SMB Nation Blog

SMB Nation has been serving the Bainbridge Island area since 2001, providing IT Support such as technical helpdesk support, computer support, and consulting to small and medium-sized businesses.

Onward and Upward – Jamison West’s New Gig

Over the past few months, I’ve teased you with forthcoming changes in the world of Jamison West. He essentially divested

his MSP practice business interests, sold his Seattle home into a strong market and moved to Las Vegas with his family (pictured). It would jamisonbe easy to assume it was the record setting monsoon season in Seattle that caused his move to fun and sun but it’s more than that.

So it’s time to let the cat out of the bag. What’s the story with Jamison? With life changes afoot, West is the new CEO for Teamatics. It’s kinda like Myers-Briggs meets Slack. To level set, Microsoft Teams is the competitor to the wildly popular Slack. It represents Microsoft’s latest endeavor into the malleable world of collaboration (following similar positioning with Yammer, SharePoint, Skype messaging and so on). Slack largely created the latest generation of collaboration with what started as a IM tool for gamer developers and was validated but serving as a rapid development environment for the reboot of the Healthcare.gov web site. I view Slack as an internal email replacement to keep my Inbox free. I’m using Microsoft Teams as well but it feels more like a document storage corpus to me (say SharePoint Jr.). Admittedly I’ve only been using Microsoft Teams for five months and it only recently was officially released so the Microsoft Teams journey continues.

West is leveraging Microsoft Teams as a “new platform for developing human capital and improving team performance.” His firm Teamatics strikes me as one part Myers-Briggs, one part peer group/living theology and one part technology. I’d first and foremost define this as a services business, not a product line. West’s calling is and has been for some time to help others ad this new venture allows for that.

Of the launch, West said, “In my 20-plus years of managing teams and leaders of teams I’ve struggled to find a simple, accurate way to ensure talents are aligned to objectives and that the team is aligned with each other and to the culture of my company. I am thrilled to be part of a new team that has done incredible work to solve that problem.”

I’ll continue to monitor this startup.

UPDATED: Let me know if you thing we should weave Jamison into the fabirc of our upcoming six-part MSP Tech Talk series? He is a frequent speaker in the SMB MSP channel partner community. Hmmm...

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8 Success Tips for First-Time Entrepreneurs

Starting a business for the first time can be tricky, but it’s not impossible. Follow these sage advice tips to keep your head above water in the beginning stages.

By: Matt Knee Founder and President of MyNewCompany.com

Starting a new business for the very first time can be intimidating. As a first-time entrepreneur, your nerves may be wracked and you’re diving into a bit of the Welcome to Entrepreneurshipunknown. The good news is that overcoming some of the challenges that come along with first-time entrepreneurship can be extremely rewarding and satisfying. There is more advice for first-time entrepreneurs than there are hours in the day, so I’ve gathered some of the best I’ve heard over the years and distilled them down to the 8 best success tips for first-time entrepreneurs.

Drill down to the minimum viable product (MVP)
One of the biggest areas where first-time entrepreneurs fail is in failing to launch. They spend so much time perfecting an idea that it never actually gets off the ground or offered for sale. With an MVP, you identify the core problem people are trying to solve and build a problem around just that - no bells and whistles. If you can effectively solve the problem, you can launch and gather information and insights from customers as you go. From there, you can focus on iterating new versions of the MVP and adding on only what customers have expressed they need. It saves time, money and a lot of heartache.

2. Provide Top-Tier Customer Service
This one goes hand-in-hand with #1. An MVP should be tightly coupled with great customer service, which is where you’ll garner the most insights and provide a lot of value. You don’t need a perfect product, but you do need customer support staff available to make your customers feel valued and to address any issues that arise. People form relationships with people, not products. By making your brand shine with great people, you will have positive feelings attached to the product you sell. From there come positive reviews/testimonials and great referrals.

3. Find Great Employees
A company is only as good as the people that make it run. A bad hire can really throw a wrench in the works and make it more difficult for even the best employees to do their jobs. Do your due diligence in researching prospective hires and ensuring that they have the appropriate background and experience. Culture fit is also an important consideration. People who jive well together produce the best results because they’re happy at work. A negative employee can be like a cancer that eats away at the spirits of the rest of the team. If you make a bad hire, don’t be afraid to make tough decisions to make things right.

