To kick off the year, I thought I’d look back at some of the key lessons and highlights from the 23 Frankly MSP episodes we published in 2019. I did the same thing at the start of last year, looking back at 2018, and that retrospective was a really popular episode so I’m hoping this one will also prove helpful.
Think of it as a way to refresh yourself on episodes you’ve already listened to or a way to find new episodes you want to dive into for the first time. Either way, this collection of clips could be a great way to kick off your thinking and planning for the year ahead and to identify some of the things you want to implement or change in your MSP.
First off the hop is an interview I did with Wes Spencer, the Chief Information Security Office at Perch Security. I spoke with Wes in episode 51 about MSP-focused ransomware attacks and how you can fight back.
He offered some encouragement, some practical strategies, and some advice. Here, we drop into the conversation as Wes discusses how law enforcement is grappling with the issue.
Wes: “It is very difficult for them to handle the volume right now. They’re active, they’re working with each case, they’re very well aware of these cases when they’re published to them. But the volume unfortunately Jennifer right now is so high that it’s very difficult for them to get tactically involved in every single attack and that’s really what makes this so frustrating for MSPs. They really feel like they’re on an island.
They feel like for the first time in their lives sophisticated threat actors that are going after some of the largest of organizations are now turning their attention to smaller ones like MSPs and they feel like what am I supposed to do about this. I don’t have the resources that the big boys have. I don’t have the capabilities that they have and what am I supposed to do when I’m kind of isolated against these bad guys. That’s a tough position for anybody to be in let alone an MSP.
…Fortunately I’m not seeing a lot of MSP saying we’re gonna close the doors. This is a risk too high for us. Most of them are wanting to fight back. They’re wanting to defend themselves. They’re wanting to do the right things.
…What are some things that we could leverage and learn from others to protect ourselves. Let’s align it to best practices. Let’s all start communicating. Let’s start talking about these things, let’s have open dialogue with each other. Let’s really understand where these threats are and be open with one another on how we can all work together because we fight a common enemy. When one of us gets hit, we all get hit. It hurts the reputation of every one of us, let alone the national economy. So this is something that’s important for all of us. Let’s band together, let’s work together, let’s discuss together because I truly believe when we work together as a group we can really do much much more than we could individually. So take heart. Don’t give up. There is hope for all of us.”
Over the holidays, we released a couple of short bonus episodes of the podcast that were previously unreleased interviews with Frankly MSP Brain Trust experts. I also did a Brain Trust interview with cybersecurity expert Nick Espinosa that hasn’t been widely published. And this clip you’re about to hear is from that interview. Here Nick is talking about zero-trust networks and why you should absolutely be looking at a zero-trust strategy for all your clients in 2020, if you haven’t already started moving that way.
Jennifer: “Would you say that moving clients to a zero trust network should be a goal of just about any MSP out there?”
Nick: “Yes. In fact, if you are either an MSP that is putting up a brand new client, that is inheriting an existing infrastructure that is not based in zero trust networking, or you have a brand new client that says we’re just starting a business and we need a design from the ground up, there are already elements that you can start putting in place to gear them up for that. There’s already plans that you can start building to ensure that that client or that customer are going to, within a certain amount of time, have a zero-trust environment in place and up and running.
These are the customers, for the record, that don’t call for virus infection. They don’t call due to outages or outbreaks or any of these problems because the zero trust network is so effective at ensuring that things like ransomware just simply cannot outbreak and knock out an entire network. And by virtue of that we we have seen a lot of people adopt it by people are moving towards it continuously. I have multiple clients in various states from near the beginning to almost finish implementing a zero-trust network over the course of, let’s say six months to a year, sometimes two if the organization is bigger.”
Jennifer: “And I think that would be a very strong selling point to a client who might be asking to maybe incur some additional expense, reworking some of the network, that `Hey we’re going to do this for you now. It might cost you a little bit but it’s going to dramatically increase your protection.”
Nick: “Yeah, you’re absolutely right. But what a lot of MSPs don’t realize is that the way they can sell this clients is that the clients can sell it to their clients. And what I mean by that is, especially if you’re dealing with a small and mid-sized business, a lot of these organizations cater to larger corporations. A lot of these larger corporations have data compliance laws or they’re getting more stringent with it. We literally just had a case where a large insurance corporation went to a 15-user network and basically said, ‘You’re going to adhere to our compliance policies or you’re cancelling our contract. We are not going to take the blame for your negligence with our data.’ And so as we are positioning this in cyber security, it’s making the leadership of that organization understand that we are putting this in, not just to protect you, but because you can attract larger clients yourself by virtue of it. It’s kind of like the circle of business life here. It benefits everybody to invest in the time, infrastructure, energy in advanced defensive tactics, not just to keep them online but to attract larger customers.”
