Contact Richard:   +44 (0)121 663 0223 +44 (0) 7703 355045

How do you build a £9m Managed Service Provider business?

Paul Tomlinson of Mirus ITA few months ago I was attending an Autotask Accelerator event in Birmingham where the owner of UK based MSP Mirus IT, Paul Tomlinson, was presenting.

Speaking openly about the hurdles he had overcome, and the tools and strategies which had worked for his business, Paul gave those other MSP’s owners in attendance an incredible insight into what it takes to build a successful Managed Service Provider business in the Small Business market.

Becoming a top employer

How successful? Well, in 2013 Mirus IT achieved a turnover of £7mn and in 2014 turnover is up £2mn to £9mn. Add to that to the fact Mirus has a level of staff retention that would make other IT businesses jealous, and that Mirus is considered one of the best employers to work for in the Milton Keynes area. So yes, very successful.

Interview with Paul Tomlinson

After the Autotask event I was struck with the fact that while those MSP’s in the room had felt the energy of Paul’s presentation, I’d love for the readers of my blog to as well. So I asked Paul whether he’d consider letting me record one of our conversations to share with my blog audience, and he kindly agreed.

Some of the topics I discuss with Paul during our interview are:-

  • How Paul moved away from being a techie and into becoming a business owner
  • The strategies Mirus IT use to retain the best staff
  • Revenue vs Profitability – Which is most important?
  • How to build trust with clients
  • How Paul sees the reliance on IT changing in the modern workplace
  • Mirus IT’s attempt to set a world record for playing Football

.. plus much more. The interview is over 30 minutes in length and is packed full of advice for any MSP looking to grow. If you want to want to jump to a specific subject, I’ve included some time-based bookmarks below. If you’d prefer to read the text of the interview instead, then a full transcript of my conversation with Paul can be found below.

Thanks to Paul for generously giving of his time and experience. I hope you find our interview as enjoyable and valuable as I did recording it with Paul. If you’d like to join me in saying thank-you to Paul, then you can help support Mirus IT as they play football for 72 hours to break the world record and raise money for The Milton Keynes Community Foundation. Find out more at the Mirus I.T. World Record page.

0:00 Introduction and who is Paul Tomlinson and Mirus IT?
1:08 How does a business owner move away from doing Technical work?
4:10 Why is building a fun company important for recruitment and growth?
6:45 What strategies can you use for staff retention?
8:37 As a business owner, what keeps Paul up of a night?
10:49 Learning how to delegate effectively
12:36 Profitability vs Revenue. Which is most important?
15:33 Is the trusted advisor role dead?
19:07 How is the reliance on IT changing?
22:38 Creating a Life/Work Balance
26:20 What’s the value in blogging for business?
30:31 Paul’s contact details
30:54 ISO 27001, Building a Cloud Infrastructure, VDI, VoIP.

Transcript of interview with Paul Tomlinson

Richard:   Hi everyone. Richard Tubb here and today I’m joined by my friend Paul Tomlinson, managing director at Mirus IT, an IT consultancy based in Milton Keynes in the U.K. who provide managed services, specialist project work, online backup and disaster recovery, amongst many other services. Paul, thank you for joining me.

Paul:  No problem, Richard. Thanks for having me.

Richard:  Now Paul, I’ve known you for a while now and every time I speak to you your business seems to have grown. How many people have you got working at Mirus now?

Paul:  There’s 78 employed as of today. I think we’ve got four starting in the next month and then we’ve got another five positions we’re recruiting for at the moment. So it’s growing quite well at the moment.

Richard:  For anyone who doesn’t know Paul Tomlinson and who Mirus are, what’s your background? How did you grow Mirus to the stage it’s at now?

Paul:   Some of my background is an engineer. I started working in IT when I was 16 and went to work for another company and then I think I was 23/24 when I started Mirus. I had just returned from working in Ireland for four years, for another company. A small MSP at the time and basically founded Mirus and it’s grown from there.

Richard:  I know your role nowadays is actually less technically focused and more management focused but plenty of IT business owners I speak to begin their business as technicians, as I know you did. They enjoy being technicians and perhaps they’re comfortable being technicians. So, your role at Mirus, why has it changed and why have you become less technically focused?

Paul:  I don’t think I was as intelligent as the guys that we employ now so that’s why I had to become less technical! [laughs] No, I think just as the business evolved I realized that we were a technically focused business, which is great but it doesn’t really help the bottom line so we needed to make the business more sales focused, and that’s why my role’s changed into helping the sales team and also developing the business. If all we’ve got is lots of engineers then there’s no direction to the business, so I needed to realize that and stop playing with what I enjoyed playing with and start doing some of the things that I needed to do as a business owner really, but it helped a lot. Particularly over the last year or two years I’ve really completely distanced myself away from all the technical side of things, even so much so Google Hangouts is complicated for me. [laughs]

Richard:  [Laughs] Well, you’re coping very well with it and I appreciate it! What type of stuff did you use to be comfortable with, if you can cast your mind back when you were first growing Mirus IT? What sort of stuff were you comfortable with and what did you actually find difficult to give up, to concentrate on the things you needed to do to actually grow your business?

