Thursday, September 18, 2008


(Our 2008 Solutions Catalog with all our client programs -
ask your local CT for a copy!)

Last year when we started our partnership with Merry Meeting, it gave me a chance to formalize our business plans for the first time really since we got started back in 1999. I copied some of the format of Merry Meeting's business plan and added some touches of our own. The business plan gives us clear strategic objectives, tactical plans, and highlights our Mission and our Values.

When it comes to our Core Values, many are the same as any company should have: start with Integrity & the Golden Rule, build with clear Objectives, commit to Excellence, and earn a Profit. We added two that I feel are critical to this particular business: Innovation, and Balance. Balance is a topic unto itself, but the demand in this business is so strong it's easy to get overworked so it's something to keep front and center in all that we do. Innovation though is what I want to talk about today.

I'm very proud of the Innovation we've done at Computer Troubleshooters over the years. We've been at the cutting edge of our industry in literally hundreds of areas, being the first or one of the first computer service franchises to:
  • expand overseas

  • build a franchisee intranet

  • offer employee hiring & management assistance

  • offer a web design & hosting service and content-managed franchisee websites

  • offer an optional CT call center service

  • create a robust managed services program

  • create a National Account program (and more recently a National Client program) to drive more work to our franchisees

  • create a content-based marketing system with automated marketing portals

This year we've gone even furthur. We start with the premise that our job is to help our small business clients be successful. A big part of that is making sure their computers & technology are running smoothly and are as trouble-free as possible. Beyond that though there are many ways we can help small businesses be more successful through technology, so this year we've added:

  • The ReImage tool. While it doesn't work in every situation, when it works it's a HUGE timesaver for us and for our clients.

  • Search Engine Marketing and Optimization services, in conjunction with ReachLocal and others. Over the last three years we've seen a marked decrease in the effectiveness of traditional advertising (notably Yellow Pages and Newspaper) and a similar increase in the effectiveness of online advertising, particularly with search engines. Our new program not only ensures that our franchisees get the most bang for their online advertising buck, it lets us offer those expert services to our small business clients as well.

  • An Electronic Document Management program. Of all the programs we've rolled out in 2008 this one is probably the most boring, and the most useful. Every business has at least one file cabinet (if not a dozen or more), and many even wind up renting storage space to hold old files for retention purposes. Now we can offer inexpensive systems that let them store all their paper files on one computer database, and access them from any PC on the network (with proper authorization, of course). Saves time, saves money, and just makes good sense for small businesses everywhere.
  • Our IP Telephony program. The telephone world is rapidly shifting from the proprietary PBX systems of the past to the new, feature-rich & low cost VoIP-based systems of the future. We're making sure that Computer Troubleshooters everywhere are in the best position to help our small business clients migrate to the new systems by aligning with the best partners and creating internal support & training options for CT's and their technicians. CTUSA has been running on a Fonality IP-PBX system for years so I can speak from experience - once you get a VoIP system it's hard to imagine going back.

  • "Cloud Computing": The big buzzword this year seems to be "cloud computing" - it's almost (but not quite) what "managed services" was last year. The idea is that some applications are better when run from the web instead of from a local server - and this is more often true with small businesses than it is with larger ones, becuase it's a better value for a small business to pay for a hosted application instead of hiring staff or paying us to support a local server. Hosted Exchange is a great example: an 8-person law firm might want the benefits of Microsoft Exchange, but setting up and supporting an internal Exchange server could be cost prohibitive. Hosted Exchange gives you all the same benefits, but someone else handles all the server management responsibities. The challenge of course is partnering with the right providers, so CT has been busy lining up the best hosted services for our small business clients. So far we've got Hosted Exchange, Sharepoint, email, office, database, CRM, online meeting, and collaboration tool applications, and we're reviewing more. While it's not right for everyone, we're making sure CT's can help their small business clients choose the solution that's right for them.

There are dangers in innovating though. You have to start from a strong foundation, because it's easy to get distracted by the promises of "something new". So taking care of a client's basic hardware, software, networking and services needs has to be the core of what we do, THEN we can look at new options to enhance their business. And not every innovation works out - for example a few years ago I was approached by a company who was going to put an end to spam by making people pay to send legitimate emails. Needless to say that idea never went anywhere, but some other ideas like our CT Software Development service are good solutions but for relatively rare situations (we still operate the CT-SD and they do great work, but most small businesses don't need much custom-written software).

