In your message monitoring system, you will generally be sending out alerts to mobile device users via text messaging when an error occurs. As mentioned above, it’s easy to send out a text message through email software, and the assumption here is that all your on-call resources are reachable through text messages on their mobile phones. However, there are a number of management issues you should consider as you configure your notification system. Among these issues are:
• Who are your responders? Do you have a list of defined responders who will be responsible for ensuring all issues are resolved? What compensation are you offering them for responding to off-hours system issues? What procedure will they follow when they receive an alert? What happens if the off-hours responder doesn’t receive the alert because of mobile device issues, such as a dead battery, out of cell phone range, etc.?
• Do you have a responder rotation? If you have more than one off-hours responder, do you have a published schedule for who’s on duty each night? Is your software set up to follow the schedule and only send to the on-call person or does everyone get the alerts regardless of whether they are on duty that night or not? How do you handle vacations or business travel when the scheduled off-hours responder may not be available?
• Do the responders have mobile devices they can carry with them and is your company handling the cost of the mobile device? If you’re requiring people to drop everything and answer a call, do they at least have the required company equipment to do the job? Are they aware that they will have to answer the call whenever they are on duty?
• Do you have a call tree? If the off-hours responder can’t resolve the issue, what escalation procedure should he follow and who should he call? Have you defined your subject matter experts (SMEs) who need to resolve certain types of issues, such as ERP system errors, hardware errors, Web site errors, etc.? What happens if the designated SME isn’t available? A negotiated and published call tree can alleviate many of these issues.
In my experience, these issues can be just as tricky as the software configuration. You need to carefully define your call trees and ensure that everyone knows what needs to done in case of a problem. Nobody likes to be on-call during off-hours, so proceed carefully and make sure your responders are taken care of in some way, shape, or form for their trouble.]]>
We want to know, but we don’t want to know. It’s hard to hear criticism. I mean, who do they think they, are criticizing our hard work. I was so scared of reading our first survey I think I walked about an hour to relax before I sat down to absorb the “state of the union”.
This goes in line with being a good listener. Although asking a client to be honest face to face doesn’t always get to the truth. Would you want to upset the guy who was in charge of your data? So that’s why we did anonymous surveys so our clients could express their true thoughts and advice without fear of their email server going down. Create a web page with the ability to do a quick survey anonymously.
I would never retaliate, but you get the idea. People’s nature is to be nice, unless you’re related. Getting anonymous reviews of your business is a great source for nipping any issues in the bud before they get big. Simple questions about your performance and questions about what they would like are good things to ask. Keep the questions politically correct. Don’t get personal such as, “Does Johnny the tech show up on time?” In general do not ask questions that might seem as though you don’t know what you are doing, or that you don’t know what’s going on. Don’t ask if their systems are running ok!
Remember, every day someone is calling your client wanting to know if they are happy with their computer services. You should be way ahead of the game so their only answer to sales calls like that, are “yes we are happy, goodbye”
I can be reached at email@example.com]]>
It wasn’t until my fourth year that I stumbled upon the formula. I said stumbled, because for the longest time I thought I would find success in the technology I offered. I got into this business because I believed in the power that technology could transform business as we know it. But, technology only goes so far. If we remember the old “garbage in, garbage out”, we may have a chance at grasping what really creates a transformative environment.
You can break down your business into 4 categories of influence.
Only one of these has the ability to transform. The others are static in their application. Yes, people are the resource that will transform your business and create amazing results. If you were to ask a client what is it that you do for him, he would give you an answer that contains the human activity. He would not say, “The email server that you keep running”. Most likely he would say “You’re responsive to our needs”.
So how can you have customers beating down your door? You hire people who bring the amazing with them. They think outside the box a lot. They are always asking questions. They have some chaos going on. They seem odd at times. They will question what you do and tell you all about another way to do it. THESE are the transformative ones.
By using the other 3 areas to affect outcomes you can guide and create the context in which this transformative power operates. Your strategy must be known by all. It is the glue for all you do. Your processes become your expectations of desired outcomes, and your technology is how you put substance to the whole deal. The great part of all this, is that amazing people want and need the structure of the other three to feel good about what they do, because otherwise it’s just chaos.
I didn’t answer the direct question on purpose. I can’t give you a step by step procedure to have CEO’s calling you. It wouldn’t work for you like it did for me. All I can say is look towards your own source of transformative thinking and ask away. You’ll get there once you know where to look.
