Sun, 15 November 2015
What is upside down accounting and how is Cloud accounting changing the way companies do business?
In a special hour-long episode 13 of TubbTalk, I speak with Paul MacNeill, MD of Australian based MSP Virage and co-founder of Wise-Sync.
Paul and I discuss:-
Wed, 11 November 2015
What can an IT Managed Service Provider learn from McDonald's burgers and UK crime drama, The Sweeney?
In episode 12 of TubbTalk, recorded at Old Trafford Stadium, home of Manchester United Football Club, I speak with Andy Pope, a former MSP owner and the Managing Director of The Consort Group.
Andy and I discuss:-
Richard Tubb: Hi everyone, Richard Tubb here and today I'm joined by Andy Pope of the Consort Group. How are you doing, Andy?
Andy Pope: Not bad, thank you.
Richard Tubb: Andy and I are currently on the MSP Raise Your Game road-show going to cities across the UK. And today we’re here in Old Trafford, home of Manchester United, probably the world’s most famous football team.
Andy Pope: Well….
Richard Tubb: As an Arsenal fan, you disagree?
Andy Pope: Well, we’re going to the Emirates Stadium tomorrow so…
Richard Tubb: Well, there we go.
Andy Pope: There we go, we’ll see the difference then but…
Richard Tubb: We’ve had good audiences of MSPs, aspiring MSPs, and IT companies talking to us. Tell us a little bit more about your background within the MSP industry and what led you to being the MD of Consort Group.
Andy Pope: Well, I came from a retail background. I put back in at the beginning just to say that I kind of am able to speak to people and understand what customers want. More so than from a techie background. So I came in to IT from that way.
And I’ve actually been the MD of an MSP, as they are now for the last 15 years. I’ve recently left them and that’s something I’ve done by myself, and left them to do their thing with their owner which is great. And during that process we went from—if you like a classical, I don’t call it “great fix,” I call it “Sweeney Support.”
Richard Tubb: Ok, tell me more.
Andy Pope: Well, Sweeney, the car door’s open, the engine’s running outside the office, as soon as the phone rings it’s down, “Go! Go! Go!” Everyone slides across the bonnet, gets in the car and off they shoot to remove a newspaper from a keyboard. That’s actually a true story.
One of my first days there suddenly the phone rang, “Oh, there’s a strange noise coming from my PC.” They we’re based in New Market which is about a 45 – 50 minute journey for someone to go up there and literally take a newspaper off the keyboard to make the funny noise go. So there we go, that was the challenge but yeah, we successfully moved them from Sweeney Support to—
Richard Tubb: And I was going to say, for any of our American listeners who’s watching you and not familiar with Sweeney, I’ll put it in the show notes, you’re in for a treat.
Andy Pope: Yeah.
Richard Tubb: Sorry, Andy, continue.
Andy Pope: So yes, we managed to do the right thing and moved them from Sweeney to Managed Services. And during that process we’ve come across—there’s been a lot of changes in the IT industry since then. I think the first PCs that we were putting in were either clone build-yourself PCs valued at roughly ₤1,500 - ₤1,200, now ₤250. And the margin’s gone from that completely.
Software again has changed an awful lot. We’ve gone through lots of changes and now Cloud is here. So the industry has changed an awful lot and we’ve been able to change the business to see that as well.
Richard Tubb: Tell me a bit more about the Consort Group. Loosely understood it, collaboration, collective of IT companies. Share a bit more, what’s the benefit?
Andy Pope: Well, the benefits of being a member of the Consort Group is that it’s a member’s organization for the members. So it’s non-profit. The idea being is a collaborative partnership between all of the members. We can all sit together and share information on technical, on sales, marketing.
And it’s kind of non-competitive environment as well. So there’s no one there really competing for anyone else’s business. We all get on well, have a couple of beers, and enjoy ourselves which is great because you tend get an awful lot of collaboration done the night before the Board meeting.
And of course, it gives us one voice to go and speak to specific vendors. They want to come and speak to us because there’s ten wise men sitting in the room. I have to say that if they’re listening. And it’s good for them to actually pitch themselves against us and our experience as well. So we do get a lot of interesting vendors who want to come speak to us as well. And obviously, we want to speak to vendors and get prices down, and better terms, and better partnership, and better collaboration with them. That tends to work very well.
And the core services around Consort of things like marketing, training, sales training, customer service training, access to lots of different contractual documentation, and the shared, combined knowledge of a lot of techies across the country. We do get an awful lot of, “Guys, I’ve got this,” or “Guys, I’ve just discovered this security issue,” and sharing that type of information which is great.
Richard Tubb: Makes a lot of sense. Clearly, lots of things have changed in the industry over the past few years. What do you think have been the biggest changes and how should MSPs cope with that?
Andy Pope: Well, I think one of the biggest changes is the difference in skill sets required these days. So if you’ve, for example, decided that all you’re going to do is put Office 365 and Cloud-based products, so therefore your clients no longer need servers, and these are broad assumptions but there’s a logic behind that.
So therefore you don’t need servers anymore, so therefore you don’t need a Server Engineer any more. Someone that can support the exchange, why would you go to market and find—unless you’ve got clients that pick up this guy’s salary. I don’t know, an Exchange Engineer is going to cost you ₤25,000 per year plus.
Richard Tubb: And the rest, pretty penny, yeah.
Andy Pope: Yeah. So you’ve got to be delivering, or you’ve got to be having in Exchange Support contracts worth ₤25,000 that he uses and everything else that sits around that. Then you’ve got to support them, someone else has got to look after that when he’s on holiday or sick. And it just doesn’t stack up anymore.
So we hear a lot about skill shortage and I wonder whether actually that’s the wrong question. It’s a skill difference. Looking at who your workforce now is, I talk about digital migrants and digital natives. Digital natives were born with a mouse in their hands, basically. And actually, support these days is more about device support rather than service support. Especially if you take the Cloud model.
So therefore, you need people that are friendly, good bedside manner, can go out and hold conversation, listen for sales opportunities whilst they’re there.
Richard Tubb: Attitude comes before technical skills?
Andy Pope: And be able to support devices. And I think that’s one of the biggest difference these days is that with Cloud, it does take away that whole area of IT. Now, again, through transitioning—I’m not saying ditch all your server clients because someone else is going to make some serious money out of them when you do—but just consider what happens in your business over the next four, five years and where that’s going.
Are we going to go in a cycle and go back to servers? I don’t think so. So what does that look like? And it becomes more about bedside manner that it does about technical skills, I think.
Richard Tubb: So let’s talk a little bit more to that point then. As an employer, what do you look for in people when you recruit? Because I’m hearing that technical is probably a little bit further down that list than people skills.
Andy Pope: Well, there’s this mythical beast in the IT world and that’s a technical person that is also a really good salesman, doesn’t want to get paid an awful lot, and doesn’t want sales commission. If you know where they are, tell me because from a recruitment point-of-view we can put them in lots, and lots of different places.
But essentially, what you’re after is you’re after that—I personally think that someone that understands business, and understands what the client is going through. Now, some of that you can do by training. So from a training point-of-view, teach your staff about what makes a business tick.
So what challenges do you take on a day-to-day basis? So therefore they can start thinking along that lines, applying IT to that. And then looking for those solutions. Obviously, you need someone with technical skills but recruit for attitude, train to skill.
Richard Tubb: Yeah, I’ve always said myself, I’d much rather recruit somebody based on their good attitude and to train them up on the technical side because it’s very difficult to hire somebody with great technical skills and teach the man to be a good person.
Andy Pope: Yeah, yeah, and McDonald’s, if you take McDonald’s, I’ve heard that they’re a burger chain. I’ve never eaten in a McDonald’s before.
Richard Tubb: Bear in mind the herculean physiques, we…
Andy Pope: Absolutely, yeah.
Richard Tubb: Our bodies are temples!
Andy Pope: So I’ve heard about this place called McDonald’s and what they do is they—wherever you go across the country, and we’ve done quite a few miles over the last few days, and I’ve seen these McDonald’s on the road, they all have the same menu. And they all have the same standard. So a cheeseburger should be the same cheeseburger whether it’s in Edinburgh or North London, and all the way in between.
So how do they do that? Well, they’ve got a process for that. So in the same with your IT Support, actually can you deliver a process that says when a client comes in with a support call, we deal with it this way; we then do this, we then do that?
And actually, you can break a lot of the skill down—let me go back a step—a helpdesk engineer needs to know lots of different things other than just how to fix the problem. He needs to know how to dial in. Where do I find this customer’s detail? Who is this person? Is he the boss or is he the cleaner?
So there’s a lot of knowledge that is difficult to capture and difficult to train. Where if you can actually do the McDonald’s and break it down to its lowest common denominator, you also write a Visio chart of “This is what we do,” pictograms, keep it simple. That’s what McDonald’s do, you go into a McDonald’s and if you want a cheeseburger, the burger goes on, then the piece of cheese, this amount sauce goes on. Then the bun goes on. It’s wrapped in a certain way, and it’s delivered in a certain time.
So if you can try make as many things in your organization process-driven as possible, and again, PSAs and remote-management tools help you do that, then I think actually what you’re looking for in a support person is slightly different. And maybe slightly cheaper as well so therefore profitability wise, that’s better.
Richard Tubb: Yeah. Up to your point, I really like the idea of sharing the business model with your staff. So many IT business owners that I speak to they tell me that the engineers are focused on helping the clients first and foremost. And actually, that’s only half the job. I mean, it’s an admirable trait but you’ve got to help the client and be profitable. Otherwise, there’s no business there.
Andy Pope: Yeah, and actually, a really good point on that, we interviewed for an apprentice recently and one of the guys come in, you ask him the standard questions. He was 16 years old, he’s quite fun; “So what’s your strength? What’s your weaknesses?”
And this guy says, “My weakness is that sometimes I jump to Google too quick to find the solution.”
And I said, “No, that’s actually a strength.” In academia, I completely understand that. But in business, actually, what I want you to do is to clear that problem as quick as possible. Because the simple thing from an IT support point-of-view is I don’t want you to phone me for IT support, I just want to earn money from having that service. And the customer’s thinking I need value from it so when I do phone I need quick response and such and so forth. The idea is to get them off the phone as quick as possible and move on to the next one.
And actually, not even wait for the phone to ring, using remote management, go in and actually see what problems, and really work on issues, and understand it, and that sort of thing.
