When you first started running your MSP, you were probably full of enthusiasm. Maybe you were glad to finally work for yourself, calling your own shots and making something you could put your name on. Or maybe you had a lot of technical know-how, and you were eager to share your top-notch advice with the businesses that needed it most. Or maybe you just wanted to make more money than you did in your day job.
But there were likely a few surprises you discovered in the first few months (or years). No matter how prepared you were to take the plunge, you probably faced challenges you didn’t expect. Or perhaps you knew there would be challenges, but you underestimated how difficult they would be to overcome.
To that end, I interviewed some MSP owners to ask them what surprised them most about running an MSP. Here’s what I found.
1. It’s not enough to be a good tech anymore…
Not long ago, you could get by on your technical knowledge. You could often just set up shop, and people would find you. Then you would win more business with referrals. But now that the market has moved away from break/fix and toward managed services, technical know-how alone won’t get you as far.
To thrive these days, you need solid fundamentals in sales and marketing. For technicians, this can be a bit of a leap—fixing computer issues often calls for left-brain thinking, while sales and marketing gets into murkier right-brain territory. You don’t have to be incredible at sales and marketing, but you need to be able to present your services in a way that makes their value clear to the customer.
Want somewhere to start? Here are a few books:
- Spin Selling: This book talks about using questions in the sales process to improve your close rate.
- Selling the Invisible: This book focuses on selling services instead of products.
- How to Win Friends and Influence People: It may seem tired and clichéd to recommend this book, but it’s a perennial recommendation for a reason—it works (and is foundational to successful sales).
2. The key to good marketing is…
The people I spoke with often mentioned how challenging marketing turned out to be. Even if they were good at face-to-face conversations, getting to that stage presented some challenges. It’s important that your MSP stays top-of-mind with potential (and existing) customers.
The key to doing this is: consistency. Whether you’re sending out a monthly (or weekly) newsletter, or just sending postcards to tell potential clients you’re thinking of them, keep communicating your marketing messages so they’ll get to “know” you.
There are two key reasons why you have to stay consistent:
- Many companies aren’t ready to buy immediately. Some already have contracts with other MSPs and won’t be ready to switch until that contract ends. Others prefer break/fix and won’t make the leap to managed services until they’ve grown a bit. If you keep them warm by staying in touch, yours will be the first name they think of when they decide to sign a managed services contract.
- You also want to have a list of prospects to talk to in case work dries up. Having a list of people you consistently market to will make it easier for you to drum up business in the lean times.
3. You might want to get really good at…
One person I spoke with told me his “x-factor” was his ability to take complex technical ideas and make them simple for his potential clients to understand. Strong communication skills won him a lot of business he would have otherwise lost.
Some clients may want you to “handle it all” when it comes to technology, but you’d be surprised how often they prefer to be involved in your solutions. Nobody likes being kept in the dark. So, before you meet with someone, try writing the customer’s problems and your solution in plain English. Avoid technical jargon, and you’ll go a long way to creating better relationships with your clients.
4. You’ll never be able to figure out…
Before you made the leap, you may have assumed your business would be a full-time job. Often, it’s much more than full time. You simply can’t estimate the number of hours you’ll spend working.
To explain why, it’s worthwhile talking about a concept explored in The E-Myth: the difference between working in your business and working on your business. Working in your business is all about doing the work clients need—fixing endpoints, patching machines, etc. Working on your business is what you do to grow it—sending out marketing emails, cold calling, etc.
As an MSP, you need to do both. If you spend 30 hours per week on client work, you might spend an additional 30 on “business” work. As you grow, you’ll become better at predicting your weekly hours, but it’ll always be a challenge to some extent.
5. But those hours will be great if…
On the flip side, running an MSP can be an incredible experience if you love what you do.
Don’t believe the line, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” You still work. There are bad days and tedious moments. Some days, you may have to deal with a difficult user when you’d rather be testing out a new technology on an endpoint. However, if you love what you do, the good days will outweigh the bad. And working those extra hours to grow your business will be a lot easier, given it funds your ability to work on your passion.
6. And try to make time for…
If you spend all day working on IT and customer issues, the last thing you’ll want to do when you get home is to spend time working on additional technical projects. While you may have ambitious plans for a new mobile app, the odds are good you’ll be too spent to give it your full focus. Burn out is real.
But let’s face it—if you’re in technology, you have an active brain. You probably need mental stimulation. So, it’s worthwhile taking up an unrelated hobby in your spare time. One MSP owner I spoke with worked on scientific projects like measuring soil moisture and also spent time on building projects.
No matter how much you love your day job, having an unrelated hobby and getting rest is essential. It may seem like a soft suggestion, but it’ll work wonders when you come into work refreshed each day.
What did I miss?
This isn’t, by any means, an exhaustive list. There are certainly other surprises that come up when you’re running an MSP—whether it’s the challenge of hiring and managing employees, the difficulties of learning new technologies, or the obstacles you face juggling your personal and professional lives.
So, I’d like to hear from you. What surprised you most about owning or working in an MSP? Tell us on Twitter.