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org]]>
So you’re the top guy. Everyone is starting to come to you for technology advice and solutions. Seems there isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done. The truth is there isn’t, and if you’re going to grow, you must learn to move out of the puppy love into more mature relationships. Sure it feels good to be wanted, it’s what we all strive for, but if you can’t take it to the next level you will be the self-employed, not the business owner.
The clients are used to you being their trusted advisor. They want to talk to you. They want to see you. They want to tell you about their business. That is the monster you created. Now you must teach them that you are a company. This is a slow methodical process that should have a plan to it. Each situation is different. For some, they already view you as a business and have no problem with talking to Joe the engineer. Others will fight all the way.
You may find some clients, especially the first clients you acquired, will never want to deal with the company. You might just have to fire them and make a plan to replace them with new clients that are sold on your company not you. Do not keep those 3 clients who refuse to accept your new way of life they will only slow you down. Not everyone wants to grow up with you. Growing up is never easy, in business or life, but it’s pretty much the same.
I can be reached at email@example.com]]>
Most of us have the technology part down pretty good. What can cause problems is when we hire people to help us. As we grow our business, learning how to manage and put people to task, is a learned skill and the first step, is knowing how we spend our week.
Write down what you do on a daily basis. Whether its billing, tech, or marketing, we have to get an idea of what we want to delegate. Once you figure out how much time you spend on each, you can make a plan to replace you in those hours, to free you up to do more. If you spend 25 hours doing tech work, then make a plan to replace you.
If it’s too complicated then make procedures to follow. You can’t replace you, unless you have a way to replicate what you do. If you create step by step procedures for the person to follow, it will be easier to put someone in your place. If you can’t make it something you can teach someone else to do, you will never grow your business. You will just be self employed and always running from here to there with long hours.
Imagine the professional race car driver. If he spent all his time fixing the race car, he would never be able to practice driving. He would always be doing everything and nothing really well. That’s why you must focus on what you do well and hire others to make the team. Being the best requires you to focus on your core skills. Hiring others is just part of filling in the team.
Now when you hire others, you don’t get all that time back. You have to anticipate some time for managing. So if you hired a tech and he took 25 hours away, you will have about 20 of those as available time to do more. Perhaps you will now do more tech work. That’s really all it takes to build your business. Add some passion and tenacity to the plan and you will next have to worry about going public with the whole thing, good luck.
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org]]>
Normally you have the same things packaged by different companies. I can heat my home with media packages from product manufacturers. This one stood out to me because of what it means to ALL possible clients.
Iosafe sells fireproof and waterproof NAS boxes for the SMB market. This is wonderful. Even though offsite backups are available, have you ever done a restore from offsite? Well, depending on the data amount, it can be 48 hours. I didn’t have too many clients that could be down for 2 days and not lose big dollars.
Placing one of these in a secure place, hidden from everyone, would provide restoration from theft, fire or other localized disasters. Now I would still store data offsite, and I would use this local storage as my first response in restoring the client if the office was still usable. I would also use this for hardware failure.
Overall this device is a little godsend in filling the gap between offsite issues and quick restores. I like it!]]>
This realization only comes with experience. I spent many hours building business processes to automate a successful marketing strategy. Still, I spent half of my time focused on it. Now the benefit of automating is that things didn’t fall apart if I had something else to work on.
Marketing your MSP with the right tools and maintaining that edge is the secret to potential clients calling you, not you calling them. Imagine having business professionals call you, looking for that “thing you do”. And once you figure out that formula, it requires your constant attention if you want to have those calls keep coming.
Now I’m not saying the day to day administration of marketing can’t be handled by staff. Hopefully you can build processes that are teachable and repeatable. What needs your attention will be the content of the plan and personally reaching out to those business professionals. Chances are it will be the CEO or CFO who wants to talk about what you can do for them. Your job is to do what you do best, sing loudly.
Client service managers can do the follow up. Your job is to secure the trust and open the door to servicing and revenue. I touched each potential client first, laid the groundwork for trust, then handed it over to the sales team. Their job was to tell the client what was needed after an analysis and team discussion. Once I hit the magic formula, there was never a week I didn’t have a handful of potential CEO’s to talk to. The rest they say is green pastures, dollar green.
I can be reached email@example.com]]>
Whether you are a systems integrator with many years in projects, or the local computer guy serving home and small businesses, there are certain qualities that are needed to be successful in managed services. The business model is one where you take full accountability for the operation and control of the clients environment.
You must be fanatical about customer service
Keeping clients happy and keeping little things from getting out of control is the way to many days of big profits. Take lead from wherever you find great customer service and emulate it. Always have someone answer a phone, no auto attendant. They don’t care you are big and have many extensions; they are calling because something isn’t right. Go ahead and call the largest MSP’s in your market.
