Posts Taged client-management

How to achieve exponential growth by debriefing the past

I’ve never been a huge fan of dwelling on the past.  What’s done is done.  However, I am a big fan of learning.  I’m a huge believer in learning in order to grow.  Life is about growth.  Growing mentally, spiritually and emotionally are not things most focus on.  The crux of personal development comes from evolving who we are as leaders, fathers/wives, entrepreneurs.  Sometimes we need to reflect on the past to continue that growth.  However, there is a big difference between reflecting and dwelling.  Those that dwell on the past unfortunately tend to get stuck there.

So, how do we reflect on the past without getting stuck there?  A few years back I came across the concept of the “Debrief” at business conference.  The concept involves taking a recent experience, and examining the good/bad/ugly from it.  What did we do right?  What did we do wrong?  How can we improve?  Since then, I’ve tried to implement this in most areas of life.  This has been especially useful in my business and personal life.  It has led to exponential growth both personally and professionally.

June 30, 2014: The day that changed everything

Two years ago today I issued a press release announcing the sale of my IT business, Network Logix.  It was a bittersweet day to say the least.  The 10 years of blood (sometimes literally), sweat, tears, sleepless nights and many cups of coffee had finally culminated to a conclusion.  At least for this chapter.  It was on to the next chapter.  The next chapter for growth.

Many of you reading this were likely in the room back in April for Robin Robin’s Boot Camp.  During one of the presentations, the question was asked whether anyone in the room would like to eventually sell their business.  Nearly the entire room raised their hands.  This got me thinking.

I’ve always attempted to be as efficient as possible.  Learning from others allows me to expedite the process, and possibly side-step any pitfalls along the way.  Learning from coaches, mentors and peers has led to exponential growth for myself and many others.

After selling my business, I did a Debrief of what I learned.  Boiling this down to just a few items was pretty difficult, as you can imagine.  10 years is a long time, and I could almost write a book about all the adventures.  (Stay tuned for that, it’s in the works.) Below are the 7 lessons I learned along the way.  I’m happy to share them with you.

7 Lessons I Learned From Building, Growing and Selling My MSP

  1. Find a niche and OWN it!
  2. Sell, sell, sell
  3. Fire Rotten Clients
  4. Ruthless Productivity
  5. Document and Systematize All Processes
  6. Focus All Your Attention On Your TOP Clients
  7. Run It Like You’re Going To Sell It

I sincerely hope that there is at least one thing that you can draw from my debrief.  I’d also love to hear how you use past experiences to further your growth as an entrepreneur, parent, father or any other roles you are privileged to play.  Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.  Feel free to share this with your network too.  I’d be eternally grateful.  Have an awesome day!

 

 

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lesson 7 run it to sell it

7 Lessons I learned from building, growing and selling my IT business | Lesson 7: Run It Like You’re Going To Sell IT

When you are starting a business as an entrepreneur, you don’t really give a whole lot of thought to your exit strategy, let alone selling your business.  You are too excited with the challenge of building a great company.  You’re finally living the dream!

Your new company becomes your child in a sense.  And, let’s face it, you typically spend every waking hour taking care of it.  (If you’re like me, you dream about it too. It’s 24/7.) You forgo sleep whether intended or not.  But, you know that all the sacrifices will be worth it.

When your child is born, you don’t immediately start thinking about the day he/she moves out.  However, when you start a business, you need to plan your exit strategy from the very beginning.  Let’s face reality here.  Most of us won’t have an IPO in our future.  The more likely scenario is a sale or merger.

2004 was a year I had two “kids”.  My son was born in May, and Network Logix was reborn in September that year.  So, for me, the “child” metaphor takes on double meaning as I write this post.

Your child soon learns to walk and then to run.  It falls down and gets banged up.  Welcome to life kid.  Your “child” goes through all of life’s growing pains, and you continue to worry 24/7 like a normal “parent”.  But, you know that all the time, effort and energy will be worth it.

Soon the day comes for your kid to leave home.  In this case, the day came for me to sell my business.  That day came on June 30, 2014.

