In this episode Richard speaks to Karl Palachuk, a public speaker, an author of many books and widely recognised as one of the pioneers of managed services.
“All I do is write down the stuff that other people don’t write down.” Typically humble words from prolific author, speaker, business coach and MSP expert Karl Palachuk. Richard is convinced, however, that there’s a little more to Karl’s writing process than that, and he’s ready to find out what!
An Interview With Karl Palachuk
If you’re in the managed services industry and haven’t yet heard of Karl Palachuk, it’s time to check him out. After 25 years in the industry and having run two managed services businesses, there can be very little he doesn’t know. Today he teaches, presents at conferences and his site Small Biz Thoughts is a treasure trove of resources that covers just about every MSP-related topic — there you’ll find all of his books, audio programmes and classes.
The Right Place At the Right Time
But Karl didn’t necessarily set out to become a prolific author and MSP expert. He claims that it was more a case of being in the right place, at the right time. He says of his Network Documentation Workbook, “I like to joke that I did it more for me. But it took off, it was just at the right time; it came out when the industry was ready for standardisation”.
He admits, though, that his Network Documentation Workbook wasn’t his first foray into writing. He had already begun work on what he had intended to be his first book, Relax, Focus, Succeed and so booked himself a spot at a writers’ conference. He says, “It was going to be a three day conference so I took work. And so I was organising my documentation, right? I began to ask, why do we have this document? Why do we need this information? Why don’t we need all the other information we could be putting on this form? And how do we fill it out? And what does that look like? So I could train my technicians to do everything they do consistently. And so when the weekend was over, I had written about 90% of the Network Documentation Workbook.”
He then put it all together and took a sample to SMB nation to pass on to Harry Brelsford and Nancy Williams. Two weeks later Harry finally called back with an offer to help distribute the book as well as a request for a second book on storage area networks. He then wrote SAN Primer for SMB before finishing Relax, Focus, Succeed.
Relax, Focus, Succeed
Karl is a firm believer that for small business owners, the business should exist to fulfil what you and your family want. He explains,
“That’s where the the switch flips; it’s when technicians realise if I don’t take care of the business side, I’m literally just going to be a labourer for the rest of my career. And so at some point owners become business people, and you decide that this business should be bigger than me, it should last longer than me and it should fulfil my dreams.”
But there was a point at which running his business threatened the balance Karl was working so hard to create.
“I moved to having more and more clients, and I literally went through this great experience of the Y2K rollover. And the great experience was everybody was willing to spend money, they had no idea why. And so I was just growing, I was signing new contracts all the time, all the time.”
And while Karl was always trying to figure out ways to leverage technology and use remote processes and procedures to make running his business easier, work became much harder following a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis.
“I went through a couple of years where my business was growing, despite me. I was unable to work full time, I was almost crippled and it took a few years to get the disease under control. And during that period, I look back on it and I said ‘How did I do that?’, you know, working 30 hours a week and growing my business and hiring people and so forth. And so I wrote about it.”
The result was Karl’s third book, Relax, Focus, Succeed which is a guide to balancing your personal and professional lives. And while the philosophies contained in the book helped Karl achieve more balance in his life, they also helped his business grow even faster.
The Importance of Knowing Your ‘Why’
The book — which explores topics like mindfulness, meditation and journaling —has since had a profound influence on many people in the IT industry, possibly because as a business owner caught up chasing your tail, focusing on things like pricing, agreements and tools is pointless if you don’t have the framework in place to actually manage yourself.
“You know, I have coaching clients, who have sometimes been in business 10 or 20 years. And they don’t know why. Their why consists of, ‘well, I know, technology, and I like technology. So I do technology, and then I make money at it, it turns out I’m good and rinse repeat for 20 years. But then they find that they’re in a position where they don’t have the culture they want, they don’t have the employees they want, they don’t have the clients they want, they’re being driven by forces they can’t see.
