Business Plans (70+ New Business Hacks 2019)

Business Growth Plans

Business Growth Plans 

When to Stop Growing

A prevailing business philosophy is a concept that if your revenue isn’t growing faster than the industry standard, then you’re getting passed by your competition. That’s crap. You should be happy with whatever size your company is.

 

If you want to grow it, then great. If not, then you don’t have to. Grow along with your level of comfort; otherwise, you can’t do so positively.

 

There is no limit to how big you can grow your business; the only limitation is how comfortable you are with the size of the organization. I’ve seen a number of companies stop at two, and just sit there for 30 years. I’ve also seen some that hit about 50 and that’s the sweet spot.

 

And I’ve seen organizations slow growth that doesn’t want to do so. No matter the situation, as with many things in business, it’s important to have clear and concise communication about what is happening. This blog discusses all the business growth Plans in detail.

 

One of the biggest challenges is retaining employees when you’ve made a decision like this, so we’ll start there.

 

Communicating with Employees

Communicating with Employees

Halting growth is hard. The most important thing here is that you are open and honest with everyone about what you are doing. Especially if you’ve been growing and you’re intentionally slowing down growth. Tell people why you’re slowing it down, and be clear about how the strategy of the organization might change in the near-term future.

 

Slowing down growth reduces your risk, but also reduces the opportunities you might be able to provide to staff. Later in this blog, we’ll look at ways to keep teams motivated, but for now, focus on making everyone you employ feel safe.

 

Explain why you’re slowing down growth, how you’ll be doing so, and what opportunities each person has in the new paradigm.

 

Expect some turnover. After all, what’s the future for each person on staff? This doesn’t always happen immediately, and it’s often an amicable parting of ways provided you’re clear about your intentions, but if people leave, expect a little customer turnover as well. This is inevitable whenever there’s a perception that there’s less opportunity at a job.

 

Leading (And Retaining) Teams After the Growth Subsidies

Growth

Building and growing an organization is fun! Managing an organization that is static or shrinking can totally suck. But it doesn’t have to. Employee satisfaction is an amazing thing and a key aspect of making your company an awesome place to work. During times of growth, everyone is invariably happy with their jobs.

 

Staff sees an incredible growth opportunity, a lot of great new team members they can mentor, and there’s a general buzz in the community that surrounds expansion.

 

But eventually, the expansion slows in every organization and on every team. And I’ve never met anyone who was ready for it when it came, except those who are slowing growth intentionally.

 

How is a leader to react? How do you keep a cohesive team who has done everything the organization asked of them engaged? How do you provide the rewards of a great career path if not within your team? Let’s look at some important concepts to keep in mind as you turn the corner into the next phase of your company’s lifecycle.

 

\ 1.\ Make sure employees feel safe: Employees need to feel secure in their jobs. When employees take on more work and see that hiring has slowed, they will assume the worst. Be completely transparent.

 

Show enough respect for staff to explain as much as allowed, even if it means they start to leave of their own accord. Of course, this starts with having a sound strategy!

 

\ 2.\ Understand what motivates people: We’re all motivated by something different. Make sure to understand what motivates team members, or have their supervisors find out.

 

Then double-check by surveying staff and comparing those results to the qualitative analysis done by your team. This is often easier than it was, as you’re not spreading your attention across opening new offices, hiring, etc.

 

\ 3.\ Provide different ways to recognize success: When an organization decides to shift priorities and limit funding for a team or a company slows down, the key metrics on which you gage performance must mature as well.

 

This often starts by moving from Billings to margin, from margin to channel empowerment, between various types of work, or from any of these to innovation.

 

\ 4.\ Find ways to be more visible in the organization: As growth in teams slows, increasing visibility within an overall organization or community allows team members to feel positive about their roles in the organization.

 

Allowing employees access to other teams also allows for networking, more idea sharing in ways that might not have been possible during times of hyper-growth, and fosters a greater sense of teamwork within the organization. Becoming more visible also provides exposure to each member of the staff.

 

\ 5.\ If you love someone, set them free: Champion your best employees; but be willing to replace them as well. Even if doing so makes your life harder, rewarding great work will inspire the next generation to be better.

 

Alternatively, not recognizing the potential in your staff leads to disgruntled employees and crappy work.

 

Watching my former staff flourish in new roles is the area of my career I get the most satisfaction from; hopefully, you do as well! If your organization is not growing, then there is usually a cap to careers within the organization. You can offset this with profit sharing.

 

Ultimately, the ability to lead a growing organization is easier than leading an organization that isn’t trending up and to the right on spreadsheets.

 

Taking on a static organization is really easy because someone else already dealt with reframing how the organization survives. But doing that reframing means taking care of staff, first and foremost. Look for how the team fits in the new layout.

 

Let the team help not only define the strategy but also lay out the tactics to achieve the strategy. Empower everyone to contribute on every level, if you haven’t already.

 

Whatever you do, don’t retreat within your team. Focus on the happiness and well-being of the team, but when the growth slows, look outward for opportunities to contribute to all areas of the organization and community.

 

Look for ways to help employees and ways to do what is right, making sure to align their needs with those of the organization.

 

And keep in mind that aligning the strategy of a group with that of an organization is the key to the success of the organization as a whole. If each manager simply looks to bolster their team, they will do nothing more than fracture an otherwise cohesive organization.

 

Letting People Go

Letting People Go

Sometimes we outgrow where we want to be. We win that big contract and we can’t fulfill it, or we lose it. Then we have to detract. And it sucks. In this section, we’ll explore what you should do when letting people go. And some tips for making the process go in as ethical a fashion as possible, while not destroying the company.

 

I’ve had to do different types of layoffs in the past, and I believe in the dignity of those on the other side of the table far too much to take it flippantly.

 

Ultimately, reducing the size of an organization starts with finding ways to try and keep the best, brightest, and most committed to staying on your team. But when you can’t, and you have to let staff go, there is no feeling of dread on those days.

 

For those that stay, make sure to communicate your strategy to the best of your ability, and be transparent where possible. Tell them whether there will be further cuts.

 

If there will be, then they may leave of their own accord. And you can’t choose who’s going to stay and go. But by being honest, you’ll retain a relationship if you want to, and you won’t have people running around saying you did them wrong. Most importantly, though, you won’t actually be doing them wrong.

 

For those who will no longer be with the organization, be respectful. Provide as much severance as possible and a great reference when appropriate. Have an exit interview with each.

 

And have the last check on your desk so there’s no question that the move you are making is irrevocable. I tend to find that once people realize that a decision is final, they can immediately start making plans and find closure.

 

Managing Finances When You Stop Growing

Finances

Growing companies are often flush with cash. But when you stop growing, your costs often don’t stop as well. Taxes go up. Inflation goes up. Cost of living increases, at a minimum, need to be given to employees annually to keep them.

 

At some point, if you don’t grow customers and employees, you’re left with trying to find ways to make more money in a seemingly shrinking company. Some ways you can go about doing so include:

 

Write a sentence down on real paper with a real pen about how to cut each entry in the Accounts Payable column of your General Ledger. Inspecting costs with a microscope will help you figure out what you can cut without the negatively impacting performance of staff and what you can’t.

 

Renegotiate every contract. How much are you paying your lawyer? Pay them less. How much are you paying your accountant? Pay them less. If you can’t renegotiate, start looking for other contractors who are equally as qualified.

 

Review your current and future plans with your tax advisor. In many cases, if you convert to a different type of company, that isn’t geared for growth, then you could end up paying out less money in taxes.

 

Pay down any debts your company has. Interest on debt can kill you. Especially credit card debt. And should you choose to sell the company, it will be far easier if you have fewer liabilities.

 

Convert employees to contractors. This is my least favorite option, and potentially even more expensive than having W2 employees on staff anyway. Just know that in my experience, if you convert an employee to 1099, they’re looking for a new job immediately. No, really, even if they tell you it’s cool, they are.

 

Go virtual. This is especially tough when you’re trying to convince staff to stick around, despite a lack of personal opportunity for growth (or at least the perceived lack of opportunities). But rent is often as much as a staff employee.

 

The most important aspect of going to a virtual workplace is to keep community; otherwise, the distance created between you and employees will cause them to be more likely to abscond with your customers—or in their eyes, their customers.

 

Purchase property. Wait, I said to reduce costs and pay down debts… Mortgages on the commercial real estate are typically 15-year notes, so it’s usually a pretty big investment.

 

By redirecting rent, though, you should be able to easily build more of a rainy day or retirement fund. And you should get more return than you could do with other investments.

 

Whichever options you choose, make sure you understand your revenue and costs before you make any decisions, and make sure to build up even larger cash reserves, or invest profits in low-risk investment vehicles. Or forget everything I’ve said and seen a financial advisor!

 

Choosing a Sales Methodology

 Sales Methodology

Sales is the air that a company breathes. Not getting enough sales stagnates growth and can end the life of an organization prematurely. Many an entrepreneur is good enough at sales to make it to the point where it’s time to scale up. This is because there’s legitimate authority. But what’s next?

 

There are probably about as many correct answers here as there are organizations that have effectively built sales teams, and all of those answers are correct. But one item that every sales organization needs at some point is a sales methodology that best represents their product, values, market, and goals.

 

And choosing one early means you don’t have to retrain undisciplined sellers in how to represent your company.