By the way, if you’re interested in hearing more from Nick Espinosa, check out episode 23 from 2018, where he talks about how to add cybersecurity services to your MSP portfolio.
Next up in our 2019 retrospective, we have Caleb Christopher, the founder and CEO of Infosec Consulting. In episode 44, Caleb shared with us a really cool technique for making better, more confident decisions with full buy-in from your team. It’s called a weighted decision matrix. And by the way, the show notes from Caleb’s episode contain links to some templates, sample completed spreadsheets, and tutorial video for putting the matrix to work.
“It’s an interesting blend of subjectivity and objectivity. You bring a bunch of subjective well and some objective requirements as factors to weight. the weighting itself is very subjective. One thing’s worth one point 1 1 x multiplier and some things are worth a three X multiplier. And that’s where the team has to come together and get consensus. But in the end the score is one giant single number that is very objective based on our criteria and our weighting, this is a clear winner. This is a clear loser.
… It’s a really handy tool, it’s not really hard to do, but it’s got a really high value output. So the people involved in the process they had never seen this before but they were really pleased with the fact that they got to weigh in on a decision. It wasn’t an executive I chose this one. Here we go. Deal with it. They had a part to play in the whole process. It doesn’t quite democratize the whole process because it’s still a guided thing where somebody is in charge but it allows them to have input which is really important to people and that puts some skin in the game for them, they’re invested in the decision as well. So it cuts through a lot of the hype and egos that you might run into in in a typical large group meeting making a collective decision. ”
Now let’s turn our attention to the service desk. One of our most popular episodes of the year, and of all-time actually, is the chat I had with Todd McQuilkin of AirIT in episode 42. He talked about what an amazing resource the Service Desk Institute is and how getting certified with SDI changed his business for the better. Todd talks here about how SDI is way ahead of most MSPs when it comes to processes and and standardization.
“I’ve always kept my ears peeled to the ITSM space which is the I.T. service management space, which is really designed around internal enterprise desks. The service desk industry’s been around for like 18 20 years now but they have a standard for best practice. It’s a standard that’s based around nine core concepts and it’s really what we had been looking for. I realized at a very early stage that if we were going to build this ourselves—and we had to because again it’s all about the customer experience and service is a really important piece of that for us, our service delivery, and we knew that if we were going to be able to correct this and get out of what Gary Pica calls that reactive spiral of death, then we needed to be able to have more process. And we need to be standardized and we needed to follow some sort of best practice.
..It’s like a hidden gem because small business MSPs never look outside their own circle of safety. And we have a lot to learn from ITSM. I mean they are talking about automation, machine learning, all these things that we’re just starting to talk about, they’re like 12 16 months into that already and some service desks are already got AI logging tickets, resolving tickets, certain issues, all the problem management is done by automation and we’re learning all this from the ITSM space which SDI the Service Desk Institute is sort of their community.”
Speaking of efficiencies on the service desk, in episode 46 former MSP turned consultant Erick Simpson has some very practical tips and advice on building out the dispatch role on your desk and how it can help your MSP scale more effectively.
“Without that critical role, a dedicated service dispatcher, it’s almost like the Wild Wild West. Everybody’s kind of doing what they think they should be doing. And no one really is monitoring and measuring performance. So if we have three technicians or engineers in Level 1 on the service desk, no one’s watching to see who’s performing the best and who’s not performing up to that capacity and determining why that might be. Is it a training issue? Is it a process issue? Is something else going on that’s hampering our ability to provide consistent service? This also speaks to the ability to tier most effectively and categorize the type of incidents that are coming into the service desk. Without the ability to measure how long it takes to manage these incidents, it’s tough to really staff and scale the service desk overall.
…If you’re really looking to get a handle on improving your service desk efficiencies and evolve into an organization that is measuring performance and outputs and running the service desk and other business units by the numbers, then take a hard look at how your service desk tickets and incidents are being assigned and really consider when is the right time to hire a service dispatcher. If you’re receiving north of 70 tickets a day, I would say really take a hard look and understand that there is going to be value on the investment that a service dispatcher brings that you’re not cognizant of at the time—but that role will pay for itself very, very quickly.”
Shifting gears to sales and marketing now, we aired a number of episodes on ways you can promote your MSP and generate new business. Sitima Fowler, CEO of Capstone IT, joined us in episode 43 to talk about a few techniques that have worked for her, including how to become a mini-celebrity in your market and why you would want to.
