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    Business advice from industry experts.

    Rick Thomas, founder and president of Reno, Nev.-based ProTechnical, shares three suggestions he’d apply if he were launching an MSP from scratch today:

    1. Get involved in some type of peer group– Join a peer group that is strictly for IT providers, so that they work collaboratively and not competitively.

    That typically means having to either have phone calls with other companies out of the area or even flying and meeting quarterly (that's what we do).

    Quarterly, we meet with about twelve other companies and that moves across the country to different locations, different venues.

    It has really been the biggest advantage for ProTechnical when we finally joined.

    Talk about walking into something and going, "wow, I just found out I know nothing," when you think you knew it all.

    You can't get that from your employees.

    You will never get that from anybody locally, because they are in the same market, competing against you.

    It is really an interesting phenomenon when you move out of your area into a different region and you're meeting in a place where there's nobody there in that zone that would be fighting for the business.

    Everybody just freely talks about everything, from what they're paying themselves to what they're paying their employees, to what they're getting per seat, to what their vendors are charging them.

    All of a sudden, you have this huge advantage to go back, say, to a distributor and say, "Hey, I thought I was getting a good deal. This guy in a like company is getting 70 cents a seat. I'm paying $1.10. What's going on with that?"

    You've got bargaining chips and things you just never knew – and processes.

    Everybody shares documents, whether they are Excel spreadsheets or PowerPoints or Word files.

    That is huge.

    With annual dues, having to pay to fly around four times a year, weekly phone calls - it seems like it's a lot.

    But in the end, just joining this peer group has advanced us faster than any of the other years we were business.

    2. Don't hire just locally, but not internationally– I think I would try to find people from different areas.

    The difficulty with that is, if I'm starting an MSP today from the ground up, it's difficult to get someone to relocate from another state to my company, when there's really no history on this company.

    People early on will interview us as we're interviewing them because they want to make sure that if they're leaving a job, they are going somewhere that's going to stay in business.

    If I already had a track record, I would be looking at professionals anywhere in the country, and really looking at expanding that.

    Look who's out there, who's interested in coming to work for a technical company and how you can lure them. 

    When I say “stay local,” I mean stay within the U.S. borders.

    You can hire people working remotely too, and then you can bring them in.

    Staying within the U.S. is huge.

    We did try the offshore. There are a lot of IT companies that still do this, and MSPs, too.

    In the end, any customer-facing technician needs to have a command of English language in America.

    I don't care how good someone is in their English in India, in the Philippines, or anywhere else.

    There's a way that people think.

    There are very bright and sharp people but they are wired differently, probably due to upbringing and culture.

    It's not that easy to speak to somebody just because they know English.

    You don't get the coding that happens when people are interacting with each other here.

    So, that could be a block.

    There are many things that globalization works to help us in, but within reason.

    3. Be certain that you've completely vetted out your PSA solution– You want to have a PSA that is going to be able to scale with your company.

    It needs to be able to integrate with your company.

    I've learned over the years, if you give somebody a tool and it's not easy to use, they will not use it, no matter how hard you try to convince them use it because people use what's familiar – what works.

    There's a very big PSA out there, the leader – the tool is so cumbersome, that people won't use it effectively.

    When you're not using your PSA effectively, you can't report properly and you can't inspect what you expect.

    And then you have a problem: You have a machine that you're putting information in and it's not spitting it out the way it's supposed to, or people aren't putting information in that you need.

    Definitely spend time to demo and vet out the best PSA because for an MSPs, the PSA is the core – it's our heart.

    Without the PSA, I don't care what you have in the system; nothing will work.

    It is the core of the business.

    Don't try to do it with QuickBooks or the spreadsheet or Outlook.

    It's just not going to work.

    There are so many PSAs out there now.

    Everybody wants to get a piece of the action.

    Vet it out, get the one that works.

    Everybody's going to have their criteria so I can't say “go with this company.”

    What works for me, may not work for someone else.

    PSA is very important in running an MSP effectively, efficiently and profitably.

     

    Editor’s note:Comments are edited to improve readability.

    If you’d like to be featured on a future “If I Were Launching an MSP Now,” email us with your name, company name and phone number at MSPmentorNews@Penton.com.


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    From product releases to perspectives in the field, here's a recap of top headlines from  the week of July 24-28.


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    Business advice from industry experts.

    Gareth McKee, owner and CEO of Burnt Orange Solutions, based in Saskatoon, Canada, shares three suggestions he’d apply if he were launching an MSP from scratch today:

    1. Don't think people will come to you – I'm a technician and an engineer. I wasn't a businessman when I first started Burnt Orange.

    I think there are a lot of technical guys out there who are definitely good at their jobs and believe they can run a technical business.