This was a bittersweet day for me.  Every waking (and sleeping) moment over the last 10 years spent thinking about my IT company had finally come to end.  It was an extremely emotional time.  But, I didn’t have much time to think about it.  I now had more work to do in order to make the transition smooth for our clients.  No rest for the weary!

As I’ve done with the other 6 posts in this series, I’d briefly like to share what I learned.  It is my hope that this information can help at least one person learn from the good and to avoid some of the pitfalls I found along the way.

My Takeaways From Selling My Business

They say that, “Hindsight is always 20/20.”  I agree with that for the most part.  Things that you learn after the fact should have been obvious all along, yet they are not always apparent when you are in the heat of the moment.  Here are the top 3 things I learned from going through the process of selling the business.

  1. Build your valuation early.  This is always the sticky part of getting a deal done.  What is your company really worth?  The short answer; your company is worth what someone is willing to pay for it.  The core “Asset” of an MSP (Managed Service Provider) is the quality of MRR (Monthly Recurring Revenue) and client relationships.  Fortunately, we started as a pure-play MSP in 2004, and MRR was built in from the beginning.  We did very little break-fix work, and most of our clients were with us for nearly the whole decade.  Having Raving Fans is a huge asset.
  2. Have your books and records in order.  I’m not an accountant, nor do I pretend to be one.  (I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night)  All revenue and expenses should be clearly broken out by service type.  Solid, long-term agreements with clients proves very helpful.  Make sure they are assignable too.  Non-solicitation and non-disclosure agreements with employees are also key.
  3. Hire A Broker.  When it’s time to sell, find a business broker to help you.  (I’m throwing this in as a hindsight lesson.)  Having a professional broker will help eliminate any personal feelings and miscommunications, and reserve it for what it is, a business transaction.  Selling your business is an emotional thing.  Remember, it’s your baby.  Emotion can cloud your judgement, so let a broker do his thing.

If you base success on a single event as an entrepreneur, you will be disappointed.  As I look back, I have found that the most joy I derive from the last 10 years has been the journey.  The journey of building, creating, learning.  It was a wild ride, and I still have a few war wounds, but it was worth it.

As always, I welcome any thoughts or comments below.  If you found it useful, please share with a friend or colleague.  Until next time….

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7_Lessons_I_Learned_from_My_IT_Business eFolder

[Webinar] eFolder Partner Chat: Tuesday, May 19, 2015

I’m excited and honored to be a guest with one of my favorite partners, eFolder.  Please join me Tuesday, May 19, 2015 at 2:00PM EST where I’ll be giving away all the things I learned from building, growing and eventually selling my MSP practice.  Register here: http://www2.efolder.net/7LessonsILearnedFromMyITBusiness

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Focus on your top clients

7 Lessons I learned from building, growing and selling my IT business | Lesson 6: Focus All Your Attention on your TOP clients

One would think this lesson should be a given.  There should be no need to write about.  It should be a no-brainer. Take care of my TOP clients.  Duh!  Unfortunately, this was not the reality at times for me, or for most IT providers or entrepreneurs.  Let me explain.

“The customer is always right.”  We’ve all heard this expression.  This is one of the biggest fallacies in business.  Think about it for a minute.  What would that actually mean for you if it were true?  If the customer (i.e. everyone who wants to do business with you) is always right, how can you possibly serve them all well?  You might be able to keep some of them happy, but when you try to cater to everyone, you just end up being stretched too thin.  I speak from experience here.  I exhausted myself trying to keep everyone happy.  I ended up making mistakes and letting people down.   No matter how good my intentions were, no matter how determined to make good on my promises, I was overextended at times.  Overextended entrepreneurs inevitably drop the ball.  This was unacceptable for me and my clients.  Fortunately, I didn’t lose any of my top clients, but it served as a wake-up call for me.

