Q: I’m working for a break-fix IT provider right now, but I see a tremendous need for MSPs in our area. To capitalize on this segment of the market, I’m thinking about opening my own business. As a woman in the IT sector, I feel like I’m constantly trying to overcome gender stereotypes within the channel, and I’m wondering how that would affect my business. How can I overcome this and become a strong leader?
Owning your own business can be very rewarding, and you shouldn’t let anyone or anything stop you from pursuing this goal. Unfortunately, gender stereotypes are still a real issue in IT, and women seem to be questioning careers in technology more and more. In 1984, 37 percent of all computer science graduates were women, compared to 18 percent today. The gender gap in technology continues to increase, and by 2020 there will be over 1.4 million jobs in computing-related fields, but women are projected to fill only 3 percent of these roles. More than ever, women need to feel empowered to take on leadership roles in the IT community—and opening your own MSP business can not only empower you, but those around you as well.
To share hands-on experience and advice with you, we talked to Betty Bruce, the director at SYGNVS Integrated Solutions and the past president of a local professional women’s group. Betty has been in the computing industry for almost 30 years. She started out in software consulting and saw the MSP space as an opportunity to grow. Betty has been an inspiration both inside her business and in the local community, helping women feel confident pursuing their careers. Betty shared some words of encouragement, as well as her take on the qualities an effective leader needs to have.
Embrace your unique perspective
You will face gender bias—especially with competitors. Not many women enter the technology field, and sometimes the comments tend to be, “But she’s a woman.” Don’t let these people get to you! On the IT side of things, I tend to have new ideas that my team hasn’t thought of before. After being in the business for so long, computers are second nature, so most of it just comes naturally.
For women starting out in technology, I suggest doing your research and knowing your facts. If you don’t know something and play it off like you do, that’s really where biases can get worse. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The best thing you can do is surround yourself with positive role models and communicate with other people in the industry. In my local community, we have a professional women’s group. We do fundraisers for women in the area and give them scholarships to advance their careers. We empower each other and help women feel more equal in the workforce. Having groups of individuals you can turn to for support, whether they are women in the workforce or fellow MSPs, can really help you both personally and professionally.
In general, I think women tend to have a very nurturing side to them that allows them to be very detailed and strategic with both communication and thinking. I know that some of the networking engineers I’ve met have a tough time communicating with people. Being able to communicate in a detailed way that can get your point across to the customer in a way they understand is a powerful thing. If you do your homework and know what you’re talking about, you can really be ahead of the game.
Don’t be afraid to take risks
If you have the opportunity to grow, do so. To be honest, I’m not a big risk-taker. Our business didn’t really get into the MSP sides of things until after Hurricane Katrina. The opportunity to move into the MSP space was huge. Unfortunately, not all of our customers’ businesses made it through this transition. We added new managed services to our software portfolio and found new ways to recruit new business. We shifted our focus to growing our business and doubled our efforts. When we started as an MSP, my business coach told me to run with it—and we have. I was always hesitant to be in charge of people’s data and not have offsite backups. As technology has advanced over time, it’s gotten easier to be more comfortable with offsite backup. So, if you’re presented with an opportunity to fill gaps in the market, take it.
Become a true leader
Being an effective leader isn’t always easy. It takes constant reflection and growth. Here are some of the qualities I admire in a leader:
Communicate. Communication is extremely important. You should be able to easily verbalize with your team, face-to-face, about what’s going on. Try not to communicate over text or email when it can be helped. Communication is also something that can help you in the field and aide you in sharing information with your customers.
Have a positive mindset. This one is extremely important. We aren’t in a business where customers are going to call you when their computer is running fine. They’re going to call you when they need help. At times it can be difficult, which is why waking up in the morning with a positive mindset is a really powerful thing.
Be trustworthy. Be open with your customers and your team and create a trusting environment. This will enable the flow of communication. When we expanded our services and grew as a company, we learned that we needed to embrace integrity and accountability. If you don’t know something when talking to a customer, tell them and then come back with the correct facts. Otherwise, people will question your capability.
Adapt easily. The market is constantly changing, so find a way to adapt and change to meet customers’ needs as they evolve. As your business grows, share your responsibilities. Finally, be able to delegate, delegate, delegate.
While gender stereotypes exist, Betty is proof that persistence and hard work pay off. Following her advice can help you move forward with your IT business and in your personal life as well. As you continue to grow, remember this advice from Betty: “Don’t be afraid of risk or afraid to fail. Failure just brings you one step closer to doing the right thing.”
Ask an MSP Expert is a weekly advice column answering common questions from MSPs and IT service providers. It covers topics ranging from pricing and selling to marketing and communications—and everything in between.