I often tell people that the best part about Computer Troubleshooters is that we have the best R&D department in the world: 500 franchise locations all over the world, all looking for and trying out new solutions every day. The best ones rise to the top and make it into our Solutions Catalog. The rest tend to be discussed and dropped fairly quickly. But by constantly finding new solutions, new vendor partners, and new technologies we're sure that CT will always stay out in front when it comes to effective innovation.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Thank You!

Photo from the IP Telephony Workshop

I'm home - and after 6 days in Cleveland, it's good to sleep in my own bed again. CT Conferences always wear me out - there's so many little things that pop up during the event that need to be handled, and so many people to talk to and workshops to listen to that I feel like I'm running a marathon 24/7 until the end. So today is my traditional post-conference recuperation day.

I do want to thank a LOT of people who worked hard to make this year's conference so successful:

  • To Kroll OnTrack, NTR Global, and all 40 of our other sponsors - THANKS for making our event as special as it was. Your participation and special CT offerings were a huge part of the conference this year, and we all appreciate our partnerships with you.

  • To Jim Greenfield (CT-Manhattan), Alan from Adtran, Mike from Fonality and Mike from CommPartners - THANKS for making our "IP Telephony 101" workshop such a smashing success.

  • To Randy from Cabinet NG - I think we're all going to be looking at electronic document management options for our clients now thanks to your workshop - thank you for being part of our event.

  • To Crystal & Stuart from ReachLocal and Nipa from Jenesys Group - I think your presentations will have the most tangible benefit to our small business clients and to our own websites, and we're looking forward to our national deals with both of you - THANKS.

  • To Marsha from EMSI - your PR 101 workshop was the "crossover" hit of the conference, attracting franchisees from all our sister-brands as well. And your performance during the "CT Idol" event was spot-on perfect, and a great highlight for day 2 of the event - thank you.

  • To Matt Makowicz from Ambition Mission - thanks for not one but TWO workshops on Selling Managed Services, and for the bootcamp & book deals. Several CT's told me your workshops were their favorite session of the conference, and I heard the bootcamp 'prize' definitely made Friday night's poker game more interesting - thank you.

  • To the eight CT's (Bill, Brian, Jim, Roy, Rob, Jay, Marcus, & Chris) who were brave enough to talk about their business strategies, successes, and challenges during the BEST roundtable and the Successful CT roundtable - THANKS. Many people - including me - always find these sessions to be the most valuable because it's "real" experience, not just theory. Thank You.

  • To the six CT's (Mary Ellen, Charles, John, David, Marcus, & Raine) who bravely entertained and educated us all during the "CT Idol" competition - thank you. Congratulations to Charles for winning the event, and special thanks to John for teaching us all that bribery doesn't pay. :)

  • To Ramsey from MSP On Demand, John from 19Marketplace, Crystal from ReachLocal, Jamie from MSPSN, Rob from Microsoft, Mike from Zenith, and especially to Brian for filling in for SecureMyCompany - THANKS for making our Recurring Revenue workshop a smashing success.

  • To Mort from Meraki and the guys from DattoBackup - I think you're tied for the most innovative new products we saw this year. And to Patrick from DRG and Mitch from DrBackup - I think you're tied for most reliable conference sponsors. We appreciate you all being part of our event - thank you.
Thanks also to my staff, Fayola, Chris, Audrey & Glenn, for excellent work this weekend, and thanks to all our partners at MerryMeeting for organizing a great event. And thanks to Corey from CT-Independence for getting our own routers setup so we didn't have to pay the crazy hotel internet rates!

And special thanks has to go to Allyn Davies, who worked tirelessly to organize everything. Putting together a normal CT conference is never easy, but I can't imagine putting together combined conferences for five different MerryMeeting brands - I think at one point we were using 10 different meeting rooms simultaneously, with multiple lunches & breaks & speakers & social events & the walk for charity.... I can't imagine putting all that together, but it all worked out really well. THANK YOU.