Paul:   I was a Cisco Certified Engineer and a Novell certified engineer back in those days and MCSE up to 2003, I continued to do my Microsoft qualifications – so anything technical is what I like to do. Talking to customers in terms of sales opportunities, again enjoyed it but when it comes to chasing the sale and trying to close the sale I didn’t like doing that. I was never any good with the account side of things and I’ve always kept that very separate to what I do so I’ve got a really good FD now who keeps an eye on those type of things. For me what I enjoyed was actually going and helping customers and doing the do but in terms of trying to pressure sale people, that’s not really what we’re about as an organization. That’s not what I’m about as a person, so I always struggle with those type of things.

Also we’ve got a sales team now that are more focused on trying to make sure that we convert prospects into sales but very much in a kind of consulted way as opposed to a pressure sales type  environment. So that works really, really well. In terms of what I enjoy, I just enjoy what we do here really. My wife has gotten on me because I spend so much time at work but when you enjoy what you do it’s very easy to do that isn’t it. I’ve got a great team about me so all the people that are involved in the business we do lots of social things together so actually most of my friends also work within the business as well. So that’s a really nice thing for me as well. But going forward, I don’t know what I’ll continue to do. There’s always something new that needs to be developed or something, a new challenge we need to focus on. Today we spend looking at Quotewerks, as an example. We’re looking at how we’re going to change the quoting process that we use in the business.

Richard:  I follow Mirus IT on Facebook and on Twitter. I’ll say this without, as the Americans would say, blowing smoke up your backside, but you’ve got a really cool company and you’re always doing super cool things. You’ve already mentioned you have the social aspect of running Mirus IT is important to you. Why is it important? What does that bring to the table for Mirus IT, for everyone to be having fun?

Paul:  We call it the M-team. That’s our little nickname for it and actually we made this A-Team spoof video one time. It was quite funny. I’ll send you the link to that one. Having a team of people that are working together to achieve a common goal really does make a big difference. If everyone was working independently with no real focus on what we’re trying to do to deliver to the customer or for the co-workers then you don’t really get there, but we’re all looking at the same thing, having engaged workforces trying to achieve the same goals, it makes things a lot easier. Actually then the environment that we’re working in is a much nicer environment for everyone. Our biggest challenge at the moment, I don’t know if you’ve seen this one, is a world record attempt that we’re currently training for. Come April we’re looking at playing football, 5-a-side football for 72 hours so that’s going to be a challenge and a half. I think most of the things that you see on Facebook and Twitter for that will be blisters and people getting massages [laughs] so there won’t be much in terms of nice things really from that one.

Richard:  It’s very cool the stuff you do there and actually for the outside I can see it makes Mirus IT quite an attractive place to work at. Do you find those sort of things allow you to recruit the right type of people?

Paul:   Yes. We’ve changed how we do our recruitment. At the start we recruit purely on technical skill when we’re thinking of engineers so it was what qualification did you have, whether or not you had experience doing some of the projects before, those types of things. Now we’re recruiting more about attitude and behavior and then we’re trying to give people those technical skills innate. We had a guy join us only about three/four weeks ago. He had eight interviews for eight different organizations, all of which he’s sought out so he said I want to go and work for this company. Got himself an interview there. We contacted him directly and said look, we’d like you to come and work for us. Actually it was our Facebook page that made the decision for him. He came to us. We were offering a market rate salary, nothing extraordinary but when he looked at what else the business was about that’s what really made the difference so he’s come on board and he really enjoys working here. It’s definitely made things easier for us in terms of recruiting staff and also retaining staff because that’s the key. Once we’ve got them on board we need to keep them here because they’re going to make a difference about whether we can grow this business really.

Richard:  What other things do you try and do about retention? We’ve already talked about the attitude that you have, building the culture, its fun to work at Mirus IT, you attract the right type of people. Especially with the technical people, how do you keep them motivated and on board?

Paul:   There’s a fair amount of training. Most engineers receive ten days industry training with a third party. We’ll send them off and they’ll do their Microsoft certifications, they’ll do VMWare, they’ll do Cisco certifications. I don’t see, for technical people, development in terms of their technical skills is really, really important to them. We also give them exposure to lots of different things. Some of the guys that may becoming our first line on the service desk, we’ll get them shadowing second line or third line engineers. We get them going out on projects and looking to see what happens on a project so they can see where they could grow to if they stay with the organization. Those type of things are really nice in a kind of personal development perspective.

The other things that we do, we have an EMI scheme in place for the business. Last year I basically took 10% of the company and said that goes into the EMI scheme so staff have length of service and seniority in the business they get awarded to them a share option in the business. Again, that’s been a really good thing to talk to people. It made a big difference to our company to say to them, if we decide to sell the business in the future you will get something from it. We’ll be able to reward you for your hard work along the way. It’s those type of things that really are making a difference. I think the thing is if you enjoy coming to work you’re well rewarded. You have a nice team of people around you. You’re not really going to look to go somewhere else, and that’s what we’re trying to create within the business. Retention seems to be improving, which is great. We’ve got a really good team about so now things are great really from an employment perspective. We just need to get a few more people on the ground and deliver some more services to some more customers.

