IT Providers: Why are you in business?

From Mike Grier, Managing Partner of SCA:

I began my adult life as a structural engineer in 1981. Those of you of a certain age remember that PCs were just starting to come into businesses around that time. The 300-person branch office I worked at went out and bought four computers — I think they were Apple IIcs. They carefully placed these in strategic locations to be shared by all 300 employees. The funny thing was, you could get “computing time” any time you wanted! Nobody knew what to do with them. As a structural engineer, I used one more or less as a dumb terminal to connect to Georgia Tech’s mainframe to do my more complex calculations, so it looked like I knew how to use a computer.

Fast-forward three years to my next employer, an 18-person engineering firm where CAD stations were being implemented. At the time, those little 12-inch CRT NEC units were state of the art. Like before, I was in the corner using a “clone” as a terminal, and it still looked like I knew something about IT. Over time I became the de facto “IT guy” for the company. In 1990 we had our first LAN installed, a nice Novell server for file storage. As the company grew I was forced to choose between continuing my engineering career and switching to being the full-time IT administrator. I chose the latter because it was, and is, an ever-changing field with constant challenges.

I started Southeastern Computer Associates (SCA) in 1995 in response to two events. The first was the service level we received from our outsourced IT company at the engineering firm. The server was down on Monday morning so I called and got their voicemail. They called back on Tuesday, and on Wednesday they came out and fixed the server. Three days? I felt I could, and would, provide a better response time than that. The second event was a moonlighting assignment at a friend’s office. I did some trivial thing for them and they were very appreciative. That resonated with me: Do good work, get immediate positive feedback and praise. I finally had figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up.

All of that brings me to my answer to the title question: Why are we in business? To me, the answer is quite simple. We are in business to help people. Too often I see some spam email or magazine article directed at MSPs solely touting how much more money you can make with a particular product or system. Seldom do I see them tout anything like serving your clients better — it’s always about the money.<p style=”text-align: justify;”>If your primary focus of your MSP business is just to make money, then you’re in business for the wrong reason. It’s a shallow approach that I don’t find to be very rewarding. As I tell our staff repeatedly, “Do the right thing by the clients you work with. The rewards will follow.” Obviously, earning a living is a requirement, but it’s not the reason for being.

Your clients will appreciate that you are focused on providing goods and services that are geared towards helping them rather than “selling” them what makes you the most profit. As a corollary, they will also appreciate when you don’t charge them for an effort that turns out to be wrong for them. While we strive to understand the client’s needs and tailor a solution accordingly, sometimes that goes awry. It’s how you handle the outcome that matters.

Case in point, many years ago we had spent quite a bit of time installing what was supposed to be a simple VPN situation for a client. The installation had dragged out well beyond what we had expected due to wireless issues at the remote site, and even when finally implemented was a bit flaky.

I was summoned to the client’s office to discuss the situation. The client was less than amused. While “discussing” the solution he also happened to demonstrate exactly how they do the work we had said would be just fine over a VPN. I knew within 10 seconds that a VPN was the wrong solution, and I said as much. The temperature in the room rose a few more degrees as the client complained about having to pay for the wrong solution. I then said, very calmly, that we could not possibly invoice for any of the work done. Situation diffused — we’ve been the best of friends now for 10+ years. Once he saw, firsthand, that I would sacrifice a few dollars and do the right thing we became a completely trusted resource.

To restate, you are in business to help people. Do that and the rewards will follow.

Visit Southeastern Computer Associates for more information.