Back in Lesson 3, I mentioned the Pumpkin Plan book by Mike Michalowicz.  (If you haven’t picked it up, I highly recommend it.)  In Chapter 7 of the book, “Play Favorites and Break Rules”, Mike wrote that playing favorites is simply good business, and is mandatory for your success.  “Your mission is to keep your top clients so happy you obliterate the possibility that they would ever leave you for the competition.”  That’s exactly what I wanted, and I think that’s how we all feel.

You probably have a few favorite clients, the people you’re always glad to see and hear from, the businesses you’ll bend over backwards to help because you actually like them, and want to do a good job for them.  (Go figure)  I did too.  I had clients that I would go to the ends of the earth for.  It didn’t matter what time of day, or day of the week, I was on it.  They always went to the front of the line.

As entrepreneurs, we want to be nice people.  Sometimes we are too nice at our own expense.  We feel guilty giving preferential treatment.  My parents taught me to play fair.  Let’s get real.  Life isn’t fair.  That’s part of the reason you’re an entrepreneur.  You get to make the rules.

Playing favorites is nothing to feel guilty about.  (I can say that with straight face because I was my dad’s favorite out of six kids.  Love you pop!)  Playing favorites is a winning strategy because your top clients are your favorite clients, and they need special treatment.  How else are they going to feel special?

At times however, I found that some rotten clients were eating up the needed time and energy to focus on our top clients.  I needed to fix that.

After going through the process of defining our Rules of Engagement (Mike calls them Immutable Laws) and completing the Assessment Chart, I now had a pretty good idea of who our top clients were, and what they had in common.  I went through the process of Firing the Rotten Clients, and only our TOP clients remained.  Phew!

Next the fun started!  I now began to focus on taking care of the clients that made getting up in the morning pure joy.  I now had a different approach for our top clients.  We pushed them to the front of the line whenever they put in a service request.  It was kind of like the wristband you pay extra for at Kings Island or Cedar Point to go to the front of the line.  (Yeah, I loathe those people too when I’m standing in the 95 degree heat because I’m too cheap to pay the extra money.)  I was always looking for new and better ways to serve them.  I accommodated their special requests, and even made trips to the cell phone store so they wouldn’t have to.  Most importantly, I always went out of my way to help them grow their business.  I wanted to discover all the right things I could do for them so that I was significantly better than my competition could dream of being.

In the process of doing these things, I found that our top clients were a lot alike.  And, because they shared many of our Rules of Engagement, they were a lot like us.  It actually became easier to serve them.  I knew that I wanted more clients just like them so I could keep growing our top-client list, and that’s precisely what I did.  I stopped taking clients that didn’t fit our business, and focused all my time, effort and energy on our TOP clients.

“The customer is NOT always right, but…

The right customer IS always right.”  Thanks Mike!

It doesn’t take much more effort to have all your clients see you as their world-class de facto provider, and have raving fans for life.  I’d like to think I did something right over 10 years of running my IT business as most of our clients were with us nearly the whole decade.  That’s nearly unheard of in the IT industry.

You don’t need to create elaborate plans to take care of your top clients.  You simply need to be a little bit better, a little bit more helpful, and little bit more creative at solving their problems.  You need to be willing to do the things that others can’t or won’t do.  Don’t get stuck, just get started.

I’ll leave you with one final thought from Jim Rohn: “One customer, well taken care of, could be more valuable than $10,000 worth of advertising.”  Everyone thinks they need more clients, and they spend an inordinate amount of money to get new ones.  From what I’ve seen, the secret to long-term success is taking good care of the TOP clients you already have, and clone them.

My final lesson in this series #7: Run It Like You\’re Going To Sell It is coming up next week. I’ll be sharing a few tips I learned from the actual sale of my business.

As always, I welcome any thoughts or comments below.  If you found it useful, please share with a friend or colleague.  Until next time….

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7 Lessons I learned from building, growing and selling my IT business | Lesson 5: Document and Systematize All Processes

If you were to talk to any CEO/entrepreneur/manager/Executive that has been able to scale his or her business, most of them will tell you the secret of their success in one word: consistency.  Nothing can be fine-tuned until it’s first consistent.  How do you become consistent?  Process.  How do you develop processes?  Document and systematize everything.  Boooring!  I know, this isn’t a sexy topic at all.  But, stay with me.

