An Interview with Amanda Stewart
Amanda Stewart is the managing director of Edinburgh-based MSP Illuminate, which supports local businesses and charities. And the business has a very strong focus on putting MSP clients first, with customer service as their number one priority.
She started the business when her daughter was six months old to give herself the flexibility her employer wouldn’t. Amanda says it’s been a lifestyle business so she can be available for her kids whenever they need her.
How Amanda Spots MSP Clients That Aren’t a Good Fit
Client satisfaction is a priority for Amanda, and she works with people who see their IT systems as important for their business. In 14 years, Illuminate has only parted ways with five MSP clients.
Amanda explains that she’s careful to choose clients whose ethos matches hers. “The people who come and ask for a price list and aren’t interested in what the tech can do for them aren’t right.
“Also anyone who’s negative about their previous IT support or fell out with them is a flag that makes me hesitant. It makes me think that the complaints aren’t really down to the other company.”
How to Talk about Cybersecurity with MSP Clients
Amanda says it’s a challenge to talk about cybersecurity without scaring your MSP clients. “They often switch off, so it’s hard to make them aware of the issues.” However, she adds that she’s worked with a number of people who have been hacked.
They come to Illuminate for help to make their systems more secure. Amanda explains the minimum requirements to keep them safe, and talks them through additional tools she recommends.
“I know they often have budget issues, so I work with them to see what’s affordable. But you need a good relationship with your MSP clients, because otherwise they think you’re just trying to sell to them. Education is the most important thing to stop cyber crime, so we focus on that.”
The Culture of Customer Service Within Illuminate
Customer service is important to Amanda, and she hires engineers based on how they’ll interact with clients. “Technical skills can be learned, but the soft skills are more important.”
Amanda makes sure the engineers communicate clearly and consistently with their MSP clients. She encourages them to put themselves in the customer’s shoes and imagine how they feel. Engineers keep clients in the loop about how they’re fixing problems.
Being a Woman in a Male-Dominated Industry
In her early days in the IT industry, Amanda did get comments along the lines of “Oh, if you use that tool you might break a nail”, but she says it doesn’t happen as much anymore. Or she just doesn’t notice!
“Sometimes salespeople come into the business and speak to the men about tech. They assume I’m from sales or HR. Sexism still happens, but many men are conscious that it’s an issue, and are trying really hard for it not to be anymore.”
How Amanda Juggles Being a Mother and a Business Owner
Illuminate was founded to give Amanda flexible working, and she’s always been able to drop things to be there for her kids. “But it’s difficult. Women never think they’re doing it right. They either think they’re failing at being a mother or they’re failing at running a business.”
Juggling work and family commitments is stressful, Amanda says, but women are always doing a far better job than they give themselves credit for. “My wish is for women to stop making so many demands of themselves in the future. I want my daughter to know that some things have to give and that’s ok.”
Business for Good
Illuminate supports an organisation called Business for Good (B1G1). If a customer buys from you, you give something back. Amanda says it’s not a huge financial commitment, but once you sign up you choose causes to donate to.
“It could be a bookkeeping course for someone in Zambia, books for children in a third world country, or feeding a homeless person. At Christmas, each of our MSP clients gets a certificate to say where the donation has gone. We try to tie it to their business, so if they’re an architect it’s about hosting.
“If every small business got behind something like B1G1, we could eradicate a lot of the major issues in the world like homelessness and hunger. It’s a fantastic organisation to be involved in.”
How to Connect with Amanda Stewart
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Mentioned in This Episode
- Business for Good
- The Tech Tribe
- ConnectWise Evolve
- Federation of Small Businesses
- British Chambers of Commerce