Monday, July 30, 2007
You'll find just about every form of IT service listed here. It can all be performed cheaply and reliablity. We also have it on good authourity the quality is high.
If you think that part of what you currently provide can't be out-sourced, it is time to thinki again!
Saturday, July 28, 2007
All of sudden yesterday night we started receiving all these warnings that Trend CSM suit had detected multiple virus instances. The emails were flowing in from many sites we monitor every two minutes. Further investigation indicated that these warnings were being generated by WINVNC.EXE, which for those of you who don't know is a free remote access tool.
Now it was simple enough to go an create the exceptions in each Trend CMS console to stop these notifications but the question was why did they happen? They didn't happen on every site, even though other sites did have this software installed. Strange.
The issue has now apparently gone away so all we can deduce is that it had something to do with a recent virus definition update. As we said before, strange.
Monday, July 23, 2007
Friday, July 20, 2007
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
- ISA, itself, will no longer support running on the SBS server itself They're building the SBS tools in the next rev assuming that the network firewall is elsewhere.
Monday, July 16, 2007
Spend some time, take a look around, see what works and what doesn't. Find out who's successful and find out why. You should also look to fields that maybe you are not familiar with for inspiration. People like Leonardo Da Vinci are great examples of people who were experts in many diverse fields. Leonardo was a painter, designer, architect, engineer and more. Was he an extraordinary person? Yes, he was but how did he become like this? He continued to learn and grow throughout his whole life.
Everyone has the capacity within to learn. You don't need to be the brainiest person you just need to love learning and love learning about new things. Sometimes it is very hard to move outside our comfort zone and challenge ourselves. This is where people like Leonardo excelled. They weren't afraid of new challenges, they eagerly sought them out. I'm sure that initially this was probably not the case, even for people like Leonardo. Many of his attempts were dismal failures but his true genius was keeping at it.
Another role model for perseverance is Thomas Edison who coined the phrase, I believe, “invention is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”. Bottom line, you ain't going to become as master over night, you gotta keep working at it but if you do then you will become a master.
I like to come back to the analogy of compound interest that I seem to use so often. Compound interest is such a simple concept with a GUARANTEED payoff, yet very few people seem to implement it. Why? Probably because they feel it takes tool long. Well, before you know it, the potential benefits would have started kicking in while most people continue to do nothing. The secret to compound interest is that you have to stick with it. It's the same with learning you gotta stick with it and make it a life long passion for once you stop learning in my books you effectively stop living.
The first thing you need to determine is where you want to go. These are your dreams and we all need to have them, they are what make us human. Unless we do something about them that is all they are ever going to stay, just dreams. To achieve your dreams you need to set yourself goals. Think of goals as the steps on a ladder while the rails on either sides are the goals point you towards where you want to go.
Dreams should never be set in stone, they are fluid and change with you. As you grow, as you situation and position in life change so should they. There is nothing wrong with that, you should never consider that as failure, merely adjustment. Any goal that you achieve is never for nothing, it is a method to help you grow and improve your life and your soul.
Life is far to short to be spend merely dreaming, if you want to achieve your dreams you need to do the hard work, determine the goals that will lead you to these dreams. Importantly, along the way don't forget to stop and celebrate your achievements for there are very few individuals who can keep stoically working towards a dream day and day out. Very much like a holiday you need to now and again take a moment to look back and congratulate yourself for what you have achieved. Life is about enjoying yourself and the journey that you are on, failing to do that will rob you of your humanity and isolate you in this World and we are nothing without those around us, especially those that we are closest to.
How many people do you know that make New Years resolutions and then break them after a few weeks. This is normal but those who are abnormal are those that get up, examine why they failed, make adjustments, set new goals and move on. It is those people who are destined for success beyond their wildest dreams but it takes discipline and practice. As the old saying goes "an inch is a cinch" so don't try making the rungs on your ladder too far apart to start with, many small steps is much easier ( as less likely to fail ) than one enormous leap.
This book deals with energy. It deals with what many people think is reality but is in fact myth. The authors show how we must “waste” energy to create more energy.
The book does raise some very interesting points but at times I found it rather hard going. There are lots of facts and figures, which don't make the book a casual read. If you are truely interested in the state of play in relation to the energy debate then this book is really worthwhile but be prepared to spend time going into depth on what the authors cover.
One of the most fascinating facts that I learnt while reading book is that the majority of the energy we produce is used to refine energy so that we can have the biggest bang for a buck. Take for instance petrol. We spend all this effort getting out of the ground, then transporting it, refining and then distrbuting it. When you start look at energy in this way you can understand many of the points the authors are putting across.
Another intresting point is the fact that mankind's greastest growing demand for energy is not gasoline is actually electricity. Again, this makes sense you consider the fact that in the not too distant future we may all be driving electric cars. Electricity is what drives our digital age and we have an ever increasing demand for it. The books covers this effect in good detail.
All in all a very interesting book that covers some very interesting topics that most of us probably simply gloss over and believe what we are fed from other sources. When you sit down and examine the facts, like the authors have, the results are very different. As I said previously, the book is filled with plenty of facts and figure so if you really want to understand what they authors are on about set aside some time to read this book in detail.
Rating = 8 out of 10
This book by Robert M. Sapolsky is touted as being “The acclaimed guide to stress, stress-related diseases, and coping”. Overall the book is very informative and interesting but it tended to get bogged down in the medical lingo of the whole “stress causing problems” process. Sure, this maybe interesting to a medical student but generally it makes the book hard going for the casual reader.
The book has plenty of in depth research about the causes and results of stress on the human body. It show cases the fact that as humans we tend to stress for extended periods of time whereas animals ( read zebra being cased by a lion ) only get stressed for that short period when they either escape or become dinner. The result of humans continuing to stress over longer periods of times tends to cause all sorts of things inside our body to go haywire. This book provides great depth into the full range of afflictions that result from stress including : depression, ulcers, heart disease and more.
It was also disappointing that book spent more time detailing the issues that cause stress rather than the ways to combat then directly. However, the authors detail of stress afflictions certainly makes you stop and consider the damage that unnecessary stress is causing your body and you mind. There are many great insights and detailed analysis that certainly makes the book a worthwhile read but it is still rather heavy going.
Overall the book does accomplish what it sets out to. Our expectation may have been a little different after having the book recommended to us. If you really what an in depth analysis of the physical and mental problems that stress can wreak on your body then this is book for you. Our main criticism is that the in depth medical analysis can make the book tough to get through at times.