 

Why Sales Methodologies

 Sales

Companies need to be efficient, creative, and unique to capture new customers. You also need a good product to get brand recognition and build customer loyalty. But if no one uses a product or service in the first place, you never get the chance to build that loyalty and hopefully that magical word of mouth that comes with happy customers.

 

Most of the businesses I talk to do engage in passive marketing and word of mouth as their only sales tools. So the ability to close every incoming sale is paramount. Scratch that, the ability to close every qualified lead is critical.

 

Many argue that how you close sales deals have one of the greatest impacts on increasing sales and promoting your business. Closing small sales deals is easier and takes less planning, and larger deals require more effort and thoughtful planning.

 

Closing opportunities that are inappropriate for your business will eat up time dealing with dissatisfied customers while netting you some pretty harsh criticism that might make future work with anyone hearing that criticism difficult.

 

But the sales process is when you set the tone that denotes what a successful engagement with a customer looks like.

 

A common pain point for a growing business is building a scalable sales model. Most businesses start with a business owner selling themselves and their product. People who believe deeply in what they do can often sell a product if only because of their blood, sweat, and tears is intoxicating to customers.

 

But what happens when that next seller comes into the organization—and then another, and then another? The typical next steps are to try to train other people to sell exactly as you did, to arm them with the same words and taglines you use. And when that works, wonderful! But it won’t always work.

 

Building a sales team is about direct relationships between customers and new sellers. And to arm your new team, you can leverage the decades of sales dogma available by leveraging a methodology and the processes around it that already exist, rather than rewriting the blog.

 

Every business looks to achieve success. If you have a flush sales pipeline and can actually close deals, you are off to a great start. Finding the right combination of sales methodology for your customers, your product.

 

And your philosophies helps you save time and get your new sales staff on a path that enables you and subsequent sales management to report on your sales pipeline, as well as enter a sales conversation at any point and provide helpful guidance to a new generation of sales staff.

 

Choosing a Methodology

Methodology

What are some of the top sales methodologies in use? The one you select should match with the personality of both your sellers and your customers. If you haven’t hired anyone in sales yet, then focus on you as the seller and the customers.

 

Using a canned methodology will help you while you’re starting the process. And be open to learning new tactics, no matter how successful you might have been up to this point.

 

In the following few sections, we’ll provide a brief description of many of the most common sales methodologies in use today. We’ll also include a link to a blog or two for each in the Further Reading section of this blog.

 

Target Account Selling

Used for over 25 years, Target Account Selling is a standard in the sales world, with over 650,0000 sellers trained to convert smaller customers (or smaller groups within larger environments) into bigger and more permanent customers.

 

Target Account Selling breaks larger deals down into smaller components. Using a strategic plan throughout the life of the sales cycle, Target Account Selling de-emphasizes politics of an account.

 

Target Account Selling is popular due to the ability to automate the whole sales process via Salesforce, making it easier and simpler to integrate with existing workflows. The cost of training the staff for target account selling is high, but most experienced people you hire will already understand this methodology.

 

SPIN Selling

When Neil Rackham wrote the blog “SPIN Selling” in 1989, I doubt he knew that it would still be in use decades later. The name “SPIN Selling” always makes me think of Leonardo getting on the phone to sell some junk stocks.

 

The name just feels like the reason a lot of sellers get a bad rap. But that doesn’t mean it has to be a bad methodology (if I thought it was I certainly wouldn’t have put it in this list).

 

SPIN stands for Situation, Problem, Implication, and Need-Payoff. You ask questions to understand the buyer’s situation, issues, consequences, and situation, respectively. SPIN Selling requires pretty good communication skills and can seem more like a communication technique than a sales methodology at times.

 

SPIN Selling has proven to be a great technique to attract more customers in as easily prescriptive a way as possible. In this methodology, the salesperson is trained to ask questions based on a customer’s choices and preferences, which expose the needs of their organization.

 

This theoretically establishes trust and helps you align your solutions with the services and product you provide.

 

There are no concrete steps in this methodology to unravel the needs and demands of the customer, but it surely helps in maintaining strong customer and sales representative bond.

 

This is very much a classic sales methodology and best used with smaller, more transactional sales that don’t have a bunch of stakeholders involved in the buying process.

 

SNAP Selling

SNAP Selling

I figured I’d put the two acronym names side-by-side. “SNAP Selling,” from Jill Konrath in 2012 makes a huge, huge assumption: that everyone is as busy and “frazzled” as the author. The goal is to speed up the sales process by being Simple, iNvaluable, Aligned with the needs of the customer, and a Priority.

 

Part of the focus is on getting “in the head” of your customers. It’s a good, easy read. Whether I’d implement it as a methodology for a whole company would likely depend on the types of sales I’m making.

 

For example, the P is for Priority. If you’re selling something that isn’t a priority, can you make it one? If not, move on. I don’t think that works for large-scale insourcing options that involve very complex deals. Because really, then you’d just be left with SNA.

 

Always looking to be relevant is a challenge. But, to me, the most important part of this blog is the value chain that it demonstrates, not the methodology. Everyone in sales should read it, even if the sales department doesn’t leverage it as a methodology.

 

The Challenger Sale

The Challenger Sale was a result of a pretty massive research project by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, which resulted in a blog called “The Challenger Sale.”

 

“The Challenger Sale” breaks sellers up into five buckets: Relationship Builders, Hard Workers, Lone Wolves, Reactive Problem Solvers, and Challengers. The Challengers are more successful today, given the prevalence of large sales in large (“Enterprise”) environments.

 

Instead of unraveling the needs and demands of the customers, the Challenger Sale methodology is used to build consensus in larger teams that are comprised of many levels of stakeholders, common in today’s business climate.

 

The Challenger Sale simply challenges the customers by making them aware of the pitfalls within their industry. By delivering a static message to all decision-makers, you can also help guide them by challenging the customer to see their needs in a different manner that aligns with your value propositions.

 

Challengers teach customers and customize their message, taking control of calls. The Challenger Sale then requires a seller research market trends and customers’ preferences so they stand out.

 

It does have a drawback in that it does not aid any kind of automation tool as it has no clear strategy for handling large sales but instead turns the process into bundling large, complex solutions.

 

However, despite this drawback, it has proven to be quite a successful strategy since its conception in 2011, as it is a response to today’s educated and online buyer because it challenges them to allow you to provide coaching and be prescriptive instead of discovering their needs and offering them solutions.

 

The Challenger Sale is very popular among highly technical companies (e.g., software companies) with large sales forces.

 

Value Selling Framework

Selling Framework

Developed in 1991, the Value Selling Framework creates a repeatable process, or map, based on customer buying processes. By building a process, rather than customizing each deal, you need less management so you can focus on the basic sales skills with team members.

 

Having said this, there’s more documentation required, including qualification, asking documented questions to better understand needs, mapping each opportunity to each of your product’s capabilities, and then building out a plan to close each opportunity.

 

Solution Selling

Solution Selling was the first methodology that I ever received training on. Basically, sell a solution, rather than a product. Since released by Mike Bosworth in 1988, this has been a foundation for a number of other methodologies as well.

 

And it was a reaction to a shift into a lot of different vendors starting to sell solutions that were much more complicated than they had ever before been.

 

Solution Selling provides a deeper insight into today’s mature and informed buyers. This methodology has evolved over time (many haven’t) based on a large network of trainers that help the methodology keep pace with complex and rapidly changing business climates, as well as based on the fact that dealing with change is built into the DNA of the methodology overall.

 

Conceptual Selling

Conceptual Selling

From Robert Miller and Stephen HeimanConceptual Selling focuses on the buying process and managing the stakeholders involved when selling to a given organization.

 

This means you need to focus on listening and be good at gathering information. While gathering information, you provide the relevant information for your products and services and leverage that to gain commitment at each level of the potential customer’s organization.

 

The reason all of this works is that you don’t buy a specific product or a specific service, but instead buy the concept that the offering represents.

 

This means asking questions that fall into five categories.

 

  • Confirmation: Review any information you’ve obtained.
  • New Information: Explore exactly what the customer would like to achieve (e.g., deliverables).
  • Attitude: Understand what connection the stakeholders have.
  • Commitment: Understand how far the customer can go, or how much commitment they have to see the sale through to completion.
  • Issues: Look for roadblocks in the sales process.

 

As with all of the methodologies, the important thing here is to listen. Listening to the customer, you understand what they need, and can break their needs and status down into like categories, etc.

 

The Sandler Selling System

 Selling System

Developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s by David Sandler, the Sandler Selling System is franchised and boasts over 250 offices and is taught in 23 languages. Sandler starts with uncovering the needs of the customer and then tailoring a pitch based on their needs.

 

Well, pretty much all of the methodologies start with that, even though most of the calls I’ve sat in on involving a sales rep launching into what it is about their product that’s so great. Maybe they pretend to listen to what I need first, but often not even that.

 

Because Sandler was developed in the 1960s, it’s got a focus on people. I like to think of it as a Zig Ziglar-esque methodology (we’ll link to Ziglar’s blogs in the Further Reading section of this blog, as it’s a must-read for anyone in sales). But, where it differs from most other methodologies is what comes next.

 

Sandler Sales has more emphasis on bilateralism than any other methodology. It’s about having two parties (the buyer and the seller) equally invested in the sales process.

 

This is done by having your reps bring up the roadblocks to completing sales early, providing the customer with options and assistance in overcoming those obstacles.

