Author: Amy Babinchak, MSP, IT Influencer, & President of the National Society of IT Service Providers

At some point in your business journey, you’re going to find out that you’re too busy to grow your MSP, and your service to clients will suffer because you’re wearing too many hats. This topic came up in one of the peer groups I run, and it turns out a couple of people have the same problem. It’s one I’m familiar with too.

Wearing too many hats

I’ve eaten in a chef-owned restaurant where the chef met you at the door, seated you, got your glass of water, and talked to you about what he found at the market that day, and the one or two options to choose from. It was located in a small space deep into a neighborhood. It was an amazing experience, until…

Someone else came around with a cup of tea and plopped it onto the table. Then we waited for an hour or more while the chef kept running from kitchen to front door, getting more food on his chef’s jacket with every sprint. He wanted to give every customer that awesome welcome. Eventually, the food came out and it was amazing but a little sloppy on the presentation. The chef delivered it himself, we had a nice chat with him, then he ran off to greet the next customer.

The other staff member never came around to refill our tea, clear our plates, or ask if everything was good…nothing. It took a while to get that person to let us pay for the meal. The chef was amazing. His restaurant? Not so much. All he had for staff was a busboy/drink delivery/payment taker. The chef was great, the food was great, but the restaurant was poorly run. The chef was wearing too many hats to be able to run a restaurant worthy of his craft and ability to cook a great meal, yet he basically let his employee fend for themself.

The MSP owner is a great tech with mad skills and understands just what technology the client needs to make their business more successful.

The MSP owner 

I see this same situation play out at a lot of IT firms. The MSP owner is a great tech with mad skills and understands just what technology the client needs to make their business more successful. IT service providers build a great reputation, and the business grows. The business owner closes a deal with a new client on the strength of past results and reputation. The business owner plans the project, orders the hardware and software, holds the meetings, manages the installation and implementation, and basically runs around just like that chef. Meanwhile, employees are left on their own to answer helpdesk calls as best they can. With limited staff visibility into the project, minimal training and depth of skill, and the whole experience goes downhill for the customer.

With limited staff visibility into the project, minimal training and depth of skill, and the whole experience goes downhill for the customer.

The complexity of a job well done devolves into a simple helpdesk with no continuing of the customer experience received from the owner – because the owner was wearing too many hats. The customer prefers to do business with the owner directly because no one else can deliver the same experience. This perpetuates the situation until this great tech with mad skills gives up on business ownership because it’s just too much work and responsibility.

The restaurant failed after a couple of years, and it wasn’t because of the food. The IT business is going to fail too, and it won’t be because of the technology. In both cases, it’s because of too many hats and a business owner that can’t let go of them.

I’ve written about how giving away my job became my job but I never explained how to get started making that your job.

Which hat do you take off first?

There’s a lot of debate about who should be your first hire but that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about the next problem; decreasing the number of hats you’re wearing so the quality of your services can match your passion.

How many hats are you wearing? Four, five, or six different jobs? You’d never ask your employees to wear that many hats. Why not? Because you know that they wouldn’t be able to do a good job at any of them. They would have to take shortcuts and make compromises. Guess what? You aren’t doing a good job either. You’re fooling yourself if you think otherwise.

The temptation is to take off the hat that you like the least and leave yourself the fun jobs that you’re good at.

Does the question become which hat do you take off first? The temptation is to take off the hat that you like the least and leave yourself the fun jobs that you’re good at. I think that’s the wrong approach. I prefer to give away the things that I’m best at and work down from there. Why? Because since I’m really good at that thing, it is going to be easy for me to recognize who to hire and train to do my job.

Let’s say I’m great at designing and installing networks, because I am. Or I was. I gave away that job a long time ago and so now I’m no longer the expert. I gave away that job by bringing my most talented tech with me on every job. It was a mentoring moment.

>> I taught them why I did things the way I did, and how to do those things.

>> I taught them how to plan in advance, how to check their work, and how to troubleshoot.

Mentoring my way through that was a process and not a quick one. But it was my way and it worked. Eventually, the problem became me. The job was given away but I had to trust. Making that leap was the hardest part.

I gave away that job by bringing my most talented tech with me on every job. It was a mentoring moment.

I hired several people to take the helpdesk calls, but many clients still called me. I spent hours a day just talking to people, walking them through stuff. Nothing special but we had a relationship and these people had become good acquaintances; almost like co-workers. But, if I wanted my employees to be responsible and not depend on me, then I had to give away this helpdesk hat. If I took a few calls, then it became easy for my staff to assume I would pick up the slack. I had to stop doing that. This meant retraining my clients. I stopped answering my phone. I let every call go to voicemail. I replied to every email, with a friendly response that said, something like, wow, that sounds annoying, we definitely need to get that fixed for you. I’ll let your tech know. In this way, I became the slowest path to service. Eventually, they got it and shifted their contact to the appropriate person. By getting rid of this hat, my clients got better service and my staff stepped into the level of responsibility that I had hired them for.

If I took a few calls, then it became easy for my staff to assume I would pick up the slack. I had to stop doing that.

Rinse and repeat for every hat. The most difficult hat for me to give away was bookkeeping. I hated bookkeeping but I enjoyed the knowledge that it gave me and then the sense of control over my destiny. Letting that go was really, really, hard. Now I must make an effort to review my accounts and run reports and have a standing meeting with the bookkeeper to review where everything stands, where we are making progress, and where we are missing the mark. But I did it. I’ll admit it took a number of years to get there but eventually, I got there. Bookkeeping might not be your sticking point in giving away your hats, but you’ll have one that is harder to let go of than the others. Just keep at it. It’s the only way to grow.

What do I do after I give away my jobs?

Your remaining jobs will expand to fill the space that was created by giving away one of your jobs. Why is that? Because you weren’t doing the whole job. that’s confirmation that you weren’t actually doing a good job. Others were waiting in the wings for a chance at more of your attention and so they fill the gap. This will continue to happen over and over again until you finally whittle your job down to size and then, finally, if you want to you can give away your entire job. And then and only then have you finally reached the level of business owner.

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About the Author

Amy Babinchak is a highly respected technology business and M&A expert, influencer, thought leader, and President of the National Society of IT Service Providers. Her companies have won many awards, and we are honored that she’s a member of the Modern MSP Community.