4. Don’t Skimp on Marketing
As a first-time entrepreneur, it’s easy to get lost in the weeds of ensuring your product is perfect, that customers are happy and that business operations are running smoothly. All those are essential parts of running a successful business, but marketing is, too. You may have the best product the world has ever seen, but if the world never actually sees it, your business will fail. Whether you work with an agency or choose to do marketing in-house, it needs to exist to get your product in front of the right eyes at the right time and increase sales.

5. Keep Finances in Check
This is perhaps the #1 area where first-time entrepreneurs fail. Running a business requires money, and if you aren’t managing yours well, your business is at risk. You need to stay on top of your income and expenses to ensure that you’re not going to run out of cash. By keeping a close eye on the balance sheet, you can adjust spending as needed and keep overhead as low as possible. Being frugal isn’t a bad thing; unnecessary expenses should be avoided. Once you’ve established the business to a point where you see meaningful revenue, you can adjust spending accordingly. Until then, keep costs as low as possible and monitor what is happening with cash flow.

6. Be Open to Advice
Being a first-time entrepreneur is hard enough, but trying to do it solo can be disheartening. Whether you’re in business with a partner or going it alone, you don’t have to isolate. Talk to other entrepreneurs about your venture and be open to receiving advice. Take what you like and leave the rest behind.


7. Get Enough Sleep
It may sounds trite but getting enough sleep is extremely important for first-time entrepreneurs. Studies show that poor sleep quality is connected to reduced grey matter volume in the brain’s frontal lobe - the area that helps control executive function and working memory. In laymen’s terms? Your work quality and ability to be mentally alert suffer when you aren’t well-rested. Get the right amount of shut-eye, even if it seems like there’s no time. The trade-off for working one extra hour vs. getting an extra hour of sleep may be greater than you think.

8. Know Your Competition
Another great pitfall for first-time entrepreneurs is being so self-focused that they forget to look at who their competitors are and what they’re doing. If you haven’t already (and hopefully you have), complete market research on competitive products to establish what sets you apart. When you start doing marketing, these are the bullet points on which you’ll want to focus. Set up Google Alerts to monitor what is happening in your industry and what moves competitors are making. Keep your customers close, and your competitors closer.

Following the tips above can provide some peace-of-mind and help you elevate your new business to the next level. Before you know it, you’ll be a seasoned entrepreneur, sharing your own sage advice with people new to the game.


Matt Knee is Founder and President of MyNewCompany.com. MyNewCompany.com, started in 2001, makes starting and running a business simple, fast, and inexpensive for entrepreneurs and their advisors. They offer complete incorporation and LLC formation packages. To date, they have started over 50,000 companies in all 50 states.

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IT Tips: How Small Businesses can Maintain a Healthy Network

mall business owners have a lot of responsibility. Between daily operations and managing employees, it’s hard to imagine having time to worry about your network connect. But with so many cloud-based applications currently helping small businesses run, the health of their network remains one of the most important aspects of day-to-day functionality.

Keeping ahead of major problems can keep a business from losing out on revenue and taking a hit to their Healthy Networkreputation. But, understandably, most small businesses don’t have an IT department on hand. The fate of the network rests on the shoulders of the less technologically savvy, and sometimes, gets forgotten about until it's too late and there is already a problem.

Want to avoid issues with your network? We spoke to some IT managers to come up with five important steps you can take to protecting and troubleshooting your network.

Invest in a Network Monitoring Solution

If there’s one huge step you can take to track what’s happening on your network, this is it. Researching and investing in a monitoring solution that fits your needs will set you up for success. When you’re considering your options, you want to make sure you choose a program that provides ease of use, has the ability to grow as your company does, and a team that provides exceptional customer service. Having a team behind the program that’s willing to offer training and insight when needed is an added bonus. Don’t invest in the first program you stumble across. Ask around, do your research, and trust your gut instinct.

Develop an Escalation Plan

With a monitoring solution in place and an at-a-glance network map, you can move onto the next step in network health—the escalation plan. At this point, you need to take stock of who is going to step in when there’s a problem and start building a team of reliable employees. If you don’t have an IT team, this is incredibly important. You need to ensure you have employees at every location capable of troubleshooting or contacting the right people to start solving an issue at the first hint of a problem. You should have someone monitoring the network on a daily basis, but outside of that, know who else needs to be looped in if anything goes wrong.

Assign roles and make sure those roles are clear to everyone involved. Each person should know what they’re responsible for, who to contact in the event of an outage and how to escalate their problem. Developing contact lists that include emails and phone numbers, keeping employees informed of internet policies, and constantly adjusting your plan for company changes, are all part of keeping an escalation plan updated.