Next year we're just starting to make plans but we're looking at a late April / early May date - mark your calendars! If you're a CT or a CT vendor, look out for some surveys coming out soon to solicit your input on content & formats for next year's event.


Saturday, September 6, 2008

Cleveland Rocks!

We're about halfway through the main part of the Computer Troubleshooters North American conference here in Cleveland tonight, and so far it's been an excellent event. This is the first time we've combined conferences with the other MerryMeeting brands, and even though we don't see them much (all but one of our sessions is CT-specific) it's made for a much larger, more energetic event than we've had in a while.

I think though that there's something else different about this conference. Mark Mitchell, owner of Computer Troubleshooters Lansing, said something yesterday that really seemed to sum it up - he said "Two years ago everyone would have been discussing the best way to defrag a customer's hard drive during a tune-up. Today everyone's talking about the right technology solutions for their small busines customers." And it's true - almost everything this week has been about finding the right technology to help our small business customers improve their organizations through technology. Whether it's finding new ways to customize our BEST (managed services) programs to meet a customer's needs, or whether it's exploring new opportunities in backup, IP Telephony (VoIP), or Search Engine Marketing, everyone this year is enthusiastically taking on the role of IT consultant rather than computer fix-it guy, and that's a good thing.

Technically the conference is going into it's fifth day tomorrow, but the first two days were just training three new franchisees (San Diego, Phoenix, Colorado Springs) so that's not technically part of the conference proper. The real conference began on Thursday with our Regional Directors day, where we analyzed data from successful and less successful franchisees around the system to come up with better ways to coach and support them. My favorite from this day is that our RD's are going to restructure one of their monthly training sessions so that they're functional instead of geographic - this means that every CT in the US & Canada will have TEN different training courses they can take every month (and that get recorded to store in our archives), and three coaching & support calls.

Today was the first day of the main conference, and we wound up with about 90 attendees from CT plus 250 from the other brands. We also had an awesome vendor turnout with over 20 great vendor partners here to update us on (or introduce us to) their products and any CT special deals they have with us. We started the day with a keynote from Sam Tyler, a PBS documentary filmmaker who has interviewed business motivation legends like Tom Peters, Stephen Covey, Jim Collins, and most recently worked on a film about Lance Armstrong. He shared his analysis of what we can learn from each of them, along with some very motivational video clips.

Then we got into our CT sessions with an opening presentation followed by our (extended) BEST roundtable. Four Computer Troubleshooters who are among our top managed services oriented locations talked about their businesses and offered advice and insight to the rest of us in a 90 minute Q&A session. (Big thank-you to Brian, Bill, Roy, & Jim for teaching us!)

Following a lunch break we watched Sam Tyler's video on Lance Armstrong (excellent), then the CT's chose one of two tracks: either a Selling Managed Services workshop with Matt Makowicz (author of books on Selling and Marketing managed services and a fantastic sales traininer), OR an IP Telephony workshop featuring gurus from CommPartners, Fonality, and Adtran, and lead by our own VoIP guru Jim Greenfield (Computer Troubleshooters NY Metro). I got to sit in on both sessions - both were amazing. (We also had a "Women in Business" session midway through the afternoon - I did not sit in on that one, for obvious reasons).

The day ended with a combination local beer tasting & vendor expo, which for any conference planners out there I have to say this is something everyone should do because it gives the attendees a reason to spend a lot of time talking with the vendors in a very comfortable atmosphere. We followed that up with our CT awards dinner, which went well even though we had some technical glitches with the awards themselves and some were missing! We'll fix that. It was impressive as always to hand out the 5-year award pins to the CT's who've been growing their businesses since 2003 (or longer if they didn't pick up their pins at last year's conference). Next month will be even more interesting as I hand out our first-ever TEN year award pins at the Australian conference - it's amazing to think that four of us will have been in business for a decade now!

(And I won't mention the after-hours poker game that I'm completely unaware of, but congratulations Tomás for winning the Matt Makowicz managed services boot camp prize!)

I'm really pumped up about the new energy in our group this weekend. It's easy to see why we're the world's best computer service / technology solutions franchise!