 

While this doesn’t completely end up with a bilaterally equal investment, it does allow you to show that you’ve put skin in the game and aren’t going to waste the time of the customer and of your organization in a deal that can’t close.

 

Think of this as a bit of reverse psychology: the potential customer basically ends up convincing themselves to buy by investing the time in getting the seller’s obstacles removed.

 

Many a high-tech company has a complex product to sell, but those in that industry are often leerier of slick sales tactics. Sandler is the most mature of the methodologies and with an emphasis on looking and acting professional, selling HR and business solutions into large organizations really works.

 

And parts of Sandler work in high-tech nerdy engineering, but other parts do not. As with other methodologies, choose which parts work well for your organization, but when choosing Sandler, take a keen eye on your target audience, and how they may interpret some of the behaviors as manipulative.

 

By being cognizant of that potential interpretation, you can make sure not to promote behaviors in your team that isn’t taken the wrong way.

 

MEDDIC

Medic, from Jack Napoli, as with many great things, hails from the era of Kurt Cobain. It stands for Metrics, Economic Buyer, Decision Criteria, Decision Process, Identify Pain, Champion.

 

Here, we’re enabling sales teams to be effective by helping to compose a plan to close each deal. With good automation in place (e.g., Salesforce integration), you can direct the best person to each customer and help them with messaging by having managers be prescriptive in making a consistent delivery of the sales methodology.

 

This involves time spent in a qualification stage, reviewing key messaging, and then working with the customer. If you’re interested in really tight control of your pipeline, this may be the best methodology for you;

 

However, many may find the amount of time it takes to prep each customer, combined with the required documentation, to be too labor-­ intensive.

 

Customer Centric Selling

Customer Centric Selling

A lot of products require a lengthy sales process. And many also require a complicated solution be delivered to a customer. CustomerCentric Selling involves turning your sales staff into collaborative consultants that become trusted advisors to customers. This makes CustomerCentric Selling dependent upon several kinds of behaviors.

 

You’re going to close deals on the customer’s timeline, not yours (unless you leverage special pricing and discounts to bring their timeline forward).

 

This might be hard to reconcile against increasing pressures on properly managing your pipeline, but it’s a good long-­ term/multi-quarter way to run the business (after all, if an opportunity closes in the first week of next quarter rather than the last week of this quarter, you’ve got a great start to the next quarter).

 

Decision makers aren’t always the same as buyers, especially in larger organizations. Target your sales efforts at the decision makers more than the buyers.

 

Put the product in the hands of your customer.

 

Learn where a customer is at and meet them there, rather than using presentations that don’t speak to a customer’s needs.

 

To learn where a customer is at, ask relevant questions about their business instead of jumping into what it is your organization can do for them.

 

Focus on the solution rather than the relationship (the relationship comes once you’ve solved their problem).

 

Don’t act busy; that’s an old-school technique that is supposed to manipulate customers into thinking you’re awesome because you’re in high demand. Instead, focus on having the best solution to meet the needs the customer identifies.

 

Help potential customers buy your products, rather than convincing them with pushy sales techniques.

 

Making the Methodology Selection

Methodology

There are about as many sales methodologies out there as there are really, really good account executives, sales engineers, and sales executives. This might be because it seems like when you get to an elite skillset, you take the body of knowledge you were introduced to and apply it to your style and franchise that out.

 

These sales strategies can become documented methodologies and can help your business flourish. But they require sufficient training, competence, and professional skills that can grab and engage today’s informed and mature customer rather than simply convincing them. Sales is hard.

 

A methodology can amplify a good seller, helping them close more business, or punish a high performer making it harder to close deals. No methodology will be perfect. The tenets of each are eerily similar in some cases.

 

But the underlying concepts are often to listen more, talk less, respect the time of your buyer, run your routes at their pace, respect your potential customers, and be helpful even if they don’t buy your product. Each can also have a lot of value for your organization in the details.

 

The methodologies I reference here have varying degrees of content in the article. This isn’t because any methodology is better; it’s more that I have worked with some more than others and have had varying degrees of success with them. No matter the methodology, it all starts with arming a good seller with a good product to sell.

 

But the methodology will help, will align staff to be on the same page, and will provide you with plenty of canned training materials on which to base your training and enablement assets. Now, let’s go and hire some more people to close those sales!

 

Implementing Your Methodology

 methodology

You now have a methodology that you think works. It’s time to hire your first seller. This person should be someone you could see yourself grooming into a sales leadership position. Don’t make any promises, just in case things only half work out. But hire for aptitude, not seniority.

 

You might end up hiring someone that sold you a car, or someone straight out of school. And likely, if you’re hiring for capacity rather than a blog of customers, you’ll end up being one of the first tech sales jobs that this new seller ends up with.

 

People new to industries are often among the easiest to train. They typically don’t come with a preconceived set of notions about how things are supposed to work, and they usually have a lot of skills that you might not otherwise think of—often helping innovate the way the business, or even the industry, work.

 

If you’re hiring someone new to the industry, then implementing a sales methodology really just requires that you read some blogs or take some classes on that methodology. When you do, try not to let your own opinions alter the way that you approach these things.

 

It’s worth mentioning that nearly every entrepreneur develops their own methodology based on their personality. Personalities don’t scale. Therefore, the methodology, sales training, and sales enablement mean that you don’t have to spend $1,000,000,000,000 to clone yourself (multiple times).

 

Working with Big Companies

Big Companies

Working with larger customers is a natural point of growth for many small and medium companies. There’s a certain thrill you get when you land your first big deal with a massive customer—a banner account that will help grow your business and also proves that you’ve “made it.”

 

But there’s a risk as well, which I learned the hard way. If you aren’t careful, a large company can make up an equally large percentage of your business. And then one day, no matter how good of a contractor you are, they can be gone, leaving you in a precarious position; often at no fault of your own.

 

By then it might be too late to take steps to minimize the impact of losing a customer like this, and you might end up getting forced to be creative to retain employees (and to pay them).

 

Here are five lessons I learned the hard way to keep in mind when partnering with big companies:

 

Understand your customer’s latency: This means knowing the answer to questions like, “How long will the customer really take to complete decision-making and to provide approvals to a project?” and “What’s the timeframe for you getting paid once that project is completed?”

 

When I landed my first major company as a customer, I didn’t realize it could take up to 6 months to get paid, just because I needed a PO to be approved by someone.

 

I was also unaware of how common it would be to have an occasional invoice stall for an additional 3 months due to routine account audits. Being able to plan my cash flow around such schedules would have saved me a lot of stress.

 

Don’t fall victim to “death by meeting”: In a large company, many more stakeholders are usually involved with every project. While there are good reasons for this, it does add latency to getting projects started.

 

This extra time is what I call the “hurry up and wait” time. Given this, be prepared by ensuring to budget enough time for the project in your pricing. A great start would be to ask at the outset the cadence of the meetings your big customer will require.

 

Ask about compliance: If you have access to a file, you might also need to meet certain security guidelines while viewing it. You’ve already gone through the effort of bidding, meeting with, and closing your big customer, so don’t accidentally kill the project by not meeting their specific compliance requirements.

 

Ask for a list of security and compliance guidelines upfront to help cut back on latency and also ensure that you’re meeting certain requirements.

 

Know the fiduciary requirements: This involves knowing the answers to questions like, “How much insurance do you have?”; “Are you OK providing an overview of your organization’s financials for the past 3 years?”;

 

“If someone else were to look at them, would the blogs actually make sense?”; and “Does the big company you’re partnering with have a requirement that they do not represent more than a given percentage of your organization’s billings?”

 

The point here is to know the specifics that are required by your partner organization, and then be prepared for additional fees that contracts may not address.

 

Competition can be fierce: There is likely a line of other vendors waiting to work with the big company you’ve partnered with but don’t let that drive you into making decisions that might end up being terrible for your business.

 

Use it as motivation to offer something truly unique that will continue to set you apart from your competition and to make your customer thankful for choosing your business.

 

The key thing to keep in mind is to take the right steps to ensure they don’t accidentally put you out of business! Be mindful of the requirements that are communicated when you engage in such a relationship, and be prepared for these new large customers to take time away from your base of clients that put you where you are.

 

A big new relationship comes with branding, making you a legitimate authority in your space, and, of course, hopefully, profit. Working with large customers doesn’t come without its own challenges, but it’s absolutely worth it.

 

As long as you go in with your eyes wide open, they can also take your organization to the next level!

 

Buy Software to Automate the Business

Automate

We’ve all probably said, “there’s an app for that.” And nowhere is this truer than the various aspects of starting a business. One of the things that the app-based economy has done for small businesses is to let them run on par with large enterprises. Gone are the days of wishing you had a tool that could do just about anything. You do.

 

Gone are the days of paying massive amounts of money for monolithic tools that force you into doing business in a specific way. Here are the days of stringing together small tools and workflows to automate pretty much anything, from managing trouble tickets to repairing systems to messaging you about problems on devices, to taking payment.

 

Choose Your Tools

DevOps team

The “Techie Bits” section later in the blog provides a nice long list of technical solutions. Why do I list so many rather than give you an easy-­ to-­follow, a comprehensive roadmap of tools?

 

Because they’re all equal in their own right. Maybe you want an open source-based toolchain. Maybe you want to keep things simple and do MDM-only device management of Macs.