Rating = 6 out of 10
Been over reading Sean Daniel's blog about the next version of SBS known as Cougar and the following points from the blogs struck us:
3. The SBS Backup solution is being completely re-vamped. However, we have made the full switch, and the backup solution will no longer support backing up to tape. Using snapshot technology, the backups will be extremely quick using incrementals that can be scheduled as often as every 30 minutes. A copy of NTBackup will be able to extract files from the old SBS 2003 format, but no new data can be added. If tape is super important to you, start sizing up 3rd party backup solutions.
So the next version of SBS will not only be 64 bit it will also not support tape drives. Backups appear to be moving to disk based snap shots. This is definitely the case with people like Symantec and Storagecraft developing excellent SBS offerings. No major surprise here but the interesting issue is how off site disaster recovery backups will be handled. One would guess that the most likely option when SBS Cougar becomes available is that off site backups will be done via the Internet. So you'll do an regular backup image and this image will then be transferred offsite automatically. There are people that will do that now but it looks like we need to start getting up to speed with these sort of solutions before Cougar ships.
5. Cougar will need to be installed behind some kind of firewall and the single-NIC model will be the only mode. You must use a firewall in front of the SBS box, this can be a hardware router type item, or a software firewall such as ISA.
Now here's something that we didn't really know. There have been plenty of rumours that Cougar will allow you to migrate some of the SBS applications (typically ISA) onto seperate hardware and this makes good sense, but according to what Sean says this is going to be mandatory. So it appears that SBS willl come with any in built firewall and that you will have to use an external appliance for SBS Cougar Standard and ISA on a seperate box for SBS Cougar Premium.
The first ramification here is that any SBS Cougar sale is going to have include the sale of a dedicated hardware firewall or a new server to install ISA on. In summary, additional cost. Secondly, it means that there should be more memory for the remaining applications on the SBS Cougar box which is a good thing. More and more these days we are moving towards an SBS solution with a single NIC, for standard and premium, since it provides greater flexibility and removes the need for ISA on the SBS Premium box (which is already getting overloaded with applications now).
Interesting stuff but still needs to be taken with a pince of salt because thing certainly can and will change between now and release of Cougar. However, our take away is no more tape backups out of the box - so how do we handle offsite disaster recovery and secondly no more firewall on the SBS box - this means additional cost for systems. Luckily, we are already moving down those path and this information certainly confirms that we need to place more emphasis on this as Cougar gets closer to release.
Recently we've found two ways to really boost our productivity. The first is using dual screens on our desktops. Our new HP desktop machines not only came with Vista but also came with dual video outputs (digital and analogue). Initially we set up the analogue since it was easier but recently we have finally gotten around to also enabling the digital output. After a little bit of fiddling and locating a suitable monitor we are proud to say that we have it all working. Boy, what a difference extra screen real estate makes. On one screen we have our Outlook open so we can see all our emails and on the other we have all our other applications like web browser, word processor and the like. We can't tell you how much easier it is to work with two documents at the same time if you can actually view them simultaneously. You can be doing research on the web while remoted into a client's machine all without having to minimize windows. Totally brilliant and we recommend it to all. We now wonder whether adding more than two monitors to our desktops would increase productivity even further?
The second method we have found of increasing our productivity is by using Microsoft OneNote. Having used OneNote before we found that it really didn't suit our needs but the new version is certainly and improvement. We have installed the OneNote data notebooks on a network drive and shared it between multiple machines. This now means we can simply cut and paste from one machine and retrieve it on another. Even better we can take ONeNote 'offline' and use it stand alone and then have it automatically resync when we return to the office. This make it particularly handy when we take our notebook PC offsite. We can pump all our client notes into it quickly and easily and then when we return to the office it is sync'ed with our other notebooks as well as being backed up. We think that it is a boon that lots of the information we used to jot down in paper notebooks can now be stored in OneNote, allowing it to be searchable.
As with any productivity improvement there is an upfront hit in getting the systems working but both duall displays and OneNote have begun to make a real impact to our productivity and we thus recommend them to all.
If you don't already know, Microsoft is soon to release a product is calling Home Server. Interestingly it will network up to 10 PC's and provide some basic networking, backup and file sharing. Now if you think that only home users are going to use it then we would suggest you think again. We will bet that a significant number of the 1-10 user SBS space will seriously consider Home Server. What will that mean...ummm...well unless you need some of the specific SBS features why would a business now buy SBS? if you just want basic networking why would you now buy SBS when you can get Home Server pretty cheap?
In our experience most of the 1-10 size businesses don't really need Exchange server, they can typically get away with POP email accounts, so what's their need for SBS now? Now you can look at this in two ways. Firstly, you could view it in the light of tha fact that the demand from the 1-10 user business is going to decrease. Or secondly, you could say there is an opportunity to sell this product into businesses that may not have even considered a server (including some homes as well).
To our minds there is little doubt that Home Server is going to affect the low end sales of SBS and that if you are serious about your business then you need either to prepare for the short fall or the opportunity depending on your business model.
Recently tried to update a customer from Livestate Desktop Recovery V3.0 to the latest Backup Exec Desktop System Recovery 7.0 and guess what? when you attempt to uninstall Livestate from Control Panel you get a message that you “must uninstall a previous version”. Say what? There was no prior version, so now what.
Well, you could go through the registry manually and remove all the entries to Livestate but let us tell you that there are heaps. A much better option is to call up Symantec Tech Support and tell them you are having issues. They will send you a batch file that uninstalls Livestate manually.
This was almost identical to the issue that we had with Livestate 6.0 Server recovery and the only solution was once again a batch file from Symantec. Hmm.. not impressed at all Symantec, not at all. We really hope that when it comes time to uninstall Backup Exec Desktop System Recovery 7.0 we don't have the same issues.
Did you know that you can save Office 2007 documents straight to PDF format without the need to install a PDF writer? The functionality doesn't come with Office 2007 out of the box but if you download this from Microsoft and install it then you will be able to.
Remember this add-in will only work with Office 2007 software.
We have just uploaded the first YouTube video is a new series we are creating that will show you how to install Small Business Server on new hardware. This first video will show you how to boot to the initial blue screen (DOS) environment, then partition your hard disks and commence the Windows Graphical User Interface (GUI) installation. Click here for a direct YouTube link to our video or click here to go to our Supportweb site for a listing of all our video creations.