Richard:  Now, for anybody watching this and saying oh well, this sounds as though Mirus IT is the perfect company. Paul’s young. He’s good looking. He’s got everything going on here. Everything’s perfect in Paul Tomlinson’s world. What are the challenges you have on a day to day basis? What’s the sort of stuff that keeps you up at night?

Paul:   Well, I’m follicly challenged, as you might know.

Richard:   You and me both. [laughs]

Paul:   As the business grows, I would say this, there’s lots of pains that we come across so as we’ve grown the business we’ve realized that the processes that we had as a small organization aren’t suitable for what we’ve become and but at the same time it’s very tricky because we want to create processes in the business that work to make the business efficient but at the same time we want to make sure we keep that personal touch to the customer. So there are a lot of challenges that we face. The challenges are very different from the one that we faced early on, but just things like the overheads that are associated with running the company of this size now. It’s a big concern about whether or not we’re going to be able to pay people’s wages every month, those type of things. Luckily we’re in a nice position from a cash perspective. We’ve got good idea of what our pipeline is and we have a strong recurrent revenue base so it puts us in quite a nice position but at the same time there’s always that fear that things could change for whatever reason.

The biggest challenge we’ve got at the moment is making sure that those processes scale up as we scale up as a business, but we maintain that personal touch to the customers and for staff as well. As an organization grows and sees more middle management. I’m so used to dealing with people directly in terms of new staff would come on board. I’d have seen the CV been involved with the interview process. I’d know who they were and only recently we had someone join the business and I knew nothing about them and that was a real shock for me, not knowing something about a new member of staff. Also a new customer joined about three months ago and I didn’t even know they’d joined. A testament to how good the team are in terms of making sure the process is working in the background and customers can come on board but it’s very different to how I’ve always run the business in terms of I’d normally know the principal in the organization that we’re going to support. I normally know all about them. For me I think I need to let go of that a little bit and realize there’s a team there and they’re doing a great job, and let them get on with it, what they’re doing and just focus my time on what I need to focus on really.

Richard:   It sounds as though you’re doing a good job of letting go of those things. Let me ask you a personal question related to ego. A lot of MSP IT business owners I speak to, one of the things the business owner will say to me is oh, I can’t give up that practice or I can’t stop doing that. Nobody else can do that bar me, or nobody else can do that as well as me. I’m sure you probably have that little voice in your head saying the same thing to you. How did you overcome that? How did you let go of those things and let other people run with the opportunities?

Paul:  I think the thing is realizing what you’re good at. I employ lots of people that are very, very good at certain areas and they’re definitely better than I am. I think the skill I have is I can do most things reasonably well, whereas I’ve employed people that are excellent project managers so why should I try and do project managers so why should I try and do project management. I realized very early on that accounts was not for me so I never touched accounts. I think that for me it’s just been looking OK. We’re now at a size where I can let go of that. We’ve now got a dedicated person who can look after that and they’ll do a much better job than I will. I think if you don’t let go then I think the problem is you’re just going to hinder the growth of the company so for me it’s looking at those things and saying I haven’t got enough time to do this well or I can’t do it well, and I’ve employed somebody who’s really, really good at that so why hold on to it. Let it go. Let them develop as a person in the organization. Let the organization grow. It’s been tricky with some things but most of the time I’ve been OK about it. I don’t think I’ve got an ego but someone else wants to say something about it.

Richard:   No, you absolutely haven’t Paul. You’ve got a very good reputation in the industry. I’m Richard Tubb and I’m speaking with Paul Tomlinson, managing director of Mirus IT in the U.K. Paul, you’re refreshingly quite open about the finances at your business. Where is Mirus IT now in terms of revenue?

Paul:   In terms of turnover, this year we should finish around 9 million and in terms of recurring revenue that’s about 4.5 million, so that’s a big increase on the previous year’s turnover. Last year we finished just under 7 million. It was the first year we didn’t grow actually. It was really odd for us not to grow, but the underlying recurrent revenue base did grow. So it was just that kind of top end in terms of hardware/software sales. We didn’t see the hardware and software sales we’ve seen in previous years, but the important bit, the recurrent revenue, that’s the bit that had grown so I was quite happy with that.

Richard:   That’s really impressive. That’s the revenue. Let me ask you this question. Profitability versus revenue. Which is most important to Mirus IT and why?

Paul:  I think if you come back to the ego question, it would be turnover because that’s what everyone focuses on. When we look at profitability that is the key. So when we’re looking at sales targets we’re looking at our financial reports on a monthly basis, we’re more interested in profit than turnover. Obviously we need to think about turnover from a cash type perspective but very much is now about profit. In the early days I think it was more around turnover. It was grow the business, grow the business, and grow the business and then we realized we were growing the business with unprofitable customers, which obviously wasn’t the right thing for us and it wasn’t going to create a business that was sustainable either. So we realized that now we need to focus on making sure we provide services that are profitable so that we can be here to continue to service those customers in years to come. So yeah, the focus now really is on profitable services as opposed to just kind of the big top line number.