And again, around that process-side, sorry, is if you look at what products you sell and have a kind of best-of-breed policy, so why do we have five different backup solutions in our business? Why have we got five different anti-virus solutions? Why is there such a difference in hardware across the board?
And try and standardize because again, it’s easy to train knowledge-based wise you can share things between one. You can fix one on one machine then you know the—it’s an anti-virus issue where you need to tweak an exclusion on Sage, you know ten of your other clients have got Sage and they’re using the AV so go in and do it and sort it out. And then just email the client and say, “We’ve done this by the way.” That’s value.
Richard Tubb: Yeah. So let’s pick on your experience again. Despite the fact the fact you’re only looking at 21 you’ve been in the IT industry for years and years. If you were to start an MSP again today, what would you do differently? And I guess, my question really is, for MSPs who are starting up in this new client, what advice would you give to them?
Andy Pope: I would really go for this trusted advisor role. If you’re a techie, unfortunately, people still view you as this kind of geeky person. And actually you’re ok with a screwdriver and you come up with some good pearls of wisdom all the time, I’ve seen it in so many places where I’ve gone in and the web designer or someone that’s involved in their marketing is now starting to give them IT advice which I thought was my domain.
And actually, it’s good sound business advice. And they don’t come to me because I’m the IT guy. So we very much focus on new business around being the trusted adviser, being the business adviser who will help you get the most out of IT rather than the IT guy who can help you solve some business problems.
Richard Tubb: Yeah, makes a lot of sense.
Andy Pope: Another key area for, if you’re starting a new MSP, is choose what you’re really good at and stick to that. Become this man-of-all people. So if what you’re really good at is supporting desktops, well, just support desktops. Don’t do servers.
And the reason for that is there’s other people that you should actually look at partnering with rather than competing in the local area. Obviously, there’s a trust issue, there’s all sorts of things going on. But for me, it’s about we do Cloud, that’s what we do. So if anyone wants something that isn’t in that area, I’ll either try and sell my solution or if they won’t change, if they won’t do—“We want as it were,” then we’ll suggest they go elsewhere.
Richard Tubb: Yes! So you’re looking for the customers that are the right fit for your business than trying to bend your business model to suit—to do all things for people.
Andy Pope: Yes, that’s correct.
Now that is really brave to do for an existing IT company. Because the existing IT company probably has two of those exchange engineers sitting there, and they’ve got four helpdesk staff, and they’ve got a fleet of vans and they’ve got this, and they’ve got that. So their overhead is very high.
So to transition from they still need those capital projects and those one-off things to still carry on paying the bills. But when you start a new business you can say, “Ok, well, I’m just going to grow my staff when I get the monthlies in to do so.” And you can actually keep your costs in line with your monthly income. A lot easier than transition from one to another.
And that is why it’s always going to be the biggest challenge. That might mean there’s going to be cash flow issue. So that’s why getting things on direct debit or automatic payment preferably upfront is a good way of just going about and doing that sort of thing. But yeah, that’s it.
Richard Tubb: Fantastic. I’m going to pick up on some things that you mentioned earlier on. And these actually fit into the theme of the Consort Group. You said too for MSPs to focus on their core competencies and to buddy up, to team up with other providers in that.
Let’s take that forward a little bit. So we’re here at Old Trafford, Manchester. We’re here for the Raise Your Game roadshow and some of the feedback I’ve heard from the MSPs in attendance today is that it’s actually first exposure to the idea that not every IT company is a competitor, that you can collaborate. Why do MSPs join say, the Consort Group which is a very tightly-knit group of peers collaborating? What’s the benefits to their business?
Andy Pope: I think there’s different benefits. The overriding benefit is what we class as—we have these core services, if you like—but the overriding is that you’re meeting with peers and you’re able to share information in a non-competitive way. And that all sounds very grand but it’s true and it does work. And that is some of it is because geographically they’re dispersed but we have got kind of a smattering, a clustering in the Northwest.
And they’re very careful to share information. There’s been many times where one of the member’s client has phoned another one of the members and there’s been a tip off going back and forward through. So it’s that shoulder-to-lean on or cry on, if you like, is actually at the heart of it.
And then that split down into a sales advice; “This is how we sell this.” Kind of the compliance and the legal advice. “Look, we’ve just spent a lot of money on this, producing this set of IT contract documentation, does anyone else want to share it, we’ll go halves on the cost with me or whatever from there.”
And technical skills, being able to share ideas but also pool technical resources especially when it’s product development, developing new things and new services, sharing that within the group. And then that voice to vendors, being able to go to vendors and saying, “Actually, there’s now 350 who’s between this week’s support coming up to 250,000 devices so let’s talk about a decent rate.” And that type of thing. But I see that as a secondary rather than the first of that kind of peer collaboration, and support between the group.
And the core services, things like shared marketing, so we have a Business Talk Magazine that goes out once a quarter to prospects all over. And it has that kind of thought leadership piece. And it’s the same that goes to all of the members. Obviously, with their own kind of contact details, and logos, and bits and pieces on there.
For things like customer service training, we share between, sales training, and lots of other—if you like, core add-ons to it from there. But essentially, it’s that peer collaboration. In our blurb, “it’s a member organization for the benefit of the members.”
Richard Tubb: Good. Makes a lot of sense. And from what I’m hearing as well, a part from the nice to have’s; the collaboration, technical collaboration and the shared marketing, there’s an impact on the bottom line isn’t there, for the companies that are part, clearly so.
Andy Pope: Yeah, so there’s a membership fee but we tend to find that depending on how you have your operation running, and your kind of operational tools, that sometime depending if they’re the right ones that we’ve got the discounts that tends to pay the membership.
Richard Tubb: Yeah, in it of itself, membership has an impact on the bottom line, I’m going to presume it’s a very positive impact.
Andy Pope: Absolutely, yeah.
Richard Tubb: Based on learning, your constant sharing also.
Andy Pope: Well, just marketing, if you look at the quality of the Business Talk that we send out if an individual’s to do that it would cost them the same to do it for ten members as it does for one member. So it’s just to print—the difference in print, which is nothing really. So from that point-of-view, yeah, there’s definitely benefits in belonging to the group.
And also, we found that guys have been able to punch above their weight now so they’re being able to go out and have a little bit on their proposals or on their website that says, “We’re part of the Consort Group. That means we have 350 engineers across the country.”
Because we have kind of an intercompany charge rate between the group. So, “Guys, I need someone down in Bristol,” from the company up in Stirling, in Scotland because that’s one of their satellite offices where clients, you know the story. So our member down in the South will go and send someone over to Bristol for that. Or the one from Rex, whoever is closest. And there’s an internal charge mechanism for that. So that really helps as well to be able to go out and win new business and to tender for new business that you wouldn’t typically have done before.
Richard Tubb: Makes a lot of sense. So for somebody who’s business was built off the back of peer collaboration as my MSP business was, I would highly encourage any MSP and IT companies watching this, get out there, find local user groups and speak to your competitors, create the strategic alliance. Speak to organizations such as CompTIA and Consort. Get together with your peers. You know that old phrase; “A rising tide lifts all boats,” is absolutely true.
Andy Pope: Yeah, and you will find that people are happy to network. So they’ll go to a beer night or Chamber of Commerce event and various things like that. And so you’re already doing networking but actually, look at networking within your marketplace. You really don’t have to compete with people.
Yes, there are core services that you do compete on. You don’t have to share that information but I tend to find there’s enough business for us all anyway. Even if it’s just servicing your own customers. If you’re being aggressive, and going out, and trying to steal other business from elsewhere, you’ll soon find out that no one wants to collaborate with you. And there are better ways of doing that; let customers make their decision rather than you trying to steal business.
Richard Tubb: And Andy, to fear that I have to hear from IT companies who don’t collaborate in that, “If we collaborate, if somebody does steal our client,” but it’s a self-selecting mechanism isn’t it?
Andy Pope: Yeah.
Richard Tubb: Because if they do, nobody collaborates with them anymore.
Andy Pope: Clients aren’t stupid. It’s not like they’re sheep where someone would just go in and say, “Oh, they’re not looking. That shepherd is not looking, come and join my flock.” There tends to be a reason why they want to leave that flock in the first place.
So even if someone is stealing your business, you’ve got to ask yourself the question, why are they stealing my business? Is it price? Is it value? Is it service? All those sorts of things. But that’s for another day, maybe.
Richard Tubb: Makes a lot of sense. And I feel as though we can talk about this all day.
Andy Pope: Yeah.
Richard Tubb: I’m conscious of your time. We’re going to go back to doing some speaking in front of audiences. Before we go, how would people who want to find out more about the Consort Group and to reach out to you directly, how would they get in touch with you?
Andy Pope: So the best thing to do is to go to our website which is consort.IT, simple as that. All the information you need is on there. And my contact details are on there. Drop me an email. Give me a call and I’m happy to have a conversation, chat. What I’ll probably do is point you to one of the members that are closest to you so you won’t just hear it from me, you actually hear it from the members and see what their story is and why they decided to join the group.
Richard Tubb: Fantastic. Just before we go I’ve got one burning question for you. I know you’re a comic book geek the same as me, so Superman or Spider Man, who’s best and why?
Andy Pope: Well, it’s easy, Superman, every time.
Richard Tubb: Wow, you’re wrong but we don’t have time for me to tell you why that is. Make my Marvel every single day! Andy, thanks very much for your time really appreciate it.
Andy Pope: It’s been a lot of fun.
Tue, 1 September 2015
Can Social Media really be used by small businesses to find and win customers locally?
In episdode 11 of TubbTalk, I talk with Chris Marr, a Social Media and Marketing expert.
Chris and I discuss:-
Direct download: TubbTalk_-_11_-_Chris_Marr_of_Learning_Every_Day.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:32am UTC
Sat, 4 July 2015
Why is documentation so important to IT businesses and how it can it have a positive impact on the bottom line of any IT Solution Provider or Managed Service Provider (MSP)?
Chris Day on the importance of IT documentation
In episode 10 of TubbTalk I speak with Chris Day of IT Glue, an IT documentation platform, and the CEO of one of Western Canada’s biggest MSP’s, Fully Managed.
In our conversation, Chris and I discuss:-
Richard: Hello, everyone. Richard Tubb here and I’m speaking today with Chris Day, the CEO of Vancouver-based managed service provider, Fully Managed. Fully Managed is one of the largest MSPs in western Canada. Chris is also the CEO of IT Glue, a software-as-a-service solution to the problems of IT documentation for IT companies.