As always we welcome any feedback or questions you have have on our videos. Please stay tuned for more videos in this series.
If you find our videos at all beneficial we ask you to consider supporting us directly by making a donation via http://donation.saturnalliance.com.au. All donations allow us to devote more resources to the content we provide as well as improving its quality.
We recently attended a security seminar presented by Trend Micro where they said that most of the security threats faced by computers these days are being delivered by web sites. Note how we didn't say malicious web sites, why? Well, the example that Trend gave was that the web site for the Miami Dolphins football team in the US had been hacked and a small piece of code had been added to their front page that when opened would download a trojan to the viewers computer. Once the trojan was downloaded, it would then execute and download more malware, ultimately allowing the PC to be controlled by hackers for whatever purpose they deemed.
Now you might think that this is all a bit far fetched and only happens in places like America, well think again! The following report in the Sydney Morning Herald highlights how the same thing happened to the web site of the Sydney Opera House. According to the story :
The code would infect web browsers that were not patched with the latest security updates with Trojan software, most likely designed to capture sensitive information such as internet banking details from victims' computers.
Ms Swaffield says NSW police were informed of the security breach, the incident was documented but no action was taken. The Sydney Opera House site is visited by more than 300,000 internet users every month.
Hmmm..interesting eh? If you want a reason to ensure that your workstations are up to date look no further than this story because as it says the trojan would “infect unpatched machines” and that up to 300,000 people use this legitimate web site every month.
So don't just think that it is your emails that are your biggest security threat, it is all those network users surfing web sites on unpatched machines that can cause major problems.
We just came across this great little tip to remove all your personal information from Office 2007 documents when you are preparing to publish them. In some cases, this is information such as comments and revision marks or information that was hidden and then forgotten. This type of information usually doesn't pose a security risk but it might not be information you want distributed when you send out the final Office document.
Office now provides an inbuilt tool called the Document Inspector which can identify and purge this unwanted information. To use the Document Inspector in Word 2007 say :
1. From the File Menu (or Start ball), select Prepare, then Inspect Document.
2. Clear the check boxes next to any items you don't want the inspector to scan for, and then click Inspect.
3. A results page will display the type of items found and a Remove All button next to each type of item to clear it from the document. Simply press this button to purge the information required from your document.
The next video in our series of installing SBS 2003 is now on YouTube. To view the video simply click here. This video covers the installation of the premium components of Small Business Server that being SQL Server 2005 and ISA server 2004. If you are installing SBS Standard then you can skip this video because it is not relevant to that product.
If you find our videos at all beneficial we ask you to consider supporting us directly by making a donation via http://donation.saturnalliance.com.au. All donations allow us to devote more resources to the content we provide as well as improving its quality.
We have now uploaded Part 2 in our series of installing Small Business Server. You'll find it on YouTube or clicking here for the direct link. This video takes you through the process of installing the basic Small Business Server 2003 components such as Exchange and Sharepoint. After this phase you should have a functioning SBS 2003 machine.
Videos still to come will include; installing the Small Business Server 2003 Premium Components, installing the R2 technologies and finally how to initially configure the Small Business Server via the 'to do' list and the wizards.
As always please provide your feedback directly on YouTube, which has ratings but you can also send us an email to let us know what you think of our videos as well as what you would like to see.
If you find our videos at all beneficial we ask you to consider supporting us directly by making a donation via http://donation.saturnalliance.com.au. All donations allow us to devote more resources to the content we provide as well as improving its quality.
We haven't seen this one ourselves but thought it may crop up :
http://support.microsoft.com/kb/937625 - Error message when you use Outlook to open an e-mail message that contains a PDF attachment from an external mail system: "There was an error opening this document. The file is damaged and could not be repaired"
http://support.microsoft.com/kb/937028 - The Microsoft Firewall service does not start after an ISA Server 2004 SP3 installation fails
We reckon that you should keep an eye because they seem very likley to happen.
Well we are happy to announce that we have just passed this exam from Microsoft. Yeah, this means that we are now a Microsoft Certified SharePoint Professional (we believe that's what it's called anyway).
A while back we were never really keen on the whole Microsoft Certified Professional thing but since completing the Small Business Specialist certification we must admit that we have come around a little. In this day and age you really to have as many points of differentiation as you can between you and your competitors. Although we don't necessarily believe that having Microsoft certifications makes you any better or any worse at least it show that you have jumped a few hurdles and passed some exams. That in some way does show that you are willing to go that little bit extra to improve your business knowledge.
So what do you need to know if you want to pass the exam? Well we would suggest that you spend a little time learning the basics of Windows load balancing. Why? We suppose that it is because in many instances SharePoint will be installed on multiple servers and in this case there is going to be a need for resource sharing and optimization. So spend a little time learning the basics about Windows Load Balancing. Also, ensure that you know how to configure SharePoint via the Central Administration site. Would also suggest that you spend a little time understanding the role of IIS in SharePoint, i.e. application pools, web sites, SSL and what not. You don't need to know low level nitty gritty stuff but you need to have a good general understanding as well as the role these play with SharePoint. Also, if you are from the normal one server world of SBS then you'll have to broaden your horizon and learn how SharePoint functions with multiple servers ( front ends, content servers and so on). Again, not difficult but Sharepoint DOES operation on more than a single server.
Microsoft has some good online learning courses at www.microsoftelearning.com. We would recommend :
Which includes 6 sub courses that will cover everything you need to pass exam 70-631. As for reading material we would recommend :
Which is a little more focused on MOSS than Windows Sharepoint but is still a pretty good book. We'll have a full review here soon.
In summary, if you have set up a few Sharepoint 3.0 sites, done so research into Sharepoint and if you then brush up on Network Load Balancing and IIS you should be able to pass the exam, just like us !
We have now released the fourth part in our series of installing Small Business Server 2003 R2. This video covers the installation of the R2 technologies onto SBS 2003. The R2 technologies include applications like Windows Server Update Services 2.0.
You will find our video by clicking here.
There has been plenty of talk about the whole SBS community lately. Vlad has certainly stirred the pot with some recent posts ( and here ) and to a large amount we have to agree with what he says. Why? Well, it certainly appears to us that the great majority of people in SBS land are takers not givers. There are very small number of regular contributors to the “community” while the rest tend to sit on their duff and simply suck in the information. Given that we all only have a limited time in every day we acknowledge that there is also way too much information out there for any of us to get across but hey the least you could do is say “thank you”.