Richard:   They say turnover is vanity. Profit is sanity. How do you keep track of your levels of profitability for customers and for services and for projects?

Paul:  We track that through Autotask. We’ve got some live reports that we created in Autotask that give us an understanding of the profit contract so we can have a look at that and actually understand where we are, reviewed on a monthly basis. The account managers get that at the beginning of the month and they say OK, how did my account perform last month, and then we do proactive problem management. Because most of our services are on a fixed cost basis, what we’re looking to do is drive down the amount of time that we spend servicing the customer from recurring problems. It’s in our interest to do it and also it’s in the customer’s interest. We’ve very, very proactive in that respect. We’ve got dedicated role now that someone just spends their time looking at those tickets and saying OK, what could I do to avoid this happening in the future. Anything that we spend more than 10 hours trying to fix, we then have to create root cause analysis report so we make sure someone really things about how to fix the problem to avoid it coming back and happening again, because all of that drive the profit and the business and obviously customer satisfaction at the end of the day as well.

Richard:   I know you focus your business, Mirus IT on being a service lead IT company and you pride yourself on the relationship that you forge with your clients. In fact, I’ve heard you use the phrase trusted advisor before, a phrase I use quite a lot too. There’s lots of talk in the industry this year that the trusted advisor is dead and instead you need to focus on being the outsourced CIO. Paul, is the trusted advisor dead?

Paul:  I don’t think so. I think there’s a place for both. I think that’s where we are. If you think about our sales processes is a consultancy sales process. That’s how we work and that’s how we work even with existing customers. So in order to consult with people they need to trust you but at the same time you’re working at a kind of CIO level as well. So I think it just depends on the organization and where the relationships sits but no, I think if you don’t have trust you can’t give people advise about where they need to take their business, the direction of the business. That just doesn’t work. I think the trusted advisor status still exists and I’m glad that a lot of our customers look at us and put us in that box.

Richard:   How do you go about building trust with your clients?

Paul:  If it’s a new client, and we’re talking prospects, then it’s by doing a network health check so we go in and we’re having a look at what’s wrong with the system, but at the same time we’re very careful about making sure we’re honest, that things are set up properly. We say, OK, your incumbent provider has configured your right in the way he should and there’s no fault there. There’s no point in us saying they could have done this better or anything else like that because there isn’t. It’s being open and honest and even if we have to create a report that we go back to the customer and say your network is really, really healthy, and actually the reason that you’re looking to change isn’t because of problems technically it’s just because of the service or whatever it might be. The honest approach really is the one that makes a difference. When we’ve gotten into a relationship with the customer we have our values and goals in the business and one of them is actually acting as a trusted advisor to the customer so everything that we do in terms of measurements, the staffs appraisals, is all driven by the values and goals of the business so it’s really important obviously we fulfil those in every level of the business. So I think as we start to have that long-term relationship with the customer they can see that.

Richard:  Obviously you’re winning a lot of business in the Milton Keynes area. You’re even further afield now. How about the scenario that many MSP owners will be familiar with, perhaps where a client or a perspective client comes to you and you go in and you do the network audit and to find the point I’m at, the incumbent IT provider has done a terrible job. How do you go about managing the expectations of the clients and bringing their attention, or don’t you bring their attention to the situation with the previous provider?

Paul:  I think for us we’re always honest. So this is what we’d consider industry best practice. This is how it should be done. But at the same time if we can see that there is a reason why it might have been done the other way so budgetary constraints or something like that, then we’ll identify that at that point. For us the sales process isn’t about being negative about the incumbent provider. We’re not there unless the customer is unhappy with the incumbent so we don’t need to say things about them. We can just say this is how your infrastructure is. This is how we think your infrastructure should be, and just focus on those areas. I think going in a rubbishing the incumbent provider just isn’t the right thing to do and it kind of leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth really isn’t it.

Richard:   Absolutely. I’m Richard Tubb and I’m speaking with Paul Tomlinson, managing director of Mirus IT in the U.K. So Paul, the clients that you work with in the U.K., why would you say they choose to work with Mirus over your competitors?

Paul:  I think it starts obviously from the marketing because if it didn’t start with the marketing they wouldn’t know about us. From the marketing then, if I think about our sales process. We would go out. We would send out one of our sales guys. They’d meet the client. They would talk about the client’s needs. Talk about the services that we offer and then they’d book a health check. So with any managed services opportunity we might had, we would send out one of our presales guys. They would look at the infrastructure the customer has and create a network health check. Then we go back with the presales person, sales person. We present that to the customer. As we’re going through this process we’re building trust with the customer but we’re also highlighting the services and the skills that we’ve got within the organization and then obviously we go through client testimonials. We provide the case studies, those type of things, and hopefully by the time we get to the decision making point, the customer has decided that we’re the right partner for them.