 

Maybe you have enough devices to warrant hiring a DevOps team or platform engineering team that can automate a lot of maintenance and device management tasks.

 

Or maybe you want to build a ton of zero-tier assets that allow your customers to service their own needs and hook them into a machine learning based chat-bot. Maybe you prefer a 100% personalized touch and just want to get alerted when there’s a problem.

 

Whatever you choose to do, the most important thing is to know what’s out there and be deliberate about what you choose to do and not to do. First, let's look at device management solutions or those that allow you to remotely and centrally manage the state of devices, keeping you from having to perform routine tasks.

 

Device Management

Device Management

When I wrote my first blog on Managing Macs in the Enterprise, there were four device management tools. Today device management is a multi-billion dollar business and there are dozens, each with their own niche of sorts.

 

Mostly because Apple developed an API for managing devices, known as Mobile Device Management (MDM).

 

Back then, you had to image devices before you put them into the hands of users. With the Device Enrollment Program, (DEP), Apple has mostly removed the need for imaging by having devices join an MDM solution when first turned on, thus allowing for the automated configuration of devices in lieu of imaging.

 

Apple also introduced the Volume Purchase Program (VPP), which allows MDM solutions to deploy apps onto devices from the App Store. Most of the management many organizations needs is then able to be done through a GUI that sits on top of a bunch of API calls to normalize Apple services.

 

That’s an MDM in a nutshell. But then there are tools with agents of varying maturity. Jamf Pro, Munki, and FileWave are probably amongst the most important of these. Those tools may or may not also have an MDM component.

 

Jamf Pro and FileWave are the most fully featured of these. An emergent combination of AirWatch and Munki is another, although the future of this unlikely partnership has yet to be seen.

 

Which is the best management tool? I won’t go into those in this blog because they’re always changing and because the authors and vendors of these tools have very thin skins (of which I am one).

 

But each of these tools has an API and can be configured to work with common service desks and/or Professional Services Automation tools. For example, I wrote a tool that integrates Jamf Pro with Salesforce Cases and another that integrates Jamf Pro with ZenDesk.

 

Jamf has an integration available on the ServiceNow marketplace. Another example would be a tool that integrates ConnectWise, a popular PSA, with Jamf. I work for Jamf so these are the most familiar to me, but there are likely going to be integrations of varying degrees of maturity with any management tool you select.

 

Additionally, there are management tools that are made by organizations that also do things like PSA. LabTech, ConnectWise, and Kaseya are all tools that are Windows-first, and they work great for platforms that aren’t Apple (e.g. all have Mac agents). And all of those agents are glorified script runners with very little logic built in.

 

Therefore, if you use a tool like this, you’ll also likely need another tool, capable of actually helping you manage devices and get information about them effectively.

 

This isn’t to say you can’t use them. You should, in order to save the effort and cost, until you outgrow them. Just to temper your expectations as to how long that will take.

 

One exception is the SolarWinds MSP tool. The maintainers of the toolset used are working hard to build a comprehensive solution that allows an MSP to sell not only device management, which for a managed services provider will likely be more of a cost reduction tool.

 

But also to provide backup and antivirus solutions, which are add-ons with costs that are simple to pass back to your customers.

 

That will increase sales, increase MRR, and decrease the costs you incur in supporting devices (for example, restoring from a backup is often a quick fix compared to troubleshooting corrupt devices).

 

This toolchain might not work for you for whatever reason. If that’s the case, it’s still a good idea to look at the products they offer as ways to boost revenue and have happy customers.

 

PSA, MSA, RMM, and BDR (Oh My!)

Choosing the right Professional Services Automation (PSA) and/or MSA (Managed Services Automation) is one of the most important things that many a Managed Services Provider will do.

 

This is expensive software that is meant to save you time. And there is no clear-cut answer as to what is the right automation software you should be using.

 

Why? Because each has strengths and weaknesses. And I won’t go into those in this blog because they’re always changing and because the vendors who make these tools have very thin skins.

 

But I can provide guidance. First, look for tools that focus on the platform you primarily support. If you are primarily a Mac shop, look at the Mac support in software; if you are more a Windows shop and adding Mac as a snap-on, look for good, deep integration with Windows installers.

 

Even better, there are actually tools out there that focus on the vertical markets you might be supporting and those are often the best as they have logic built in that will save you time and money when working with customers in that market.

 

The main goal of a PSA or MSA solution is to save you on labor costs while providing additional value to your hard-earned customers. If you can proactively fix a problem before the person using a device-experiences some kind of work stoppage, then you’ve earned that support contract.

 

A little follow through goes a long way; without making a big deal of things, communicate that to customers, so they understand the value of the services you provide.

 

Remote Management and Monitoring (RMM) is a tool that allows you to remotely manage devices. A good RMM tool will, as with many things, allow you to do multiple things. One of my favorites is just reaching in and taking control of a desktop to troubleshoot.

 

While you want face time with customers, you also want to control costs and deliver faster outcomes for your customers; therefore, RMM is critical to efficiency by keeping butts in chairs and out of cars.

 

BDR Software

BDR Software

BDR stands for Backup and Disaster Recovery. This type of software is considered by many to be an add-on to base offerings. But it’s important to consider that nothing will get you fired faster than losing data.

 

Explaining why data was lost and isolating whether it was internal IT, end user, or your organization that caused data loss is irrelevant.

 

The perception when it comes to lost data is that your consulting firm should have kept that from happening. Beyond data loss, BDR software provides you with a number of additional options when it comes to streamlining your troubleshooting and device upgrade/replacement programs.

 

You can bundle BDR into your offering; however, that causes your base price to seem higher.

 

Keep in mind that when you’re small, switching tools will be a pain, but doable. As you grow, it becomes more and more challenging given the number of devices you might have to touch, and you lose a lot of historical data when you do so.

 

So be diligent about your tool selection. While some may appear expensive in the beginning, you’ll likely notice the real value chain that they bring as you grow.

 

Consider the following attributes when you’re building a toolchain:

  • What is the cost of the tool vs the value derived from the tool?
  • Are all of your billing types supported?
  • Does the tool integrate with other device management solutions?

 

  • Does the tool provide a clear and easily explainable path from ticket creation to ticket completion to accounts receivable to timecard keeping for your staff?

 

  • Does the tool allow for a skills matrix, so that as you grow you aren’t reliant on a dispatcher who knows each skillset in your organization to route tickets?

 

  • Does the tool automate communications with customers?
  • Can you custom script the tool in case there are necessary workflows not otherwise supported?

 

  • Can you buy one tool instead of three?
  • If you outgrow the tool, what are your other options and how portable is the data to those other options?
  • Will the tool require professional services to get started?
  • How is the support organization of the company that makes the tool?
  • Do you actually like using the tool?

 

There are so many other questions, but these should get you started on the right path. Customers should be able to create a ticket online, see the status of that ticket online, see the status of their fleet online, get a message that the ticket was closed, rate your performance on the ticket, see their bill for the work, and pay their bill or change their billing information.

 

And chances are, especially when it comes to Apple, that one tool isn’t going to allow you to do all that. But with some good work, you can string together a fully automatable solution.

 

Tip Once you select a tool, also consider what the future will be for that tool!

You should have a goal to outgrow any MSP solution you purchase. These tools are great for growing and smaller businesses, but once you get to a certain point, none will be able to keep up with your growing needs.

 

In the beginning, if you have too much scripting and other custom workflows that don’t make sense using any of these tools, your business logic is probably broken.

 

But as you grow, if you stick to their specific workflows, you’ll likely end up either being a commodity, or your labor costs will start to skyrocket. At this point, it’s worth bringing in a business advisor or seeking the counsel of someone who’s gone through similar growing pains.

 

Note All of the PSA and MSA tools out there are going to suck unless you bend your business logic to conform to theirs. And even then they may suck. I am sorry to tell you that the selection process should assume a little bit of sucktitude.

 

But building your own from scratch should be a business model where you sell your tool if you indeed think you can do things better than everyone else (and want the chance to prove yourself right).

 

The App-Based Economy

App

Rarely will a single software title automate an entire organization; you might have to string together multiple software packages in order to realize the full benefits of any given tool.

 

And once you do, you’re bound to find that you want to automate more and more. The quote I used to use is “getting replaced with a small shell script means a promotion!”

 

So what tools should you look at here (and maybe even come up with a service you can sell to your customers). A couple of solutions stand out above the rest:

 

IFTTT (short for If This Then That) is a consumer-­ focused tool that was built to allow for simple, human-­ readable automation. IFTTT can easily be used to link services like Nest, Google Apps, and other common cloud services.

 

The great thing about IFTTT is that I see a lot of value in the ability for people to build their own automatics. The problem with that is it can take you a while to sort through overlapping and poorly built automation to find the ones that actually do what you want reliably. But it’s free, so there’s that.

 

Work at is a tool that can be used to link a number of more professional-level cloud services together. I strongly recommend you look at all of the supported workflows in Workato for all tools you use.

 

You might see something that looks innocuous at first but turns out to spark an innovative if not revolutionary workflow that saves you time or ends up delighting your customers in ways you might not have ever thought of otherwise.

 

Workflow is so awesome that it was recently purchased by Apple. Similar in that it links various tools that have APIs, the only reason Workflow isn’t my go-to is that I have concerns about the longevity of their technology, given that Apple is famously not API-friendly in their approach to allowing access to their online services.