    And they probably really can run a technical business.

    But what they don't realize is that they need to become a salesman and a marketer, from day one.

    I think that's a hard lesson to learn for a lot of technicians and engineers out there.

    They just think that because they're so fantastic at IT, that the business will just come to them, when that's not reality.

    I think realizing this business has to sell in order to make money, and market to make money, is huge.

    2. Clearly define your services – Try not to be all things to all people.

    Especially early on, everyone is chasing every penny they can and they try to please everybody.

    This just makes things harder in the long term.

    Because you don't know what contracts are in place, what people, what's covered, what services you're offering.

    It just gets far too complicated.

    I think from day one, if you got one or two or three packages, clearly define them and then people have to fit in with you.

    You're the expert.

    3. All parts of the business need to be process driven – Not just the helpdesk, the technical side of life; but the marketing, the sales, the billing, the recovery of money.

    Everything needs to be process-driven.

    If on the 15th of every month you send out invoices, then it needs to be on the 15th day every month.

    If on the 1st of every month you send out newsletters, it needs to be the 1st of every month.

    And again, going back to engineers starting an IT business, this is all brand-spanking new to them and it needs to be absolutely clearly defined.

     

    Editor’s note: Comments are edited to improve readability.

    If you’d like to be featured on a future “If I Were Launching an MSP Now,” email us with your name, company name and phone number at MSPmentorNews@Penton.com.


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    From product releases to perspectives in the field, here's a recap of top headlines from the week of September 25-29.


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    Business advice from industry experts.

    Brandon Bowers, president of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based ZenTek Data Systems, shares three suggestions he’d apply if he were launching an MSP from scratch today.

    1. Centralize your solution stack – The more systems and programs, application and hardware vendors that you have to deal with on a daily basis, tech support numbers you have to call, SOPs, internal documentation, ensuring everyone's supportability, and training you need to provide to get employees up to speed – all this becomes incredibly difficult the larger you get and the more customers you have.

    You need to streamline as much as possible and be able to support as many clients with the least amount of effort and employees.

    When you lose an employee and need to hire somebody, the least amount of training and processes to get them up to speed, the better.

    Centralizing your solution stack makes that so much simpler.

    It's not that we select something and then we never look at it again. 

    I'm a tech guy at heart.

    I always love playing with different types of technology, hardware vendors, looking at new software. 

    I set aside some time to only look at so many vendors per quarter.

    If we evaluated our RMM this year, then more than likely we're not going to look at many RMM vendors again this year.

    Maybe next year we will reevaluate this.

    Same with other solutions within our stack of products.

    2. Settle on a PSA for your business – It's critical.

    We started this business, I looked at the big three - Tigerpaw, Autotask and Connectwise – and ultimately we selected ConnectWise.

    Not that it's the best but it works for us, and every other MSP you talk to is going to say they're ok with the solution they're using,

    But there's probably a lot to be desired.

    Ultimately, it tracks all of your time, ticketing.

    We run our marketing through it.

    We track client lists, invoicing, accounts receivable.

    Everything goes through our ticketing system: sales time, marketing time, tracking, billing, payroll.

    There's not really a way to see the savings right away, but only after you've used the product for some time.

    When I started the business, I felt like I didn't want to spend money for the training – and the software licensing to get it set up, and now I have this monthly recurring fee that's going to go on, but I followed advice of someone who ran an MSP.

    Without a doubt, we can't run our business as smoothly as we do today without having a PSA in place.

    3. Look to the future – Keep an eye on what's happening in the news and make sure you focus your business on what's in the eye of the people.

    Security being such a big aspect today, if I were to start over today, I'd focus a tremendous amount of efforts in the security space: security auditing, security assessments, compliance requirements – whether it comes to HIPAA or PCI.

    I think there's a huge untapped space on the small business side of things when it comes to security.

    It's being pushed so much into their field of vision right now that they're really starting to want to pay more for some of those services, when I feel like they weren't in the past.

    This isn't only about the security though.

    Don't be afraid to work on newer technologies.

    Don't be afraid to go to the cloud or run a security practice.

    Just because when you get into some of those more specialized services, there's a lot less competition in that space.

    When you offer those sets of services, the clients become more "sticky," because it's harder to find another provider providing those same services.

    And if you're hosting any services for them, it's much harder for them to leave as well.

     

    Editor’s note: Comments are edited to improve readability.

    If you’d like to be featured on a future “If I Were Launching an MSP Now,” email us with your name, company name and phone number at MSPmentorNews@Penton.com.


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    Replacing your servers every five years just because that's what other people do is not necessarily the most cost-effective way to manage hardware.

    How long does a server last?