This plan is the most important aspect of a healthy network. Having a team that knows the warning signs of a problem and how to respond quickly, will ensure your company doesn’t lose any important information or businesses as a result of a network outage.

Keeping your data secure

Security is one of the major factors in network health. Businesses never get a warning before a data breach, but they can take the appropriate steps to ensure they’re keeping their information safe. Some of these steps are incredibly simple, including setting up a company firewall and setting priorities about what employees can access when they’re using your network. If you’ve assigned company mobile phones, it’s important to keep track of the applications that are being downloaded and blocking apps that come from unknown developers.

Limiting remote access for employees is another must. Working from home on their private network should be safe, but public Wi-Fi can expose your data to a host of hackers and other security issues. Don’t’ forget about updating your software. It may seem like such a small task, easy to overlook, but it’s incredibly important. Many software updates come with upgraded security features that coincide with any updates your computer or mobile phone has recently implemented. Not updating software could potentially expose your information to hackers.

Understand your Network Infrastructure

One of the key attributes of a good monitoring program is a network map. If you’re a small business with one location, this isn’t a huge driver. But if you’re a multi-location business, you need to monitor your network across all locations and understand the infrastructure you have in place. Having a network map, whether it’s designed for your monitoring program or a way of tracking your locations that you’ve developed on your own, should allow you ease of access to viewing and troubleshooting problems at any location at the click of a button. Knowing where your physical equipment is, and how your network is connected from one location to the next, can save time and energy when a problem arises.

Monitor your bandwidth and network daily

Just like consistently updating apps and changing passwords, someone on your team should be taking a look at what is happening on your network daily. This can be as simple as logging into your monitoring solution and seeing what’s happening with latency, bandwidth, and CPU. A great monitoring solution will even allow customers to set alerts, so if your bandwidth is suddenly soaring, it will send an email out to let you know.

For more in-depth networks, it also helps to set priorities for where your bandwidth can be used and for what applications. This will make you aware when one office is streaming YouTube videos or uploading and downloading major files consistently. Knowing what is happening at each one of your locations will help you define how to allocate your network and keep it from being stretched too thin.

A businesses number one priority is generating revenue. These days, we can’t do that without an internet connection. If a network goes down, it not only prevents us from providing our customers with what they need, but it impedes productivity internally. These tips can help any business, large or small, stay on top of their network and continue to keep it healthy.

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How to Effectively Manage Your Remote Team

Today’s global economy and advanced technologies allow us to include remote employees into our teams. With the use of various collaboration tools, cloud sharing apps, and video conferences, managers can effectively set goals, assign tasks, and Team Colget the desired results in real time. Since the high number of competitive firms in technological and economic centers have drastically increased their employee turnover, many big and small businesses have decided to use the affordable, educated, and loyal labor from the developing countries.

Remote management still comes with a wide variety of challenges. It is much harder to motivate your employees when you do not see them in-person on a daily basis. Furthermore, all paperwork and communication need to be done in the digital form. Before creating an effective remote management strategy, a company should set a special budget for buying and maintaining the appropriate software and hardware solutions. In this guide, we have explained remote team management by describing every step of this process.

Hiring
Choosing the members of remote teams is a little bit different from the regular hiring process. The candidate’s location is never an issue, but they still need to satisfy certain criteria apart from the adequate expertise and work experience. All team members need to speak the same language because running a team in different languages and using online translation tools would be too difficult. They also need to have appropriate hardware.

The hiring process for international businesses usually starts with posting a job ad on an international job search platform or with contacting an HR agency. Managers often outsource some minor and repetitive tasks to freelancers, through various freelance marketplace platforms. Freelancers who prove their skills and show outstanding results have a chance to be admitted into the team. The companies that run remote teams have a much bigger talent pool at their disposal. That is why they should try to speed up and automate their hiring process. They can do it by using chatbots or by utilizing a big data software.

Collaboration
Establishing a real-time collaboration is the biggest challenge remote teams need to overcome. It can also be solved by introducing some of the available advanced technological solutions. There are many useful apps that managers can choose from for this purpose. Some of them even use advanced collaboration and scheduling systems like Kanban, invented for managing the Toyota supply chain.

