Saturday, January 2, 2016

Six SMB Technologies I Want To Learn More About in 2016

I posted my first ever blog post back in 1998, discussing the launch of Windows 98 and it's impact on SMB IT Consultants.

Since then I've blogged sporadically, and the topics more or less match the evolution of the role of the SMB IT Consultant - Windows and hardware topics evolved to internet and virus protection and then to managed services and data recovery.

Today, as we begin the annual tradition of celebrating a new year I thought it was a good time to look at some of the key technologies I expect to be important for my MSP business in 2016:

1. Ninjio

I really like this concept.  It was just launched by Zack Schuler, former owner of a large MSP in California, and they address cyber security through short, engaging, very high quality user education videos.   It's something we've touched on with my own Bigger Brains and MSPpromos ventures, but based on the first set of video stories I think Zack and his team have a real winner on their hands.

2. Azure AD and Azure RemoteApp

There's a noticeable divide in how businesses have addressed "The Cloud". Young companies, particularly those started or managed by Millennials, tend to have little if any traditional infrastructure - no servers, no backups, etc.  They run everything from SaaS apps and Google.

Older more traditional companies have been more hesitant to jump into "The Cloud", but even so in many cases their software vendors are leaving them little choice as many "must have" business apps become cloud-first (for example the competitive price of Xero and Freshbooks compared to traditional desktop Quickbooks, or the significant feature advantages of using over Act!).

However it's increasingly hard to be entirely on-prem or entirely cloud-based, which is why I'm excited to see the evolution of Microsoft's Azure Active Directory and Azure RemoteApp tools.  Both allow companies to bridge the gap between on-premise applications and cloud-based apps, something I think we'll see increasing demand for in the years to come.

In the small business market alone, the ability to show a client how to run Quickbooks Desktop from their iPad through Azure RemoteApp will be a game changer!

3. Microsoft Sway,, Delve, PowerBI, and Lens

This may seem like a random grouping of Microsoft tools, but they all have three things in common - all are hugely beneficial for many users, none were available prior to 2014, and most users (and most techs) have never heard of them!

I would argue that taken collectively these newer tools give us insight into the future Microsoft sees in how work will be done in the future.  They are also all opportunities for IT consultants to be ahead of the curve, educating clients on new ways to work that can save them time and make their life easier.

20 years ago we were pushing hardware upgrades (more memory, faster hard drives) to achieve better productivity.  That era is over - the future of productivity boosting belongs to new applications and new workflow paradigms, which is where all these new tools from Microsoft will play key roles.

(And yes, we're in production on new training courses from Bigger Brains for all of these!)

4. Cloudberry's Cloud Restore

I remember when Austin McChord showed off Datto's first BDR with virtualization at a Computer Troubleshooters conference years ago.  They had a no-frills booth with a sign, a couple of demo boxes, and one seriously game-changing piece of kit.  It's no surprise Datto is now one of the most important vendors in the data backup marketplace.

But virtualized BDR solutions still require an expensive hardware purchase, and thus many small business clients will pinch their pennies and cross their fingers and hope they never have a server crash.  (Because that always works, right?)

Enter Cloudberry's solution. We've been customers of Cloudberry for a while, and it's a standard part of our managed services offering to include unlimited data backup through a custom-branded Cloudberry app on all our customer machines.

Now with their new bare-metal restore to Amazon EC2 feature, we can (in theory) restore a down server into an online virtual machine, either as a permanent replacement or as a temporary workaround while we repair their physical box.

I love this idea and we're going to be testing it out in Q1.

5. TwoVie Mobile App development

I saw Bob Nitrio demonstrate TwoVie's platform at the SMBnation conference last year, and it looks pretty good.

The market for mobile apps continues to grow, but like web development or online marketing it's an area that most IT consultants don't get into -usually because they lack the in-house expertise.

At my MSP we've dabbled in it over the years, trying DIY mobile app platforms like Como and Apps Builder, but we too lacked the in-house expertise so we gave it up.

Will TwoVie be the solution for us to jump back into the app dev market?  We'll see.

6. Bigger Brains Tech

Is it too self-serving to say I want to learn more about my own product line?  :)

Seriously though, one of the things I'm enjoying about Bigger Brains Tech (which is separate from our normal Bigger Brains end-user training, "BBT" is training FOR techs BY techs) is getting the opportunity to do deep dives into topics that I'm not too comfortable with.