 

And new tools are coming out every day. In a micro-services and API-first oriented world, the real value of many solutions is their interoperability. Most vendors want to be a framework and not focus on that interoperability, so the market for tools that glue other tools together is exploding.

 

Some other solutions to consider include Zapier, AutomationFuel, Conexio, Automate.too, Integromat, Flow XO Integrations, Microsoft Flow, OneSaas, Flash node, and Built.io | Digital transformation leader in iPaaS for API and microservices integration, Headless CMS and MBaaS.

 

Note The automation available in the above tools is just a start. New things pop up in those tools every day. I recommend checking out the list routinely (maybe over your morning coffee once a month).

 

In the previous blog, we discussed Accounting software. Don’t forget about that. In the beginning, most organizations will use an App or a web app to bill customers manually. But don’t forget that while you can have an app to bill customers manually, the more billing you do, the more time-consuming doing so will become.

 

That’s why there are a number of ways to integrate your billing with your task management, ticket management, and other workflows. Tools like Fresh blogs and Freshdesk have then gone the extra mile to build Freshservice, so you can roll many of your tools into the one really good tool.

 

If you can simplify your business logic to match one of these more integrated solutions, you’re likely to pull your hair out less when trying to troubleshoot why all these house-of-cards style workflows don’t always work properly.

 

Automation Services

Be careful. All of this automation that we’ve discussed up to now in this blog can get really complicated if you aren’t careful. If you can’t explain how your business works quickly, then there’s something wrong. Unless of course, you’re doing billions of dollars in contracts.

 

Once you’ve automated as much as you can, expend time on those customers, just to remind them of how much you love them. This not only helps you retain customers but also helps you understand their needs more. And most importantly, you might make a few friends along the way.

 

What to Expect When Building Software

Software

Earlier in this blog, we looked at out of the box solutions to help you manage devices, manage tickets, manage employees, etc. But you might know more about how you think a business should run than thousands of other organizations.

 

No really, you actually might. Once you’ve asked yourself if you’re sure about that, then you can start to look at building software.

 

If you’ve never built software or had software built, it’s helpful to note that there are some common truths when it comes to software development (and the people that generally build software). If you decide to go down this road, here are some tips on software projects:

 

  • A project will never have enough people to build all the features you want. Period.

 

  • As a software project nears completion, the amount of work remaining to do rises in proportion to how messy your code is. The more hacks and shortcuts you took, the longer that last 1% will take.

 

  • Sometimes it’s easier to make a new version than it is to try to improve and perfect a previous version. Never be so in love with your code that you can't erase it all and rebuild it again.

 

  • Every year you get better at writing code, so end up getting embarrassed by how crappy your code was and how you just want to rewrite all of your projects. Assuming you’re actually getting better.

 

  • Fewer features mean fewer defects.
  • More developers mean more merge conflicts. Moving to larger teams doesn’t necessarily mean a comparable increase in productivity.

 

  • As projects grow, you can’t QA or unit test every regression possible. But you have to try!

 

  • Who cares what methodology you’re using, just be deliberate! Kanban, Scrum, Extreme Programming, etc. They’re all basically the same. What matters is that the team is on the same page.

 

  • Not nearly enough project managers plan for holidays, vacations, and sick time in their project plans.
  • Good developers are hard to find. But wait it out or you might get stuck with someone that just makes the team less cohesive.

 

  • The more high-performing a team the more annoyed team members get about people that aren’t amazing.

 

  • Most developers don’t start with domain knowledge (or knowledge of the subject they’re writing software for). Once developers get domain knowledge, they write better software. And need less specific customer stories!

 

  • Beyond a few minutes a day, meetings have a decidedly negative return on investment.
  • There is always tech debt. Always.

 

You might actually build software for customers. This is a great way to cross-sell additional services to customers and provide more value. The software you build also makes you more and more sticky with customers.

 

And especially when covering a gap to address software not available to the Apple platform, software development can easily end up providing roughly one-third of your annual revenue; therefore, if you don’t yet have this discipline, think about it long and hard. And read blogs on that as well!

 

The Customer Scorecard

KPI

Key Performance Indicators (or KPIs) are metrics that make it easier for you to evaluate the health of something at a customer. That something might be the customer’s deployment of network equipment, management of Apple devices, use of social media to reach customers, etc.

 

We don’t want to hand customers complicated charts. So I’ve seen companies use precious metals, rockets, comic blog characters, and other mechanisms to easily report the health of a customer’s environment.

 

Many a company also calls the way they display KPIs as a health-check. I’ve seen a number of organizations use the Net Promoter Score, or NPS, as the basis for gauging their health of a company.

 

Let’s look at an example. Let’s say you do a survey and you get 1,000 responses. If 100 responses were Detractors, in the 0–6 range and 300 responses were Passives, in the 7-8 range, then that would leave 600 in the Promoters category, or having scored from 9 to 10. We’ll go ahead and subtract the Detractors (10%) from the Promoters (60%) for a total of 50.

 

I’d say you have some work to do, but then I’d probably say that if the score was 10 as well. Anything above a 0 is considered a good score and anything over 70 is world class. I’d give the 50 range an excellent score.

 

If you’re only going to look at one thing after you look at the balance in your bank account, look at that. But if you want to go further, I’d recommend taking a bunch of KPIs and putting them into a Balanced Scorecard.

 

The Balanced Scorecard

The Balanced Scorecard, or BSC for short, is often called a 4x4. The reason for this is that it is four categories that at a glance show how your business is doing, with four supporting attributes for each category.

 

This allows you way more insight than the NPS and is often easily drilled down into. I first started using these in college and have used them throughout my career. I always start with a financial column.

 

Financial

Financial

Ultimately, every business, or business unit, is judged on a financial outcome. Not including a column with financial metrics is a mistake, no matter what employees or teams may think.

 

Whether the financial column shows good or bad news, the more transparent you can be with the staff, the more they will understand how their performance will impact the performance of the company.

 

I have heard arguments that staff will leave in the lean times. But that’s fine; keep in mind that while good employees are one of the hardest things in business to find, loyalty is certainly a big part of being a “good employee”.

 

Let’s look at some metrics I like for the financial section of a BSC:

 

Contract renewals: Earlier, we mentioned Net Promoter Scores, which is where customers tell you how willing they would be to recommend your company to others. 

 

But the thing I like about contract renewals is that this is where customers vote with their pocket blog. Having said that, if you have a high renewal and a low NPS, customers likely feel trapped with your company, which is a problem. You can only do crappy work for so long.

 

Growth in existing customers: The business needs to grow. Bringing in new customers is important. Keeping customers is also important. Growing business with existing customers is a key metric that shows you how you’re doing to nurture the trust in existing customers.

 

New customers: The thing about net-new customers is that this tells you how attractive or easy to find you are in your market. This is where you spend on sales and marketing, as well as how you’ve done building your service product is displayed in your BSC.

 

Gross margin: The nice thing about looking at margins is that they cover operational expenses. If you aren’t careful, you can easily spend more than customers are worth to obtain and maintain them.

 

Other metrics I’ve seen included, which usually address a problem that is time-bound at organizations, including accounts receivable and accounts payable. Both of these can be put into a single attribute like cash flow, but this is where I usually draw the line around what I want to share with employees, as it’s often too much information.

 

Yes, transparency is good, but there are certainly places that you have to draw the line (I also include salaries in this category – even though salary transparency is an increasingly important topic and not consistent amongst international organizations).

 

Note I like the concept of salary transparency because it has such a great impact on diversity, leveling, etc. If it were up to me, overnight, every company in the world might just publish every salary on the interwebs.

 

But it’s not. And unless everyone does this, then it’s hard to say what might happen. But whatever the impact to your staff, I’m behind ya’, if you choose to do it, provided of course that your salary is one of them!

 

Customer

Customer

Financial is the easiest big-picture item on a scorecard. But in my experience, the item likely to drive future movements of that entire category of the scorecard is customer happiness.

 

What is happiness? Usually, it’s your organization doing good work, providing value, communicating well, and being consistent in the delivery of your services. Let’s look at some of the components I like to include in the customer section of balanced scorecards.

 

Net Promoter Score (NPS): The NPS is described in the previous section, but surmise it to say that this is an industry standard and one of the most critical metrics that I believe all organizations should track.

 

CSAT: Customer satisfaction, like NPS, is a simple score. Here, you ask customers to rate your performance. My preference is when users close a ticket. This type of feature is built into most service desk solutions at this point and provides customers with the ability to rate your performance on the fly.

 

Median Time to Close (MTTC) tickets: How long, on average, does it take you to close tickets. Make sure to break that down categorically, given that each might have a different Service Level Agreement (SLA).

 

Given that times change, and that specific customers can basically buy better SLAs, one way I like to do this is to simply look at how frequently you meet the SLA. For example, if you opened 390 tickets in June, what percentage were assigned and then closed on time?

 

End User Ratings: This is tricky. Most companies either survey end users or they survey their contact at a customer (this tends to align with the size of the fleet of devices being supported).

 

Have the end users and your customer contacts rate your performance. Customers should be happy. But you need to run an efficient organization. In support of this, we’ll look at internal processes in the next section of the Balanced Scorecard.