Case in point. We developed a survey on our Supportweb site that was designed to try to get a feel for some basics of the SBS installs out there. We posted a request for people to complete the survey to our local SBS User Group and we were luck to get 10 responses! We then contacted Susan Bradley who was kind enough to post the survey information on her blog and to date our total number os respondants is 45! C'mon people, only 45 people in the whole SBS world have the time to respnd to a survey? This apathy is mirrored in the offical SBS Community survey, which apparently hasn't had very many respondants either. It just goes to show to us that the vast majority of the so-call SBS community in fact are takers not givers.
When we used to attend our local SBS user group meetings we found that we were just generally getting pumped for information. How do you do this? Should I install that? How do I go about this? Now, generally we don't mind helping people at all but of late we found that is all we have been doing and worse still we never received any genuine thanks for our contributions. We are happy to help were we can but we feel it isn't very smart to keep giving and giving when nothing is forthcoming in return. In that case we are just being stupid by letting ourselves being taken advantage of. Why should we get up and give presentations and provide advice, that in many cases has taken us plenty of hard struggle to learn, to people who simply take it, without thanks or making any contribution in return, and then implement in their business for their own commercial benefit?
So now we look at the so called “community” as a case of “well, how is this going to help our business?”. We continue to develop and post free material for the community (our videos being a case in point) but we are now asking for donations to provide us with some business benefit for our efforts. No doubt we will called all sorts of names for seeking commercial gain but you aren't required to pay to see the videos, it is a simply way to show us your appreciation of the efforts we have made in providing the material. If support isn't forthcoming then we'll look at channelling these efforts into another project that provides us business benefit, because if we don't we go out of business. Amazingly, when we started creating these videos we got all sorts of people want “free” support on some of the technologies we highlighted. Initially we provided support but after a while (and with very little thanks for for our efforts) we are reverting to the commercial model. If you want “free” support then make a donation to show us that you are not just a taker, because we aren't willing to continue to be taken advantage of.
Now, there is little doubt that this rant won't go much further than this blog since we doubt very few people even read it (hi mom), but at least we have made our opinions public and attempted to explain our motives. Of all the information we have is placed on the web, much of it free of charge, it would be nice to now and again get a sincere “thank you” rather than “this content is so basic even my grandmother would have known that”. Fair enough, we are happy to take any form of feedback on what we create but so far that “grandmother” crack has been about the total extent of it.
As we said, we appreciate that there are far more knowledgable people in the “SBS community” providing a far greater range of helpful material but it would be nice once in a while to actually know that someone out there does appreciate what you are providing to the community for “free”.
Please note that support for SBS 2003 SP 0, also known as SBS 2003 RTM, will be retired on July 10, 2007. For more information see : http://support.microsoft.com/gp/lifesupsps.
It has now been over 3 years since SBS 2003 first came out so if your product is not current then it is strongly recommended that you upgrade or install SBS SP1.
Part 5 in our series of installing Small Business Server 2003 R2 is now on YouTube. Simply click here to view it. This video deals with connecting Small Business Server to the Internet by running the standar Connect to the Internet Wizard. Remember, that will all SBS configuration you should always run the wizard if there is one available.
So we saw this on an SBS 2003 R2 Premium machine that had been up for a long time. When we did some Googling we came across the following article which we figured would be required, http://www.taznetworks.com/rss/2006/01/sbs-backup-error-code-0x800710d8.html . Simple easy, with just a few server reboots.
When we examined the server more closely we discovered that it had the well known SQL memory issue that SBS seems to suffer from on the MS Firewall service. What happens here is that you see an sqlsever instance consuming a huge amount of RAM. When you look closer at the source of the instance you find it is the ISA 2004 reporting database. You can find more information about the solution to that here but basically you need to run the command line WMSDE tools to limit the amount of memory the WMSDE instance uses (WMSDE is the cut down version of SQL you get for free). So we did that since the server couldn't be rebooted and low and behold the backup the following day worked!
So it would seem that not only is the backup error 0x800710d8 potentially related to a corrupt RSM database but it is dependent on the memory in use on your server. So before you go recreating your RSM database try seeing whether your server maybe consuming an inordinate amount of RAM. If it is try throttling some of the SQL instances as detailed above or like most things, maybe a simple reboot to free up memory again will do the job.
We have posted a new video that cover some of the more advanced features of Microsoft Virtual PC. We cover features such as virtual machine additions, virtual hard disk compacting as well as creating differencing virtual hard disks. You'll find the video by clicking here. As always we welcome any feedback or suggestions you may have for us about our video creations as we are always trying to develop material that is beneficial to people.
Why couldn't PC's be as simple as XBOX 360? Aside from all the current hardware issues we have generally found XBOX a great computing platform. You simply plug it in, put in a CD and bamm your working. Next simply connect it up to your broadband router and bamm you're on XBOX live. “Oh I see you need an update do you want me to download and install?” The nice XBOX 360 machines asks.”Certainly” , we say. A few minutes later we are back up and running. With a few button presses we can stream music from our PC to the Xbox and play it over proper speakers, rather than ratty PC ones. All in all a pretty good experience.
The only draw back so far has been the inability to play our favourite original XBOX console game Project Gotham Racing 2. Damm! We forked out for Project Gotham Racing 3 anyway but it would have been nice to get the old program running. Well guess what! It now appears you can. Simply download this update from Microsoft, burn it to CD, insert it your XBOX 360, boot and let the update do its magic and then you should be able to run Project Gotham 2 ( and a whole list of other games you'll find here ). If you need instructions on how to install this update to your XBOX 360 look here.
Oh joy, of joys. Project Gotham Racing 2 here we come...burning....burning...
This book by Tom Hopkins proved to be very eye opening for someone who really isn't a “sales” person. I think most people who are not “sales” people don't hold “sales” people in high regard ( in some cases for very good reasons ). This book show you how anyone can master the art.
It isn't filled with tricks, it is instead filled with some very thoughtful insight into creating successful sales processes. The first thing that struck me was the authors insistance that sales be a disciplined art where you thoroughly practice what you are offering and how you are going to offer it long before you are ever faced with a customer. As we all know most successful business people already have this approach in other areas of business, why shouldn't it apply to sales ?