    That's the burning question whose answer cost-efficient MSPs need to know.

    Here's how to determine the lifespan you should expect from servers.

    Computers are Not Cars

    To determine server lifespan, it's important to recognize that computers are not like cars or other machines that simply wear out over time.

    The difference is this: Most components in your car are mechanical.

    Eventually, no matter how well designed those components are or how well you maintain them, they'll break down.

    In contrast, most components inside servers are not mechanical.

    CPUs, memory and motherboards don't have moving parts that wear out as a result of use.

    As long as you cool these components properly, protect them for electrical surges and perform basic maintenance, the non-mechanical parts of a server will continue to function indefinitely.

    There is one major part of servers that will wear out sooner or later: Hard disks.

    The median life span of a hard drive is about six years.

    Fortunately, hard disks are also among the least expensive and easiest components to replace in a server.

    Just because your hard disks wear out doesn't mean your server has reached the end of its useful life.

    Defining Server Lifespan

    That brings us to the main question: How long is the expected lifetime of a production server?

    This is a difficult question to answer because there are two distinct ways of thinking about how long a server remains usable:

    • The first involves measuring how long it will keep functioning before critical components break down. As noted above, there is no easy answer to this question. Most of the components in a server are non-mechanical and can last indefinitely. Hard drives are the only big exception.
    • The second way of measuring server lifetime is to think in terms of how long a server remains cost-efficient to maintain. At a certain point, continuing to manage servers that struggle to keep up with modern workloads is less effective than replacing them with new servers. It's easier to manage a single server that can handle a large modern workload, rather than managing three or four legacy servers to support an equal workload.

    Legacy servers may also use energy less efficiently, which raises operating costs.

    They may take up more space in the data center.

    And they may eventually not be compatible with modern operating systems, although that is not a common occurrence.

    Linux can run on virtually any server created in the last twenty years, and even Windows has a fair amount of legacy hardware compatibility.

    How Long Will Your Server Last?

    Most people will tell you that servers will last about five years and should then be replaced.

    That's the rule of thumb that has developed in the industry.

    As noted above, however, that's not the right way to think about server lifespan.

    A server that receives routine maintenance, and whose hard disks are replaced as needed, could continue to run for decades – although it will likely not remain cost-effective for decades.

    So, rather than assuming that there is a universal answer for how long a server can last, you should tailor the answer to your situation.

    Calculate your maintenance and operating costs for your current servers and determine the point at which those costs become significantly greater than the cost of running more modern hardware.

    Replacing your servers every five years just because that's what other people do is not necessarily the most cost-effective way to manage hardware.

    It's also not exactly environmentally friendly – if that's important to you.

    Avoiding the Question: The Cloud

    Of course, you could also migrate all of your workloads to the cloud and stop worrying about server lifetime.

    But until we live in a world where everything runs in the cloud, server lifetime still matters.

    This article originally appeared on MSPmentor


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    From product releases to perspectives in the field, here's a recap of top headlines from the week of October 1-5.


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    Business advice from industry experts.

    Jan Chapman, co-founder and managing director of Melbourne, Australia-based MSP Blueshift, ​shares three suggestions he’d apply if he were launching an MSP from scratch today.

    1. Be a niche specialist – There are so many MSPs that the competition is crazy.

    You've got to be a specialist in a particular area, as in a vertical market.

    Be a specialist. 

    Understand that niche: what their requirements are, speak their language, not just the IT side of it, but everything they do, their whole business, what's important to them, what problems they have from the business point of view, rather than technical.

    Because everyone does all the technical stuff.

    The actual specialist area is the only way to differentiate yourself from the competition.

    2. Automate – Get a suite of tools that will do work that you don't have to employ people to do.

    Everyone wants to cut costs and get things cheaper, and a lot of people do it through outsourcing or offshoring to low-cost resources.

    But automation is the cheapest deal, and it's way more reliable.

    All the RMMs and all the bits and pieces that go with it are good to have in place.

    Otherwise, you're just not going to compete on cost.

    3. Systemize everything – You obviously need people in place, as well as the tools.

    You're going to want to know what they're doing all the time.

    Create systems for everything.

    It might involve using the automation.

    It might involve people.

    It might involve third parties.

    If you don't have a system, put one in.

    If something fails, it's the system, rather than the person. 

     

    Editor’s note: Comments are edited to improve readability.

    If you’d like to be featured on a future “If I Were Launching an MSP Now,” email us with your name, company name and phone number at MSPmentorNews@Penton.com.


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    From product releases to perspectives in the field, here's a recap of top headlines from the week of October 9-13.


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    From product releases to perspectives in the field, here's a recap of top headlines from the week of October 23-27.