Vol. 23, #31 - August 13, 2018 - Issue #1193
WServerNews: Making money supporting small businesses
- Editor's Corner
- Interview with Craig Hollins
- Craig's bonus tip: Constantly touch your customers
- About Craig Hollins
- What are your thoughts on this topic?
- Tip of the Week
- What's my product key?
- Admin Toolbox
- Admin Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without
- Ask Our Readers - Office 365 client crashes sending large attachments (new question)
- Ask Our Readers - What can replace email now that GDPR is a reality? (some responses)
- Why do some people throw away old PCs instead of recycling them?
- Conference calendar
- North America
- New on Techgenix.com
- Shadow IT is not that scary after all: Here's 6 reasons not to be afraid
- Crucial lessons for the IT world from recent data breaches
- Your business-first guide to differentiating artificial intelligence and machine learning
- Industrial revolution: IoT is changing supply chain management forever
- Avoid traffic jams with Microsoft's Windows Server QoS Policy
- Fun videos from Flixxy
- Watch A Huge Cargo Plane Doing A Loop
- Virgin Galactic Space Plane Reaches New Heights
- Danny Cole's Levitation Magic Trick Fools Penn And Teller
- Five Guys Perform Michael Jackson's 'Billie Jean' With Bottles
- More articles of interest
- How to save DevOps from cargo cult programming
- Don't let Kubernetes services stall a multi-cloud strategy
- DevOps shops weigh risks of Microsoft-GitHub acquisition
- Unpacking the event-driven microservices approach
- Need help from the IT pro community?
- Ask Our Readers
- Send us your feedback!
- WServerNews - Product of the Week
- Free Tool for Monitoring Exchange Server Status & Performance
- SAVE THIS NEWSLETTER so you can refer back to it later for helpful tips, tools and resources!
- SEND YOUR FEEDBACK to [email protected] if you have any comments or suggestions!
A significant percentage of our WServerNews readership either own or work for companies that provide IT support for small businesses. Being a small business owner myself and having dabbled in the past in this area, I can relate well to the unique challenges one has to deal with when you're a small business yourself and deal with the IT needs of multiple small business customers.
A while back I did an interview with Craig Hollins who has worked extensively in this field, and a couple of months ago I published the interview on our TechGenix website. This week in WServerNews I'm reproducing Craig's interview in its entirety together an some additional tip he sent me so those of you who provide IT support for small businesses can benefit from Craig's hard-earned wisdom. I'm hoping too that some of you readers can offer suggestions of your own on how companies of one or only a few IT professionals who do IT for small businesses can keep earning revenue in a market where clients can be difficult and technologies frequently change.
Be sure also to check out the new Ask Our Readers item found later in our newsletter and send us any suggestions you may have for the reader who submitted his question. And read all the rest of this issue of WServerNews too!
Now for the interview…
Interview with Craig Hollins
Mitch: Craig, I understand your company is the sort of "everything IT" company that is typical of ones that offer small business IT support. How have the kinds of services you provide for small businesses changed over the last five years?
Craig: The basics of what we do hasn't changed. We still have users that can't configure their email, data that has to be backed up, equipment that breaks down or needs to be replaced. The primary focus of my IT career has always been service and support. Shifting boxes became unprofitable in the 1990s but it's still something we do because that's how you get the service part.
Of course, we have seen lots of customers move to the cloud -- and some move back. Internet connections in Australia have always been challenging and only just now are we seeing our clients getting services better than ADSL [asymmetric digital subscriber lines]. This has enabled us to add managed phone systems to our portfolio with confidence that the Internet connection isn't going to give us call-quality issues.
Mitch: I know a number of IT pros who have found it difficult to adjust to the changes that have happened in small business IT support because of the growing dominance of the cloud. How did your own company deal with these changes?
Craig: As I mentioned earlier, cloud-based customers still need support. For us, the focus has changed from maintaining server racks to helping users as the primary service. Being a small company we can offer a personal service where you can nearly always speak to the technician that helped you last time. That builds the relationship with the customer and, provided you keep them running, they are unlikely to go elsewhere.
Mitch: You've told me that your No. 1 key to success as a small business IT support company is recurring revenue. Can you explain what you mean?
Craig: Every small business will, at some time in their existence, have cash-flow problems. When you are project-based your revenue is "lumpy" and unpredictable, especially when you're small. Our goal has always been to have a consistent base revenue stream and the project work is the cream on top. Even if we get zero projects in a month we'll still make money.
This works for the customer as well. They are also small businesses and have exactly the same issues we have when it comes to cash flow. They don't like bills of any nature but, if they get a server crash and they're faced with a large unbudgeted expense just to keep their business going, it's a lot worse. For them, it's better to be able to budget exactly for the future, even if it means they pay a little more.