If you don’t know why you’re in business, then it just becomes about money. And, and so you work and work and work, and you get some money, and you realise if you work more, you get more, but there’s a limit to how much a human being can work. And unfortunately, a lot of people realise that when they get a heart attack or a divorce, or, you know, they realise that they don’t know their kids names — there’s all kinds of things that happen when you don’t know why you’re doing what you do.”
It’s a pitfall that many MSPs, and business owners in general, fall into. For Karl, meditation or a form of daily prayer — taking time to be with yourself and look at your big picture — is the perfect antidote.
“I always challenge people meditate for 15 minutes, every day for 30 days. Don’t have instructions don’t have a why, just sit down in a chair, empty your mind and it will be hard. It’ll be super hard for most people, but it will change your life. It literally will. And I can’t even explain why because it’s going to be different for you than it is for me. But it begins to help you get the big picture.”
Karl’s Big Picture
“I’m about to turn 60. And I feel like I’ve got things right when my daughter goes on vacation with me. I can look around and say yeah, I’ve actually managed to build the life I want. And none of it is around money. I always tell people if all you care about is money, then quite this consulting gig and get a job”.
For Karl, the big picture isn’t taken up with a fancy house or an expensive car; it’s centred on things like being able to write more, doing more speaking, and travelling more. And it’s a lifestyle that’s made possible by having a team of just four core people and the right processes, “it doesn’t matter where they are, it doesn’t matter where I am, we’ve designed a system that just works”.
The thing that’s kept Karl going for so many years? The desire to help people, the excitement of keeping up with new developments (right now he’s fascinated by robotics and Intelligent Automation!) and exploring new ideas.
Karl’s Key Advice for MSPs
In fact, if there’s one piece of advice that Karl would pass on to fellow MSPs, it’s exactly that: Keep exploring. Keep learning. Keep educating yourself.
And read! He believes that the smallest idea can pop out of the page and change the course of your business. (If you prefer to listen to audio, read Why podcasts are also great for personal development.)
Of course Karl’s own books are a great place to start. Most are evergreen, based on fundamental truths of business rather than specific products — they still hold up even after 10 years or more. (Although he does update his publications to keep them fresh and relevant.)
When asked about other resource recommendations, Karl has an extensive list he can pass on. Michael Gerber’s The E-Myth is one that he returns to frequently and he says he always seems to find a new lesson that applies to wherever he happens to be in his business.
He’s also a huge admirer of Erick Simpson, Robin Robbins, and of course, Harry Brelsford.
“Harry wrote several books on small business server but he’s always been a business focused person. He literally went around the world and he would get together at a little airport hotel, get 30 people in the room, sell them books, give them a day’s worth of education and then he told them, when I leave, I want you all to get together every month and talk about this. So he was Johnny Appleseed going around the world, planting SPS user groups, and they’ve evolved now to the SMB IT pro groups in Australia and other places.
It literally all started with him and I think we as an industry owe a big nod to Harry Brelsford for kicking us off.”
Daniel Burrus is another name Karl recommends looking out for.
He talks about how a lot of the future is already here. It’s literally been designed, it’s been built, like 5G, for example. The specifics of how we implement the standards are just evolving. But it’s here, you can literally look at it and say, in five years, these things will be possible because this bandwidth exists and then your brain can go expound about that. That’s literally an opportunity for you and me and everybody else to say, what could I be doing with that technology? And don’t think about next week, like next week’s already planned, it’s in the calendar. What about next year, what about five years from now, and some of that dreaming becomes possible when you really have an understanding of what the future might look like, and it’s not that difficult. He’s got eight ways that you can look at the future and see what’s coming. So I find that very exciting.”
While that’s probably more than enough to get you started, there’s one final title you should add to your must-read list: Karl’s latest book, The Unbreakable Rules of Service Delivery, which will hopefully be released early in 2020.
To keep up to date with Karl’s books, events and resources find him at Small Biz Thoughts and subscribe to his Managed Services and Relax, Focus Succeed mailing lists.
Mentioned in This Episode
- Karl’s site: Small Biz Thoughts
- The E-Myth
- SMB Nation
- Killing IT podcast
- Good to Great
- Great by Choice
- Daniel Burrus
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