Now, among his recent honors – Chris has been awarded the 40 Under 40 award for his individual success as a CEO. Fully Managed, as a business, had been named Alberta’s Best Workplace and British Columbia’s Small Business Best Employer as well. I’m delighted that Chris can join us today. Chris, how are you?
Chris: Doing very well. Thank you, Richard. Thanks for the wonderful intro.
Richard: You’re welcome. How’s Vancouver today? I know it’s early in the morning for you.
Chris: You know what? It’s a beautiful day here. Sunny which is unlike Vancouver, which is known to be like Seattle — very, very rainy — but it’s been beautiful, so I can’t complain.
Richard: Excellent. Sounds a lot like Birmingham in the UK where I’m calling from this day. We’ve got an absolutely gorgeous day, and that’s a rarity.
I’ve mentioned that you’re CEO of two companies, a managed service provider much like many of the listeners to this podcast, and also a company that provides solutions for MSPs in IT Glue. Perhaps you can share a little bit about how you ended up running not one, but two very successful businesses.
Chris: Yeah, absolutely. The last couple of years have really put me through the ringer, I would say. There’s a lot that goes into – it’s just mainly starting a new business, in general. But particularly with IT Glue, where we have been on a very, I would say, aggressive growth curve. It’s been absolutely nuts.
The good thing about Fully Managed is that it’s a fairly established business. It’s been around since 2002, and I have a partner in that business – Charlene. Thanks to her. She’s the president and then I have another, basically a VP of Ops andSales. The collective three run the business, essentially.
I’ve been very fortunate to be able to take the last two years and focus, I’d say, 95 percent of my energy on IT Glue. The five percent – Fully Managed has been really more on quarterly strategy meetings and annual strategy planning meetings. I’m very thankful for that.
Richard: IT Glue, I’m intrigued. I know a little bit of background of IT Glue. I understand IT Glue came together as a result of peer pressure, for lack of a better word. Perhaps you could explain a little bit more about that.
Chris: It was. Probably like yourself, I spent a lot of time in the ConnectWise community back then. Obviously, I’m spending time in both the ConnectWise and Autotask communities now. We were in HTG. We were in service leadership peer groups. I was doing presenting at Microsoft events. Through a lot of those initiatives, I would always be talking about documentation, and I would be pulling up screenshots. I would have the structured information that I would show people. Every time, they would say, “What is that?” It’s not SharePoint and it’s not Word documents. It’s not a Wiki.
I guess it was honestly just enough people saying to me, “You should really sell that software.” This is probably starting five, six years ago that people were saying that. The story about IT Glue is that my brother and I developed a software initially just as a standalone tool just for Fully Managed. We did that probably nine years ago. It just evolved into the point where we were paying – we almost had a full-time developer just working on features just within Fully Managed, on that tool.
Eventually, it just came to a point and that was probably about three years ago, where I decided, “You know what, I’m going to actually start a company.” It was completely separate from Fully Managed.
I spun up a team, found a developer-partner, and I guess the rest is history. It took about two years to build the app from sort of what I would consider a prototype or a nine-year beta test to the point where it is today, where it’s a software-as-a-service platform and hundreds and hundreds of MSPs using it. Crazy.
Richard: Fantastic story. I want to talk a little bit more about IT Glue as our conversation goes forward. But I really want to look upon Fully Managed now and your history with that just for thirty minutes.
Richard: You’ve very publicly shared – in your own words here are – and to quote, “Driven by the tireless pursuit to inspire, improve, create peace of mind, and build a successful, world-class global brand.” I think that’s a fantastic sort of tagline there. That in itself is an inspiring vision.
Now, most IT businesses I know of tend to think locally, tend to think to certain geographical area. They certainly don’t think globally for the most part. Chris, what drives you to think globally about Fully Managed?
Chris: With Fully Managed, we always had this vision of 10 million in 10 cities. We’re nowhere near that vision yet, I’ll be honest. But we’re around 55 employees today. We always thought that – partly just with the name, we really believed in the purpose of the company. The “creating peace of mind” was – I’m sure a lot of companies have gone through this exercise with Simon Sinek, understanding why you’re in business and not what you do.
That was a big profound thing for us in Fully Managed in understanding that we wanted to instill and create emotion through our service, not just be a service provider that we’re fast and we give you a good strategy. It was like, “What do people feel when they engage with our brand?”
Then, not thinking so small as single city. We were able to take that to the next step and have a second city. Then we got a third city in the last 18 months as well.
I think we’re executing on that vision slowly. I don’t know that Fully Managed is going to be global. In the end, maybe Canada-wide would be the extent of our vision. There’s just so much business available even inside of Canada that I’m not sure we would need the global challenge. Certainly, a different beast to the software-as-a-service business like IT Glue which is very, very much international and global.
Richard: Understood. What would you say the biggest challenge you face as being the CEO of not one but two quite different businesses?
Chris: The challenge would always be considered time, I guess. Again, I’ve mitigated that largely by having a great team. Certainly, time and like, “Where does your passion lie?” I would say, for me that would be the other piece. Where do I get the most inspired?
I’ve been in the IT provider space for a long time. I started the company probably 13, 14 years ago. For me, the MSP space – I’ve been there and I really value being connected to that world because I still get great insights. I meet and talk with MSPs every single day – probably, five or six different companies every single day.
The things that I learned or things that I can share – the challenge is definitely how much value can I still add to Fully Managed when I’m spending 95 percent of my time on IT Glue. That’s a good problem to have, but certainly that’s probably the largest one.
Richard: I agree. Just some parallels with – you know I’m the former owner of a managed service provider business myself, and now I work with the owners of IT businesses. After I sold the MSP, there was a big concern over – I know it can become irrelevant. I’d say this stage certainly not because I’m fortunate enough to work with some really cutting-edge MSPs doing some great things, and that keeps me grounded, keeps my foot in the industry and understands what’s still going on. It sounds like that’s very much for you with running IT Glue and running Fully Managed as well.
Chris: It is. It’s exactly that. You’re right. You’ve seen it as I’ve seen it. There’s some companies doing some incredible things. In every area of the business that are just so dialed-in that I would aspire for our business to be that dialed-in in that area. It’s really interesting what you run across.
It’s very difficult to get all those levers working at the same time and generating the bottom line and everybody’s looking for that. That’s a big struggle still. Nobody’s got it perfect yet.
Richard: Definitely. Let’s change gear for a minute then, talking about levers. How would you say running a SASS business in IT Glue different to your experience of running a managed service provider?
Chris: That’s a great question. I would say there’s a number of things that are different. The thing that’s very similar, which I love about running a SASS business, is that I’m still connected with the CEOs, the executives, the owners of these businesses like I was with Fully Managed. Selling to that same level which we did and generally the same size of companies, which is very interesting, right?
I would say the predominant – I’m sure 80, 90 percent of MSPs are below 50 employees. I would say 80 to 90 percent of the MSP customers that we would sell to are below 50 employees, maybe a little bit higher but very similar anyway, in terms of the size of companies that we sell to.
What’s different, I would say, is certainly the scalability of a SASS business. The fact that we have days, where we brought on 20, 30 customers in a single day. Try doing that in MSP world.
Richard: Oh, yeah.
Chris: It may not fly.
Richard: I’m just thinking about that, but yeah.
Chris: Then the other thing that’s really, really cool about the SAAS business is – and some of the MSPs have figured this out, too — is we’re selling to a vertical. I very much understand the pain points and the value proposition for an MSP for the software that we sell for documentation.
In the MSP world, given our markets that we’re in, we’re not in very large markets. We don’t have that capability of going super vertical. You’re not tailoring your managed services to legal or to accounting or to manufacturing. We actually have to take all three in order to have enough of a market to get us the growth that we want. With that come the challenges of not being vertical-focused. You can’t be as good if you’re spread on verticals.
That piece, it really highlighted for me. It was actually only in the last couple of weeks that I realized, really, it’s such a vertical — IT Glue so vertical. It’s MSPs that we sell to that everybody has the exact same challenge. You can really hone the software, the solution set to that vertical.
Richard: Makes a lot of sense, makes a lot of sense. Let’s talk about IT Glue. Let’s talk about IT documentation a little bit more. A while ago, I wrote a book entitled The Top Five Mistakes MSPs Make that Cost Them Time and Money. One of those five mistakes was lack of documentation. I’m getting that sense of you agreeing with me, Chris. Why is IT documentation so important to MSPs?
Chris: It’s actually crazy that this part of the MSP space hasn’t been a focus until now. It sounds like until your book. The thing about documentation is it’s one of the top factors in being able to run efficiently. If you run efficiently, you make more money.
There’s a statistic, which if I ask a room full of MSPs this question, almost everybody agrees. “Do you think that IT people spend at least 20 percent of their time looking for information?” Everybody’s hand will go up. I’ll say, “Leave your hand up if you think it is maybe 30. Leave your hand up if you think it’s maybe 40 percent.”
It’s shocking. There’s still quite a few companies with their hand up at 40 and 50 percent.
Richard: So true.
Chris: I’ll ask the flipside question, “Who would rate their documentation skill of one to 10 higher than a five?” In a room of 200 people — I’m not kidding — there’ll be like five hands. Even those guys, they’ll say they’re no higher of even maybe a seven.
It’s very interesting because I think that our industry was really focused on the technology and the tools for so long. My view is that maybe that was necessary, because we were really struggling with a lot of the tools. Servers were still blue-screening, the backup software wasn’t reliable, the RMM tools didn’t work that well.
There’s all these things that needed some maturing. I feel like a lot of those things have happened. Now, their next logical thing – they always say there’s three keys, three levers to business success: people, process, and technology. I think everybody understands the value of good people. I think everybody understands the value of good technology, and then there’s this last bucket of process or process. If you’re in Canada, you could say either one, but in the States, it’s process.
It’s left to the wayside. It is like, “Yeah, we understand that’s important.” Then I would drill into these examples and say, “If you sit me down in your company today and you’ve got a new service request for Company X, and I have never seen that company in my life, how long would it take me to be up to speed and be able to support that customer?”
Then you run through scenarios. Then they’ll say, “Oh, no. We’ve got all that information. We’ve got guys that know that.” I said, “Yeah but that costs you time and money.”
If I have to ask somebody, “How does that virtual environment set up?” If I have to ask somebody, “What is the DHCP server over there?” or “How is that server being backed up?” or any of these scenarios that really are the necessary pieces of great documentation, very rarely do most MSPs have a good handle on that stuff.