I was recently interviewed on this subject by my friend Mike Michalowicz for his Profit First Podcast: Click Here or listen below.

In my last post, Ruthless Productivity, I talked about the daily game of Whac-A-Mole that was daily life for me for too long.  If you are worn out and completely exhausted from running your business, please keep reading.  If you are even mildly frustrated, please keep reading.

In the beginning, I was like most other small IT providers.  I was a one-man-band doing everything.  Sales, marketing, support, project management, etc., etc.  I had a ‘way’ of doing things.  I had everything documented… in my head.  Bad idea!   I realized that, as I tried to grow, I had to pass along the knowledge of how to do things to others.  Otherwise, I would be stuck doing everything forever.  If you haven’t figured it out, you can’t do everything and grow.  So, stop trying. It’s pretty difficult to share everything in your head.  (My head is a scary place.  My wife can attest to this.)

In 2009, I attended a workshop at Sparkspace, an offsite retreat center here in Columbus, owned by my friend Mark Henson.  (This place is awesome by the way.  If you are ever in Columbus, you have to check it out!)  I was introduced to EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System).  Being an IT company, I worked with Operating Systems on computers all day, so I was naturally intrigued by an Operating System for my business.  I immediately bought the book where this concept originated, Traction: Get A Grip On Your Business by Gino Wickman.

When I got to Chapter 7, The Process Component, I started to see a light at the end of the tunnel.  (I was hoping it wasn’t the headlight of an oncoming train.)  “This component is the most neglected one, often taken for granted and undervalued by entrepreneurs and leaders. Yet the successful ones see what process can do for them.  By not giving this component your full attention, it’s costing you money, time, efficiency, and control.”  Like most type A personalities, I’m a control freak.  How about you?  If you are reading this, I’ll bet you are.

I was like countless business owners that complain about their lack of control or freedom, and yet, in the same breath, discount the value of process.  I was determined to change this.

A typical organization operates through six to 10 core processes.  How these processes work together is a unique system, your “Way”.  To systematize your organization through your core processes, you must take two major steps.

  1. You have to document the core processes
  2. You have to ensure that they are followed by all

I know what you are thinking right now.  “How the hell am I going to get all this done?  I just don’t have time.”  That’s exactly what I was thinking too.  But, how do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time. (No, I’m not recommending you go kill a real elephant.  I don’t want to be accused of that.)

Don’t try to tackle them all at the same time.  Paralysis by analysis will set in quickly, and you’ll end up doing nothing.

Start with ONE process, then move on to the next.  This will take time and effort, so buckle your chin strap.  Nothing great comes easy.

I started with Sales.  (Big surprise since I like sales.)  I broke down how I wanted the Sales Process to go, and documented it on paper.  I then input this process as a Track in ConnectWise, our PSA tool.  (Geek for Customer Management System)  I now had a documented, repeatable process.  This led to consistent sales.  Remember the opening paragraph.  “Nothing can be fine-tuned until it’s first consistent.  How do you become consistent?  Process.”  (Yes, another light bulb moment for me.)

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I did this perfectly.  That would be a bold faced lie.  It was a struggle to put it mildly.  However, I never stopped working at it.  By strengthening the process component, I was able to gain more control.  By taking control, I learned to get better.  That’s what we all want, right?

Thanks for staying with me on this one.  There is way more on this topic for sure. Lesson 6 will cover Focus All Your Attention on your TOP clients.  I’ll give away how I created Raving Fans and had most of my clients for nearly a decade, which is kind of unheard of in the IT industry.

As always, I welcome any thoughts or comments below.  If you found it useful, please share with a friend or colleague.  Until next time….

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lesson 4 ruthless productivity

7 Lessons I learned from building, growing and selling my IT business | Lesson 4: Ruthless Productivity

Being an entrepreneur can be a challenge to put it mildly.  The odds of survival are stacked against us before we even start the day.  Yet we press on undaunted.  In most cases we wear many different hats throughout the course of a single day.  The challenge is how to get it all done without losing our minds.  The word productivity seems to be an oxymoron.

