Ask an MSP Expert

Q: At our MSP, it seems like it’s always go, go, go! Often, I feel like I don’t have much of a life outside of my business. In this industry, can work-life balance be a reality, or is it just a myth? How can I achieve a better work-life balance?

Work-life balance can be tricky, especially when you’re running a small IT service business. Recent studies show that even during dinner, many feel obligated to answer urgent emails. In fact, 40 percent of the workers surveyed say it’s okay to answer an urgent work email at the dinner table. While you might be on-call to respond to a crisis as an MSP, it’s important to find a work-life balance that makes you happy.

Especially when you run a smaller MSP, it may seem like there isn’t really a distinction between your professional life and your personal life. To get a better understanding of how to achieve a manageable balance, we spoke to Raj Khera, an entrepreneur and CEO of MoreBusiness.com. Raj has built and sold numerous companies from the ground up, which has given him the experience of working with a small handful of employees and with a larger team. Based on his extensive knowledge of the tech industry, Raj shared his insights on how IT service providers can strive to find balance. We also spoke to a few of your MSP peers to see how they manage their own work-life balance. Here’s the advice that they had to share.

Finding the right balance

There is no work life or personal life; it’s just life. When you’re a business owner, your work life tends to be your personal life, but it doesn’t always need to be that way. To find the right balance, put some relaxation time on your calendar. That can change your life!

 “One thing I like to do is play the drums—I love playing the drums,” Raj says. “It really helps me recharge my batteries, and when I do, I’ve found that I’m much more productive the next day. For your own mental health, schedule some of the things that you love doing. Then when you go back to work, you will find that your output will be much higher.”

There’s a saying that “You know you have a business when you can go on vacation, come back and still have a business.” Those are words to live by, Raj says. To create balance in your life, you need to put processes in place so that you aren’t the be all, end all. Raj suggests finding people to outsource tasks to and people who can pinch-hit for you when you’re not available, for example. The last thing you want to do is be on vacation and have your kids say, “When will you be off the phone?” You don’t want work to always take you away from your downtime.

Matthew Ritchie from Computer Network Services shares: “The Bible says, ‘A handful of rest is better than two handfuls of toiling and working.’ There isn’t anything your work life can give you in the long-term other than a paycheck. If you give more to your work than to your family, health, or spirituality, you will get lost in the work, and there is no reward for that.” Taking time to do what is important to you—such as spending time with family and friends—can help you feel more fulfilled in the long run.

Steven Lorenz from Secure Network Administration says that to completely walk away from work, “Two cell phones are a must.” While it isn’t always possible to completely disconnect, if MSPs set the appropriate expectations with customers when it comes to project timelines, this tactic can certainly help.

According to Raj, another thing that has made him happy is learning how to prioritize and when to use the word no. “Saying no is one of biggest lessons I have learned—and it has probably taken me the longest to figure out—but it is one of the most critical things,” Raj says. “Saying no helps you set your own boundaries and helps you not bite off more than you can chew.”

Sharing some of the responsibilities

It’s also important to be willing to share the burden with the rest of your team instead of trying to do it all yourself.

“A colleague of mine ran a 15-person company, yet he was the one that answered all the questions and was always on call,” Raj says. “At a CEO roundtable, we suggested asking the client if they had talked to another team member on the team about it. In the first week, he got numerous questions from customers about the status of their issues. Instead of answering their question, he asked them what a team member had said. No one had talked to that team member, so he gave the customer their number and said, ‘Here, why don’t you give them a call, and if you still have an issue, you can give me a call back.’ That technique changed his life. He suddenly went from being the guy that everyone had to talk to, to being able to truly rely on his team.” 

Even if you are a two- or three-person company, Raj suggests scheduling your ‘on-call’ time like a doctor would and take turns with who answers the call. This way, everybody shares in the responsibility, and it doesn’t all need to fall on one-person.

“At my last company, we set up a VIP hotline,” Raj explains. “We had a regular support number, and if someone left a message a support rep would get back to them. But, we also had a VIP line that we gave out to clients whose billings were over $25,000 a month. What would happen is, 24/7 if someone were to call that hotline, they would get a voicemail, and it would automatically get transcribed and texted to the top three people at the company. We rotated who was on-call. If we got a text to that hotline, we would communicate if something was going on, and we couldn’t answer it—like oh I’m at the movies with my kid. But we would be able to coordinate who would be able to handle the situation fast. Clients were thrilled with this service because they had a priority hotline and we would respond very quickly. Weeven used this as a selling point for our services with clients who signed big deals with us. We sold to more VIP clients and had fewer support calls, just with this tactic. 

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“Nobody abused it, and they only called if it was a true emergency. We told them, ‘You can have this VIP hotline, but please understand that it is going to interrupt me if I’m watching my kid’s recital. So please only use this in an emergency. If it is not an emergency, please call our regular helpdesk, and we will get you taken care of.’ For them, it was a nice way to know they could reach us 24/7—which made it a great selling point…. That allowed us to manage the work and have a more balanced personal life.”

Empowering your employees

A lot of times, people can get caught up in a time cycle, Raj warns. “When I used to work for someone else, my boss didn’t really understand face time versus productivity,” he says. “People can be there physically but not mentally. When you’re running your own business, you need to ask yourself if you are working at your peak. If not, get some sunshine. If you do, you will come back so much more recharged, and your output will be higher than if you just slaved through the rest of the day.”

As a small business owner, it’s important to create this type of culture within your company so that others will be empowered to do the same. It all starts with you, Raj says. What you do sets the expectation for everyone else. “Here’s an example: When my kids were younger, I used to coach their soccer teams,” Raj says. “I would have to leave the office around 3 o’clock, but afterwards, I worked after dinner into the night. I allowed others to do that as well, and they could make up the time later.”

“This tactic helped me create a culture where productivity is more important than face time, Raj explains. “It didn’t matter if you were physically there, only if the output was being done. It also created a family-friendly work environment. Employees really enjoyed that.”

Raj adds that one of the most important things a company can do today is allowing remote work to happen. There are so many tools that are available today that help everyone stay informed. Being flexible for snow or around people’s busy lives is another way to contribute to the perfect work-life balance.

It’s important to find a balance that works for your life. This can help you be more productive at work and happier overall. Using Raj’s tips to schedule in downtime, share responsibility, empower yourself and your employees to work flexible schedules, and spread out on-call time are all ways to help you get on track to achieving the work-life nirvana.

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Photo:  Anatoli Styf / Shutterstock.

Lauren Beliveau

Posted by Lauren Beliveau

Lauren is an Editorial Associate at Barracuda MSP. In this position, she creates and develops content that helps managed service providers grow their business. She also regularly writes The MSP’s Bookshelf and our Ask an MSP Expert column.

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