Already I've found myself using things I learned from our Network Essentials course and HIPAA courses in client conversations.

And as we've started pre-production on the "Optimizing Wi-Fi" course I'm really enjoying learning how to get the most from something I used to take for granted - and I've actually improved the speed of our family's home wifi by about 30%!

What new technologies do YOU want to learn more about in 2016?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Engaging Training & Cool LMS: Bigger Brains partners with Docebo

All over the world, businesses large and small are considering online training.  Maybe the want to improve their productivity, maybe they want to meet compliance regulations, maybe they need a better way to share internal product or procedure knowlede with their entire team.  What they need is an easy to use, full-featured Learning Management System. 

But there are two problems.  First, there are dozens of good LMS systems to choose from.  How do you know which is best? 

Second, once you do make your choice, the LMS you implement probably starts out empty.  Adding content? That's a monumental task in itself. 

That's why the new Docebo Marketplace is such a powerful innovation, and why we at Bigger Brains are proud to add our "uniquely engaging" e-Learning courses to Docebo's rapidly expanding library. 

Check out our press release here, and visit Docebo at  

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Confessions of an Email Bigot

Like most people, I have some quirks.  For example, I hate writing with cheap pens.  I easily spend $20 per month on pens when I could buy cheaper for $10, and I try out almost every new pen design that I find in Office Depot.  (My current favorite, I'm sure you're curious to know, is the Pentel EnerGel B77-A).

I have a similar bias against cheap cheese, but that's a story for another blog.

What I discovered last month though is that I have been a snob when it comes to Email systems, and my bias was based not in fact or experience but from blind loyalty.   What's worse is that as an IT Consultant my clients, who presume my advice is based on cold hard facts, were on the receiving end of my biased recommendations too.

So I'm here to set the record straight, and confess that I, Chip Reaves, have been an Email Bigot.

Here's what happened - in the beginning there was POP mail, and it was good. Well, it was sufficient, easy, simple, adequate.  Then there came the free webmail services, like Yahoo mail, Hotmail, and GMail.  At first they were proprietary and so I could never recommend them to my business clients, and by the time they had added POP compatibility I had discovered something wonderfully better - Microsoft Exchange!

With Microsoft Exchange, my (email) life changed - I could send a message from my home computer and it would still show up in the Sent Mail folder on my work computer (and later that extended to my smartphone and my tablet too).

It not only kept my mail up to date, but it managed my Contacts and my Calendar too, and made sure those were the same on all my devices.  As we moved into the era of the iPhone and Android phones this became really helpful, as any new device I picked up would automatically have all my contacts and my appointments once I connected it to my Microsoft Exchange.

In short, it did everything I could ask for email-wise, and threw in Calendars and Contacts too.  At first it was expensive to maintain, but then with the advent of Hosted Exchange services my large maintenance bills dropped to small hosting bills.

Serious business clients use Hosted Exchange, and low-budget clients would make do with POP, and all was right with the world.

Until last month. 

See, I was totally happy with Exchange, especially with Microsoft Outlook, and I was so happy I couldn't imagine there was anything better.  What more could I ask for?

Then, last month, we filmed an "Introduction to GMail" course for Bigger-Brains.

I wasn't totally unfamiliar with GMail of course - in fact my MSP is an Authorized Google Reseller, something we did in order to take care of a few specific clients who specifically requested GMail and/or Google Apps for Business.  But I thought of Google Apps, and particularly GMail, as a sort of "poor man's Exchange" - less expensive with fewer features and weird ways of handling what should be straightforward email tasks (labels instead of folders? come on.).

In short - I was wrong.  I was biased, I was discriminating, I was, apparently, an Email Bigot.

What I learned in the Bigger-Brains course is that GMail has evolved considerably since I took a look at it.  Yes, it does some things differently, maybe very differently than I'm used to, but there's a method to the madness and once you understand WHY those things are different it turns out to be surprisingly efficient and very easy to get used to.

I thought Exchange was great because it integrated Email, Contacts, and Calendars.  GMail integrates Email, Contacts, Calendars, Chat, phone calls, video calls, file storage, attachment management, and online document editing.  

