Building vs. Running Your MSP Business

Building vs. Running Your MSP Business

How do you continue to "build" a managed services business -- even as you try to "run" day-to-day operations while maintaining your existing customer engagements? I must concede: We deal with that balancing act Nine Lives Media Inc. (MSPmentor's parent). On the one hand, our team has to meet daily business and editorial deadlines. But on the other, we have to keep innovating. Otherwise, a market shift or competitive shift will surely sink us. It's a careful balancing act that I suspect many MSPs are facing as well.

No doubt, our team devotes about 70 to 80 percent of our time to "maintaining" what we have -- existing customer engagements, daily content deadlines, etc. But we use a few key tactics to keep innovating. They include:

1. Transforming a Commodity into a Value-Added Service: Let's face it. Blogs are commodities. As are basic remote managed services. Whether you're a media company or an MSP, you've got to transform your commodity service into a value-added service. Every day. For MSPmentor, I think that means remaining on the road, in front of people, getting tidbits of information that can't be found anywhere else. For MSPs, I think that means staying in front of customers, and offering clear guidance as disruptive trends (SaaS, cloud, etc.) surface in the market.

2. Carving Out Innovation Time: My daily schedule includes an hour of "innovation" time -- for online learning, web surfing, and seeing what's next. We experiment a lot based on those learnings. Sometimes those experiments fail.  For instance, we've got about 40 widgets plugged into our Web sites on any given day. But we've tried and rejected about 250 widgets -- typically because of poor performance.

My point: What are you beta testing right now? And what's your deadline in terms of deciding whether to build a managed service around the offering? At the least, you should be assessing your managed services portfolio on a quarterly basis. What do you expect to keep, what will you kill, and what will you introduce next?

3. Looking Outside Your Market: I spend a lot of time watching media companies that don't compete in the IT space. I also spend a lot of time watching tech vendors that are launching social media sites. Generally speaking, neither of those company groups compete head-on with us. But you can learn quite a lot when you start watching folks outside of your core market.

For MSPs, that means checking in with insurance companies to see how they brand and sell their "recurring revenue" insurance policies. What's the messaging? What's the pitch? It also means hanging out at vertical market conferences to hear about the key business issues facing health care professionals, attorneys, realtors and other types of professionals.

4. Budgeting for R&D: I know -- cash flow is king for MSPs and VARs. But how much money are you devoting to R&D? Instead of reselling somebody's SaaS service -- would you consider some sort of value-add integration for the service? You can find plenty of examples up on the Google Apps Marketplace, which launched earlier today.

5. Learn to Say No: When a company is new, it's easy to innovate every day. But once you're up and running, everybody wants a piece of your time. Sometimes, you have to learn to say no to yet another appointment. Look at your schedule for today. Does it include an hour for innovation? If not, add it to your schedule as a recurring daily item.

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