Ups and downs are normal in any business environment, and thankfully managed IT services have been improved with the adoption of a subscription or recurring revenue model. However, we currently find ourselves in one of the most challenging times most businesses have ever been in—but this doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can do to help keep your MSP business going.
I started my own MSP in 2007, right before the recession in 2008. It wasn’t great timing, but what made it possible for me to build a new MSP during the period was automation and my reliance on tools rather than reverting to manual labor. Having run a break/fix business for 10 years I did not want to come back into the market the second time doing things the way I had before, and this new level of efficiency allowed me to change things up.
In simple terms, efficiency is about doing more with less. The problem is that most often efficiencies are gained only after investing time and effort up front. When you are in an upswing is when you can least afford to invest that time because your energy should be spent helping customers. While in downtimes, businesses traditionally shrink back to try and conserve cash.
However, if you follow the general recommendation of having three to six months of cash reserves available, you should be able to weather the downturns invest in your internal systems while doing so. This way you can emerge from a downturn with more capacity than when you went in, allowing you to capitalize on the opportunity of the upswing without incurring added expenses.
Know where your business is
The first step to creating efficiencies and optimizing your business is knowing where you are. Peter Drucker said it best, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” You have to know what your current operating processes are and how well they are working before you can start improving them.
If you have not already written down your most critical processes, start with that. Flowcharts work well. From here you can decide what you want to measure. Some typical measurements are tickets opened/tickets closed, number of tickets reopened, time to resolution, and customer satisfaction. There are many more, but it’s better to start with a few and then add more later.
Some of the places to look for opportunities to create efficiencies here include:
- Ticket processes—Are tickets getting to the right tech, and are they being escalated when they should?
- Automation—Do you have processes, checklists, or self-healing automations that can be built?
- People—Are your people (or your time) being allocated correctly? Are you doing too much onsite work? Are techs being trained continuously to expand their capabilities?
Look for opportunities to make improvements
The second step is to iterate. Whenever your technical staff has downtime, challenge them to find and make improvements. They know all too well what the pain points and repetitive processes are that they deal with weekly. Offer rewards for identifying areas to be improved and for writing automations. Downtime is also ideal for training since they have the time. I should note here, though, that the best-in-class MSPs do these improvements continuously. It is part of their culture and DNA.
Overall, you will have busy times and slow times in your business. Plan for both by investing in your processes and your employees during the slow times so you can increase your efficiency. Increased efficiency gives you the capacity to go beyond your previous capability and take advantage of the busy times more quickly than if you had to add more people.
Eric Anthony is the head operations nerd at SolarWinds MSP. Before joining SolarWinds, Eric ran his own managed services provider business for over six years.
You can follow Eric on Twitter at @operations_nerd