • Remote Quick-Fix™.  We can address any problem, including third party software and Internet service issues like email configuration (even in Outlook- gasp). You name it. So many problems can be resolved in a few minutes with the right attention. Best of all, if we identify a problem that requires hands-on service, the $50 fee applies to your carry-in diagnostic within one week if its for the same issue. It's a win-win-win for our customer.
  • TechRoom Transporter™. We are so spoiled in Orange County. We don't have the artery-clogging traffic that's pandemic in Los Angeles. So we tend to drive everywhere.  But could you do something better than drive a couple hours for one errand?  How about having a technician pick up your computer, meticulously noting and diagramming the connections and taking steps proactively to prepare for the computer's return and reconnection, so you don't have to?  It's a professional technical courier that would make Jason Statham nod in approval.
  • AppleCare On-Site.  It still blows my mind that not everyone in the world knows that Apple provides on-site coverage for many issues. When Apple provides labor coverage, we reduce our fees accordingly. One CEO in San Clemente has enjoyed watching in own TechRoom technician repair his MacBook Air Ultimate, right in his office while he works.  No travel, minimal downtime.  And an amazing opportunity to test everything out right when we're done: All devices, iPad, iPhone, bluetooth keyboard and magic trackpad, wifi, you name it.

We're still coming up with some great new ideas for 2014.  One of my team mates said it best when she said, "These aren't just computers, people are bringing in their digital babies to us." I think about that all the time now. I hope some of the options above can save you or a friend or colleague a few hours this year.  

If you need service, call us at (949) 706-5852 or email Or if you refer someone, please let me know.

Happy 2014!