The book also shows how most sales people threaten the customer rather than making them feel comfortable. Ever walk into a shop and find yourself jumped by an eager sales person asking if they “Can help with anything ?”. As the book shows, a much better way to approach this is to say something like this to the customer ,“If you have any questions I'll be right over here to help you”. Subtle, but it can make all the difference as I recently found out when I went shopping and was constantly jumped by eager ( who appear aggressive ) sales people asking “if they can help me”.
Another insite that the book provided me was the fact to actually ask for referrals. Too many times we expect our clients, even our best ones, to be constantly referring us new business. Problem is they are usually too busy to even think about it. If instead we ask them, then chances are they'll know someone immediately, if not then at least it has been placed at the front of their minds. As the books says, you have to ask and ask on a regular basis.
In summary this is a great book for anyone. Why ? Because we all sell in some shape or form. You may not think so but chances are when you sometimes even have to sell family and friends on your ideas, so don't think selling is just limited to business. I was generally very impressed with the way the books makes a comprehensive coverage of the selling process and what you need to be a “champion” ( as the books defines ). The author strives to take you from an ordinary sales person to be one of the select few who are truely successful and happy selling.
Rating = 9 out of 10
See http://www.tomhopkins.com for more details about the author.
Sunday, July 15, 2007
This book by Chin-Ning Chu touts itself as being able to help you suceed in life and work using the ancient wisdom of the East. Chin-Ning says that Thick face is a shield that when developed gives you the ability to put aside the negativity of others and exceed beyond the limitations that others impose on you. Black Heart is a method to develop a ruthless side that allows you to succeed where others fail.
The book incorporates a many ideas from two of my favourite strategy books ( both from the East ) - Sun Tzu, The Art of War and Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings. It is amazing to look at size of both of these books ( a maybe not even 100 pages ) when compared to strategy writings from the West ( which are 100's if not 1,000's of pages ). The biggest difference is probably the fact the Eastern philosophy speaks about 'The Way' ( or do in Japanese ). This means that whatever you do must become part of your everyday life. So if you study strategy then you must learn and apply its teaching in every aspect of your life. If you don't then you are no following “The Way”.
I found the point about negative traits most interesting. Most “traditional” self improvement courses, books, etc always seem to focus n your negative points. For example helping you manage your time better or organizing your time better. Chin-Ning speaks of embracing these negative and learning how to use them. Sure you need to work at improving them but don't waste all your time and energy on just that. You must forget that you have positive advantages in your being and you need to use these to move forward and not be held back by trying to eliminate your negatives constantly. This concept is a very interesting twist on “traditional” self help topics.
A good example is something like the “Postitive aspects of procrastination”. Basically Chin-Ning is saying that we should take time to just think and not do anything else. If we sometimes rush into things then they turn out badly. The concept of the Black Heart is interesting. Basically it means that you need to have the ability to “be mean” to get what you want. Chin-Ning is not advocating being evil but sometimes you do need to look after number one. It also means being a bit coy ( deceptive ) in your dealing with others, which she says Eastern culture thrive.
After reading the book I had an interesting business conversation during the week where the other party basically spilled the beans on their life when there was no need to do that. I was somwhat shocked at the conversation because I didn't expect this subject matter in a “business” conversation, however from the book I did see how people in business are far too willing to ceed others information that potentially can be used against them and they do it almost willingly.
All in all I found the book and excellent read and discovered that it stirred a generally deeper level of thought that I have had after reading other books. I would definately add this book to my top 10 list of “business must reads”.
Rating = 9.5 out of 10
You'll find more info about Chin-Ning Chu at her web site http://www.strategic.org
Why do you want to run your own business? Many owners could probably give many different answers but I think the answer is simple. PROFIT.
The trick here is to define what PROFIT is. I like to think of PROFIT beyond simply the money left over after you have taken out all your expenses. PROFIT for some people may be having more time to be with their family, for others it may mean being in control and able to make their own decisions and for some it maybe to make money. I think the trick to realise is that the PROFIT owners derive from their businesses doesn't have to just monetary.
On the other hand you need to make sure that a business is making a PROFIT ( be whatever you consider that to be ). If money is your definition of PROFIT then it doesn't make sense to be running your business constantly at break even or with minute returns. If control is your definition of PROFIT then it doesn't make sense then it doesn't make sense to let yourself be at the mercy of customers or suppliers. As any business owner will tell you, you have to take a hard look at your business and ensure that it is making a PROFIT.
If the business isn't profitable then you normally have two courses of action. You either need to determine why your business isn't profitable and make it work or you need to get out. Owning and operating a small business is not a bed of roses, there are going to be tough times, again and again. They will test your resolve to remain in business. However if you know what sort of PROFIT you are after then at least you know the direction in which you should be travelling.
You can't hope to get to your destination if you don't know where it is! Firstly, define what PROFIT you want from your business ( money, control, world domination, whatever ), then make sure you are working towards that every day.
Probably the one thing that I wish someone had said to me before I had started my own business was “... yeah, that's all great but how are you going to get OUT of the business ?”. In simply terms, what is your exit strategy ? My exit strategy ? You must be joking, I would have said, I want to do this for the rest of my life. Hmmm...that is all well and good but working in your own business for the rest of your life is only one possible scenario. So many OTHER things things could happen along the way that may cause this to change.
Don't get me wrong, I still want to work in my business for the rest of my life BUT what happens if I don't ? What happens if my circumstances change and I need to get out ? What's is my strategy ? If I try and sell my business would I get the value that I have invested in it ? Probably not. A great book that deals with this issue is the E-myth by Michael Gerber. He basically says, what do you have if you can't take holidays when you like, when you can't afford to have a day sick and you are always behind on your work ? You don't have a business you have a job! Which is exactly the thing that most people who start a business are trying to get away from !
It wasn't until I read Gerber's book that I realized that I didn't have an exit strategy. Again, not because I needed one but because it provided me with options. When I started to look closely at my business, through a buyers eyes, I realized that the business didn't have nearly as much value assocaited with as I thought. A good example of this was my accounts. I had done all my accounts in a spreadsheet that I designed myself. I worked really well, was flexible and I knew the in's and out's but if someone from the outside looked at it they would say it wasn't standard and they would want something like Quicken. D'Oh how stupid of me. I'd made that part of my business unattractive to a potential buyer and therefore destroyed value.