Richard:  The type of clients that you work with, SMB companies in your part of the world, how would you say their reliance on IT is changing?

Paul:  I think it’s changing an awful lot. If I think back to how our organization serviced customers five, six, seven years ago, the number of P1 or critical issues we would see would be much, much lower. Now when a customers has an issue, nearly everything’s critical, which is very difficult when you’re trying to manage and SLA. It just shows the importance of the infrastructure to the customer. If the person has an email outage, something like (Office 365) obviously it regularly has outages, and the customer just accepts it sometimes. When we’re looking at it and someone’s exchange server goes down, it’s a massive issue and we’ve really got to deal with that. I think some of it comes down to consumerization of services. When you look at something like your iPhone, it always works doesn’t it. So you’re used to that. You turn your TV on at home. It always works. When you come to work you should expect your email to always work and when it becomes such an important service, when it doesn’t work it creates a real problem. I know for me, if we have internal IT issues, we have problems just like everyone else. That’s why we have an internal IT department. We don’t outsource it to another MSP obviously. If we have problems it causes big problems because I’m thinking I need to get on with what I need to get on with.

Everyone is relying on whether it’s their Blackberry, their iPhone, whatever their mobile email solution is. Most people are using a CRM system within the business and if you think from a retail environment to a manufacturing environment, everything is system driven now so we’re seeing a massive uptake in our exhaustive recovery services. So I see on there a group called the Milton Keynes Business Resilience Forum which is all about making Milton Keynes more resilient. It’s a bit of an odd kind of mission statement but that’s what it’s all about, and we’re seeing more and more people come to that organization looking for advice about business continuity planning, those type of things and the great thing obviously they’re looking for an IT partner to help them deliver those as well, so that works quite well for us at the same time.

But now, to answer your question, Richard, I see a massive increase in reliance upon IT from everyone within the business, whether they’re from our staff selling products to customers or director level when they’re looking at management accounts. Everything is driven by IT within the business now.

Richard:  Thanks Paul. Let’s switch gears just a little bit here. We talked about Paul Tomlinson the MD at Mirus IT but you’re also a husband, you’re also a father. How do you balance your personal life and being successful as a dad and as a husband? We’re driving Mirus IT forward.

Paul:  I think I’m quite lucky in the way that things worked. I go to the gym in the morning. Then I come to the office. I work in the office till about 5:30/6:00. Go home, put the kids to bed, have some dinner with the family and then open the laptop and start again. In terms of balancing family life, if we exclude my wife, that’s really easy. If we include my wife luckily she’s taken up some other hobbies that keep her busy in the evenings as well, so there is a balance there. It kind of works at the moment. We’ll see how long it lasts. I might need to make some more changes over the next few years I think. But I’ve got a great management team around me and obviously great people working for me, delivering the service

to our customers. So actually, when things just work, it doesn’t really create much of an overhead on my personal life. The only reason I work the hours I work is because I want to drive the business forward all the time and there’s not really enough hours in the day for me to keep pushing those things forward so I’m going to do the late nights and the weekends. Again, if you enjoy what you do it’s easy to do isn’t it?

Richard:  Yeah, it doesn’t feel so much of a chore.

Paul:  It’s not work at all.

Richard:  How do you prioritize? Obviously you must have dozens of things each and every day that you think must be important to move Mirus IT forward. How do you prioritize? How do you choose what’s important for you to work on?

Paul:  I set aside for email management separately to actually what I need to do, so I’ll close out, look for a period of time and just say I’ve got to concentrate on this particular task this morning and that’s what I’ve got to focus on, just try and avoid myself getting distracted from email traffic, that type of thing. I sit out with my team. I don’t have an office. I like to sit with the team and understand what’s going on so I definitely have some tasks because I’m out there and the team I’ll hear things and I think I could help that, not necessarily about technical things but things about services or what we do as an organization and I’ll chip in and I’ll contribute and hopefully it’s a beneficial contribution. I’d like to think so anyhow. So sometimes it’s difficult for me from that perspective but most of the time it’s just setting aside time to do with specific tasks. I also manage the entire business on a kind of giant chart so I’m looking at what we’re doing in terms of developing the business and I manage that as kind of a mini project myself, so things like we’re undertaking ISO 27001 at the moment so what do we need to do to make sure that we achieve that. Those are the type of things that I’ll manage at a very high level and then just speak to the people who are responsible for those on a weekly or monthly basis to understand where we are with those.

I think I’m quite an organized person so I find it relatively easy, but my wife, when she looks at my Outlook calendar and she just says how do you manage that many appointments in a day, so It’s quite interesting. If I didn’t have my phone I wouldn’t know where I was going. If I wake up in the morning and my phone is flat, I literally can say to my wife, I don’t have a clue where I am today. Until I power up my laptop I don’t know. It’s just one of those really odd things that comes on relying on technology, that you completely lose all common sense when it comes to those things. It’s a tough one but luckily the phone charge is always nearby.