The outcome is it’s burned. It’s time burned. You take that 20 percent of wasted time and you multiply it by your staff count, and then you multiply that by the cost per hour of those employees. That’s your actual soft cost. Then you take, let’s say, 20 percent of that time. What would those people have been doing with that 20 percent of their time? Have they not been wasting it?
All of a sudden, you realize, “Oh, my goodness. The cost of bad documentation and bad process is astounding.” It’s like for a five-person company, it can be a quarter million a year.
Richard: Wow. You’re absolutely preaching to the converted here. I’m melting away as you’re saying this because it’s so true what you’re saying.
Chris: I would say it’s not sexy documentation. In IT Glue we wear the shirt that say “I love documentation” on them. Everybody laughs. “Who likes documentation?” You know what, it’s absolutely necessary. It’s the only way you can scale a business.
In my case, I was able to extract myself from the day-to-day running the nuts and bolts and extract all those key high-level players that are inside the business, the very technical rocket scientist types. The better the documentation, the less need you have for those people, the faster your people get their work done.
In our case, in Fully Managed, we were able to take tasks that used to require Level 2, Level 3 engineers. We were able to push those tasks forward to Level 1 engineers.
That is good for everybody. That’s good for the business owner. That’s good for the Level 2 and Level 3 engineers because they’re thankful that they don’t have to do those mundane tasks. It’s good for the customer because they prefer working with Level 1 engineers, because they’re generally happier and more customer-focused, I would say.
There’s so many benefits to it. But at the end of the day, when I look at anything in my documentation, I look at this as an investment. I look at things as an investor. I want to produce higher returns in the business. That’s what process and documentation will do.
Richard: Absolutely makes sense. I’m sure there’s going to be lots of IT business owners who are listening to this podcast, who absolutely agree with it as well. Well, let’s keep off with our theme for a minute. Most technicians I know and I’ve employed in the past and that I know within MSP businesses now are pretty much driven by a desire to help end users.
Let’s not beat around the bush. Most engineers enjoy being seen as the hero. They get a kick out of helping people with things. It is really an admirable trait to put clients first. But in my experience, it does mean these technicians often dismiss documentation as something that’s time-consuming and gets in the way of them actually helping clients. What’s the benefit of good IT documentation to an MSP’s client? How can the business owner sell good IT documentation to their engineers as something they should be really doing?
Chris: I can mention a few ways. But one of the things that I know has been a big struggle for documentation, in general, it was this idea that, “I want you to update the documentation.”
Even in our business, there would be a project plan and at the end of it, it would say “update documentation”. That was part of the billable scope of the project. We’d scratch our heads and go, “What does that exactly mean?” Generally, the project would get closed off and that was that.
The reason that that’s always been the case since the dawn of time, as in an IT provider space, is that I think there is generally a desire to do documentation. I think that if the system doesn’t support the ability to very easily, quickly, and efficiently maintain and create that documentation, then you’re right. It’s an obstacle to getting work done.
The software or the platform that you’re using to track the documentation, it has to be something that you can do in the line of fire that’s not going to prevent you from getting the work that you need to get done, done. That’s the first thing. In terms of selling it to a customer or selling – for us in Fully Managed, this is a major part of our sales process.
We show our customers how transparent we are with the documentation, how detailed we store everything. We’ve got all of their information on file — from passwords, to how the backups are configured, to the network, to applications. It’s all there.
For the customers, they really get peace of mind from that because they say, “Well, this company is not the type of company that’s going to hold us hostage for information. In fact, they’ve given us a login, and we can look at our documentation at any time.”
The customers definitely see it. The other things that the customers see, in my experience, is the consistency, which is another serious problem in IT. Something like creating a new user account could have 28 steps. Depending on who gets that service request, there could be a significant or at least some variance in the outputs of that request. That is something that the customers feel and obviously something – they don’t love it when you miss a step in a new employee hire technical process.
We have found that having very consistent procedural documentation to go with each customer drives a better customer experience. They say, “Wow, it’s really cool that Jim or Sally can both do that type of task, and it’s very consistently done.” Even the email template that we get at the end, it’s all the same.
Not that you can’t achieve that with brute force, in other ways through great management, but certainly having a system that supports that effort. For example, every request that we do in our service desk — our service desk has probably 28 to 30 people now, so quite a few people just in the service desk team. It just allowed to perform a technical task without following a standard operating procedure (SOP). Those SOPs are linked, and they must be referenced inside the ticket notes that they do.
That means that if there is not an SOP, then one must be created. That starts to drive very consistent service delivery which – even though you used to get long awaited answer to your question, but the engineers that may be not believers, generally, if they truly believe in providing a very consistent experience, we have found that they will create those SOPs, and then they will refer people to those SOPs. That actually sort of creates a, “You know what, that documentation is already there. Just follow the procedure, and then I can get back to work.”
We found that the main problem, in a nutshell, is that nobody wants to work on a crummy system or go update a SharePoint page or a Word document or some file somewhere. Because they don’t believe that anybody else is ever going to see it or use it, so it’s kind of a waste of time.
Richard: Yeah, absolutely. I think it was a great answer, by the way. While you’re talking about that, I was just thinking, some MSPs that I speak to, they ask the question, “What’s a good way to get started with IT documentation?” For anybody who is maybe retaining information in their head, or they’ve got a key employee who knows all about the clients but nobody else does, what advice would you give to them, Chris, on where to get started with IT documentation?
Chris: There’s really two sides to documentation, and I think this is one of the things – not to toot our own horn – but this one of the things that we nailed with IT Glue.
There is the structured documentation. This is like the field-driven, “What does that server do? What does that device do? What is the DHCP server? What is the backup scheme?” Everything is structured — its drop-down list, its tags, that kind of stuff. That is, to my mind, 70 percent of what’s very critical. It’s sort of I can understand a customer’s environment at a glance without having to ask anybody anything.
That is from a ROI perspective in terms of inputting documentation – one of the quickest, fastest, easiest, and highest ROI ways. You’re looking at probably an hour to two hours on average to produce that documentation for a single customer.
If you’ve got 25 customers, then you’re looking at 25 to 50 hours to produce that documentation. That’s inside of your team. That will give you a huge lift in terms of your peace of mind, I would say, and also in terms of the ability to start to shuffle customers and allow other people to work on different customers, bring new people in and all that kind of stuff.
The second part – the last 30 percent – is what I would say is the long tail part of the process. That will be the procedural documentation: the steps, the screenshots, the here’s-how-to-do, here’s-the-SOPs for this customer or that customer. There are essential articles that are more generic like, “How do we deploy our backup platform? How do we deploy a new firewall? How do we deploy a switch? How do we upgrade our RMM?” You know those types of articles that are centralized.
I think that the biggest ROI is in taking your largest customers, documenting them first, getting all that structured information. It’s kind of what they talk about in ITIL, which is the approach we follow for documentation that the idea of a service catalogue. What are all the services? What are all the applications that are running on this network?
Once you’ve got that, you can then start to build the more detailed procedural documentation around it.
Richard: Fantastic, really good advice. It reminds me of a story – back when I was running an MSP. We used to document just about everything. I was actually quite OCD about it, I guess. Even as far as in Comms rooms, we document it, the make and model of the air conditioning unit.
Going back to what you said earlier all about consistency and quality of service you deliver to clients, I remember that one day, we actually had a phone call from a client saying that the air conditioning units in the Comms room were leaking. There was water all over the floor. They were in quite a flap, in a panic about it. “What do we do,” turning to us for advice.
We have it all documented. We knew who’d installed the system. We knew who to go to for maintenance on that unit. Within a couple of hours, we’d made the phone call. It was an engineer there and the problem was resolved.
Now, that doesn’t sound very much like IT when I tell that story to people. But the end result was the client thinks we’re absolutely fantastic. We’ve got all the information we need. Anything, basically with a plug on, we can have them out waive on that. It gave so much credibility to us as a business. You can take IT documentations to the nth degree, but really I think most things are probably better off documented at people’s heads and down on paper than it is just floating out there.
Chris: It’s unreal how much of that information – there’s just so many examples. I will often say, just almost as a test, I’d say, “Let’s pick a customer and bring the engineer on the line that knows that customer best.” Then I’ll ask them a random question from the standard set of services that would be on that network. I’ll say, “What’s the webmail URL?”
They will just shake their heads, “I have to go look it up.” Then I look at them and I say, “Exactly. That’s exactly what the problem is.” The way this is running.
There’s a million of those examples. Big part of my feeling on documentation is there is a – it’s like the common ROI, ROE (Return on Energy) thing. There’s probably 20 percent of the work that you can document that would give you 80 percent of the return. You don’t need that much information to be a way further ahead than most IT providers are right now.
Documenting something like email, you could certainly document 30 or 40 fields if you wanted to. But even just getting six or seven key aspects of email documented for every customer provides an immediate lift. Then you can always do a Round 2, add more documentation later.
Richard: It makes a lot of sense. It does give you a competitive advantage over your competitors, who are not documenting this stuff, who are carrying the information around in their heads, isn’t it?
Chris: It does. It absolutely does. It’s peace of mind. The teams surprisingly – it takes away one of those things, one of those differentiators between people within the company, where this guy has got all the information, so he’s sort of the big man on campus walking around. From my experience, it created just more of a team vibe where everybody knows that everything is in there. Everybody can just focus on delivering great service instead of, “What do I know?”
Richard: It actually protects the MSP business, I think, as well. I’ve come across multiple scenarios or situations, you should say – examples where there’s been one senior engineer within the business who has known so much about our clients, none of it documented. Then the MSP ends up in an awful situation, where that senior engineer either leaves or worse, goes to work for a competitor. It’s panic stations. It’s like, “What are we going to do about this one of these big clients that we’ve got, when this guy knows everything about the clients, and we know nothing of this business really?
Chris: Yeah, it’s unbelievable. I never mentioned or used those things in our ROI calculators that we have for IT Glue, but it’s very true. I mean, one customer walking away for something like that is far more expensive than anything we would possibly charge.
It’s really true. That’s one of the things we talk about is getting rid of the risk, the risk associated with bad documentation. That’s one of the key risks.
Richard: Cool. I suspect we could talk about IT documentation as a subject. We’ll have to invite you back for a second podcast. I know people are going to be interested in talking about this.
Let’s revisit IT Glue, just a little bit there. You recently announced integration with Autotask. I know that your background is similar to mine. You’ve got a background within the ConnectWise community as well. What else is on the horizon for IT Glue upcoming?
