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We work with IT service providers of all kinds, some established service providers, and some just getting started. We try to drive Partners’ success by helping them learn from the experiences of their peers.

So, earlier this week, I held a Q&A with some Partners to get their insights on key lessons they’ve learned through their years of experience as managed service providers. My goal was to make life easier for MSPs by getting answers to the question: What lessons have you learned that would be helpful to a newer MSP?

Lesson 1: Set boundaries.

“As a managed service provider, it’s our first instinct to go above and beyond what we have stated in our SLAs, whether it be in terms of response time or services we offer. Although most clients appreciate when we go the extra mile, we need to be careful about the precedents we set,” explains Christopher Cable, project manager and system engineer at Techworks Consulting. “One thing we keep in mind now is that there are times when we need to be ‘hard’ about what is and isn’t part of our agreement. It’s important to set the boundaries with your clients so that they know that you don’t have limitless resources and it’s not ‘all you can eat.’ You want to manage expectations, and let your customers know that if they want additional service, there may be an adjustment to their agreement that comes along with it.”

Lesson 2: Leverage your internal resources before outsourcing.

“The most important lesson that I’ve learned is that, if you have the manpower, you should try to keep your business hours Level 1 help desk in-house and only outsource your help desk after hours,” says Jeff Weiss, managed services engineer at The Office Technology Group. “When we first started offering RMM with help desk, we were completely outsourcing our Level 1 help desk. As a result, our business hours help desk customers were not very satisfied with their experience and less than stellar communication with the outsourced help desk.  Luckily, we managed not to lose any customers over this, but they seem to be much more satisfied now that we have brought our help desk back in-house.”

Lesson 3: Put an emphasis on planning.

“Planning, planning, planning is the most important thing you can do other than execution,” says Matthew Ritchie, IT technician at Computer Network Services, Inc. “It is critical to make sure all your bases are covered. In my earlier days, I once deployed a new endpoint firewall software at a hospital and didn’t realize that the default policy it applied was ‘block EVERYTHING’. I effectively disabled a hospital of 300 endpoints. As you can imagine, this was an adventure … Thankfully I was able to correct the issue in good time, but I always stress the importance of knowing the details of any solution you offer. The details I was following weren’t very clear, and had I taken more time to plan and review that job, the problem never would have occurred. The good news is that I learned early on not to cut any corners, to do my reading and research. My customers are in good hands now!”

This one seems to be the biggie. Christopher Cable chimed in on planning as well, saying: “Always have an out. I’ve seen a few close calls where something went completely awry, and we had to revert and push off another project until it was resolved. If not for having backups in place and contingency plans, an entire business could have been down, which is not something you want, if you can avoid it. You should always have a way to revert or resume functionality if something you’re working on doesn’t go right. Also, it’s important to plan for the time it takes to work with vendors. Sometimes people take Vendor Support as being synonymous with 24/7 immediate service. That’s not the case. We’ve had projects that get postponed because a vendor wasn’t able to provide support when we needed it. It’s important to keep all of these things in mind and to, ultimately, plan for the worst case scenario.”

More advice from MSPs

These were just a few of the common themes I came across as I ran through this exercise with Partners, but, of course, there were many more. For example, one that I found interesting was when a Partner remarked on the importance of celebrating your big wins with your team. He mentioned that each time a new contract is signed or a new client is brought on—anything that helps the business in a significant way—the company tries to do something nice, whether it’s a dinner party or company outing. This boosts morale, which is important, especially when your team often works long hours and weekends.

Another Partner mentioned the importance of specializing and focusing on what you can do well, rather than doing a mediocre job as you try to do everything. He also pointed out the value in making sure not to hire out of desperation. Over time, his team learned that it was critical to take the time to bring on new employees with the right blend of not only technical skills, but also customer service skills, because after all, all MSPs are in the service industry.

I hope these MSP tips are helpful to your business. We’re always learning, and often, there’s no better learning opportunity than to hear from someone who’s already done what you’re attempting to do.

What do you think? What lessons have you learned the hard way? Let us know in the comments section.

Photo Credit: Got Credit on Flickr. Used under CC by 2.0 license.

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Lindsay Faria

Posted by Lindsay Faria

As Director of MSP Marketing, Americas, at Barracuda, Lindsay Faria is dedicated to empowering Barracuda MSP partners to grow their businesses by providing tools and information to make marketing and selling their data protection services as effective, fast and easy as possible.

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