Richard:  Tell me about it. I’m the same. I rely on my calendar on my Smartphone and in Google Apps all the time and I’m one of these silly people who follow Sat Nav, even when I know it’s going in the wrong direction. It’s a computer. It’s infallible. It can’t go wrong, and then I arrive 30 minutes away from where I should be. [laughs]

Paul:  I know that feeling.

Richard:  Any way Paul, I really appreciate you time today. One other thing actually I want to bring up just before we go, and that’s very successful. You’ve grown Mirus IT to the stage you’re at and yet you still find time to start a blog. What started you off on blogging and what’s that all about?

Paul:  I was getting a lot of people asking me questions about what I do within the business and why I do it and I just thought it would be quite useful rather than respond to requests individually, and what people are saying, how do you focus your service, what type guys to use within the organization, those type of things, I thought if I share it and actually other people within the community can go and have a look and hopefully I can help other businesses. It’s great we’ve been really successful but we’ve got a really good community around us that I’d like to try and help as much as possible. I can’t help everyone by going and seeing people and sitting down and talking about their business. There’s obviously people like yourself that can go and do those type of things, but if I can just get people the general idea as to how we’ve been successful, and if they can take some of those bits away and they can use those in their business, then it’s a really use full way for them to kind of grow their business.

Equally it’s a nice way of me getting some feedback about what I do as well so I don’t know if you’ve noticed but every blog article I put on there it is, this is how we do it. How do you do it? I’ll be interested to hear your feedback because we make mistakes like any other organization and actually sometimes we haven’t yet learned from that mistake and we continue to do it but if someone else looks at that blogger article and says I did it your way for a few years but I had these problems, and then they come back to me and they say have you looked at doing it this way, it’s really useful because you’re getting that support, your entire community to help you develop your business. So yes it’s a time requirement for me to share what I do but at the same time I actually get the benefit of the entire community supporting me in growing my business. I’ve had some really useful feedback from some people about particular KPIs and what people measure and what KPIs drive what type of behavior. That’s made a real difference when we start to change some of the KPIs in the business. It’s been really useful for us as the business developed, so I see it more as a tool for me to develop my business, then necessarily just a tool for me to share things with other people.

Richard:  You’ve got a great reputation for being open and honest about your business. You share. I know you’re a part of the Autotask community and other communities besides that. It’s interesting looking at my own progression when I was an MSP business owner. I was blogging the same way you are now. I used to have other competitors come up to me and say why are you giving away all of your trade secrets. I’d say well, there’s no trade secrets here. All of this stuff is easily accessible and like you I found I used to get just as much great advice coming back from people as I was giving to them. I think from that perspective, blogging is a good tool.

Paul:  Yeah. I think the other thing is if people know about it, it’s the implementation of it isn’t it really? You can share those ideas with lots of people but if your competitor is not going to take and implement, and they haven’t got the same culture in their organization or the same values about themselves, they’re not going to implement it in exactly the same way and they’re not necessarily going to get the same results. We use so called lead forensics that allows us to have a look at who’s viewed my blog, for example, and I can see that regularly our competitors would go on there and have a look at my blog and we kind of think well, are you sharing these trade secrets but I’ve seen them take away some of the ideas that we’ve got and try to implement them and not been successful but at the same time when we look at the size of the market we’re servicing, actually we only come across the same company one in every ten opportunities so I don’t necessarily see it as a competitive marketplace. I do see it as a quite big marketplace. There’s lots of room for everyone to play in and I think as a community if we’re all improving the service we provide to our customers it’s only a positive thing for MSP businesses in the whole really.

Richard:  Yeah. There’s more than enough clients to go around there. We’ve neglected to mention that if anybody’s watching this and is unfamiliar with your blog, what’s the URL?

Paul:  It’s paultomlinson.me.uk.

Richard:   I will let you go. I know you’re very, very busy so I really appreciate the time you spent today but if anybody wants to reach out to you are you on the Twitters, are you on the Facebook, email. What’s it all about?

Paul:  Yeah, of course I am. Pt_mirusit on Twitter or you can just drop me an email at paul.tomlinson@mirus-it.com.

Richard:   And just before you go, what three things are you going to concentrate on for Mirus IT in 2014. Where do you see the business by the end of the year?

Paul:  So 27001 is the ISO standard. Big focus for us and we’re building our own cloud infrastructure at the moment so initially infrastructure is the service type offering but then moving on to a VDI platform so we resold to other providers in the past but we want to own the technology now and actually look at doing that. We service about 9 thousand end user computers at the moment and we’d ideally like to see those on our hosted platform over the course of the next 10 to 15 years, if we’re still here in that time frame. Other than that we’ve got hosted VoIP platforms as well and we’re seeing a lot of growth in that, so a big focus on making sure that continues to grow. I think the big thing is just having fun really. This world record is the biggest thing that we’re focusing on right now [laughs] at the moment, and how many blisters we’re going to have. But after that I think it’s just continuing to grow and making sure we grow a happy place for people for people to continue to work.