What types of revenue? We really aren't fussy. We have hosting for phones, email, websites, and spam filtering. We sell monitored antivirus by the seat by the month. We have even gone down the road of Hardware as a Service whereby we buy the computers, put them in, and rent them to the customer. And of course, there is the usual managed services and regular maintenance topping it up.
My biggest fear in running a business is paying the staff, the utilities, and the rent, in that order. I always try and make sure we have enough recurring billing to cover those items at a minimum. Once that's done I can worry about running the business, not just where the next deal is coming from.
Mitch: Before the cloud upended many traditional small business IT models, what forms of recurring revenue could your company count from your customers?
Craig: Recurring revenue comes from many services and that number is growing. We have spam filtering, managed antivirus, managed services, website hosting, Internet domain management, DNS hosting, hardware rental, regular maintenance, and good old-fashioned end-user support. None of these are reliant on the cloud.
Mitch: What new types of recurring revenue were you able to tap into to maintain and grow your small business IT support services in the face of such rapid change?
Craig: One of the things I used to hate before the cloud was licensing. No vendor has ever made licensing applications easy for the small reseller. For example, the time it took to license 10 seats of antivirus for a year was exactly the same as 100 and the end user couldn't understand why you wanted to charge them an hour labor just to update the license key on their server. Now we don't do any of that -- we don't even sell the renewal. Cloud-based licensing has eliminated the need to quote and sell AV renewal every year --- now it happens month by month and nobody bats an eyelid.
Our biggest growth in cloud-based recurring revenue? Backups, pure and simple. Our challenge here is finding backup software vendors that support cloud backups that aren't to their locations. Most want to bundle their cloud storage services with their software but our clients aren't interested in having their data stored in an unknown location, especially if it's out of the country. Sometimes you like the software but not the cloud and other times vice versa.
Our solution has been to offer cloud backups to our server room. Our marginal cost is small, the software is off the shelf (ShadowProtect with ImageManager) and it ticks all the boxes. What's more, we make the money providing the storage, not the cloud vendor. In the event of a disaster, we're not trying to download hundreds of gigabytes of data to do a recovery -- or use the backup provider's cloud recovery services.
Mitch: Do you think there will be more changes in the years ahead? Are you looking at any potential new sources of recurring revenue from small business IT support?
Craig: I think the basics have remained the same. Small business owners want a relationship with their support provider and are relying more and more on them for services and support. They want to know that they are protected from disasters, maintenance is done when required, and prompt help is available when required. I don't see that changing any time soon.
Mitch: What advice would you give to IT pros struggling to keep their small business IT support services going?
Craig: Standardize on as much as you can. All of our customers use the same antivirus software, same backup software and the old Windows/Office combination. We try to standardize on the desktops, printers, routers, and other components as much as we can too. Every bit of tech has its quirks and workarounds -- by standardizing we're reducing the time it takes to troubleshoot problems, which, especially for our fixed price customers, lowers our costs.
Customers also need to understand that we sell time and if they ask us to fix something, sometimes it takes longer than expected or there is more to the job than we were led to believe at the quote. I've seen many IT providers reduce their bill to keep the customer happy -- repeatedly doing it for the same customer after almost every job. This is nothing less than transferring your profit to the customer due to circumstances beyond your control. When I have a customer complain about the bill I immediately start talking about fixed-price support or managed services.
Remember the basics. Good, prompt and reliable service will keep customers happy every time.
Mitch: Anything else you want to add about yourself or your company for our readers?
Craig: We've focused on the micro-clients -- no more than about 25 or so seats. Most of the competition doesn't see them as desirable clients, which means we have less competition. Also, our business is a similar size so there's a sense of "they understand us" -- we have the same challenge in our business that our customers do so we can advise them with a bit more credibility.
The other advantage of micro-clients is your skill set can be flat. You don't need enterprise architects, DBAs, WAN specialists, and the assortment of other disciplines required when servicing the larger clients. Most of the networks are simple and you rarely get problems beyond a Level 2 tech. Finally, if you standardize your configuration, then every tech has the skills to work on every client site. On the odd occasion that we do need skills we don't have in-house, we have a network of higher support who we can call in for piecework.
Mitch: Thanks very much for giving us some of your valuable time!
Craig: More than welcome, Mitch.
Craig's bonus tip: Constantly touch your customers
Craig: One point I didn't make was the need to constantly "touch" customers. Too often we have break fix customers that we only hear from when something is broken and it can be months between contacts. They are tiny so it's not economical to have a salesperson call on the off chance there's going to be an order.
However if you're invoicing the mum and dad small businesses every month your name is constantly in their face. It makes them more aware of their IT and they are more likely to contact you. That's why I have a goal that nearly all my customers go onto monthly invoicing for something, even if it's just $20 for antivirus.