When I started looking at the business as a whole through a buyer's eye I realised that my accounts weren't the only place where I'd been destroying value. Every where I looked I had custom one off systems, lacking documentation and procedure. It wasn't that the business didn't function successfully, the problem was all the best bits where in my head. That is all well and good until you try and exit the business. You can't simply dump your brain into the new owner's and move on.
Now I had to start the long ( and still on going ) process of getting everything out of my head and down on paper. I am now constantly working to add value to my business for a potential buyer. I can tell you that it is a right pain in the butt and I wish that someone had made me think about my exit strategy before I got into my own business. So take heed from me. If you are planning to go into business for yourself, plan an exit strategy first, even if you never need it, it is always reassuring to have.
Have you seen the movie City Slickers ? After having a mid life crisis, Mitch has joined his buddies on a cattle muster through the mid-west of America. While riding along they start talking about the 'one thing' that is important to them. Throughout the rest of the movie they talk about the 'one-thing' and in the end this 'one-thing' is different for different people.
It got me to thinking about what the 'one-thing' would be to a business. What 'one-thing' do you need to have in business ( or life ) to succeed. Could it be defined ? Could it be made simple ? Could it be made generic ? All interesting questions but I think I have come up with an answer. What is it ? Well, I reckon the 'one-thing' is BALANCE.
Business ( and life in general ) is all about maintaining balance. You need to balance the needs of the customer with those of your staff. You need to balance the cash needs of the business against investing enough for future growth and development. The whole thing is about balance the more I think about it. When the business is having problems if you stop and look at it, then you'll probably find there is an imbalance. Maybe, there's been too much time dedicated to something or too much money has been spend somewhere. Just take a look and you'll probably find an imbalance.
You will also probably have to balance your work and private life so I think a simple thing like balance extends a long way into our lives. Think about it, when were you most happy in your life ? Probably when everything was in sync and balanced. Think again, when were you most ill at ease in your life ? Probably when something was weighing you down. When did that feeling disappear ? Probably when you got your life back in balance.
It seems today that so many people are trying to find something that is missing in their lives. Have you ever seen the Ying and Yang Symbol ?
This symbol represents a perfect balance between two opposing sides ( black and white ). Where black is most dominate at the top white is weakest, however the opposite is true at the bottom of the picture. Also, totally enclosed in, where each side is strongest, is an island of the opposite colour. A very profound symbol if you take the time to study it.
Over the years, grasping to understand balance, I have have come to understand that it is not possible to totally eliminate one side. Thus, in the above symbol to totally remove one colour would remove balalnce. Thus, the world in which we live will always be filled with opposites. It is also a world where we can never totally eliminate one side. The truly wise man understands that many forces come to bear in their lives and they don't try and eliminate what they don't like or ignore what they can't handle, they learn to balance the forces to achieve harmony.
Deep eh ? But how does one achieve this balance ? Well, that will be the subject of my next post grasshopper. The path to balance comes from control.
Last time I was talking about how balance is probably the thing that we are all looking for, in business and personally. The question is how do you find it ? Balance, as you know is a very hard thing to not only achieve but also maintain. If you stand on a see-saw and try to keep it balanced you will have to make adjustments from side to side. Also, if you stand on one foot you'll spend all your time shifting you weight to maintain your balance. So what allows balance ? CONTROL.
A wise person once said “those who are not in control of themselves are destined to be controlled by other” and not a truer word was spoken. Take a look around today and see how out of control most people are. Everyone is trying to be something they are not. They want to be like this Hollywood star, they want a house as big as their neighbours, they want a salary as big as the bosses and so. The problem is that this lack of control is making millions for businesses selling these dreams. If you are in control of your life, it doesn't matter what any one else does you are not influenced. It is stressful enough to try and live one life, why try living someone else's as well as yoru own ? If you are in control you can look objectively at what is on offer and decide whether it is right for you. If it is great, if not then at least you know that it is not.
One of the biggest industries today no doubt is weight loss and dieting. The problem is nearly everyone now knows that to lose weight is simple, eat less, exercise more and get enough sleep. Problem is that everyone wants the short cut. Everyone is looking for that “miracle” diet that will shed pounds in minutes. Guess what ? It doesn't exist ! Never has never will. Why are people looking for a “miracle” ? Because they don't have any control. They couldn't be bothered putting in the time to take control of their lives and thus are destined to be controlled by others and fad “miracle diets“. Sure, most people lose weight on these diets but do they keep it off ? No. Sooner or later they regress to their old out of control self and put the weight back on ( plus a few extra kilos normally ). Then the whole pattern is repeated. Again, they do not have control of themselves.
When you drive a car you are in control of a very dangerous piece of machinery. I read somewhere that cars kill more people every year that people that have been killed in all wars in history combined. Now, I don't know if that is true but when we go out on the road we trust that the other drivers out there are in control. Why is it not the same with life ? Too many people today are not willing to take control of their lives to make a difference. Why ? Because it requires work, perserverance and commitment. But guess what ? Every day requires more work, perserverance and commitment to achieve your goals. As some other wise person once said, “to achieve anything worthwhile requires sacrifice” and this can't be achieved without control.
The same applies in business. As Michael Gerber says in the E-Myth, if you are working in a business where you can't take holidays when you like, can't afford a sick day and are working long hours, you don't have a business you have a job. In short, you are controlled by your business. Most people start a business to get away from this but in fact they end up getting trapped in it. Again, it is a hard step to take but to achieve the business you desire you need to have control. You need to have a good look at your business and ask the hard questions like " would I be better off just working for someone else". Someone who is in control can not only ask that question but answer it truthfully.
I am no expert but I believe that the key to life is balance and the way to achieve balance is through control. The question now is how does one achieve control ? You'll never guess what, I have a theory on that as well, but I'll save that for next time.
Last time I spoke about discipline but I also mentioned that everyone's level of discipline is different. Why ? Simply because everyone is a unique individual ( thank goodness ). So if you want to improve your discipline the first step that you probably need to accomplish to learn about yourself. A more apt term is probably to listen to yourself or face the reality of being you. Why do I say that ? Well most people today seem to be trying to lead not only their own lives but someone else's as well. They are so busy trying to be like this person, or be like that person, that they forget to be themselves.