 

Internal Processes

Internal Processes

Internal processes are there to provide that consistency factor to customers, control costs, and give you the ability to keep taking on new customers with a wider and wider profit margin as you grow while maintaining a consistently high-quality service. Some process attributes I like to look at including the following:

 

Time to Patch: How long between the time a piece of supported software is released until the time it shows up on a computer. This can be tough. I mean, what happens if the software is buggy and you decide not to deploy it across the fleet of computers you manage?

 

Calls Due to Patches: I’ve never seen anyone else track this, so I might just be crazy, but to me, the only way to properly reduce the amount of time to patch systems is to automate that process.

 

And if you’re automating it, you need to reduce the impact of said automation on your customers. Tracking the impact of that automation is then critical to tracking the effectiveness of your efforts

 

Tickets closed from automation (not included in MTTC): I started including this a few years ago. The old t-shirt that says “I will replace you with a very small shell script” isn’t exactly the point.

 

The point is to be able to free intelligent and driven staff from having to perform menial tasks. For every one of those tasks that can be completed automatically, there is time for your team to take on other tickets, or better, to innovate the business.

 

Percentage of Tickets Closed Remotely: Similar to closing tickets with automation, you want to keep butts in chairs. Travel time is expensive and stressful. Tools like LogMeIn, TeamViewer, PCAnywhere, and Bomgar help your access systems remotely.

 

Customers and staff might push back on how much you want to use these tools. Handle those objections, as the higher this number gets, the more profitable your organization can be, long-term.

 

I then always save something about the long-term performance of the company for the end. Additionally, I’ve seen people include things that are purely operational like the number of tickets closed within a given amount of time.

 

The amount of labor spent to close tickets, the number of total tickets opened (usually for managed services customers), how quickly mileage or expense reports are turned in, and other very short-term issues that good systems will help you resolve instead of constantly sweating the small things.

 

Learning & Growth

Growth

Don’t just be concerned about the short-term and financial performance of your company. Think about the long-term potential of the company and the employees as well. This will make you a great place to work.

 

Roadmap Completion: In a software development company, the roadmap lays out the features you want to ship at your company. But I like to use the term roadmap at a services company.

 

Basically, the roadmap is where you want your company to be going. This is likely the best long-term indicator that you are being deliberate and not just following where the business is taking you (for better or worse).

 

I like to build a roadmap that includes developing new services (e.g. BDR, antivirus, CRM) and tracking the readiness, sales effectiveness, and time it takes to be able to deliver those services. I also like to put automation efforts and the implementation of centralized ticketing and device management systems on my roadmaps.

 

Resource Allocation: A lot of employees are most happy when they’re busy. But you should limit your expectations and make sure teams feel comfortable having time to learn.

 

I like to set a target resource allocation. And when you’re going above that, it’s time to hire. When you’re going below that, it’s time to get creative with new client acquisition.

 

Employee Satisfaction: Do your employees like where they work? What do they like about it? Culture is one of the most important aspects of why people stay at a given organization, but also shows you how engaged and therefore effective your staff is. As you might have guessed by now, I love surveys.

 

So do the good people at Culture Amp. The thing I like about using a tool like Culture Amp instead of trying to make up my own metrics is that, well, they’re the experts in quantifying Employee Engagement, Employee Experience, and Employee Effectiveness.

 

Learning Plan Completion: This is all about the staff. Never forget that a consultancy is a services business, and the most valuable part of a services business is usually the people who deliver those services. Usually, employees who are learning are happy employees. The reason we track resource allocation is to make sure we’re well staffed.

 

Building learning plans help to steer your team in the right direction. Tracking their progress on a learning plan tracks the effectiveness of that time while providing flexibility for each team member to learn the way they need to learn, rather than how you think they should be learning.

 

Everything is possible. So if you want all of these on a webpage that you can display on the AppleTV in the office, then you can make that happen. It might take a lot of work to pull off, and so if you have a little bit of manual data entry or automation around putting metrics into a database then so be it. It will be worth it.

 

One final point on Scorecards. Customers should be able to see the BSC, or at least the elements of the BSC that are customer-facing, when possible. Categories that have made sense to share with customers in the past include Learning & Growth, Customer, and Internal Processes (or at least parts of those categories).

 

In my attempts to build a link between various systems, I’ve frequently had to switch to use an API pull from disparate systems (e.g. Autotask, Quickbooks, and Jamf) into a centralized database.

 

Despite lofty promises from people in sales, I have had vendors claim they can get me pretty dashboards automagically, but I’ve yet to see something that touches every system I use without plenty of customization.

 

Testing

Testing

Don’t ever believe anyone in sales. Especially if I’m on the sales call. Despite the best possible intentions, you may be lied to. OK, not lied to, but the answer might not be as informed about the exact thing you’re asking about as it could be.

 

Or you might hear what you want to hear. Point is, you need to see things with your own eyes to avoid any potential miscommunication.

 

Don’t take the word of a systems engineer, seller, or even the actual developer of a tool. Before you commit to a purchase, you need to see things work the way you want them to work.

 

Otherwise, the tool is just vaporware. This is compounded when you’re using a hodgepodge of tools to build a comprehensive solution, with defined workflows.

 

So how should you go about testing these complicated workflows? Once you’ve come up with a scenario you can deal with, think about taking it through the entire end-to-end process.

 

Build a list of must-have features, a list of features you can build, and a list of those you cannot live without. Then build a testing matrix that includes each step in a series of tasks. Then try to configure all the parts of your deployment.

 

Once your deployment is working, you’re not going to want to mess with it all that much. But you’ll have to. Software updates will come, new features will force new automation, and every time you do something, you’ll want to repeat all your tests.

 

Therefore, I recommend having a full testing environment that is as identical as possible to your production environment.

 

Techie Bits

The next few pages of this blog include a survey of tools that are going to make using Apple devices easier, more automatable, and more cost effective. These are the tools technicians, develops, and help desks are going to use, as well as a few lines of business tools that might provide good opportunities to sell additional services to customers.

 

In order to remain vendor agnostic, I am trying to list solutions in alphabetical order by category. A brief explanation of each category, with categories of tools listed, follows:

 

Antivirus: Solutions for scanning Macs for viruses and other malware.

 

Automation Tools: Scripty tools used to automate management on the Mac

 

Backup: I highly recommend bundling or reselling some form of backup service to your customers, whether home, small business or large enterprises. The flexibility to restore a device from a backup when needed is one of the most important things to keep costs at a manageable level and put devices back into the hands of customers in an appropriate time frame.

 

CRM: Mac-friendly tools used to track contacts and communications with those contacts.

 

Collaboration Suites: Once upon a time, a Mac server was great for shared calendars, contacts, and email. But most businesses aren’t going to want anything to do with the repercussions of potential downtime that can happen on a mail server.

 

Nothing will get your hard-earned customers to fire you faster than an email outage. So while the Mac server is listed, consider cloud options, for optimal customer retention.

 

DEP Splash Screens and Help Menus: Tools that make the DEP and service desk process more user-friendly by providing more information to users.

 

Development Tools, IDEs and Text Editors: Tools used when building scripts, writing and debugging software, and manipulating text.

 

Digital Signage and Kiosks: I put these in here because I know a lot of organizations that have made a great little additional revenue stream by reselling or deploying these tools on behalf of their customers.

 

I have friends that have also created managed service offerings just around these tools. Overall, it’s a possible new revenue stream and as an added bonus, you’ll likely have an NFR (or Not For Resale copy of the software) so you can have pretty cool signage in your office (if you’re into that kind of thing).

 

Directory Services: Tools that provide primarily on-­ premises access to a shared directory of services and allow for single-sign-on to those services.

 

File Sharing: Mac-centric cloud and on-premises tools to share and synchronize files.

 

Identity Management: Providers of predominantly SAML based Single-Sign-On solutions that federate security for Apple devices to access web-based services.

 

Imaging and Configuration Tools: Tools used to place devices into a given state or create that state. This includes traditional Macs, including tools, as well as those built for iOS.

 

Line of Business: Traditionally Mac-focused solutions that automate various business functions.

 

Log Collection and Analysis: Centralized logging has been a necessity for large, growing fleets of devices. Modern tools can store large amounts of logs from client computers and allow fast and complex searching so you can triangulate issues quickly and effectively.

 

As an added benefit, you can also centralize logs for network appliances, allowing you to isolate the source of issues across an entire ecosystem of devices.

 

Management Suites: Tools used to manage settings on Apple Devices. Each is marked as MDM, Agent-based, or both.

 

Print Servers: Servers that either provide access to printers or allow for more granular printing features, such as cost accounting.

 

Remote Control and Management: These tools allow you to take control of the screen, keyboard, and mouse of devices. I can’t tell you which are the best.

 

But I can tell you that I want my remote control solutions to be cross-platform, to be cloud-based, to prompt users for acceptance of the remote control session, and to audit connections so I know who is taking over what devices.

 

Print Servers: I’ve always hated printers. Whether the old Fiery print services, a common LPR-based printer, or one of the shared printing services, I still can’t stand managing printers.

 

Printers jam, they break, the drivers seem to be rife with problems for every other operating system update, printers are often connected to via ad-hoc networks (like Bonjour), and you often need special software to access the cool features.

 

All-­ in-­all, printers suck, but these tools might make them just a tad bit easier to use, or if not, help to account for who is using them so your customers can bill their departments back as much as possible.

 

Point of Sale (PoS): Similar to digital signage, but you might also operate a storefront or track customer data in one of these solutions.

 

Remote Management: Tools used to take control of the screen of an Apple device.