Now, to be fair, Microsoft Exchange (or, more specifically, Microsoft Office 365) has added or is adding those same features.  And I'm also a big fan of Office 365, and I'll continue to use that with many businesses.  But I've found the Google implementation, at least right now, works better.

Case in point, when we shot the Bigger-Brains course on Office 2013, we wanted to show off integration with Skydrive, Skydrive Pro, and Sharepoint, but for some reason Skydrive Pro was not working on my Office 365 account.  30 minutes on the phone with Microsoft Support and we still couldn't figure out why it wasn't working.  (We did figure it out the next day, in time for the shoot, though without Microsoft's help).

So here's my recommendation to all my fellow IT Consultants out there:  take a new look at GMail and Google Apps, if you haven't already.  It probably won't completely replace Microsoft Exchange or Office 365 in your arsenal of tech-solutions, but it's definitely a worthy option for many SMB clients.

(I'd suggest checking out the GMail course on, but that would sound like a sales pitch.)

I think techies are prone to bias - it's kind of a natural defense since we have roughly 7 million new products thrown at us each week, we have to get good at the ones we think are best and focus our time and attention on those.  But if we don't stop to check out the marketplace every once in a while, we risk missing out on solutions that will benefit our clients, and in the long run we risk becoming irrelevant.  We risk becoming a technology bigot, and nobody wants that.

Agree or disagree?  Let me know in the comments, or

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

All My Secrets....

So, you want to know my secrets?

In 1989 I started fixing people's computers to pay my way through college.  By 1992 it was a full-time job, by 1993 I had employees, and in 1996 I opened my first retail store.  Eventually we grew into one of Atlanta's top IT service firms, and then, in 1999, I founded Computer Troubleshooters USA.

With my franchise partners in Computer Troubleshooters Australia, we built the world's largest IT service franchise, with over 450 locations in 33 countries.

How did we do it?  "Whats the secret?", people ask.  And I'm going to tell you....

Today I run two companies, Bigger-Brains, the first and only channel-friendly online learning solution, and Computer Troubleshooters of Anderson, a local MSP in Anderson, South Carolina.  After 2 years CT-Anderson is on the verge of breaking the sales records my first company made in it's 6th year, and after just 6 months Bigger-Brains has resellers in 6 countries, partnerships with some of the top software providers in the world, and is already listed among the top 10 global eLearning content providers.

How did we do it?

Here's the secret.... we listened to customers.  Literally.  Especially with Computer Troubleshooters, we would literally ask customers what was important to them, directly and in surveys, and then work to implement processes to make sure we did those things.

In my final conference as CEO of Computer Troubleshooters-Global, before I sold the company, we actually had a panel of 4 real-life customers - small business owners and managers, who told the audience exactly what they wanted in an IT service provider, and then took questions from a room full of IT Service Providers who wanted to clarify exactly what appealed and didn't appeal to them.

The results are both mind-blowing and exactly what you'd expect.

Number one, hands-down, top-of-the-list is..... Knowledge.  Customers want to work with service providers who are knowledgeable.

But here's the catch - how does a client or potential client know how much knowledge their "IT Guy" has?  Some techs might be dumb as a brick, but spew jargon with such confidence that customers think they're Dumbledore.  Others might know everything from the right way to migrate a multi-homed network domain to a new location to the expected pinout voltages on an Intel LGA chip socket, but fail to reassure customers because they lack confidence, dress poorly, or some similarly unrelated reason.

Knowledge is key. Knowledge makes you efficient, Knowledge gets you more jobs, and the perception of Knowledgeability is what will keep customers flocking to your business.

How can you be more Knowledgeable, or at least be perceived to be more Knowledgeable?

I'm glad you asked!  All my secrets on winning customers with Knowledge (and the answers to what else customers are looking for) are coming out next month in my session at SMB Online Conference.

What's NOT a secret is that I'm just the opening act for some seriously great speakers:  John Armato,  Brian Sharp, Rayanne Buchianico, Manuel Palachuk and a host of others make this a guaranteed High-ROI event.

If you want to learn All My Secrets on Knowledgeability, plus get great insight into growing your IT business from some real gurus, THIS is the conference you want to attend!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

What I do now

I have three lives now, at least when it comes to work:

If you're looking for computer repair in Anderson, SC, I recommend checking out my retail business, Computer Troubleshooters of Anderson.  We do everything from computer repair to notebook screen repair to iphone repair (or iPad repair) for individuals, but our main focus is on local small businesses.