“I don’t know if your audience knows of a gentleman named Mike Wolff from American Pickers. It’s a very highly rated cable show where he goes around and he pretty much goes to all these farms and finds antiques and talks about those antiques and then he talks about the worth of those antiques and he sells them. Prior to that show he’s had an antique store called Antique Anthropology for years and it was doing OK. But once he got this cable television show his business, his Antique Anthropology business, took off. Now if you go to one of his his stores—he has several but the one in Nashville, my God—there’s like a line wrapped around the corner. And he said the success of that business happened once he became a mini celebrity.
Sitima [00:12:49] So he said, ‘Why don’t you guys in your own business, in your own market, become a little mini-celebrity and then you’ll see all your other marketing is going to take off.’ So that’s what I did. My way of becoming a mini-celebrity is I have this thought leader video program called RochesterRockstars.com where I’m profiling short little 10-minute videos of success-minded business leaders in my area where they’re telling their stories of how they achieved their success. And by doing that little initiative there’s local TV channels that reached out to me. I’ve got a blog. I got a regular article in the business section of our local paper. Universities write about me. I’m asked to speak at events as a keynote so all sorts of things opened up and as a result, I walk into a prospect sales meeting, I already have credibility built up. Because they’ve seen me elsewhere because of my mini-celebrity status. So that has really helped us fuel our marketing efforts.”
In episode 49, Scott Millar of IT Rockstars in Scotland shared his strategies for becoming a rockstar with video. He said it’s not hard to do, it’s not expensive to get started, but you do need to get in now while the opportunity is still wide open.
Jennifer: “What if the owner or partner says to you I don’t like the way I look or sound on camera. I don’t.. I feel uncomfortable with video.”
Scott: “This is the main excuse that I get when I raise this topic with my customers and my customers are MSPs. When I start to talk to them about video, they’re like, `I’m really shy.` I was exactly the same thing just 12 months ago, really shy in front of the camera. I’m not a video person. I really like to get someone else to do this. My argument to that is well, there’s this really big opportunity at the moment and none of your competitors are doing it. There’s a reason they’re not doing it and that’s because they have the same excuses as you. And if you’re going to market your MSP the same way as them, well, you don’t have any competitive edge there. This is a huge opportunity, Jennifer, that no one is really taking advantage of. As we have the younger generation growing up with things like YouTube blogs and live videos, you will find that in probably five years time you’ll be overtaken by these people that are comfortable going over videos so you’ve got to take a take advantage of the opportunity now. Or you might be too late.
…What you really have to be thinking about is the content. The technical piece about the lighting, the audio, how you look on the camera, have you brushed your hair—these are all, I would say, afterthoughts. It does come down to what you’re going to be talking about in the video, does that connect with your audience of potential customers and clients. You are going be the face of your business doing this and how helpful can you be in that video. I have been guilty of this myself where I maybe just run out of an idea of something to say in my daily video and I’ll just start speaking about myself or my service and that’s the worst thing you can do because it has no connection to your audience. You have to be helping your audience. It’s basically about building up trust and authority. And if you can help your audience they’re going to get to know you and then they’re going to get to like you and then eventually when either they’ll contact you or when you pick up the phone and speak to them they’ll know who you are because they see you almost every day on LinkedIn and they’ll want to speak to you.”
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. That’s one of the things I took away from Scott. It’s also one of the takeaways from a popular episode we did with MSP marketing consultant Paul Green. In episode 35, Paul discussed how to build momentum with your marketing and again, how you need to strike while the opportunity is in front of you.
“Marketing is a momentum thing. You can’t do something on day one and expect results on day one. But if you’ve been doing something for a thousand days getting better results from that is easy, it’s just about tweaking it. So let’s not look at this as a problem. Let’s say in any marketplace, there’s one two maybe three MSPs that will get good at marketing. This is the most dynamic marketplace with the most amount of change and people who are used to that change and those people who’ve been in it long enough to move from break-fix into MSP and see technologies change and the cloud come in and box-shifting ending and all of that kind of stuff. Who knows what the next 10 years have got coming up. I haven’t got a clue and I think we could take some fairly good guesses but we don’t know how the market is going to change.
What we do know, one thing that won’t change, is the businesses that get good at marketing they grow faster. They are ultimately more profitable because it’s easier to tap into selling more to existing clients and it’s easier to tap into getting more new clients. I think there’s going to be a lot of consolidation coming up in the MSP world over the next five to 10 years. Again, the businesses that are good at marketing have a much better chance of being the consolidators or selling out for for greater valuations. This is a massive opportunity and only a couple of MSPs will do it in each marketplace.”