 

Security Tools: Tools used to manage firewalls, FileVault, and perform other tasks required to secure Macs, based on the security posture of a given organization.

 

Service Desk Tools: These tools are for ticketing and ticket management. It’s always great if you can pick one that actually integrates with both your billing solution and the various other techie bits you choose to use.

 

Software Packaging and Package Management: Tools for normalizing software for mass distribution on Apple platforms.

 

Storage: Apple-focused solutions for sharing files.

 

Troubleshooting, Repair, and Service Tools: Tools used to fix logical problems with hard drives, check hardware for issues, repair various system problems, or just clean up a Mac.

 

Virtualization and Emulation: Not all software runs on a Mac. Customers will have certain tasks that may require a Windows machine. You can use Citrix or a Microsoft Terminal Server to provide for that potential requirement. Or, especially if users need data from their Windows apps when offline, you can use a local virtualization tool.

 

Antivirus

  • AVG: Basic antivirus and spyware detection and remediation.
  • Avast: Centralized antivirus with a cloud console for tracking incidents and device status.
  • Avira: Antivirus and a browser extension. Avira Connect allows you to view device status online.

 

  • BitDefender: Antivirus and malware managed from a central console.
  • CarbonBlack: Antivirus and Application Control.
  • Cylance: Ransomware, advanced threats, lifeless malware and malicious documents in addition to standard antivirus.

 

  • Kaspersky: Antivirus with a centralized cloud dashboard to track device status.
  • Malware Bytes: Antivirus and malware managed from a central console.
  • McAfee Endpoint Security: Antivirus and advanced threat management with a centralized server to track devices.

 

  • Sophos: Antivirus and malware managed from a central console.
  • Symantec Mobile Device Management: Antivirus and malware managed from a central console.

 

  • Trend Micro Endpoint Security: Application whitelisting, antivirus, ransomware protection in a centralized console.
  • Wandera: Malicious hot-spot monitoring, jailbreak detection, web gateway for mobile threat detection that integrates with common MDM solutions.

 

Automation Tools

Automation

  • AutoCasperNBI: Automates the creation of NetBoot Images (read: NBI’s) for use with Casper Imaging.
  • Auto DMG: Takes a macOS installer (10.10 or newer) and builds a system image suitable for deployment with Imagr, DeployStudio, LANrev, Jamf Pro, and other asr, or Apple Systems Restore-based imaging tools.

 

  • AutoNBI: Automates the build and customization of Apple NetInstall Images.
  • Dockutil: Command line tool for managing dock items.
  • Homebrew: Package manager for macOS.

 

  • Cakebrew provides a pretty GUI for Homebrew.
  • Jamjar: Synergises jamf, autopkg & munki into an aggregated convergence that cherry-picks functionality from each product’s core competency to create an innovative, scalable, & modular update framework.

 

  • MacPorts: An open-source community initiative to design an easy-to-use system for compiling, installing, and upgrading either command-line, X11, or Aqua based open-source software on Macs.

 

  • Precache: Programmatically caches Mac and iOS updates rather than waiting for a device to initiate caching on a local caching server.
  • Outset: Automatically processes packages, profiles, and scripts during the boot sequence, user logins, or on demand.

 

Backup

  • Acronis: Centrally managed backups with image-based restores.
  • Archiware: Centrally managed backups to disk and tape with a variety of agents for backing up common Apple requirements, such as Xsan.
  • Arq: One-time fee cloud-based backups and unlimited storage.

 

  • Backblaze: Unlimited continuous backup with a 30-day rollback feature.
  • Carbon Copy Cloner: File or disk-based cloning of files for macOS.
  • Carbonite: SaaS or local-server based backups of Mac clients.

 

  • CrashPlan: Backup to the cloud and local storage with a great deduplication engine.
  • Datto: Local and cloud backup and restore, as well as cloud failover for various services.
  • Druva: Backup for local computers as well as some backup for cloud services.

 

  • Quest Backup (formerly Netvault): Can backup Mac clients and Xsan volumes to a centralized tape or disk-­ based backup server.
  • SuperDuper!: Duplicates the contents of volumes to other disks.
  • Time Machine: a Built-in backup tool for macOS.

 

Collaboration Suites and File Sharing

  • Atlassian: Development oriented suite including wiki (Confluence), issue tracking (Jira), messaging (HipChat), and other tools.
  • Box: File sharing in the cloud.

 

  • Dropbox: File sharing in the cloud.
  • Egnyte: Caches assets from popular cloud-based services so they're accessible faster on networks where they're frequently accessed.

 

  • G Suite: Shared Mail, Contacts, Calendars. Groupware, accessible from the built-in Apple tools, Microsoft Outlook, and through the web.
  • Kerio Connect: Shared Mail, Contacts, Calendars. Groupware, accessible from the built-in Apple tools, Microsoft Outlook, and through the web.
  • Office 365: Shared Mail, Contacts, Calendars. Groupware, accessible from the built-in Apple tools, Microsoft Outlook, and through the web.

 

CRM

  • Daylite: Mac tool for managing contacts and communications with those contacts.
  • Hike: Mac tool for managing contacts and communications with those contacts.
  • GroCRM: iOS tool for managing contacts and communications with those contacts.

 

DEP Splash Screens and Help Menus

  • ADEPT: Adds a splash screen for DEP enrollments so users can see what is happening on their devices.
  • DEPNotify: Adds a splash screen for DEP enrollments so users can see what is happening on their devices.
  • HelloIT: Customizable help menu so users can get information about their systems or IT support.

 

  • MacDNA: Customizable help menu so users can get information about their systems or IT support.
  • SplashBuddy: Adds a splash screen for DEP enrollments so users can see what is happening on their devices.

 

Development Tools, IDEs, and Text Manipulators

  • aText: Replaces abbreviations with frequently used phrases you define.
  • Atom: A modern text editor with bells and whistles that make it work like an IDE for common scripting languages.
  • BBEdit: A modern text editor with bells and whistles that make it work like an IDE for common scripting languages.

 

  • Charles Proxy: A proxy tool that can be used to inspect traffic so you can programmatically reproduce the traffic or reverse engineer what is happening when trying to solve issues or build tools.

 

  • CocoaDialog: Create better dialog boxes than with traditional tools like AppleScript.
  • Coda: An IDE and a modern text editor with bells and whistles that make it work like an IDE for common scripting languages.
  • Dash: Offline access to 150+ API documentation sets.
  • Docker: Containerization tool.

 

  • FileMaker: Rapid application development software from Apple.
  • git: Code versioning, merging, and tracking - and with GitHub, a repository to put the code into and share code.
  • Hopper Disassembler: Disassemble binaries as part of reverse engineering and security testing.
  • Microsoft Visual Studio: An IDE for a variety of languages.

 

  • MySQL Workbench: Create and edit MySQL databases and use to build complex queries.
  • Navicat Essentials: Create and edit MySQL databases and use to build complex queries.

 

  • Pashua: Creating native Aqua dialogs from programming languages that have none or only limited support for graphic user interfaces on Mac OS X, such as AppleScript, Bash scripts, Perl, PHP, Python, and Ruby.

 

  • Platypus: creates native Mac OS X applications from interpreted scripts such as shell scripts or Perl, Ruby and Python programs.
  • Script Debugger: Tools like a dictionary explorer and more IDE-esque features for building AppleScript applications.

 

  • SequelPro: Create and edit MySQL databases and use to build complex queries.
  • Snippets Manager: Collect and organize code snippets
  • SourceTree: GUI tool for Git and Github.

 

  • SublimeText: A modern text editor with bells and whistles that make it work like an IDE for common scripting languages.
  • TextExpander: Replaces abbreviations with frequently used phrases you define.
  • TextWrangler: A modern text editor with bells and whistles that make it work like an IDE for common scripting languages.

 

  • Tower: A modern text editor with bells and whistles that make it work like an IDE for common scripting languages.
  • Visual JSON: Simple JSON pretty-viewer for the Mac.
  • Xcode: Apple tool for writing apps and scripts in common languages.

 

Digital Signage and Kiosks

  • Carousel Digital Signage: Run Digital Signage from an AppleTV.
  • Kiosk Pro: Turn any iPad into a single-user kiosk tool, manageable via an API (e.g. with a Jamf Pro integration).
  • Risevision: Run Digital Signage from a Mac.

 

Directory Services and Authentication Tools

  • Apple Enterprise Connect: Tool sold through Apple that connects to Active Directory environments without binding to Active Directory.
  • AdmitMac: Adds support for fringe Active Directory requirements.
  • JumpCloud: Run your directory service in the cloud.

 

  • LDAP: Open source directory service.
  • macOS Server Open Directory: Directory service installed in macOS Server that is based on OpenLDAP.
  • Microsoft Active Directory: Centralized directory service from Microsoft.

 

  • Nomad: Connects clients to Active Directory environments without binding to Active Directory. And has some other nifty features.

 

Identity Management

  • Centrify: Provide federated login across common web services and other SAML-capable solutions, as well as resolve common issues with Active Directory. Also has an integrated profile management tool for compliance.
  • Duo Mobile: Additional options in the realm of secure identity, with lots of great research going on in the Apple space.

 

  • LastPass Enterprise: Provide federated login across common web services and other SAML-capable solutions
  • Microsoft Azure Active Directory: Active Directory with Azure in the cloud.