Chris: Well this summer, we are working on our next series of integrations, most of the RMM tools. We’ve got LabTech, AEM — we’re not sure about the API on that one, depending if they release it — Kaseya, N-Able, Continuum, and a whole bunch of other ones that we’re looking at.
One of the reasons we called ourselves IT Glue was that with the more systems that we can connect to and sort of bring relevant information into the documentation, the better. We started with the PSA tools, Autotask, and ConnectWise mainly because that’s a great asset database to begin with. But now, we’re going to start to overlay more network information on top of that.
That’s huge. The integrations are huge. The other thing that’s on the horizon, we actually just sent out a survey to customers yesterday, which we’re pretty excited about is the idea — I had mentioned this to you, Richard — but documentation as a service.
We are in the early stages of putting a program together, where we would actually help do the documentation, given access to the right tools by our partners. For example, give us access to your RMM tools and we can go in and do some of the documentations.
Because one of the biggest challenges we hear from our MSPs is just preventing them from getting documentation done, even the ones that are already customers, is lack of time. We’re thinking, “Well, maybe we can help with that.” Because a lot of the documentation that needs to be done is very standardized, and we can pretty much do it with access to RMM tools.
Anyway, that’s a very exciting thing that’s on the horizon for us.
Richard: Very cool, documentation as a service. When can we expect that to come to market? How far forward are you with that?
Chris: Well, we’ve rounded out what the key elements of that service would be. We’re now going to go into a beta group with five or six companies. We’re going to just see how it goes. We would expect probably in the next two months or so to have the results of that, and then hopefully launch it on a larger scale.
Richard: Cool. Well, I should certainly keep an eye out for that. I know that’s going to be of interest to lots of people. Many MSPs I speak to, when I talk about IT documentation, they roll their eyes a bit and they say, “Yeah, Rick, as soon as we get the time for it.” I can see that definitely be a good one. It’s cool.
There’s going to be people listening, and they want to find out more about IT Glue. Where would they go to?
Chris: The best thing to do, obviously, is just hit our website ITGlue.com. What we generally do is we have a certain – some people say it’s a little regimented but we like it this way. We have a regimented sales process. Watch it. There’s a 15-minute product overview, which we like to get people to watch in advance of really starting to chat with us. It covers off most of the key features in a very short time frame. You can get access to that by filling out the request demo form on our website.
Once you’ve watched that, we generally do a live demo then just to allow more interaction, ask questions, and show me how to do this or that. Then from there, we can unleash a 7-day trial, which people can use and sign up at any time.
From there, once you sign up, we reach out to you. We have an on-boarding project manager. All of our sign-ups include a consulting and setup package, which is basic consulting from our side, to help people get off on the right foot.
Richard: Surely, that makes a lot...
Chris: Yeah, schedule those seven to 10 days out from sign-up.
Richard: Makes a lot of sense. I think one of the reasons I perceive you as being so successful is you do a really good job with qualifying and on-boarding people. That’s probably no surprise for most SASS businesses that are successful. You do that really, really well. It sounds like you’ve got a great process in place for doing that at the moment.
Chris: Yes. It seems to be. We didn’t use to do it at the beginning. We learned that that was just absolutely critical. I always say this, too. Don’t sign up if you’re not ready to commit to doing this in the next quarter, because you’ve got to understand the value of good documentation. It shouldn’t be something that jumping at the chance to get this done. Because it delivers, it gives you time back. If you just simply don’t have the time to do it, then it’s probably not the right time.
Richard: Absolutely. But there are going to be some people that are listening to this and they’re going, “Chris, shut up and take my money.” I know you’re being very generous. You’ve got a step further than that. For people listening to the podcast, you’ve actually got a code haven’t you, that they can receive a discount on the setup fee?
Chris: I do, yeah. The setup fee is USD 495. We’re providing for all of Richard’s partners a discount of $50. The code is T-U-B-B-1-5. T-U-B-B-1-5. If you sign up with that code, you’ll get a $50 discount, which we generally don’t do. If anybody is so inclined and wants to sign up, it’s very quick ROI. Again, if you’re not ready to sign up, just engage with us, and we will certainly work with you directly on that as well.
Richard: Fantastic. Well, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you how people can find you and Fully Managed online as well. Are you present on social media?
Chris: Yeah. I’m hiding behind the IT Glue Twitter account most now. That’s the one where we’re having most fun, but it is @ITGlue. Fully Managed is @fullymanaged. Twitter’s the best at this point. Obviously, our website, FullyManaged.com.
A lot of people have told me that this site’s been out for six or seven years, the Fully Managed site. But we got a lot of feedback — quite honestly, a lot of plagiarism on our website. People say it seems to – it’s the idea of putting the customer first. Check it out.
Richard: It is a really good website. Absolutely. Chris, I’m really, really appreciative of your time today. I think this is going to be valuable for anybody listening, so thanks so much. I’m sure if you’ve got the time, listeners would love to get you back for another podcast, perhaps where we can talk about qualifying customers, sales process, and talk some more about IT documentation.
Thanks so much for your time, Chris, really appreciate it.
Chris: Thank you very much.
Tue, 16 June 2015
How do you manage a hosting and software development company that has staff in three different countries and two different time zones, all while you’re in a different country yourself?
Richard: Hi everyone, Richard Tubb here and I’m joined today by Marc Gadsdon. How are you doing, Marc?
Marc: Very good, thanks, Richard. Nice to be here, thank you very much.
Richard: So, you are the owner of InTuition, a London-based hosting company. Tell me a little bit more about InTuition.
Marc: Yeah, so I’m one of the directors of InTuition Networks. We’re a long-time provider of email, both email security and email collaboration. Zimbra is our key product, our services are based on Zimbra. We chose Zimbra in 2006.
We were looking around for an alternative to our POP3 infrastructure that we had quite a few POP3 mailboxes and we didn't want to go down the Exchange route because last time, Microsoft Exchange was a difficult product to manage at scale.
And we found Zimbra, it's a new solution built by a bunch of really clever engineers in Silicon Valley. And pretty quickly grew quite fast. We became one of the early partners in 2006. And we started hosting it, build a platform in our London data center.
And Zimbra was sold to Yahoo!, Yahoo! took it off the scale in terms of numbers of users and it powered the Yahoo! Mail service for quite a while, quite a long time. And then it was bought by VMware, VMware took it into the corporate space. All the time, we're still partners of each identity.
And over the years, we've now become one of the go-to partners in the UK and Europe for Zimbra when they've got somebody that wants to do something with Zimbra on a hosting basis. So, we tend to get involved with a lot of projects that white label and the people that want to host a solution.
So we've got customers from small IT companies that we've been here talking to today, and we've got really large sort of more servers provider type of people who don't want the cost of and hassle of running their own infrastructure, so we do that on a white label basis for them. So that's really what we're doing in a nutshell.
Richard: So, I’m fascinated by Zimbra. So you gave me a demonstration of the product and blown away by just how simple it is and let alone, low administrative overheads to it. I guess Office 365 is the bigger gorilla in the market.
Marc: It sure is, yeah.
Richard: Hosted Exchange before that. Lots of IT companies, people watching this video are going to be very, very familiar with Office 365 and Hosted Exchange.
What does Zimbra offer that maybe Exchange doesn't? So what about feature compatibility? Talk a little bit more about that. And also, maybe things that Zimbra does that Exchange doesn't do, whatsoever?
Marc: Yes so, I mean, it's a question that we get a lot. And I think people think if it's not Exchange, it's going to be some sort of third-party, third-rate solution.
The first thing is, when you give someone a demonstration and explain to them that, "There's your Outlook running with Zimbra at the back end." "Oh, I didn't realize that that was- I thought that was Exchange," because you've got, pretty much, feature priority.
Now, Zimbra is an Exchange server. It's a completely different solution, it's not trying to be Exchange server. Zimbra's set out to redefine the way that email works; that we consume email.
In 2006, we're one of the very first Ajax front end. So before HTML5 was around, before you could really do much in a website, Zimbra's interface was very rich and you could do everything - you can drag and drop, move things around - and that was at the time when the Outlook Web Access was pretty ropy, and you know, wasn't a nice solution to use.
Zimbra came along and said, "You know, you don't need it a client. You can use the web mail as your primary client," and certainly, a lot of people do that. We've got some really big installations just doing webmail only, so Gmail type solution.
But the point is, most businesses, I think, still really want to integrate with Outlook and with their iPhones and their Android phones, etc., and all of that supported out-of-the-box. Some of the things that Zimbra can do that Exchange can't, I mean, you know, it's a different solution. It looks different; it works differently. The sharing is very straight forward. There's an in-built document management solution called the Briefcase which allows you to upload and download documents. It's a bit like a share point portal I suppose, a basic share point portal, but it's really simple and it's and it's built in as part of Zimbra.
You can share that amongst a group of users or departments or company-wide, etc., depending on how sophisticated you want to make the sharing permissions. And it's very easy then to share files. And there’s versioning so you can see whether, find out better file, you can see that it's been changed by me, which version, etcetera and you can revert to different versions.
So that's a feature that's been quite interesting. And something that's coming very soon is Zimbra, I’m probably jumping ahead now…
Richard: No, no, please do, because the next question I was going to ask you is about this feature that's upcoming aboutcollaboration.
Marc: Right. So the Sync and Share solution is Zimbra's new, I guess, extension of the Briefcase which gives you Dropbox-like features inside your private installation of Zimbra. So, you can still share with external users but the data's controlled within your installation.
So if you're on our Cloud, our Cloud’s hosted in the UK, so the data will stay in the UK. If you've got your own installation of Zimbra because you can buy license for Zimbra and you can install it in your office, which, believe it or not, people are still interested in doing, and particularly in industries where that sort of thing matters. You can share your documents and know that the control isn't going outside the organization, which I think is a big concern for the consumer-based file-sharing solutions.
And then, there's various other things coming down the line, Zimbra making great strides with the architecture and they're making it really easy for us as service providers to provide an always on solution, and to scale it out to massive scales.
I mean, one of the biggest partners in the US has got over 40 million mailboxes on one installation, so you know, that gives them some experience to do some quite clever stuff. So yeah, that's where-
Richard: And it's not just email, is it? So we've already talked about the Briefcase and the Dropbox-like facilities but of course one of the questions that is immediately going to come up is around calendaring. Talk to me through the calendaring features, is it comparable to Exchange?
