IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

Growing Your Business in the Post-SBS Era

Here's how to forge a path of growth in an ever-changing IT landscape. By Steven Banks

If you want to grow your company, you can’t hold on to the past. You need to look at new technologies and figure out how best to move forward and serve your clients and your own business.

I came to this realization maybe four years back at a Microsoft event. The Microsoft Small Business Server team was talking about the future of their cloud-hosted solutions and ideas on how to work them into future versions of SBS. That’s when a colleague and I looked at each other and said, “We’ve got to do something about our businesses.”

Fast forward to the “death of Small Business Server” blog post and the end of the Small Business Specialist Community announcement in 2012. Many in the community wanted to know what they should do. We tried to help them and said, “You still have your current product set and you can roll with that for now while you start planning for something else.” Some partners were so entrenched in SBS that they were not able to think about their business without it. They were in shock.

By this time the Microsoft marketing engine was going full blast with cloud, while server team members assured me Microsoft was going to stay hybrid—on-premises solutions were funding their cloud initiative. Cloud would open new revenue sources, but on-premises would stay for years to come. With change upon us, we kept an open mind and started learning everything we could about the available options.

Forming the Plan
After looking at alternative solutions to SBS, Microsoft’s server-based platform still seemed to do the best job. To help my fellow IT pros see this, I collaborated with Kevin Royalty in presentations at SMB Nation’s 2013 Fall conference, encouraging them to learn the new technologies around Server and Exchange, both hosted and on-premises, and get a grasp on PowerShell to manage it all. Further, I helped organize a multicity tour of one-day, in-depth training on PowerShell, Exchange, and Server, including training by author and business coach Karl Palachuk on business building and how you need to know your clients, the solutions you’re going to focus on, and the hostedpieces of those.

At my IT firm, Banks Consulting Northwest, we had taken all of this in and started retoolingourselves and our business, in part by taking advantage of a lot of vendor opportunities. When we decide on a vendor, we try to stay with them and make it work, get a two-way conversation going, with give and take on both sides.

But I keep an open mind. I go to different vendor events, see what they have to offer, use what they’re saying as a barometer of what our industry is doing, and compare that to what my other sources are saying. I recommend staying with a set of vendors, but keep an open ear. Don’t get closed off. That does not help your customer base.

Customers are key. We have a consultative relationship with our clients and make sure that we tailor our solutions to their specific needs. There are now lots of technologies you can use to customize solutions. The cloud gives you even more options.

We’ve been bringing people onto Windows Server Essentials if it fits the size of the organization. We use Server 2012 Essentials as a management server in place of SBS.  To complete it, we have clients running Office 365’s Exchange Online Plan 1, some running Office 365 Enterprise E3, and some with Exchange on-premises and Office 2013 Volume License, depending on their needs and comfort level with cloud services. These are some of the solutions that work for us.

To find your own path, engage with your key vendors and take advantage of their training. Get cloud certified with Microsoft, take advantage of its offerings, like the Action Pack, and start using the Office 365 products.

For partners who may not have embraced the latest solutions, I would say this: Don’t let the loss of certain technologies or the advent of new ones paralyze you. Pull yourself up and think, “OK, how can we take advantage of this and use it to get a better solution to our clients?” That’s what we’re all in the business of doing—creating quality solutions for customers that they are willing to pay for and add value for us.

 

Steven Banks
President, Banks Consulting Northwest Inc.

LOCATION Port Orchard, Wash.

FOUNDED 2002

NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES Three

COMPANY WEBSITE www.banksnw.com

COMPANY FOCUS We provide full technology support for small companies around Seattle, from their cell phones to their servers—whatever they need to make their businesses run smoothly.

FAVORITE PART OF MY JOB Working with small business owners and coming up with solutions that help them grow

LEAST FAVORITE PART Overnight server rescues

WHAT PEOPLE WOULD BE SURPRISED TO KNOW ABOUT ME I would much rather be out swimming and biking and running with my family than any of this.

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