I’m not an MSP, I’m an IT services firm: Here’s why

Recently, a company in our market space took over the term MSP by claiming it as their stock ticker. Many are unhappy with this decision. I’m bothered by this because the company, Datto Holding Corp., is supposed to be a vendor to managed service providers and a partner to them. This feels like a stab in the back. But I’m not upset by it personally because I don’t call my firm an MSP when talking to my clients. I only use the term when addressing the industry because our industry likes buckets and putting people and firms into them. MSP is just a convenience.

I’ve also questioned whether most MSPs have fully adopted the business model of what being an MSP is supposed to mean or if they simply adopted the billing model while continuing to focus on break-fix helpdesk tasks primarily. I’ve also wondered aloud whether there is an over-dependence on tools, particularly remote management and monitoring (RMM) systems.

MSP

I’m a member of an online community that has a heavy emphasis on providing advice to new IT firms starting up, and I see far too many buying into vendor product lines before they have the customers to support the cost because they’ve bought the message that they aren’t real until they own the toolset. Meanwhile, they might go broke before they can get a solid client base from which to generate the revenue to pay for all of these tools.

Somehow in all of this, service has been de-emphasized. Vendors can help provide the “Managed” part and your contract takes care of the “Provider” portion, but “Service” is up to the IT firm to figure out. I have argued on both sides that my firm is an MSP and isn’t an MSP. I guess now it’s time to decide, so I took a look at my website, and it doesn’t mention MSP. I looked at my contract, and it doesn’t mention MSP. I reviewed my marketing materials, and they say MSP-style IT firm. So, I guess the decision is obvious. I’ve never been comfortable with the term MSP.

Who are we then?

We provide services and products on a reoccurring revenue basis. We only work under contract. We’ll even offer fixed fees but only in very limited circumstances. We don’t price per device or per user. We price our services on retainer — the retainer being an estimation of the amount of work necessary to be that firm’s IT department or a partner to it. This sounds like an MSP, but then it’s not.

Turns out, my firm has a bunch of things that make it stand out from most others. I don’t keep my techs away from the clients. I want my clients to get attached to them and to have that personal relationship. As far as generating new sales goes, no one is compensated for sales, and yet everyone is responsible for sales as they do their technical work.

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We have no hierarchy of technical staff. We are a group of equals, and each tech is assigned to a group of clients for which they are responsible. Each client has the direct number of “their person.” No client ever opens a ticket; instead, they contact their person for assistance. If my tech needs an expert or some help, they ask for it internally, but they remain responsible for the outcome. This puts the focus where it should be — on service.

We don’t track vacation or sick time. Everyone is on salary, the same salary as everyone else, and carries a cell phone. We have always worked from our own home offices. We train together about 150 hours a year, and each person does another amount of independent training on top of that.

I’m sure by now you have a lot of questions. Most people in this business do. I run into people that say, “Oh, you can run your business like that because your company is small – it can’t scale.” We have eight people, and I don’t see why it can’t scale. Many other professional services firms — for example, financial services, legal, accounting — all seem to manage to grow without dumbing down to McDonald’s style management. Others can’t imagine how it all works. Where’s the automation? Where’s the control? I guess I’m the opposite of a micromanager. I thrive on change, and I value customer service and technical expertise above all else.

What we really are then, I think, is an IT services firm. I’ve long called us that anyway. Now it’s time to stick to that terminology.

Focus on the client

Support

Consulting in a retained services firm is all about staying focused on the client’s business and their needs as well as the immediate need of the individuals who work in that business. Our slogan is “we care about your business,” and our latest blog post is a bunch of links to free legal webinars related to issues that all businesses are encountering around employment and finances related to this pandemic. It’s not a post that you’d see from a typical MSP. Of course, we post plenty of technical advice too. Ours is a mixed world of becoming an integral part of the business with the freedom to tell it like it is since we’re not directly employed.

Here’s what a typical day looks like for one of our techs. Before the official workday begins, they show up to work in their home offices and start posting into our water-cooler team chat. Good mornings, memes, political rants, superhero worship … whatever is on their mind as they go through their morning rituals. The first task of the day is to attend the morning “stand-up” meeting. It takes about 30 minutes, and each person takes turns saying what they are going to be up to for the day. Frustrations often come up, and support is given. When the round-robin is complete, we each go our separate ways and start our workdays.

A typical workday involves answering calls, text, Teams chats, and emails to resolve ad-hoc helpdesk issues while working on the day’s planned project list. Most days also have one or more client meetings to discuss business plans, project status, budgeting, needed product purchases, pushing on the clients’ vendors to get their part done right, and making suggestions as to what is needed next to keep technology moving in the right direction. Some days are more about maintenance activities. Techs will bring in other expertise from their internal peers or select vendors as they need to.

It is truly a cacophony of activity. The successful person is a juggler able to run multiple projects at once while staying focused on client satisfaction and the skillset to keep up with it all.

It’s not at all the well-oiled, task-driven machine with each person having a limited task, “let me escalate that for you” systems-driven business. There’s very little button-pushing or script running. There’s not a limited set of items that they do or don’t do. The answer is never no; we operate at a default, “yes, we can help you with that.”

MSP or not, it works well

It’s difficult for some to see how this all works. But the proof is in the success. We’re No. 40 of 501 in the MSP 501, which measures performance of the company. We’ve competed for and won numerous other awards over the years too. We’re quite profitable. We’re very efficient. We have very little overhead.

We do it all without being an MSP and without following the standards set by pundits and vendors that want to put you into a box. The point of this article wasn’t to brag or to say that being an MSP is bad. It’s to say, go ahead and do it your own way. You will be successful. There are many paths and many ways to run a successful MSP, consulting firm, or whatever you decide to call yourself. Just believe in what you do and forge your path accordingly.

Featured image: Shutterstock

1 thought on “I’m not an MSP, I’m an IT services firm: Here’s why”

  1. Good Morning Amy,

    I like your article. I was wondering if you would have time for a few questions? I can see some similarities with my venture, though you are way ahead in terms of growth and development.

    Best regards,

    Rob Moss

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