 

  • Okta: Provide federated login across common web services and other SAML-capable solutions
  • OneLogin: Provide federated login across common web services and other SAML-capable solutions
  • Ping Identity: Provide federated login across common web services and other SAML-capable solutions

 

Imaging and Configuration Tools

  • Apple Configurator: Configure iOS and tvOS devices en-masse, automate MDM enrollment, and distribute data.
  • Blast Image Config: Will no longer be developed, given the state of device imaging, but allows admins to quickly restore and configure a Macintosh back to a known state (10.12.2 and below)

 

  • createOSXInstallPackage: create an installer package from an “Install OS X.app” or an InstallESD.dmg. (10.12.4 and below)
  • Deep Freeze: Freeze the state of a Mac.
  • DeployStudio: Free imaging server for Macs.

 

  • Google Restor: Image macOS computers from a single source. It is an application intended to be run interactively on a machine.
  • Ground Control: Mass deploy (and enroll) iOS devices.
  • Image: Replaces tools such as DeployStudio for many organizations without the requirement of needing to be run on OS X servers.

 

  • libimobile device: Suite of tools to configure, inspect, wipe, etc for iOS devices.
  • WinClone: Create windows images for deployment onto Macs.

 

Log Collection and Analysis

  • Elastic Search: Open Source, very fast log analysis.
  • RobotCloud Dashboard: Provides more granular and intuitive visibility into devices managed by Jamf Pro.
  • Splunk: Big data log analysis.
  • Tableau: Big data analysis.

 

  • Watchman Monitoring: Mac-focused monitoring agents that inspect common third-party tools.
  • Zentral: Open source, built on ElasticSearch, but with hooks into lots of other tools and custom recipes for Mac logs. Management Suites
  • Audigy: Agent and MDM-based
  • AirWatch: MDM and Agent-based

 

  • ConnectWise: Limited agent-based Mac management focused on MSPs
  • IBM MaaS360: MDM
  • Jamf Pro (formerly Casper Suite): MDM and Agent-­ based
  • Microsoft Intune: (MDM) & SCCM: (Agent-based)

 

  • SimpleMDM: MDM
  • SolarWinds MSP: Agent-based with integrated backup and ticketing for Managed Service Providers.
  • Jamf NetSUS: Reposado packaged up for Jamf servers.
  • InfineaIQ: Peripheral management software.

 

  • ITGlue: Store credentials and information about common IT tools in a SaaS-based database.
  • Reposado: An open source interpretation of the Apple Software Update Server.
  • Sassafras Keyserver: Centralized software license management server.

 

Remote Management

  • Apple Remote Desktop: Apple tool for remotely controlling other Macs, sending packages to Macs, and running scripts on Macs over a LAN or directly to an IP address.

 

  • Bomgar: Appliance that allows for cross-platform remote control of devices.
  • CoRD: RDP client.

 

  • LogMeIn: Cross-platform remote control utility.
  • GoToMyPC: Cross-platform remote control utility.
  • Remote Desktop: The official RDP client for the Mac.

 

  • Remotix: RDP and VNC server with lots of bells and whistles.
  • TeamViewer: Cross-platform remote control utility.

 

Security Tools

  • Cauliflower Vest: Store FileVault keys on a centralized server.
  • Crypt: FileVault 2 Escrow solution.
  • Digital Guardian: Data Loss Prevention.

 

  • Google Santa: Binary blacklisting and whitelisting for the Mac.
  • iOS Location Scraper: Dump the contents of the location database files on iOS and macOS.
  • iOS Frequent Location Scraper: Dump the contents of the StateModel#.archive files located in /private/var/ mobile/Library/Caches/com.apple.routined/

 

  • Little Snitch: Provides information about what is accessing network resources and where those resources are.
  • Objective-See: ’s KnockKnock, Task Explorer, BlockBlock, RansomWhere?, Oversight, and KextViewr, tools for finding more information about ports and services running on machines.

 

  • Osquery: Query for information on Macs in a live, granular search.
  • Portecle: Create and manage keystores, keys, certificates, certificate requests, and certificate revocation lists.
  • PowerBroker: Enable standard users on a Mac to perform administrative tasks without entering elevated credentials.
  • Prey: Track Mac and iOS devices if they’re stolen.

 

Service Desk Tools

  • Freshdesk: Case/ticket management that allows for automatic billing via Fresh blog.
  • Salesforce Cases: Case/ticket management that automatically integrates with SalesforceCRM.
  • ServiceNow: Case/ticket management with an expansive marketplace for integrations.
  • Webhelpdesk: Case/ticket management.
  • Zendesk: Case/ticket management with an expansive marketplace for integrations.

 

Software Packaging and Package Management

  • Autopkg: Automate the creation of Mac software distribution packages using recipes.
  • CreateUserPkg: Creates packages that create local user accounts when installed. 

 

  • JSSImporter: Connects Autopkg to Jamf Pro.
  • Iceberg: Create Mac software distribution packages.

 

  • InstallApplication: Dynamically download packages for use with MDM’s InstallApplication.
  • Jamf Composer: Create Mac software distribution packages.
  • Luggage: Open Source project to create a wrapper that makes pkgs for Macs so you can have peer review of a package by examining the diffs between versions of a Makefile.

 

  • Munkipkg: A simple tool for building packages in a consistent, repeatable manner from source files and scripts in a project directory.
  • Pacifist: A shareware application that opens macOS

 

  • Payload Free Package Creator: An Automator application that uses AppleScript, shell scripting and pkgbuild behind the scenes to create payload-free packages.

 

  • quickpkg: Create Mac software distribution packages.
  • Simple Package Creator: Create Mac software distribution packages.
  • Suspicious Package: View the contents of Mac software distribution packages.
  • Whitebox Packages: Create Mac software distribution packages.

 

Storage

  • Netatalk: Better AFP connectivity to Windows and other storage platforms from a Mac.
  • Promise: Apple-vetted direct attached storage (DAS), storage area networking (SAN), etc.
  • Synology: Storage appliances tailored to working with the Mac.
  • Xsan: The built-in Apple SAN filesystem.

 

Troubleshooting, Repair, and Service Tools

  • AppCleaner: Clean up unneeded files on a Mac.
  • AppleJack: Repair disks/permissions and cleans cache/swap files from single user mode when a Mac can't fully boot.

 

  • Bartender: Manage items in the menu bar on a Mac.
  • CleanMyDrive: Drag-and-drop files directly to any drive, check disk stats, and automatically clean hidden junk from external drives.

 

  • Data Rescue: Data recovery tool for Mac.
  • Disk Doctor: Repairs logical drives and cleans up unneeded files.

 

  • DiskWarrior: Repair logical volume corruption on Macs.
  • Drive Genius: Automates monitoring for hard drive errors, finds duplicate files, allows for the repartition of volumes, clones volumes, performs secure erase and defragmentation.

 

  • Disk Inventory X: Visual representation of what’s on a logical volume in macOS.
  • EasyFind: Find files, folders, or contents in any file without indexing through Spotlight.
  • iStumbler: a Wireless discovery tool for Mac that can locate Wi-Fi networks, Bluetooth devices, Bonjour services, and perform spectrum analysis.

 

  • GeekTool: Put script output and logs directly on the desktop of a Mac.
  • Google PlanB: Remediate Macs that fall out of a given state by performing a secure download of disk images and then putting the device into a management platform.

 

  • GrandPerspective: Visual representation of what’s on a logical volume in macOS.
  • Hardware Monitor: Read hardware sensor information on a Mac.

 

  • Lingon: Create, manage, and delete LaunchAgents and LaunchDaemons on macOS.
  • Memtest OS X: Test each RAM module in a Mac.

 

  • Nmap: Advanced port scanning, network mapping, and network troubleshooting.
  • Peak Hour: Network performance, quality, and usage monitoring.

 

  • Omni DiskSweeper: Find and remove unused files in macOS to conserve and reclaim disk space.
  • OnyX: Verify the startup disk and structure of system files, run maintenance, and cleaning tasks, configure settings(e.g. for the Finder, Dock, Safari), delete caches, and rebuild various databases and indexes.
  • Push Diagnostics: Test port and host access for APNs Traffic.

 

  • TinkerTool: Graphical interface for changing preferences on a Mac that would otherwise need to be managed with the defaults command.

 

  • Xirrus Wi-Fi Inspector: Search for Wi-Fi network, site surveys, troubleshoot Wi-Fi connectivity issues, locate Wi-Fi devices, and detect rogue Apps.

 

Virtualization and Emulation

  • Anka veertu: Run Virtual Machines on a Mac.
  • Citrix: Publish Windows application sessions that end users connect to from a Mac using standard RDP clients.
  • Parallels: Run Virtual Machines on a Mac.
  • Microsoft Windows Terminal Server: Publish Windows sessions that end users connect to from a Mac using standard RDP clients.
  • vFuse: Script to create a VMware Fusion VM from a DMG that hasn’t been booted.
  • VirtualBox: Run Virtual Machines on a Mac.
  • VMware Fusion: Run Virtual Machines on a Mac.

 

Honorable Mention

  • The MacAdmins Slack: Join a community of 15,000 other Admins charged with managing large fleets of Apple devices.
  • Apple Developer Program: Sign up for a developer account in order to get access to beta resources and documentation not otherwise available.
  • Your Apple SE or local retail store: A great resource for finding information!

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