Marc: Yeah, I actually, I really enjoy using the calendar and I’ve really found it improve productivity. Because, for instance, one of the nice features if you're in the web client, you can drag an email on to your mini calendar and it instantly creates an appointment, and it includes you in the meeting invite, it puts the body of the email into the details of the meeting.
And there's also things called, sorry, before I jump into Zimlets – there's things about the calendar that make it really easy. There's a fish-eye view, so when you're looking at your month, you can click on the day and it expands to show you the full day. So just some really nice usability of the calendar.
You can share everything in Zimbra. So, if I wanted to share a work holidays calendar, I can set that up. And just like with Exchange, you can have it auto-accepting, you know, shared results. You can have it auto-accepting meeting requests or deferring the meeting request to the administrator.
It’s terribly sophisticated. It's got what you'd expect from grownup collaboration solution. It isn't third-rate in any stretch of the imagination.
Richard: Definitely not, from everything I’ve seen of it as well. It looks like, you know, I was blown away by the demonstration you gave and how well it came across.
So I guess which begs the question, is the Zimbra one of the industry's sort of best-kept secrets? Why aren't more IT companies offering it, because it's clearly an enterprise-ready solution?
Marc: You're actually, you're right. I think it is a best-kept secret. It's a great solid solution. And I think, Zimbra are addressing that with a new, they recently bought out as a management buyer from VMware and they've created their own company.
They also merge with a social media enterprise, a social media provider, and so there's some integration of social media aspects, of enterprise into Zimbra and that's definitely, we all know that email is changing from a standard "I send you an email, you reply," to a more of a conversational-based thing with IM and all that…
Richard: Today, Marc and myself were having a conversation saying, blowing the minds of some of the resellers saying, "Do you realize, younger people don't use email? They use Instagram and they use Twitter and things like that."
Marc: So certainly, long-term and Rob Howard is the CTO of Zimbra, he came from the social media entity and he's taken over control of product development and so on. He's a really smart guy and he's got some really great ideas about how to move forward the whole email workflow and how to really improve that. So, quite excited to know what's going to come and I think that's where things are going to really start to branch out from.
Zimbra's a great base product now and we've got feature power with Exchange in many areas. But it would be quite nice to move away from the conversation about Exchange, because actually, Zimbra in its own right can offer some real value and I think that's going to start to become apparent soon.
But coming back to your earlier point about what is it that, why should IT companies be selling Zimbra and in a way swimming uphill, because obviously clients are demanding 365 and I do get that. But I think, one of our colleagues in the meeting earlier on brought up a point about, the successful IT resellers are people that really build relationships with their clients and that really have a solid support ethos and they really look after their clients and provide a great service.
And I think that if you've got a relationship with a client, why give your client to Microsoft or to Google or to any other of the big place? Because you know, you can't control what they're going to do. And in our model, the way we sell our services, we sell to you as the reseller, and the reseller sells on to the client. We don't know anything about your client, it's not our interest. Our interest is in providing a great email service and a utility that you can go off and sell on.
So I think that it's building value in your business. It is the key thing, and I think that's what IT resellers need to think about, is you know, "What is the long-term value of my business? And what am I doing?" And you know, sometimes it's harder to do things that what everyone else is doing but long-term, it pays off.
And I guess you have to decide, "Do I want to just be selling what everybody else is selling? Or do I want to differentiate a little bit and actually build something of real value?" And you know, it takes a long time to build value but it's worth it in the long run.
Richard: Continuously surprising me, I guess a little soap boxfor me, but when Microsoft's small business server was retired by Microsoft, there was people up in arms. It was like, "Oh, you're removing my business. You're taking away my business."
And of course, the reality is, there was lots and lots of alternatives to Microsoft's small business server. And I think it's probably the same for hosted email for Exchange and things like that. There's so many good alternative options out there. So I’m flabbergasted that more IT companies aren't investigating solutions like Zimbra and seen how they can package it up, wrap it around, value around it and sell it to clients, that's all. Make themselves a little bit different from everyone else in the industry.
Marc: I mean, I think it's challenging because you know, Microsoft have gotten a massive marketing machine and they do a really great job. Their pricing is very, very aggressive. You've talked, I’ve read your blog post about increasing your prices not decreasing your prices to compete in the marketplace. And I think there's a limit to how cleverly you can get with pricing. You need to be fairly realistic.
But I think it comes back to what value you're offering. If you're offering great value and a great service, then IT should be in the background and it should just function for the people that want to use it. We shouldn't be worrying about what the technology is. Does it serve a purpose and does it do the job? If it does the job for the customer, then the reseller can look at, "How is it fit for my business? Does it give me a long-term future or am I giving my customers to somebody else?"
Richard: So with all that said, let's talk about pricing a little bit. So lots of people who are watching this video are going to be working in the SMB space, where clients are typically cost conscious or price-sensitive. So how does Zimbra matchup in terms of cost? In broad figures, sort of a, in brand figures, against Exchange and the alternatives.
Marc: Well I think, really competitively. I mean, we've worked hard with Zimbra to create some really competitive packages in the market. We're channel-only players so we don't give out pricing to, retail pricing etcetera. Our partners set the prices that they think are appropriate for their market. And they tend to bundle in other services and support, etcetera. So that's how that works.
But you know, definitely highly competitive and there's definitely a cost-saving there over 365 for instance. And we've got various packages starting from sort of basic package POP3 to allow – a lot of our partners, we find have got couple of hundreds, three hundreds POP3 accounts that are hosted with one-on-one or fast hostor something.
Clients are saying, "I need better services. I need to read my email on my iPhone. I want it to sync. I want to be able to send an email on my iPhone and see it in my Outlook on my desk," you know, classic thing. And believe it or not, people still haven't gotten that functionality.
And so, we provide a basic package that has partner to migrate in, give them the same POP3 service. And then, it's just clicking a button to upgrade them to the high-end packages which makes more margin for the reseller. It also saves them headache of having to run the POP3 service which a lot of these hosting packages can be a bit unreliable and can cause problems.
Richard: And talking about reliability, tell me a little bit about the back ends, where are the data centres, where are the data stored? Because a lot of people are going to be, are very interested to see where the data is stored. What does your back end look like?
Marc: Okay, easy now, Richard.
Richard: In the sense that it was made. [laughs]
Marc: So, right, so we got two data centres, one in Manchester and one in London. London's our primary data centre. And we've got our own, everything’s hosted in our own equipment. We're not buying in Amazon EC2 instances, or something like that. This is all done properly.
We use Dell kits. So we've got multiple Dell servers running virtual infrastructure. Obviously, we've got a VM infrastructure. In fact, we've been doing that since the dawn of virtualization and it's helped us achieve a lot of economies of scale and power saving and so on, its much greener.
But yeah, we've got multiple servers and Zimbra's set up in such a way that we've got multiple servers across the platform. So we've got a highly reliable hosting platform, data storage, and etcetera. And we're pretty careful about data backups because, you know, it's the lifeblood emails, the lifeblood of the organization. And I think we save for every one gig of data stored in the mailbox, we're actually storing 8 Gig in total in terms of replications. So every Zimbra server has a partner where all the data is replicated across to that partner server.
And then, we also backup our data in our own data center. We encrypt it and we send out of the data center, encrypt it. So we're storing multiple blobs of data and we're able to restore up to 30 days, mailboxes. And there's a self-restore feature in Zimbra which is really nice, so users can recover even after they've deleted from the trash folder. They can still recover.
And one of the common things they do is they right click their inbox and go 'empty inbox,' and you know, all their mails disappear but they can get those back. And also, because of our backup infrastructure, we can do that.
And again, I think that's one of the things that differentiate us. You can get on the phone to us or email us and we'll respond; we'll do something. You know, we had a reseller panicking the other day because one of their major clients had deleted couple of mailboxes by mistake. In fact, it was a bit more harmless than that, someone had left and deleted some mailboxes and we're able to recover the mailboxes really quickly for them and it was all sorted, no dramas. And I think that, some of the bigger providers are, you don't necessarily get that level of service. It's one of our differentiators.
Richard: What's some really interesting points, actually, especially when you'd look at the lower ends of the market where people are shopping basically on cost, they don't factor in, I guess what you call the total cost of ownership. You don't factor in, "If something goes wrong, is this going to come back and bite me in the bum? Am I going to be able get my day to day work done? So, reassuring to know that you've got those facilities in place.
Marc: Yeah, I mean we've been running this since 2006. And we do little things, like we host all of our Zimbra primary volumes and we keep them under a terabyte in size, and we just have multiple versions.
It means that, if we need to restart our mailbox server and there's a discrepancy check, which if you get forced to run a discrepancy check, you've got to run the discrepancy check otherwise, you're playing with fire. And if you've got multiple terabyte volumes, this can take some hours to scan and even some days in certain cases. So little things like that, experiences taught us to just sort of be cautious and we're very cautious.
We test our new upgrades extensively and we've got a great relationship with Zimbra. We have a bi-monthly call with them, the VP of product development and support, and he feeds back to us anything that's going on and we feed back back up to him. So we got a great two-way relationship and we always know what's going on before we do any major upgrades and so on.
Richard: So Zimbra rate's comparable to Exchange? Feature comparable, in fact it's got some features that Exchange doesn't have. It's just as reliable, it's cheaper.
Marc: Yup, so why aren't they doing it? Exactly, Richard, thanks for the sales pitch.
Richard: Let's switch gears a minute from Zimbra, then, because one of the other areas of InTuition is WordPress hosting, something that I might, my blog is running on WordPress. I run another couple of sites on WordPress. Alright, tell us about the WordPress hosting aspect of the InTuition business.
Marc: Yeah, so we're really excited about WordPress actually. We've been doing WordPress hosting, probably like every other person in the country and well you know, hosting company. We host WordPress sites and we have a development team we use, we power our own stuff with WordPress, our own public-facing websites, etc.
And we came across company, a startup in Canada. And to cut the long story short, we've done a really interesting partnership with them and we've formed a new business to run a WordPress hosting front called easyPress. And the team from easyPress in Canada and ours, we've come together, so they've already got two hosting sites in Canada and America. We've built a brand new hosting facility in our datacenter in Manchester, and we've got replication into London. So we've got a really solid WordPress platform and everything's automated so we can scale out very quickly if we need to add more WordPress service, etc.
We've built a full, it's a full managed WordPress solution, so you've got caching layer; you've got content delivery networks; you've got some security; you've got the ability to lock the site down 9with just a single button click. You can basically change all the permissions to really improve the security.