I haven't done the data plotting but I'll bet if I was to plot the amount of extra business we get from monthly billed customers against annual billed it would be significant. One of those little exercises I'll play with one day.
About Craig Hollins
Craig Hollins is the business manager at PPS, a small MSP operating out of Perth, Australia. He has been working in IT for more than 25 years, the last dozen or so as an owner of two small IT firms. While he has accounts at LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, et al., you won't find much activity on there. He's not a social media junkie, preferring personal communication to the broadcast. In his off time, he likes exploring the remote Australian Outback and riding motorbikes.
You can also read my interview with Craig on our TechGenix website:
What are your thoughts on this topic?
If you provide IT support for small businesses how do you keep the money flowing in? Email your suggestions to us at [email protected] so other readers can benefit
Got any IT pro tips you'd like to share with other readers of our newsletter? Email us at [email protected]
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This new question by Albert from Ontario, Canada refers back to one of the Editor's Corner items in last week's newsletter on Office 365:
Hi Mitch, emailing here from sunny Port Elgin, ON on the shores of Lake Huron...lovely in the summer but a snow dump in the winter (which my wife complains about bitterly :-)
Regarding Office 365, a client of mine has had real problems since migrating to O365 because they send a lot of emails with large attachments. The Outlook client just plain crashes if the user tries to do something after pressing "send" on an email with a large attachment or if they see something come into their box and the attachment is not yet fully downloaded, they also crash.
Microsoft has said that they are throttling the overall tenant to 10Mb and that this is the cause of the problem (no resolution after a dozen calls). They said this "might change" in the future. The customer is now considering to move their email back in-house (it was on Domino before) to an Exchange server.
So...noticing the article on O365 throttling on send queues, I looked through that blog but could not find anything on general throttling for the tenant as a whole and if there are any settings built in that could be changed (most likely if anything, something not exposed through the O365 admin UI).
Anyone else have this problem and were they successful getting past it?
Can any readers help Albert with his problem? Email us at [email protected]
We recently shared the following question a reader named Robert who is the IT Manager for a chartered accounting company in the UK:
For anyone not serving customers who are citizens of the EU you might have missed the significance for us of the new GDPR regulations. For those of us dealing with confidential or sensitive information (like what people earn, their tax arrangements or their accounts) using email as a way of doing business and conversing with clients is no longer an allowable option. Admittedly, it's never been a secure option for this sort of thing, but the clients like it, and are complaining bitterly that we're ignoring them by trying to send queries and requests (as well as accounts and tax returns) by a secure Portal or encrypted attachments to email.
We really need a way of chatting with clients, like email, or SMS, or 'WhatsApp'. But email is insecure, and SMS and WhatsApp don't 'capture' the conversation in a way that we can file it into our DMS. We have to keep records of all such 'conversations'. And most of the senior people and the clients want to do everything on their phone, but have a full trail of it somewhere else where they can get someone more junior to file it later.
Encrypted email is pretty horrible, never works across all devices, and there is no point filing it into a DMS as when you need it in a couple of years time the encryption key won't be available. Skype for Business almost does it, it has an IM system that is automatically recorded into our Outlook Mailboxes from where we can file it, but if the message isn't read quickly enough it re-sends it as an email, so that counts it out. There is loads of 'collaboration' software out there, but none of it seems to let all your clients join in, just your colleagues.
Is there anything like email, or like any IM system, that you can use to chat to anyone, across devices, not worry about passwords once you've logged in as it is end to end encrypted, but easy/possible to file it away when finished?
In looking for a solution Robert himself came up with the following possibility:
Hi Mitch, I may have found a sort of solution. Microsoft 'Teams' has now added the functionality to include 'external users'. Unfortunately they seem to have stopped the automatic saving of conversations to 'Conversation History', from where we could easily file them, but there are third party backup systems available that might make it 'saveable'. Or can copy and paste the conversation (rather clunky!). So it's promising, not ideal, but the best so far.
Another reader named Peter came up with this suggestion for Robert:
Might be worth Robert looking at Egress:
I stumbled across this being used by a local UK organization supporting vulnerable children so the data was very confidential.
See "Egress GDPR-in-a-box: a comprehensive GDPR compliance solution for your email system" at:
Unfortunately I have no personal experience of evaluating and configuring the egress products.
If any of our other EU readers have suggestions for Robert please send them to us at [email protected]
Last week's factoid and question was this:
Fact: Microsoft seems to be rebranding Office 365 as Microsoft 365.
Question: Does this kind of rebranding bug you? More importantly, does rebranding help drive sales of a product or does it merely confuse and alienate customers?
No one responded to this one, maybe because none of our readers knows what "Microsoft 365" actually is :-P
Before we move on however, we did receive one additional response from Frank in Germany to my earlier question about what the best online translation site is:
Hi Mitch, there is a relatively small German startup that has an exceptional online translator:
Try pasting foreign texts into the window and see a really good, human readable output. And since last week you can drag and drop Word or PowerPoint documents into the form and get a translated version back…very handy!