Richard:  That’s really cool to hear. I wish you all the best and have absolutely no doubt in my mind that we’re going to see Mirus IT in one shape, size or form in the next 10 to 15 years and yourself Paul. All the best success in the future. Appreciate the time you spent with me here today. Thanks a lot.

Paul:  Thanks Richard.

Richard:  Cheers.

7 Productivity Tips for IT Business Owners

Productivity Tips A heads-up that I’ll be joining my friend Rich Akullian of Autotask for a webinar on Thursday March 27th at 3pm GMT (11am EST) to discuss 7 Productivity Tips for IT Business Owners and how you can take control of your day!

Are you overwhelmed?

Are you overwhelmed by all the things you need to do as an IT Business Owner? Do you hear yourself saying “I should do that, but I haven’t had the time” about important tasks that will help your business grow? But how do you make the time to do the important when the urgent keeps interrupting you?

Register for the free webinar

In this one-hour webinar, industry expert Richard Tubb and Rich Akullian of Autotask will share 7 practical techniques for helping you get out from under, bring order from chaos and gain control over your time and energy.

You can register for the 7 Productivity Tips for IT Business Owners: Take Control of Your Day! webinar now – and if you can’t make it on the day, then make sure to still register for details of the on-demand recording.

I look forward to you joining us!

 

photo credit: Wiertz Sébastien via photopin cc

I’ve bought Professional Services Automation software. What next?

Frustrated EngineerIn my MSP eBook “Mistakes MSP’s Make – The Five Most Important Mistakes IT Managed Service Providers Make Which Cost Them Time and Money“ one of the biggest mistakes I suggest IT Managed Service Providers (MSP’s) might make is not implementing Professional Services Automation (PSA) software.

Put simply, PSA software enables you to bring order to chaos within your IT business. It becomes your business operating system — the central repository for information across all areas of your business, from Service Desk to Sales to Finance. It allows everyone in your business to sing from the same hymn sheet. It allows you to move away from the vanity of turnover to the sanity of profit. It enables your business to work with the right employees and clients. And more.

In my mind, any IT businesses worth its salt needs a PSA solution if they are to grow in a scalable and sustainable way.

But — and this a huge but — a PSA tool is not a cureall. The act of buying a PSA system is not going to solve all your worries as an IT business owner. For that you need a PSA tool and something else – an implementation plan.

The PSA system hasn’t worked!

ExcusesI’ve heard from many IT businesses who have implemented a PSA system, and then a few months later and a few pounds or dollars less in the bank, dumped it and exclaimed “It doesn’t work!”.

I sympathise with these IT businesses. When my own MSP implemented a PSA system, it was a challenge. Why? Because I was changing the established processes and systems within my business, and doing this is painful because it takes time. Time is something most IT businesses do not have – which ironically is often the reason they’ve bought a PSA system in the first place.

Finding the time to implement change is difficult within any business, but especially within smaller IT businesses. In a company with 5 employees or less, where the business owner is often the Senior Technician, HR person, Marketing Manager and head Salesman, trying to find the time to implement a PSA system feels nigh on impossible.

For many of the IT businesses I work with, where the business needs to achieve something but it’s going to be impossible for the business owner or anyone else within the business to find the time to do the task, I suggest they outsource the work.

Outsourcing the implementation of your PSA tool is a step too far for many IT businesses. PSA companies such as Autotask offer full locally based implementation packages with their product, but for many businesses that feels too uncomfortable. “My business is unique” or “They aren’t an MSP, so they won’t understand how I want to use the software” are two common objections I hear from IT businesses. The other objection, of course, is cost. Some people object to paying extra to have a tool setup for them when they’ve already paid for the license. Of course, it often costs more in the long run to not get assistance with an implementation, but many MSP’s don’t realise that until they’re ready to dump the product.

So the MSP buys the PSA tool because they know they need it, but they don’t implement it properly because it’s too painful to do so – either in terms of time or money. They hobble on in this way for months until they reach breaking point and throw their hands in the air and declare that it doesn’t work for them.

And so they are back to square one – needing something to help them organise their IT business and bring order to chaos.

Why you need to make a commitment to a PSA implementation

ConsistencyWith all that said, there are thousands of IT Solution Providers and MSP’s who do use a PSA system and it has radically changed their business for the better.

How have they achieved this? Simply put, they’ve made a commitment to implementing the PSA properly.

That commitment might be to undertake a project to migrate their most mission critical system – quite often the Service Desk – from a legacy system to the PSA tool. It’s my experience that when the Service Desk is using a PSA tool in anger, then the rest of the business follows suite. A PSA system isn’t Microsoft Office. It isn’t a piece of software you install and start using – it takes planning, which is why PSA Vendors like Autotask offer dedicated implementation teams to work one-on-one with clients to achieve this.

But if you choose not to work with the Vendors implementation team — for whatever reason — you can make commitments to implement the PSA product in other ways.

Attending Peer Groups

You can learn from your peers. There are thriving User Groups across the world, and here in the UK there are large Autotask and ConnectWise User Groups that you can freely attend.

