MSPmentor 250: Teresa Bell's Plan for Florida's Nature Coast

MSPmentor 250: Teresa Bell's Plan for Florida's Nature Coast

Teresa Bell Head shotEven the most rural areas of the United States have small businesses in need of a managed services provider. You'll find proof of that in speaking with Citrus Networking Solutions Group President Teresa Bell (pictured). Bell landed on our MSPmentor 250 by focusing her company on delivering IT services in Citrus County, Fla. in the state's  "Nature Coast" -- one of the most rural areas in the country.

Bell's background is in the enterprise as she spent many years performing IT contract work for big businesses. But as Bell explains, there were obstacles: "It's tough to make it up the enterprise ladder as a woman. Things were said like 'I don't know how you know how to do that' or they were surprised when I pickup a server and put it in a rack, but I can sling hardware with the best of them." Indeed, our conversation was delayed a few minutes because Bell was replacing a server for one of her clients.

Bell founded Citrus after listening to her friends -- small business owners -- complain about their IT staff and/or external service providers. So Bell started doing IT work for her friends on weekends for free. And when she eventually left the enterprise space to start Citrus, she already had about seven clients signed from day one. Bell hired an admin to answer phones, a staff member to set up sales meetings, and began offering a flat-fee billing IT model before becoming a full service MSP and developing creative contracts about two years ago. Citrus' biggest challenge? It's demographic.

"Citrus county is about two hours north of Tampa," Bell explained. "Its' very rural, and our biggest challenge is pricing our product for our customers. We are the highest- priced MSP in our area, but we are not competing with the $35-an-hour guy. We are different."

So what's the difference? For one, Citrus is about 90 percent remote. The company manages about 600 devices for roughly 20 clients mostly from its data center in Citrus County. Citrus is also a Microsoft Certified Partner, and Bell tries to, in her words, "keep overhead down and partner wherever we can." Citrus has built partnerships withAutotask, Kaseya and Reflexion Neworks, just to name a few. All this so that Bell can go into sales meetings talking about performance instead of cost.

"The biggest thing to the SMB owner is that they want their employees to work. They don't want to walk in and see them doing nothing because computers don't work. We focus on quick response and keeping businesses running the way they want. That's what we hone in on. We don't talk about price until they understand what managed services is. We focus on their servers being up and that we run things behind the scenes and we keep people working when they are supposed to be working."

Virtualization and the cloud haven't been big topics of discussion between Citrus and its clients because of the size of their business, but Bell stays up to speed on industry technology in case the question comes up. Bell admittedly plays devil's advocate as a member of the Cloud Convergence Counsel because many of her clients have poor infrastructure.

"Some [clients] are still running on DSL, so putting them on the cloud doesn't work at all," she said. And as far as virtualization, not many clients have more than one server so it doesn't come in to play." Citrus has other goals more aligned with its demographic.  Next on the agenda for Citrus: A possible partnership with Xerox to offer managed print services.

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