The first step on any path of self improvement is knowing where you are and more importantly who you are. The first big reality check you need to make most likely is to come to terms with the fact that you are good at some stuff and bad at other stuff. Champions in any field don't practice the stuff they are good at they work on the stuff they are bad at. Here in lies the challenge. As human beings we naturally don't like doing stuff we stink at, but hey as I said before if it this was easy then everyone would be doing it. The key to attaining disclipine is to determine what needs work and then keep working at it. You'll probably be pleasantly surprised that sooner than you think it'll turn out to be easier that you expected. I can also promise you that the more you work at it the easier it will become.
However, keep in mind that you need to be yoruself. For example, if you want to lose weight and you are not a morning person then it doesn't make much sense to get up at the crack of dawn and attempt to run a marathon. If you know yourself, you will realise that this course of action is going to make it much more difficult than say going for a brisk walk after dinner each night. The secret to attaining what you want is to keep at it and you have a much better chance at achieving this if you give yourself every chance and don't swim against the current.
Here's another test I want you to take. Try brushing your teeth with your unnatural hand. A real challenge eh ? Why ? Aren't your hands basically the same ? Aren't they connected to the same brain ? When your brain tells your limbs to do something why doesn't it do it ? See how poor your unnatural hand has become because you fail to use it regularly ? How many other natural assets do you have that you aren't using to their fullest potential ? Why go looking for something else when by improving the quality of yourself you can gain much greater returns. Why start looking for solutions beyond yourself when you still don't “know” yourself ?
Wanna know the best bit about “knowing” yourself ? It doesn't cost you a cent. So spend sometime getting the know the person that you have been ignoring all this time. Starting working with yourself instead of against yourself. If you are both moving in the same direction then there is nothing that you can't achieve.
If we are all looking for balance in our business and personal lives, which we can achieve through control, the question now is how do we obtain control ? Unfortunately, as far as I am aware the only way that one can gain control is through hard work and dedication, otherwise known as discipline.
Another unfortunate fact of life is that people are born with different levels of discipline. Again, unfortunately, the environment in which we grow up also has a significant bearing on how disciplined we are. I once heard a wise person say that hard work compensates for any natural ability. Translated, this means that you can achieve whatever you want if you are prepared to work at it. What's the hidden secret of all these self help guru's ? Basically, you need more discipline. Pay me buckets of money and I'll show you how to get it easy. Well I'm sorry to tell you that discipline is all about hard work and sacrifice.
Another wise person once said that to achieve anything worthwhile you will have to sacrific something. If you want to get better grades at school you are going to have to sacrific your time and study, if you want to get thin then you are going to have to work out and burn calories, if you want to get rich then you need to save. All simple, all obvious but it is surprising how many people seem to ignore this. If I told you that I could guarantee a way that you'd be independently rich in your retirement would you believe me ? It isn't rocket science, it is something called compound interest. Basically, if you invest a small amount of money over a long period of time ( that accumulates interest ) then you'll be rich beyond your wildest dreams. If it is that obvious why doesn't everyone do it ? Simply because you need to make a regular sacrific ( admittedly a small one ) on a regular basis. Very few people have the discipline to do this. It far easier to blow the money on the here and now. End result ? Little if any retirement savings because they just don't want to endure the sacrific of time. Most people are impatient, they want the money NOW.
The problem with discipline is that you need to keep at it, every day. That to most people makes it untenable. The problem is that rather trying to achieve small improvements in discipline they attempt try and achieve the impossible. Let me ask you, if you are going to climb a ladder do you take running jump at it and try and land on the highest rung you can ? No, probably not. Why ? Because if you fail then chances are you'll fall all the way down to the ground and probably do yourself an injury. Most rational people will tackle a ladder one rung at a time. When they try to achieve ( or climb ), other goals why do they go back to attempting to skip the start and jump as far ahead as they can ? Again, impatience.
To achieve discipline takes work and time, unfortunately I can give you no easy solution - because there isn't one. If you want to be more organized with you time start simple and get a date book. Don't give it away after a week because it is too hard, you need to keep at it. After a while, if you find that that tool doesn't help go and find another one but keep at it. Like toning muscles by going to the gym, the only way that you can improve your discipline is to keep at it. The more that you keep it and practice the better you'll become, the easier new challenges will be but it won't happen after one night. If you have ever seen the return curve for compound interest you will note that the pay off period ( were the curve starts growing exponentially ) only happens right at the end. However, to get the returns you gotta put in the time beforehand. Sorry, no shortcuts here.
Everyone has discipline, unfortunately everyone has different degrees of discipline. The good news is that you can improve your discipline by doing something simply - JUST STICKING with it. The other good news is that the more you stick at the better you'll get. As another wise person once said “ the jouney of one thousand miles starts with the first step”. So what are you waiting for - get started NOW and KEEP GOING !
For many people and businesses the first place to start examining themselves is to perform a S.W.O.T analysis. The write down their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. This then helps identify what needs improvement and what can be taken advantage of.
What many probably don't realize is that some of your greatest strengths can also be your greatest weaknesses. Sound strange well consider this. A person who is determined and disciplined to overcome challenges and adversity may also be accused of being stubborn and pigheaded. It is very likely that people with these qualities can find themselves missing opportunities because they aren't open to change or new ideas. Probably for most strengths that you could name about yourself or your business, if you thought hard and long enough about them I'm sure you could identify where they may also contribute to weaknesses.
For example one of the great strengths of a business like IBM was its size. It had a huge market share and a massive salesforce but in the end its size turned out to be its undoing. It wasn't fast enough to see the revolution that happened in personal computers. It allowed a more nimble upstart, like Compaq, to jump into the void and take market share and opportunity away from it. Another example would be Lotus or Wordperfect. Effectively these companies had a 100% market share of the spreadsheet and word processing market. Where are they today ? Confined to being also rans with market share in single digits and falling. How could any business with 100% market share allow this to happen ? They sat back, relying on their strengths to carry them through, they didn't continue to work and improve, they became arrogant. The reasons are many and varied, however it is clear that their greatest strength also became their greatest weakness.
So does this mean that we only have weaknesses ? No, because the strengths are there they just need one important factor to ensure they don't turn into weaknesses. What is this ? Well, it is no secret, we have talked about it before. It is BALANCE. If you lose the balance of your strengths then they run risk of becoming weaknesses. You should now see that we are almost back where we started this discussion. We are back talking about BALANCE and from there we move onlto CONTROL and so on.