OK let's try it out! "Ode to Joy" is a poem written in 1785 by German playwright Friedrich Schiller and used by Beethoven as the lyrics for the last movement of his ninth symphony. Now translating poetry is difficult even for humans, but let's see anyhow what Google, Microsoft, and Deepl can do with it:
Original text in German:
Freude, arden r Götterfunken, Tochter aus Elysium! Wir betretenfeuertrunken, Himmlische, Dein Heiligtum. Deine Zauber bindenwieder, Was die Mode strenggeteilt, Alle Menschen arden Brüder, Wo Dein sanfter Flügel weilt.
English translation by Google Translate:
Joy, beautiful spark of the gods, Daughter of Elysium! We enter fire-drowned, Heavenly, Your sanctuary. Your spells bind again, What the fashion strictly divided, All men become brothers, Where your gentle wing dwells.
English translation by Microsoft Translator
Joy, Beautiful Gods Spark, daughter of Elysium! We enter fire drunk, Heavenly, your sanctuary. Your magic binds again, what the fashion is strictly divided, all people become brothers, where your gentle wing is.
English translation by Deepl:
Joy, beautiful sparks of the gods, daughter of Elysium! We enter Your sanctuary, heavenly ones, drunk with fire. Your spells bind again, What strictly divides fashion, All men become brothers, Where your gentle wing dwells.
The result? I actually think Deepl may have done the best job translating this German text into English. Was denkenandere Leser? Email an [email protected] danke!
Now let's move on to this week's factoid:
Fact: Most people in Brazil find it easier to throw away old PC hardware than to recycle it.
Source: The following story was sent to us by Howard from Brazil:
"When I arrived in Brazil in 1999, I started working in a shop downtown to keep busy doing something until I could establish my brand here. The shop did recycling and reselling old unwanted stuff. I walked in the door, made a deal with the owner to take all the computers in pieces I could find and make working units the store could sell back to the public. In that time, there were lots of old 386s which I was very familiar with, and I learned allot of about the brands and equipment sold here. I had a good time! I had a brilliant idea (or so I thought). I stuck free ads in different international online forums (including AOL, etc.) and garage sale list advertising that I would take all your old computer related throwaways and make them working again and donate them to charity and schools. At this time, computers were too expensive for the schools here and they'd be happy to receive them. I would also be developing my reputation and brand as the Computer Doctor. I never got a single response. I concluded people did not care, it's too easy to throw away and buy new without thinking of the consequences or helping others."
Question: Why do you think people act this way?
Email your answer to [email protected]
>> Got an IT conference happening in North America that you'd like to promote in our newsletter? Email us at [email protected]
SharePoint Fest -- Aug 20-24 in Seattle, Washington USA
VMworld -- Aug 26-30 in Las Vegas, Nevada USA
Microsoft Ignite -- September 24-28, 2018 in Orlando, Florida USA
IT/Dev Connections -- Oct 15-18 in Dallas, Texas USA
>> Got an IT conference happening in North America that you'd like to promote in our newsletter? Email us at [email protected]
VMworld Europe -- Nov 5-8 in Barcelona, Spain
Cybersecurity Leadership Summit -- Nov 12-14 in Berlin, Germany
European SharePoint, Office 365 & Azure Conference -- Nov 26-29 in Copenhagen, Denmark
>> Got an IT conference happening in Australia or Asia that you'd like to promote in our newsletter? Email us at [email protected]
No conferences listed at present.
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Crucial lessons for the IT world from recent data breaches
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WServerNews goes out each week to more than 500,000 IT pro subscribers worldwide! That's a lot of expertise to tap into. Do you need help with some technical problem or are looking for expert advice on something IT-related? Ask Our Readers by emailing your problems and/or questions to us at [email protected]
>> Got feedback about anything in this issue of WServerNews? Email us at [email protected]
Free Tool for Monitoring Exchange Server Status & Performance
WServerNews - Editors
Mitch Tulloch is Senior Editor of WServerNews and is a widely recognized expert on Windows administration, deployment and virtualization. Mitch was lead author of the bestselling Windows 7www.mtit.com.Resource Kit and has been author or series editor for almost fifty books mostly published by Microsoft Press. Mitch is also a ten-time recipient of Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional (MVP) award for his outstanding contributions in support of the global IT pro community. Mitch owns and runs an information technology content development business based in Winnipeg, Canada. For more information see
Ingrid Tulloch is Associate Editor of WServerNews and was co-author of the Microsoft Encyclopedia of Networking from Microsoft Press. Ingrid is also manages research and marketing for our content development business and has co-developed university-level courses in Information Security Management for a Masters of Business Administration program.