In the UK, US and further afield, Autotask have started group implementation so that you can attend sessions with your peers. You might even choose to do this in addition to a formal implementation. Attending these groups gives you a more generalist session which helps you learn more about the broader features of a PSA tool.

Using Free PSA Training

You can commit to sending your staff on training. It’s in the PSA Vendors best interests for your whole business to engage with the product, and for it to become sticky. Therefore they offer free on-line training as well as in person events (I’ve written before about the Autotask Accelerator events here in the UK).

Working with 3rd party Experts

If you want to find out how other successful MSP’s are using PSA tools, then you can hire them directly to show you the ropes.

Worldwide, there are a large number of Autotask Certified Consulting Partners (CCP’s) who have implemented Autotask within their own business, become experts in how it is used, have passed an exam to prove their expertise, and now work with other MSP’s to help them not only implement their PSA product, but also provide ongoing support and assistance too.

Here in the UK we’re spoiled with some of the best Autotask CCP’s in the world. Gareth Brown at Sytec has helped many MSP’s implement Autotask from scratch. Bruce Penson at ProDrive is an expert on how to use Autotask to reduce costs and increase profitability. Emma Barker at Blue Logic is a worldwide expert on both Projects and Sage integrations. These are folks who know as much about PSA products as the PSA Vendors themselves – and can prove it works for their businesses.

How the PSA Vendors can improve

Where the PSA Vendors can improve is in making it easier for new customers to take baby-steps into using their products. Bite-sized training that allows users in specific roles to get up to speed in how to do the things that are important to them.

Autotask New UI Announcement

Mark Cattini announces new Autotask UI at Community Live! 2013

The interface of modern PSA tools also needs to change. For instance, Autotask has an intimidating user interface (UI) that can overwhelm some people. If you’re a Helpdesk engineer, then seeing details about sales and finance might be a distraction. If you’re a Sales person, then you want to sell and the PSA tool needs to help you do that. Sales tools such as OnePageCRM give a glimpse at how the future should look – helping users focus on the next action they need to take rather than leaving them confused.

I was excited to hear Autotask CEO Mark Cattini’s announcement at Autotask Community Live! in Barcelona last October that Autotask will be getting a full User Interface overhaul in 2014. I suspect this overhaul will make the product easier to implement and use for everyone. Watch this space.

Conclusion

The bottom line is, a Professional Services Automation tool *can* help make your business scalable and sustainable – but only if you’re prepared to make a commitment in time and energy to implementing it.

The PSA Vendors offer options to help you and your staff become adept with their product, for it to become sticky within your organisation — it’s in their best interests to — but even if you choose to ignore these options, there is a thriving 3rd party market of experts who you can hire to give you bespoke advice and guidance.

One of the biggest mistakes an MSP can make which costs them time and money is to NOT use a PSA tool, but it can also be a mistake to implement one without a proper plan.

Webinar – The 5 Top Mistakes MSP’s Make

Broken Piggy BankA heads-up that I’m joining my friend Rich Akullian of Autotask on Tuesday 26th November, 2013 at 4pm GMT (11am EST) for an on-demand webinar for what I think will be a really valuable free webinar for IT business owners entitled The 5 Top Mistakes MSP’s Make.

Common Mistakes Which Cost Time and Money

Do you know the five most important mistakes that IT Solution Providers make which cost them time and money?

In this one hour free webinar, Rich and I will share the most common mistakes that your Managed Service Provider (MSP) business should avoid to ensure you are both profitable and successful.

You can also take this opportunity to ask any questions that will help your own MSP business avoid costly mistakes and grow. So a free webinar and the chance to get some free MSP Consultancy — what’s not to like? Smile

How to Register

Register now for The 5 Top Mistakes MSP’s Make! I hope to see you on Tuesday!

The recording of The Top 5 Mistakes MSP’s Make webinar is now available to view on-demand – I hope you find it valuable!

 

photo credit: Images_of_Money via photopin cc

Friday Favourites – 8th November, 2013

Thumbs UpOn a Friday I try to post my favourites from the week – links to cool content and tools that I’ve found or had recommended to me.

Cool stuff I’ve found this week, ending 8th November, 2013:-

  • Mover.Io – The smarter way to move files between Cloud storage providers such as DropBox, Google Drive and Box. Does away with the need to download and then re-upload files between services – instead moving them directly.
  • Chirp.io – Let’s teach the machines to sing! Innovate way to transfer pictures and files between mobile devices using high pitched modem-like noises (if you’re old enough to remember dial-up modems!). Has to be seen heard to be believed!
  • QlikView – Self-Service Business Intelligence (BI). Consolidate relevant data from multiple sources into a single view. Thanks to Autotask Certified Consulting Professional Emma Barker for sharing!

Do you have any cool content or tools to share with me? Why not e-mail me, Tweet me, or share with me on Google+ and I if I feature them in my blog you can be sure to give you credit!

Have a great weekend! Smile

 

photo credit: mdalmuld via photopin cc

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