And I think, most importantly, it's backed up by amazing support. And I think, you've got some experience of migrating to us and…
Richard: Well, I'll happily give a testimonial at this stage.
Marc: Sorry, I wasn't pushing you into giving a testimonial but you know…
Richard: I'm absolutely going to, so I have moved a couple of my WordPress websites across, and moved from a very well-known US hosting company, you know, for the volumes, the data work, all the volumes of business that I get.
For the entire process, fantastic, you know, no down time, everything works seemingly.And Victor and the team in Canada, you know, you got some real stars there because they're real WordPress experts and they know what they're talking about.
I think the proof of the pudding for me is in, I was doing a before and after tests. I like to measure everything and see the difference. So previously, my website was loading around five seconds which feels like an eternity in modern age. And it's actually down to just over one second at the moment. I don't know, you and I, me and Victor talked about it as well and there's probably some tweaking to be done there to get it down.
So, absolutely no change in code, the site moved across as it was, and shaved about four seconds off. So you know, I'm a convert already.
Marc: Yeah, great, and I mean, that's great, and it's exact experience because that's what we found as well with our own sites. They improved exponentially and other people have said, "God, the speed is amazing." And in fact, without even asking, I was telling to someone the other day that moved their site, "God, the admin section is so fast, just click, click, click."
Richard: That's the real thing, In WordPress, the admin section, you know, just flies by. And you know, I’m not a WordPress guru by any means but I tend to spend a lot of time in the admin section and it just absolutely flies.
Marc: Makes a big difference, doesn't it?
Richard: It does.
Marc: Well you know, we've invested a lot of money in hardware, and Victor and the team have really, Victor's a WordPress guru. He's been using WordPress for years and he's created the ultimate, in his mind, the ultimate WordPress stack, if you like. Because, you know, it's not just the case of installing WordPress and PHP, etc., there's all sorts of things that go on the background to make it really fast.
And I think, combined with our experience of running hosting platforms and networking and so on, we've got a really great data centre set up in Manchester, fantastic networking with really good bandwidth and so on.
So we've got a really solid proposition, I think, and we're looking forward to taking it out there and getting on a lot of clients to make a success out of it.
Richard: Good, well, I'm going to follow that story with interest, and I got no doubt you can be successful, amongst other things.
Richard: Now, again, I want to change gears just a little bit. So we've mentioned, the office is in London, we've mentioned the data centre in Manchester, the support team in Canada, I think it's going to be-
Marc: The WordPress guys in Canada, yeah, and mixed it with the guys in the UK as well, before we freak anyone out.
Richard: Yeah, and then, on top of all that, I think people are finding it very interested that you're located, as one of the directors in the business, located out of Andorra, which you call home. I'm intrigued to hear how you, how to manage the team? Just distribute your team across the world, your thoughts on that?
Marc: Yeah, they manage themselves. So, I mean, our team goes back. Matt, who's in charge of our platform, he's worked with me since, pretty much came out of university, so that's, I don't know, I’m guessing 14 years or something.
We started off in a small office in Sussex and we had a data centre under the stairs. So built a rack with some Dell computers running on a 512-kilobit leased line, when leased lines were all the rage, and that's how we started hosting, and we had a development side of the business as well. So we've always had development and hosting and we ended up majoring on hosting and that's where we ended up, becoming into Zimbra partnership and so on.
But, yeah, so Matt and I, head of development call in, both have worked for the company for a long time, and the rest of the gang are all people that have been around for a long time.
And then, I think share the same values about what we want - we want to build a solid company and a team who take responsibility for what they're doing so we don't need to see each other regularly. And we communicate via phone. We've got a great voiceover IP phone system. That means we can keep a line open for low cost. That works really well, so we can, if we're working on a project together, we can just get the line open. We've got Skype, obviously. W Well, I’ve noticed that there isn't a lot of video conferencing going on in a technical company. No one's particularly keen on video.
We use Basecamp project management fairly extensively and we just look into improve that with some, sort of slight more hardcore project management solutions, probably something like Pivotal Tracker or one of the tools from Atlassian. I can't think of the name, Jira, I think it is, isn't it? Just looking around right now for some slightly more grown up agile-based project management solutions.
But we do, I think, email, probably, instant message and Basecamp is the kind of cornerstone of how we run the business these days. And we have regular meetings just like you would in a normal company, but they tend to be a bit more focused because you're not worrying getting cups of tea and messing about, just, you know, on the phone, get the meeting done with and we're pretty focused.
And the great thing about Andorra is its got fantastic communications with Fibre to the door in every house, which…
Richard: I guess we should say, where Andorra is at this point, for those people who don't know.
Marc: So Andorra sits between France and Spain. So it's in the Pyrenees and it's a place of about 70,000 people and a very small principality ran by the co-princes of France and Spain, and it's an independent, democratic parliament with its own constitution, etc.,
And it's not part of the EU, so it's outside of the EU. Going through an enormous change at the moment. There's big, big stuff happening in Andorra. It's really becoming modern, it's a place that was cut off from the world, and mountain people have lived there, and it's changed in the last 40-50 years. It's gone through literally, probably, some people never seeing outsiders to, is now becoming a big commercial hub and the government is really trying to improve things.
So it's an exciting place to be and interesting times. And really easy to communicate, you can get on a plane from Barcelona and be in England in no time at all, so yeah, great lifestyle.
Richard: Yes! And why not? Why not? The technology's there, the team's there, you can manage a business of this nature from anywhere in the world, really. As we've sat here, it's just started snowing outside here in the UK. Why would want to sit here in the cold when you can be sitting in beautiful Andorra?
Marc: Yeah, well, I mean it's been sunny every day since, literally, I think we've had three days of cloudy weather and snow since Christmas. So I mean, it's been sunny every day and yeah, it just really helps, you know. Everyone thinks that I’m spending all day skiing, which is completely untrue.
Richard: Not all day.
Marc: Actually, a friend of mine and I headed out and probably skid less than you will if you went skiing on a holiday. Because you know, we work really hard, really passionate about what we do and really excited to, sort of with the stuff that's happening in WordPress. Some you know, you end up working a lot and that's what actually one of the dangers I think. Because you're a bit divorced from things, you can focus much better and you end up probably working too much.
Richard: I want to touch upon one thing, so obviously one of the downsides to living in a different part of the world is when you want to come back to the UK to see your friends or family, the travel-
Richard: So you've said the flight is not too much trouble but, we're both big fans of Tim Ferriss and some of his travel tips, and I’m fascinated that you've been travel caching.
Marc: Yeah, I've been trying to get the travel caching thing sorted out.
Richard: So for the people who are not familiar, maybe tell them what travel caching is and how you've utilized it for your travels.
Marc: Yeah, so the idea of travel caching is that you know, I hate having loads of luggages, it's just, it's such a pain and being in and getting on the plane and just with a small rucksack and the essentials is ideal because it just means you can get on and off much more quickly and you can sit right at the front of the aircraft. Before, designated seating, I used to sit right at the front because you get off really quick.
But yeah, I think travel caching is where you basically arrange, you know, if you're going to spend a lot of time in a particular place, you arrange some sort of cache of your essentials and I think Tim Ferriss goes as far as caching food, you know, for breakfast because he eats some bean combination or something like that. I’m not going that far, I like my fried breakfast in the hotel.
Richard: We're not quite in the four-hour body shape, you know what I’m saying?
Marc: No, no, no, we haven’t achieved that, have we? But you know; that's going to come later in the year. So yeah sure, what I’ve managed to set up is a location where I can hang my suits and shirts and underwear and suit shoes and things. And it means that, I’ve also got an arrangement with the hotel. Lucky enough that my stepdad was, he made me a member of a club that he was a member of before he passed away, and it's one of the best things he's ever done for me because it just means, it's so convenient and it's in Central London. I can get into London, the room rates are really reasonable and I’ve got a locker there that I can stash my stuff in.
So it means, I can, I came out the other day with a rucksack, a laptop and few essentials and I got my wash kit, all my clothes for the weekend, and then put it back, they wash it, iron it, dry-clean it, etc., and then next time I come over, it's all ready to go.
Richard: That's fantastic, I love it. So you live in Andorra, one of the most beautiful parts of the world. You don't even have to go for the real pain of travel that most of us do, picking up luggage and things. A lot of people watching this are probably going to be getting angry at you at this point in time.
Marc: It's not all bed of roses, and you know, it's taken some years to get to this point where it's got it set up and. It has its down sides, I mean, I’m not sure what they are but…
Yeah, I mean, if somebody says, "Hey, can you come meet us," and it's a really important meeting, you know, that's a day travelling eitherside, and you know, you lose some spontaneity. It does make you plan a bit better.
But I used to be really nervous about it, you know, I was worried that customers might think, "Oh, you know, the service is going to drop off," etc., but I think more and more companies are proving that you don't need to have an office these days.
You know, the people behind WordPress, automatic, they've got a massive business and making massive revenues and they're completely virtual from what I understand.
Richard: It makes much less of a difference nowadays where you're located in the world and any type of people you're working with. So I'm in awe with all you've achieved with the business, with InTuition, blown away by the Zimbra platform. I think it's a real opportunity for IT companies to look into as an alternative to Exchange. So thank you for your time today.
Marc: It's a pleasure. Thanks for your time.
Richard: Really appreciate it, if anybody watching or listening wants to get in touch with you, to talk about Zimbra or WordPress hosting, or even travel caching, or what it's like living in Andorra, how would they reach out to you?
Marc: So probably the easiest thing to do is to hit up the website: in-tuition.net, that's InTuition with a hyphen between the in and the tuition, and just go to contact form and/or give us a ring, and I’ll see most of the contact request come through, so yup, easiest way to get in touch. You've got my contact details, probably.
Richard: Absolutely, I’ll make sure this goes to the show notes as well. You're on Twitter as well?
Marc: On twitter, yeah, so gad0, or gadd0-
Richard: We'll work it out, we'll put it in the show notes.
Marc: Can't believe I forgot my own Twitter handle. So yeah, I'm on Twitter and I’m on Facebook. I tend to use Facebook more for personal stuff but yeah, it would be great to engage with any of your readers and chat about anything.
I'm always keen to talk about technology and or skiing mountains, etc., and food, generally, are the three things we tend to talk about quite a lot, and we haven't really gotten into the food thing.
Richard: Maybe that's for the next installment of the podcast. Well, Marc, thanks so much, really. It means a lot. Cheers.
Marc: Richard, thanks a lot. Really appreciate your time. Cheers.