Over the course of running my IT business for 10 years, that challenge was amplified by the speed at which our digital world changed.  Back in 2004 the iPhone hadn’t been invented, and we weren’t walking around with the Internet in our pocket.  There has never before been an age in which we could get so much done so quickly.  There also has never before been an age in we are so overwhelmed and exhausted with information and tasks, so bombarded with emails and things to read and watch, so stressed by the intense demands of daily life.

For many people these days, work is a constant stream of emails, of phone calls and instant messages, of Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn/Pinterest/SnapChat/[insert new social media distraction] updates and connection requests.  The day starts with an Inbox full of emails, and ends with an Inbox just as full, and each email is a request for information or actions that we don’t have time to fulfill.

Just because I ran an IT company didn’t mean I was immune to the same crushing stress.  If anything, hyper-connectedness was amplified due to the fact that I also had to manage our client’s incessant need to be hyper-connected as well.  (All’s fun and games until someone loses Internet or Facebook goes down)

There were many days I felt like I was playing Whac-A-Mole.  Remember that game?  I remember the first time I played it.  I was 10 years old.  (Ahh, to be a kid again)  I was at Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh.  It was awesome!  Beating the crap of those little moles as they popped up…YES!  However, even at 10 years old, I got tired fairly quick.  But hey, it was fun!

Day in, day out playing Whac-A-Mole got really old really fast in my business life. (Not so fun) I really struggled to get everything done each day.  So, I started working more hours.  12, 16, 18 hours a day, 7 days a week.  I figured eventually I’d be able to get caught up.  “Just work harder”, I told myself.  Unfortunately, this strategy is not sustainable, and after a couple years of this, I nearly found out the hard way.  I was writing checks my body couldn’t cash.  (Top Gun anyone?)  If I didn’t change, I would end up flying cargo planes full of rubber dog crap out of Hong Kong. Or, worse yet, I’d end up being fertilizer.  I wasn’t happy with the thought of either.

I venture to say, that some of you reading this can relate.  In order to get control, I learned to be ruthless with my time and energy.  I’m not perfect at it, but I’m at least aware of how I spend my energy.  So, I’d like to give you a few secrets that I used to get control of things before it was too late.

Here are my Top 3 Ruthless Productivity Tips:

  1. Compile a list of 3 Most Important Tasks (MITs), and do these FIRST.  Each day, start with the 3 most important things that you need to do to bring you closer to your goals, and do these FIRST.  Don’t check email, Facebook or whatever else you are wasting time on in the morning.  (You know what I’m talking about)
  2. Put a stop to interruptions.  Turn off all notifications on every device you own, and leave them OFF.  Notifications are the noises/buzzing and little red bubble icons on your phone.  If you don’t know they are there, you won’t be tempted to check them every five seconds.  Your desktop, your iPhone, your iPad, your laptop.  Everything.  Turn off email, Facebook, Twitter, instant messages, text messages, and whatever else could serve as an interruption to your productivity.  You’ll find that this is quite liberating after you go through initial withdrawal. (Checking these notifications is like a crack addiction whether we admit it or not)
  3. Batch process.   Process all the smaller tasks you need to complete each day.  Phone calls, emails, errands, paperwork, meetings, social media, research etc.  I typically try to do these at 11AM and 4PM.  This schedule might not work for you, so figure out what does work for you.

Being productive is key to growing and managing your company as an entrepreneur.  You only have a limited amount of time and energy.  The #1 pitfall to being productive is interruption.  There are many reasons for these interruptions, and almost none of them have to do with necessity!

I could probably write a book on all the lessons learned on this subject alone.  (Hmm, maybe I will)  At minimum, I think there might be a workshop on this.  Let me know if you might be interested.

If you want to read a good book, I recommend “The Power of Less” by Leo Babauta.  It’s an easy read with many actionable things you can do right now to get control.

