8 tips for launching a managed services business in 2021
The landscape of IT is evolving, and so are the services that Managed Service Providers are offering. If you are looking to launch a new managed service business in the coming year, being aware of these trends will help you shape your offering for maximum success.
Illustration: Karthikeyan Ganesh
There are a lot of operational and marketing things to consider, as well. Here are some of our top tips.
Trends to shape your tech stack
There has been a significant shift in what MSP's do over the last few years, and MSP owners have been left with two choices. Pivot your focus on the needs of their clients or lose clients at a disastrous rate. Here are some of the necessary items to keep in mind.
Basic network security has been a part of most MSP offerings since the beginning of time. However, the main change has come in the scope of this offering and included services. Cyber attacks are becoming more and more common, and media coverage has ramped up significantly. It has brought more awareness to a growing problem of data security and has more business owners than ever asking their MSP what can be done.
In the past, MSPs would configure a network firewall, set up a local server as a Domain Controller for authentication, and call it safe.
Now MSPs are selling advanced threat protection for those firewalls, including perimeter protection and advanced threat sandboxing as part of their offering. They are also providing additional services such as password management, Single Sign-on, multi-factor authentication, and more.
As the world's workforce has gone more mobile this year, security solutions have had to pivot to support users logging in from anywhere. Endpoint security has become more critical than ever, along with end-user security training. A recent survey of 500 CIOs found 57 percent "suspect their mobile workers have been compromised or caused a mobile security issue in the past year." Mobile Device Management and Mobile Application Management have also emerged as necessary solutions as the workforce has become more mobile.
A successful MSP should have security solutions to protect their client's data while considering most companies' distributed user base.
Related reading: Cybersecurity tips for MSPs
#2 Work from anywhere
The effects of COVID-19 have been significant on business IT. Many organizations have been migrating applications and data to the cloud for years. However, the current pandemic has forced them to accelerate those objectives to meet the needs of a mobile user base.
One effect we have seen is many small businesses going "serverless." They are migrating to using web-based applications and online file share platforms instead of on-premises servers. Some established MSPs have struggled to show value to their clients in these types of arrangements. They typically require less support and can be administered more effectively remotely. There is still a need for help, and MSPs can have success supporting this type of network by offering flexible support plans and being more aggressive with their pricing. They can also win deals by becoming experts supporting some of the more used SASS applications.
Solutions for serving up applications that are only on-prem is essential as well. Providers should know how to leverage VPN, terminal servers, and published applications to make on-prem applications available anywhere.
Having solutions ready for a mobile workforce will help you win deals and solve customer pain. Make sure to build it into your game plan from the start.
#3 Cloud consultants
Another trend that affects how MSPs serve their clients is the move of infrastructure to the cloud. Many businesses are moving workloads to Microsoft Azure, Amazon, or Google cloud. Amazon and Microsoft have even built out partner programs for MSPs. A successful MSP will be an expert in these cloud solutions and support them for their clients.
There is also a great opportunity to consult on cloud migration projects. If you take the time to become an expert, this will open larger opportunities for you and profitable cloud migration projects.
There are a lot of things to consider when thinking about how to set up your helpdesk. Best in class MSPs have a lot of resources at their disposal. If you are just getting started, you may not. Even if you are starting with one employee having a plan for scaling the helpdesk can be beneficial.
#4 Helpdesk planning
The best MSPs out there have defined processes and procedures for managing requests on the helpdesk. Start with the end in mind by defining target SLAs and the escalation process you plan to put in place to achieve those goals. As you begin to scale, this allows you to set clear expectations with your staff so you can have ultimate success.
#5 Ticketing system
As your MSP begins to grow, you will absolutely need a ticketing system that will allow you to keep track of end-user support requests. It allows you to ensure that no request is missed and that they are all responded to in a timely manner. This will also allow you to start compiling important data about response times and better understand your customers. This allows you to price deals more accurately based on data instead of a hunch.
#6 Remote monitoring and management
Another thing to consider is how you will be delivering service to your clients. Most MSPs will adopt a solution for remote monitoring and management. This allows you to easily assist clients at scale, automate routine tasks such as patches and updates, and script out fixes that will save your staff time. This is a key piece of software that will contribute to the success of your company, so do your due diligence and make a choice with the future in mind.
Sales and marketing
Many MSPs are started by a technician that has had success running his own 1-man IT shop and is ready to scale up. They pick up a few clients by word of mouth and work to scale the business from there. While this is the reality of many MSP startups, owners could have more success more quickly if they started with a plan for how they would market and grow the business.
#7 Know your strengths
As mentioned, many MSPs are started by an engineer that is great at what they do. While technical ability and prowess are important to being successful, engineers frequently are not the best salespeople on earth.
In addition to not having a natural inclination towards sales, it is very difficult to split focus between growing the business and operating the business.
The goal for every new MSP owner should be to get the operation to the point they can afford to hire sales staff as soon as possible. I know several examples of MSPs that struggled to grow the business for as much as ten years before finally hiring sales staff. Once that made that hire, the business has grown 10x in the next ten years. Plan to get help as early as possible. Focus on growing the business brings results.
#8 Make a plan
Many MSPs get so wrapped up in the technical solutions they will be offering and planning for those that they spend very little time considering what marketing they should be doing. Here are a few key elements in an effective marketing plan for a new MSP.
This may seem basic but having a performing website that represents your brand well and can easily be found on the web is a critical part of your digital marketing plan. Remember that your website should be all about the problems that you can solve for your potential clients and not about your qualifications. Clients do not care that you have your MSSP certification. They care that your helpdesk will be responsive and solve their problems fast so they can get back to work. There are some great marketing agencies like Lemonade Stand that specialize in helping MSPs build an online presence.
Pay per click (PCP)
A great investment for a new MSP starting out is in PPC advertising on Google. This allows you to jump to the top of the search for key terms that are relevant in your area at a low cost. A word of caution. PPC can be wasteful if it's not set up correctly. Target keywords that have buying intent and not general terms related to IT. This will give you more conversions and make your budget go farther.
One great way to grow quickly is to specialize in a specific vertical and become experts at the technology stack they use to do their jobs. If you are focused on one vertical, you can target them with laser accuracy. You can develop specialized marketing materials that speak their language. You can attend industry events and start getting brand recognition as the IT service provider that knows their space best. A vertical approach can also lead itself to more referrals, and referrals are a high probability close.
Related reading: Building a successful marketing strategy for your MSP
There is a lot to consider when starting your own MSP, way more than we have discussed here. However, we hope that these ideas have helped identify some key jumping-off points to work from that will help you grow your business and succeed in the year ahead.