You know what you are doing or can find that resource
If you are making money fixing the same issue, you will be losing money as an MSP. You must be completely capable of having every environment you manage under control. If you do not completely know everything, it will cost you, I promise. If needed, hire the best. The best candidates are people like you. They care about the customer and are smart.
Understand business process
The road to managing networks and computers for a fixed price is littered with unseen pitfalls. The best way to hedge your bet is to make as much as possible predictable. Understanding workflows and creating them for everyone to follow builds predictable business. From emergency response to server updates, the more you have a plan for the more you can control.
Be a good listener
Your clients will always express what they want. Your employees will always tell you what’s wrong. You are the middleman. Terry Hedden of Infinity Business Systems is a fanatical customer listener. That’s why he owns the largest IT firm in Tampa, he listens. The client will give you clues about what they need in many ways. Spending time with them is just as important as servicing them. An open ear will lead to increased revenue, I promise.
Never being satisfied with your own achievements
Pride always comes before a fall they say. Having a mindset of “is there a way to do this better?” even after you have delivered the solution will keep you humble. I guess I could have called this one humility, but you’d probably think I was going to give a sermon. Actually I am. This whole blog is about being of service. The ability to deliver technology, so it is understandable and usable by the average business person, is one of the highest positions of service I can think of for us geeks.
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org]]>
Haven’t we already been down this road? The late 90’s saw a spurt of; “We’re going to eliminate the pc and move to more centralized design and management” “It will save us trillions!!” “Thin Clients are the future” and then, nothing happened. Concerns about connectivity and central point of failure crushed the migration back to Server/Terminal platforms.
Now everyone is lining up to hook their star onto the desktop virtualization bandwagon. Will we go the distance this time? Has the technology caught up with the desire? Have we solved the single point of failure fear? Personally I’ve experienced the single point fail as IT manager. It is like losing an arm, that’s how painful it is. You lose careers over incidents containing single points of failure.
I suppose these days; experience has mitigated most of these worries. But you don’t have to look far to see opportunities. DNS, internet access and a handful of other points are still looming in the shadows. We are lulled into a false sense of security that if it’s outsourced, they have it covered. Well just remember this little conversation when the virtual desktop becomes a virtual blank screen for 4 hours. “Oh, ok, let’s install a backup desktop locally to cover ourselves”. There goes the cost savings and our contract.
I think the hype will settle down and certainly there will be good times ahead. The economy is hitting second gear in the tech areas and the rest will come up to speed by spring 2013. New business models are certain. Small business workflows are being transformed as we speak, which in turn will drive medium and large business in new models to accommodate the new markets. Our future is bright; just make sure we have more than one light bulb installed. Redundancy is all the rage!
I can always be reached at email@example.com]]>
I’m not sure I can cover this in one entry, but I don’t want to bore you guru’s who stop by to read me, so I will just skirt the issue and make it interesting. I learned the value of monthly billable from my previous life as owner of an environmental company. We were doing gas station remediation systems and although the margin for the install was great, I found it much more so when we opted to include the monthly operation & maintenance plan. So I gradually phased out all project work and targeted the O&M market directly.
Same goes here with the SMB computer systems management market. The overhead of a project and break/fix shop can be heavy and with the ability to create business processes that are measurable and predictable you can create better margins. And we all want better margins right? Reminds me of the Capital One commercial where he offers 50% more cash and the baby says “no”. The more predictable the business the more you can create automated responses, and that gives you more cash, not sure about the double points thing, ask Capital One.
So get to the point already, ya, I know. You have to create a mind change in the decision maker. The only way someone moves from break/fix to monthly fixed is if they feel the win for themselves. An example might be that you total up the years costs and offer to do managed services for 15% less, capping his costs and saving him. I opted for a planned education of the potential client by way of mailers and email newsletters. Sometimes you will hit a client at an extreme pain point and find them eager to sign on, especially after that $5000 dollar repair bill on the exchange server.
Ultimately it starts with your own strategy and from there you plot your course. There are many ways to get to recurring revenue and it can take any number of forms. One successful person I know just outsources everything and collects the difference. He is a salesman, he stuck with his core competency and hired others to do the rest. Start with your top clients. Chances are there will be room to negotiate the price and SLA so you won’t lose money. Cut your teeth on learning how to service them within a budgeted amount of resources. This will start the structure for your processes and teach you what needs to be done. I can always be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org]]>