Most collaboration apps offer a simple interface which allows users to schedule tasks to each other, chat, and exchange files. Today, many companies use team collaboration apps such as Wrike. My team started using this app two years ago and although it offers a solid set of features, we have decided to replace it. We have found a good Wrike alternative that offers advanced features like invoicing, budgeting, client permissions, self-hosting, and the all in one feature package. Thanks to this small change, our productivity skyrocketed.

Real-time Collaboration
The collaboration in remote teams needs to be done in real time. Since team members often work from different time zones, they need to make themselves readily available at critical times of the day. They can do this by installing the collaborative app on their smartphones and regularly checking push notifications. Although good collaborative apps can replace a whole list of business software, remote teams can also use emails, social networks, remote access software, cloud storage apps, the MS Office suite, and many other business apps.

Meetings
Meetings are of critical importance for remote team management. Companies would need thousands of dollars to bring all the team members from different parts of the world to their headquarters. Still, efficient project management requires regular team meetings. Most successful teams meet at least twice a week. They assign tasks for the upcoming week on Mondays, while they review the team’s work results on Fridays.

Managers can organize team meetings with the use of a meeting software and online video conferencing. Each team member should have a webcam, a microphone, and a special app installed on their desktop or smartphone. Many companies purchase special software for video conferencing. Entrepreneurs who want to save money can also use the group chat feature offered on various messenger apps.

Team Building
Companies usually neglect this very important side of teamwork. Team building is even more important for managing remote teams because their members cannot meet in real life, talk or settle their differences. Companies should arrange team gatherings at least once a year. For some team members, these gatherings would be much more fun because they will need to travel to a part of the world they would never visit prior to the meeting.

Unfortunately, organizing regular team building events for remote teams can be very expensive, even for the biggest corporate entities. That is why companies need to motivate their employees to communicate on social networks, exchange ideas, post interesting videos, motivational songs, and memes on the team’s news feed. This way, managers will be able to lift up the team’s spirit and improve the employees’ morale.

Unite Around a Common Goal
Uniting all team members around a common goal is the most important task for every remote team manager. Unlike regular teams, remote teams need to seize every opportunity for in-person bonding. This often results in long lasting friendships and creates a unique sense of camaraderie that can only be seen in these types of business environments.

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Improve Team Productivity with these 5 Tech Products


Highly efficient and productive teams have become more important than ever before at pushing best-in-class products and services to the market ahead of competitors. A range of tech tools have emerged to serve high-performance teams that help them get ahead of the game to achieve this goal. Below are five examples of tech products designed to boost team productivity.

Communication and Chat Apps
Instant communication is essential in highly productive teams, especially for those working remotely. Email used to be considered a quick and efficient communication tool, but has fallen behind new tools such as Slack, which allows teams to communicate and share files in real time. The ability to share resources, in real time, provides advantages.  Even to teams sitting in the same room – due to the ability to instantly share and collaborate.

Teleconferencing Products

Allowing people to meet face to face, when working in remote locations, can make meetings more productive than using text communication. CIO cites the Skypeability to promote collaboration, in this way, as a top tip for increasing team efficiency. Products such as Skype can bring numerous people together.  Not only to speak face to face but to share work and resources, in real time via a single application.

Version Control for Creative Teams
For software developers and other asset creators, version control products, such as GitHub and Bitbucket, allow teams to work on the same files at the same time without overwriting each other’s work. This greatly simplifies the headaches that digital content-creation teams faced in the past, by allowing everyone to have their hands in the same work at once.

Cloud-Based Document Management
Cloud-based document services, such as Google Docs, allow people to view and edit the same documents at the same time. When combined with real-timeGoogleDocs communication tools, collaborating on a single document with other team members becomes effortless, and eliminates the need to share and compile multiple versions of a single document. The Huffington Post cites an example of a team member who must unexpectedly work from home to showcase the power of using document management services that can be accessed from anywhere.

Project Management Tools
Project management tools, such as Pivotal Tracker, can help teams to stay on track with real-time goal tracking and time management. The tools mentioned in the sections above help teams to work more efficiently, but teams still need something to help everyone to stay on track and on time with personal and shared deliverables. Forbes notes that this type of product, also, helps people to understand when the work of others that they rely on is complete and ready for them to move forward with their tasks.
Using technology efficiently is critical to thriving in a team environment, and the products noted above can put your team on the path to success by eliminating roadblocks to efficient team workflows. Above all, it is important to keep abreast of new and developing technologies to ensure that your team stays one step ahead of your competitors.

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