As we close in on the end of 2015, preparing for the new year is top of mind for many business owners, and if you’re like many of the MSPs we work with, you’re looking for some tips on how to jump start your 2016 planning.
Start by checking out our Ask Intronis column on how to create a business plan and downloading our business plan template. But because this is such an important topic, we also wanted to share some real world advice from our Partners so you can see what tips your peers have to offer on the topic.
Top 9 MSP Planning Do’s
We asked our Partners what advice they would offer to a new MSP to help them plan successfully, and here are some of the key “Do’s” they came up with:
- Pick up the phone. One of our Partners told us: “I truly believe that referrals are great but will not make or break a business. The most important aspect of remaining in business as an MSP is sales endeavors, including cold calling. This is a must. Additionally, if possible, hiring a professional salesperson or lead generator for this effort is essential.”
- Keep your costs in check. “It is better to boot strap the company and run lean and mean while you are building some positive cash flow,” said another Partner. This advice seems to resonate with many of the MSPs we work with that have small teams. The good news is that by operating this way, they’re able prioritize automation and productivity, and invest only in solutions and initiatives that are tried and tested.
- Start small but act big. “Operate like you are an enterprise-size company by creating policies, and procedures for everything,” suggested one MSP. “From password policies right down to guidelines for customer interactions, you want to build your business for scalability. Define processes for on-boarding new clients, and create a price sheet with all your services described so everyone in the organization knows what you’re selling and how much you’re selling it for.”
- Leverage the calendar to ensure progress. “Set target dates and deadlines to keep yourself accountable and measure progress against your plan. Don’t just list what the goals are, but include a ‘by (fill in the date)’ in there too.”
- Strategically align with the right partners. “Look at technology that will allow you to scale quickly, and do your homework on what products and services will strengthen your relationship with your customers.”
- Be smart about pricing. “Figure out your actual costs, and determine your prices from there. Don't just pick a price based on what your competitors are charging.”
- Be persistent. “Just because something you try doesn’t work, that doesn’t mean you should give up on it. Think critically about why it might not have worked, change it up, and try again. If something doesn’t work, try it a different way!”
- Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. “When planning, think about what your customers and prospects really want, and focus on initiatives that will deliver that while helping you achieve your goals. So, if your customers value simplicity and the ease of management of your services, think about what you can do to make working with you even easier, whether it’s a single, predictable monthly bill or giving them an easy-to-understand monthly summary of the value you provided.”
- Establish a unique value proposition. “This clear and concise description should explain why companies would want to do business with you instead of your competition. Whether it’s your 24x7 support line or your expertise helping customers maintain compliance with industry regulations like HIPAA, make sure you know what your differentiators are.”
Top 9 MSP Planning Don’ts
Our Partners were quick to also caution their peers about things not to do as an MSP planning for 2016.
- Don’t forget to think before you act. “Avoid jumping into change without knowing the ramifications first. Outline your plans, consider the potential results, consider how those results would impact your business, and make informed decisions before putting anything into action.”
- Don’t be afraid of change. “It’s all too common to get stuck doing something just because that is the way it has always been done. Learning how to adapt is key, especially in the IT channel where technology is always changing, as are the needs of your customers.”
- Don’t be a copycat. “Doing what everyone else is doing is easy but doesn’t always yield the best results. You want to be innovative and stay ahead of the curve.”
- Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer when it comes to offsite backup. “If your customers try to talk you into relying on onsite backups only, do everything you can to convince them of the value of offsite backup. Whether it means backups at a second office location, backing up to the cloud, or both, an offsite backup is the way to go, and anyone that has survived a site disaster will testify to that for you.”
- Don’t invest heavily in marketing until you have a brand. “For those getting started out as MSPs, I don’t recommend spend a ton of money on marketing at the start. Spend the money on sales. I know the two are intertwined, but there is a difference. You don't need fancy marketing campaigns that cost large amounts of money. Stick to the basics—door to door, friends and contacts, local leads groups, chambers of commerce, etc. Once you have some contracts and customers, then start building the ‘brand,’ putting together marketing lead lists and campaigns.”
- Don’t spend more than you have to on hardware. “Don't buy a bunch of big-ticket items such as servers, SANs, etc. when you can "lease" them from cloud providers with very low upfront costs. If you want to build your own solutions later down the road, that is fine, but when you’re starting out, focus on running lean.”
- Don't limit yourself by thinking small. “Set aggressive but realistic goals that push you out of your comfort zone from time to time. Take calculated risks and go for big deals when they present themselves. You just might land one.”
- Don't get caught without a managed services agreement. “You want your agreement to address issues like the scope of the services you’re offering, the pricing, the duration of the services, renewal terms, provide for a disclaimer of indirect damages and a limitation of liability, etc.”
- Don’t sell yourself short. “When you establish pricing for your services, make sure to consider your fully loaded costs. Research the competition and price accordingly, but be sure not to try to compete on price alone, and don’t discount the value of your time.”