In 2019, a few Frankly MSP episodes dug into how important it is to think about the language we use when we’re talking about ourselves, our businesses, and our clients. In episode 40, Tobin Liehman, who runs a marketing agency that specializes in working with technology providers, talked about what makes a great MSP website and why we need to remember our everyday human voices.
“One of the things we always work with in messaging is humanizing the messaging and that’s in a sense of taking away the tech jargon and making it more relatable, more understanding of who your buyer is. And the same thing applies to your visual aspect. Just the idea of humanizing or softening the idea of a service, more MSP sites look like maybe what Dell used to look like in the late 90s. They’re overly techie, they show too much hardware, not enough people. So keep your messaging very human, using words that people use. We try not to use acronyms really at all unless we really have to. Or if we have to, we explain what it is in the content.
Usually in messaging, and just websites in general, there’s too much jargon and that comes from a jerk reaction of wanting to sound smart, to be the leader, the smartest guy in the room, which we all want to do. But our customers they need to be able to adhere to what you’re saying. If you walk into a cocktail party and start ripping off acronyms you’re going to lose the audience. And so if we start humanizing, sort of explaining things in a better tone but still be intelligent in how we speak, we can bridge the gap. ”
In episode 45, MSP Craig Pollack really drilled down into word choice with a thought-provoking chat about labels. Do we work with clients or customers, and does it even matter? Craig says it does.
“I think we do ourselves a disservice as an industry if we continue to use the word customer. Because the reality is, a customer’s somebody you sell something to. A client is somebody you have a relationship with. Selling to somebody is just very transactional whereas relational is using the word with, is bi-directional. It’s really the foundation of who we are. It’s something that’s a personal pet peeve of mine and it’s something that I think is going to hold back our industry if we don’t really grasp onto this, what I think is a key differentiator.
… How do we want to be seen as an industry? And if we want to be seen as a profession versus a commodity, I think it’s important to differentiate between the two. You can make the argument that it’s subtle, that it’s not that big a deal, but I just believe that language and how we use language is huge. And I believe it controls people’s perceptions, it controls how people see us. It really factors into the whole conversation. So for everyone who’s looking to get out of that place of fighting for the commoditization of our marketplace, I think it’s critical to start with how we view who we work with. And to me that’s the difference between a client and a customer. ”
We end today’s podcast with a final clip about language. I think we can all agree the last two clips also speak deeply to mindset. Words matter. We’ve just hears about speaking to clients, speaking about clients. This last excerpt is about how you speak about and think about yourself, and it just might be the most powerful one of all. It comes from bestselling author and speaker Mike Michalowicz, who I interviewed on episode 50.
“I’ll give you the simplest, I think most impactful, thing we can do and it’s so easy you can do this today. And if you own this, this will be a shift for your business. I think the first thing we do is stop calling ourselves a business owner or an entrepreneur. And as I say that I actually dry heave a little bit because I love business owners and entrepreneurs, I love that term. I just think it’s become bastardized and I think the expectation is wrong.
Entrepreneur and business owner translates to hustle and grind which means carry the business on your back. Here’s the shift. I challenge everyone listening in now to no longer call themselves a business owner or entrepreneur, to call themselves a shareholder. So the next time someone says what you do for a business instead of saying `I’m an entrepreneur with an MSP` say `I’m a shareholder in an MSP` and people look at you like a deer in the headlights and go what?
But here’s what we’re doing. A shareholder of a business is not working in the business. If you own shares in some public company – I own some Ford shares – I don’t drive over to Ford’s factory every day and say, `Hey I’m a shareholder, I’m here to work.` I’m not sending money to Ford saying go for it. I’m a shareholder. I’m expecting a return for me and that’s all I expect. A shareholder is someone that took extraordinary risk and made an investment.
Now in a public stock, I own point 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 percent of the company. In our small businesses we own 10 percent, 50 percent, 100 percent in many cases. That’s a massive investment in the business. When you start realizing you’re a shareholder risk taker you realize your job is simply completed. You’ve started a business and now it’s to oversee the vision and vote on its direction or give it direction but never to insert yourself in the business. If you own that new term and really start believing you’re a shareholder, that mind shift will cause a shift in your business, the business will start to run on automatic. It just has to because you’ve declared a new label for yourself.”
And that’s a wrap. I hope these bits and bites have provided some food for thought as you walk into 2020. I encourage you to go back and listen to those past episodes in their entirety to get the full conversations and insights.
Like what you hear? Listen and subscribe.