For our business clients we specialize in service plans, including three options that provide unlimited computer service for a flat monthly fee and also include professional anti-virus, online backup, and 24/7  network health monitoring.  Every Sunday evening I personally check the backup logs for every single service plan client to make sure everything's working OK, and if I see anything that looks odd or out of place you'll get a call from Jim or Scott on Monday to investigate it.

My "second life" though is as the CEO of a relatively new online training company, Bigger Brains.  There we do online training in Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Sales, Marketing, Online Marketing, Presentation Skills, and more, all starting at $17 per month for individuals.

Companies can also purchase "Bigger Brains" for their entire staff, which allows them not only to access all of our online courses but also to add their own content.  Bigger Brains can also act as a full company intranet, storing key documents and company links as well as online courses.  Many companies use Bigger Brains to store things like Employee Handbooks, Product Sales Guides, and related materials.

And finally in my third life I do some independent consulting, mostly with IT firms, to help them improve their product offerings either to the small & medium business market or their offerings through the SMB IT channel.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Michelle Brooks, Greenville SC Wedding Photographer

At Computer Troubleshooters we've had the pleasure of working with Michelle Brooks of Michelle Brooks Photography.  Anyone looking for a Greenville SC Wedding Photographer should definitely check out her site here.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Brewster Academy Check Fraud

I'm writing this in hopes of warning others about an online group of evildoers trying to take advantage of people. I have a condo for rent in Decatur, GA, and since my current renters are moving out I placed an ad to find new renters. So far I've had a couple of local calls and one person came by to check it out. Then I received an email from someone claiming to be an incoming university student (the condo is right down the street from Emory University) named "Tomaz Gayle". "She" claimed to be from the UK and wanted to rent my condo. Great! Except.... "Her" writing style was odd, either like a 3rd grade student or like one of my friends who learned English as a 3rd or 4th language. Not like someone born in England! "Her" (I use quotes because who knows?) posts also included far more personal information than a normal renter would use, like this: "I am a 24yrs old lady from Cardiff, UK and I would be doing a program at the University. I am down to earth. I get along with people easily and I like meeting people. I also like traveling, painting, listening to music, dancing, swimming, badminton, tennis and reading. I don't smoke and drink." Sounds more like an ad for a mail-order bride than for a potential renter, but I have many friends from Africa and other places who say odd things because of cultural differences, so at that point I was wary but willing to proceed. "She" said that being in the UK the payment would be sent from her father who was in the US. I explained that I had not yet approved them as renters, and forwarded my application form. Warning sign #2 was when "she" seemed to ignore that part. Long story short, after a few emails from her Dad, and an email from one of two references provided (btw everyone who contacted me in this used a email address - very unusual coincidence, and also makes them difficult for me to trace but fortunately easy for Yahoo to trace), I received a check via UPS. From New Jersey, hand addressed with handwriting that looks like a 5-year old's (also matches my suspicion that english is not this person's first language). Oh, along the way I also received some photos from the "young girl" showing her to be a cute young blonde woman. I do wonder whose Facebook page these pics were stolen from - I wonder how I'd feel if someone somewhere was sending out Chip Reaves pics while committing some sort of criminal act. The check, however, was from "Brewster Academy", a private school in New Hampshire. And it was for 7x the expected deposit amount: $3500 instead of $500. (BTW, the "renters" had never asked what the deposit amount should be). The way this sort of scam works is like this: Some unsuspecting person deposits this check, and the renter then asks them to send back some portion of the overage via Western Union or a similar cash transmission system. The evildoers are hoping the person will send the money back before noticing that the check from Brewster Academy does not clear. A quick phone call to Brewster Academy confirmed my suspicion - they've had dozens of these checks reported, none are legitimate, and that bank account has been flagged for fraud so no check can be drawn on that account anyway. So I'm writing this blog so that anyone who gets a similar check, and who might search "Brewster Academy Check", will find this story, hopefully before losing hundreds or thousands of $$. The good news too is that the FBI and Yahoo have apparently been investigating this for a while and they're tracking the evildoers who are apparently in New York. The sooner they can get these folks locked up, the better!