Lesson 5 will cover Document and Systematize all Processes.  This isn’t a sexy topic. Everyone knows they need to do it, however, this is one that most entrepreneurs have the hardest time with.

As always, I welcome any thoughts or comments below.  Until next time….

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lesson 3 fire rotten clients

7 Lessons I learned from building, growing and selling my IT business | Lesson 3: Fire Rotten Clients

If you’ve read my first 2 lessons (Lesson 1: Find a Niche, Lesson 2: Sell, sell, sell), you are probably asking yourself, “Why would I fire clients that I’ve worked so hard to get?  Isn’t getting rid of  clients counterintuitive to growth?”  At first glance, these questions would seem justifiable.  However, let me explain before you send over the guys with the straight jackets.  (I already have a padded room.  It’s Orange of course.)

In July of 2013, I was in Nashville attending a quarterly mastermind training.  One of the presenters was there to talk about his book, “The Pumpkin Plan.”  (Pumpkin…Orange… I was naturally intrigued.)  His name is Mike Michalowicz (pronounced mi-‘kal-o-wits).  During his presentation, I learned that, in order to grow my business, I had to “Assess The Vine” (my clients), and do some pruning.  Pruning meant I had to fire rotten clients.  I thought the same thing you are right now, “ This guy is nuts!  There’s no way I’m getting rid of clients.  I need every dollar I bring in.”  After I stopped hyperventilating, I began to really think about this concept.

Up to this point, I was operating under the mindset that quantity is what I need in order to grow.  I already had a documented sales process, and knew how to sell.  Getting more clients was the answer, right?  Nope.  I had to shift my mindset away from the quantity game, and stop killing myself for scraps.

We had a few clients that literally made my blood boil every time they would call or send in a support request.  You know the ones.  The ones that don’t really respect what you do, rarely take your advice, and then want to haggle over pennies every time you present a solution to help them grow their business or upgrade their 10 year-old Windows XP computers.  The ones that send text messages on Sunday morning because they can’t get on Facebook.  The ones that you’ve done a ton of extra work for and never billed them.  The list goes on and on.  99.9% of the time, these are the same folks that you made concessions on your initial recommendation just to get their business.  A win is a win, right?  Oh how wrong I was!

Mike’s presentation literally changed everything for me that day.  The second half of his presentation involved evaluating all of our clients by completing an Assessment Chart where we graded our clients on a variety of areas.  By the way, the clients that bring in the most $$ aren’t always your best clients.   I quickly figured out who our best clients were, and who had to go.

I could not grow my business until I pruned the vine.  Every time I said Yes to these rotten clients, I would being saying No to the good ones, or worse yet, saying No to better new clients.  This became my mission for the next few months following Mike’s presentation.  Fortunately I only had a couple to prune. It was a difficult process, but I can honestly say that once the vine was cleared of these rotten clients, my life improved dramatically.  I no longer had to dread calls, texts or emails from people who just didn’t respect me or my profession.  I could now focus all my time, effort and energy on the clients that I loved.  The ones that were an absolute joy to work with.  The ones that I wanted more of.  (Look for more on this topic in Lesson 6)  Phew!

Here are my brief takeaways on this:

  • Bad, rotten clients distract you, drain your resources and cost you money.  (Please re-read that last sentence)
  • You’re much better off having no clients than bad clients.
  • More is not better, better is better.

The Pumpkin Plan is an awesome book.  There is obviously a lot more to this process than what I’ve outlined in this post.  The book gives you much more detail on the process as well as many other strategies for growing your business.  I would definitely recommend picking up a copy.

One of my favorite quotes from the book:

Mike has since become a friend of mine, and his advice allowed me to sell my IT business last year.  He has two other books, The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur and Profit First.  You should really check them out.  Just my humble 2 cents. (Full disclosure: I don’t make a dime for recommending these books.)

Lesson 4 will cover what I call, Ruthless Productivity.  I’ll be giving away my secrets and tips for getting the most done with the fewest resources possible.

As always, I welcome any thoughts or comments below.  Until next time….

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