As I have said, it isn't anything mystic or hidden. As they say it is just the “circle of life”. They key to improvement is to keep working on it, when it comes around again ( and it will ) take some time and continue to improve it. There is very little chance that you'll get something right the first time, the secret is probably to do the best you can, put it aside and work on the next thing. When the challenge arises again it should now be a bit easier and you have learnt more that can help improve it this time. So you work at it a little more, put it away and so. I like to think of it as working on a great sculpture. You know the final result is in the block of granite, it is just hidden. The challenge is to chip away and reveal the result that only you know is there.
This is how it progresses. It doesn't make sense to fight it, although many people do. Like it or hate it, that's life.
This book by Louise Woodbury and William De Ora is a worthwhile edition to any small business managers library. It is based very much along the lines of the E-Myth by Michael Gerber but has a number of improvements in my opinion. Firstly, unlike Gerber, it starts out with a single goal in mind. Gerber's book is great, telling you to get everything systemized and so on but what for ? Just to make more money ? I think that this book's objective is far more relevant to Australian small business owners.
The second thing is that the book is written by Australian's. Many good ideas and books come from the US but there are still significant differences in the culture between Australian and US small businesses, so coming from an Australian perspective is a bonus. The book also goes beyond what Gerber covers, extending into areas such as financial management and marketing. In some cases this may make the book too long for small business owners pressed for time and in some places I found the book to drag a bit but generally they were few and far between. If there was a flat spot it wasn't long until something “peppier” came along.
The follows the struggles of a business owning couple who have been in business over ten years and who have lost their “spark” and are simply trudging through their day feeling trapped by the business they started all those years ago to free them from the cages of being employees. The ability to take three months off from your business to enjoy a break has two fold benefits. Firstly, it lets those owners who are burning out a chance to unwind and recharge their batteries. Even more importantly, it makes the business owners put in place systems and people ( al la Gerber ) so that the business will continue to run in their absence.
I feel this book is more relevant to businesses here in Australia than Gerber's because it actually focuses on a goal the business owners can aim for as well as providing definative steps as to what needs to be put in place for this to happen. As I said previously , the book is written very much in the Gerber style as a story between all the major players. This I admit can get a little tedious at times but then you do have to remember that not everyone has read Gerber and this writing style will probably appeal to a lot of small business owners who don't really read for relaxation.
All in all a very worthwhile read and I would recommend it to any small business owner, whether or not they have read Gerber. There were plenty of points that made me sit up and pay attention as well as challenging my thinking on a number of issues. Any book that does this is certainly worth the investment of reading.
Rating = 7 out of 10
So you've read all the business self help books you can find. You got all these really great ideas about how to improve your business and your life but you still feel something is missing. I couldn't agree with you more. What is that something? I believe that it is simply - Personal Health.
Scientific studies show that the fitter you are the better your body is able to cope, the better your stamina and that you generally lead a much better life. Unfortunately, the trend in today's Western society is definitely the opposite. We spend more and more time sitting in front of computer screens during the day and TV screens at night. It is well documented that today's society is getting fatter and fatter with demands for 'fast food' growing.
Personal health and fitness is not just a passing fad that you do for a while it must become part of your life. Why do most diets fail? Because they are only for a very short period of time. Once you come off a diet what happens? Usually you stack on the pounds plus a few more for good measure. Why? Well if your body is cruising along for a number of years on a certain intake and style of food then it gets used to it ( you call this conditioning ). Then all of a sudden your make a radical change and don't eat as much what happens? Well, the body is smart, it starts converting more food into stored energy ( ie fat ) until the previous eating pattern returns. When you end the diet the body doesn't know that and keeps storing more enegy until it recognizes the diet is finally over.
It takes about 6 months for you body to actually realize “Oh, I see, you are doing things differently, I'll have to adjust”. so any change you want to make is going to take about 6 months before it starts showing any results. The problem is that the most effort required for change is always required up front. Unfortunately, we can't say “Hey, can I pay for this change with set payments over a few years?”. Sorry, it doesn't work that way. This is reason most people fail to make change, they aren't committed to the significant up front charge.
If you want to improve your business, I think the first thing is to take a look at yourself. Am I eating right? Am I getting enough rest? Am I exercising enough? Do I spend time away from the business releaxing and recharging? Most business owners would probably just laugh at these ideas and say that to be successful you can't afford any of these. Well I hate to tell you that if you get sick you probably won't have a business because the whole thing depends on you. Generally, no work, no money is the tune for most small businesses.
Improving your personal health will allow you to do more, work harder when required and bounce back but best of all it will lead to an improved life. Isn't that what we are all striving for? What the hell are you doing if you aren't about improving your life?
Now don't get me wrong you don't have to go out and start running a marathon tomorrow morning at 6am. The secret to achieveing anything is small incremental improvements. As I have said before if you are going to climb a ladder you take it one rung at a time, you don't try and jump seven or eight at a time. The challenge is to develop the discipline to not only make these changes in your life but to stick at them. Remember - anything worthwhile requires sacrifice.
The older we get the more set in our ways we become. The more unlikely we are to try something outside the box, so to speak. This can prove to be a very limiting factor. How many times have you thought - “Geeze, I wish I'd thought of that”. Chances are, you probably could of if only you'd been able to think outside the square.
How can you avoid getting into a rut? Well, unfortunately you have to do things that aren't comfortable and most likely you also don't really like doing. For example, if you like reading spy novels then maybe reading something like a western. You probably feel that you wouldn't like it but how do you know until you try? My grandfather used to to tell me that unless I tried some of the things that were put on my plate at dinner time I'd never know whether I liked them. Now, probably most of the things I didn't like but I will admit that were things that I did like. Limiting yourself to what “you think” is good can become very constraining and resticts you ability to grow.
Working outside your comfort zone and trying something new can also greatly increase your flexability as well as you knowledge. The hard thing is making this fun and challenging ourselves to do it on a regular basis. It is far to difficult to fall back into our usual comfortable habits when we are not paying attention. I heard someone once say that the different between someone who is good at something and someone who is great at something is that someone who is great at something practices what they are bad at. Anybody can practice what they are good.
The real challenge is to have the discipline to push ourselves outside our comfort zone and try something new. Too many times fear of failure or other people's opinions hold us back. As anyone can tell you, you don't know what you can achieve until you put your mind to it.