Fri, 27 March 2015
In episode 08 of TubbTalk Richard speaks with Derek Brown, the Managing Director of Pronto Marketing, who specialise in providing a flat-fee, all-you-can-eat web site service for MSP's and IT Service Providers.
Pronto Marketing exclusive discount for listeners of TubbTalk
Richard: Hi everybody, Richard Tubb here with another interview. And today I'm joined by Derek Brown, the managing director at Pronto Marketing. Now, Pronto Marketing creates and manages all the moving parts of your Internet presence without it costing a fortune.
In the previous life, Derek actually worked at Microsoft where amongst of the roles; he was the director of product management for small business server. Since homing Pronto Marketing, Derek and his team in Thailand had helped hundreds of businesses with their website design, copywriting, SEO, social media and more.
Derek thanks so much for joining me today. How are you doing?
Derek: Good. It's a pleasure to be here Richard.
Richard: Fantastic. Now, you and I had known each other for a number of years now. In fact, I think my MSP was one of Pronto Marketing's first clients here in the UK. And you really helped my business to – the best way I could put it is to stop procrastinating about getting a good quality website live and doing what it should do, generate leads.
So, for anybody who's not familiar with yourself or with Pronto, perhaps you can give us a bit of background, share who you are, where you'd come from and a little bit more about what Pronto do.
Derek: Okay. As you mentioned, my background before founding Pronto, I was at Microsoft for 13 years. When I left, one of the things I've thought a lot about, I wanted to start a copy in. I thought about a need out there.
I actually went back to my experience when I was responsible for Windows small business server and how small IP service companies struggled with marketing. And I would go out and do road shows and user groups and SMB Nation and all these sort of things. I would hear that same thing about struggling in marketing and the number one reason you would hear was lack of time.
So when started Pronto Marketing, we thought about how we could we help a small business execute on their marketing. The same thing was also true just in life outside of SMB of MSPs.
If I was at a barbecue with a friend who owned a small business on Sunday, he said, "What should I do?" and I would say, "Send a newsletter." I would be a 100% sure he will never do it. He wouldn't have the time and he'd get busy and he'll have clients on Monday morning and you're in the tornado and the work doesn't get done.
Our idea when we started Pronto Marketing is we really wanted a do-it yourself service so that for some portion of small business marketing activities, we take responsibility and work like an extension of their team. So from designing a website to writing a copy to hosting, developing it, doing updates, posting blog post, sending out email newsletters, optimizing SEO, adding new blending pages or forms when they're needed; to do that in a subscription based service. It was affordable and a full service for the small business. Today, we have over a thousand clients and the vast majority of those are some flavour of ITs servers provider or MSP.
Richard: Got it. Now, as I alluded to, my MSP used to be a client of Pronto Marketing way back in the day.
Richard: And the reason why we worked with Pronto Marketing was because frankly Derek, we were procrastinating about getting a website up there. And I don't think that's unusual you know, there's not a day goes by when I go to a networking event, meet an IT business owner, he hands me his business card and he says, "Oh, and ignore the website. It's a work in progress."
Why do you think so many IT companies seem to struggle or procrastinate when it comes to developing their website?
Derek: I think there's a couple issues. I mean, again it's the first is it for every small business owner, your first and foremost a technician or an expert and whatever it is you do, be it a baker or an IT guy. Anything outside of that is going to be a lower priority.
I also think there's sort of an allusion in some respects that a website should be easy. And I think especially if you're an IT and a technical guy, you sort of it's not totally abstract; you need a server and you need to do these things. And you got and go down that do-it yourself path and I can just find you don't have the time, it's hard to keep up, it needs to be updated and it's hard to be good at something that you don't do very often.
So it becomes this frustration and then many times the alternative is like, "Well, we need to get help" or you're going to go to an agency and maybe they're either very expensive or they do parts like, "Yes I'll develop your website but you need to have someone write the copy" or they'll do pieces of it that you have to put together. And then at the end, they'll just hand it back to you and say, "Okay. Now, update and take care of your website."
I think, it's that struggle of time and managing those resources and a little bit of the allusion that it should be easy when in fact it's not.
Richard: Indeed. I speak to a lot of IT businesses who probably classify themselves as like a jack of all trades, anything that's got a plug on the end of it; they expect to be experts in. And of course, even though most IT businesses would know how to put together a website. You hit the nail on the head actually, finding the time to do it and to keep it going is incredibly difficult.
Moving forward then, what's the typical result of business should they expect to see when they got their website in order?
Derek: Right. Well, I'll just give you an example. At Pronto, when clients come on board, they give us their link to their Google Analytics account so we can track their performance and the great things in the website. Typically, if they had a website for some time, we have the historical data at all.
On average our clients see about a 51% increase in organic search traffic within about six months. Most of that or all of that I would say is not anyone big thing, it's frankly not rocket science, it's about doing a lot of little things well; just getting the website setup right and doing things right and the content right and Google local places right and lots and lots of little things.
I think an expectation should be, that your traffic increases and you want your leads to increase but if you want more leads, you need more traffic. First and foremost, to be getting that traffic and then secondly, to get a website that's converting leads.
Richard: Got it. Now, of course it's all well and good; building a new website and putting it out there, but in a very short period of time it becomes stale. From your perspective, how would you keep a website fresh and how'd you keep it generating good quality leads?
Derek: Yeah. I think it's important to be doing updates on a regular basis; that's why we setup our service around and “All you can need. Tell us when you want anything updating and make it easy.” Because if it's hard, like even if you a new team member joining your team and you want to update the R-team page but you need to crop the photo, you need to write the bio, you need to remember how to put it on the webpage and of course there's been a dozen get done.
But, the first part of that process is you want to be updating your site on a regular basis; you change your service, you added your services, you added a person, either of that or an open blog aside for a second. But those website refreshers are important because they keep your website fresh in the search engine.
Our process is been that made that easy, "You know, we just hired Richard. Here's his picture, here's his LinkedIn profile. Put him on the website." And we write the bio, get the picture right and create it.
The other piece is keeping your website fresh in terms of content and that can be blog content, it's great for that. It's not just from an SEO's perspective but it's also a perspective of people coming to your website. It's a first impression on your business. Nothing looks worse than you come to a website and there's like a new section or a blog section and the last updated 2013. And, I've seen worst.
What does that say about your business? So this guy is really on top of things. What's going on here? Are they going to be focus? Are they on top of their business? So I think it's really important to watch what you buy off, you do it in a way that people are seeing things really fresh and updated and it's clear; it's a reflection on how you're on top of your business.
Richard: It's so important isn't it keeping up to date for that impression you get. Just a side-note; I was chatting to a PR company here in the UK, they should remain nameless. I'm really impressed with the conversation I had with them but when a way did my due diligence, looked at their website and of course the new section haven't been updated since 2011.
As you say, immediately all those questions popped into mind you know; are they on top of things? They talk but do they follow-up with actions? That type of things.
Richard: Yeah. That keeping content fresh is very, very important.
Derek: You know, some things that I hear sometimes is some way, "Well, my business comes from referrals." And you know, if you're doing your job well in a business like an IT server provider, it should be. But, you know that always underappreciates.
How many referrals did you get where the referrer said, "Hey, you should go check out their website. Here's the website. Bob's doing a great job for us." And they go to your website and they decide you know, I respect the referral but I don't, this pace is kind of like what happen you with the PR company.
And they walk away. You don't know what you're losing even if you feel like you build your business referrals, that it's unfair. You could be the best IT guy in the planet but if your website sucks; there's immediate connotation about the quality of your work that you might do for them. That's greater fault.
Richard: Absolutely. You probably never get to hear about those leads. They just never get in touch do they?
Derek: Right. No.
Richard: Yeah. When we're talking about contents and keeping the website fresh, in your opinion having worked with lots and lots of manage server providers and IT solutions providers, what type of content should be featured on their MSP website?
Derek: Right. I think one we've gotten strong about is like I kind of put it in three parts and the first is the home page. Really for a kind of lead generation business professional services; your ideal scenario is it that homepage close this lead and they pick up the phone and call you or send you an email or fill out a contact us form.
You know, you just want them to come to the website and goes, "This company will solve my problem. I need to get in touch with them." They don't necessarily need to read lots and lots of inter-page content on services.
First and foremost, I would have a compelling homepage that tells your story; "Here's who we are. Here's our value preposition. Here's what we're good at. Here's a testimonial or few from clients. Here's how to get in touch with us." Then as a second level, I do think a certain amount of, what I'll call inter-page content; "You know, we do this kind of network services. We provide these kind of security services. We're active in these verticals." Those can be important because x number of people want to go to that next step like, "Okay. It looks like a good company but do they address my issue or my need?" And will go do that kind of next step of due diligence. I think it's important to take them through that step.
I would say the third piece of content is more as it relates to marketing you're doing is if you're doing any kind of ad words or email marketing or display marketing or anything like that; you really should be building or having someone build landing pages for you that their specific to that advertising and that offer.
You don't want to just like say you have an offer, get your free security audit and you'll land them on a homepage that may have something about security audit but they got to kind of scroll through and look through a lot of information. You want them to land on a specific landing page that's got a form right there, that's got a picture and the security audit and it capture those leads.
I would say it's those kind of three pieces: a home page, that you hopefully just closes the deal right off the bet; inter-pages, for the people who want to dig around and get some specific info, also could help us specialize SEO sort of queries; and then do the extra work if you're getting SEO marketing to have specific landing pages to capture those leads, it makes a huge difference.
Richard: Got it, makes a lot of sense. Now, you touch upon it a little bit earlier in our conversation about blogging. Most MSPs when they think of content, they think, "Well, I really haven’t got the time to be doing blogging, to be writing blog post." Why should a business be blogging in the first place?
Derek: I think there's a couple of reasons for it. One that we talked about earlier; it's a great way to keep your website fresh and just kind of showed that you're being updated. If you're doing original blogging of your own, it always helps with SEO, those things get index and the more activity in content, the search engine see that's better. It's also an opportunity for you, to position yourself as an expert; and it's you writing about such and such topic.
I don’t think you have to do it a lot. I mean, really a well written once a month blog post would be about a thousand times better than no blog post. I think if you can't commit to it let's say once a month, then you do risk that looking out of date, but I don't think it’s something that you have to feel like you're doing even on a weekly basis. I figure one or two at a month, I think that's probably realistic and doable.
Richard: Its interesting Derek. You know, I preach the virtues of blogging. I would say, I built my entire business off the back of blogging and the MSP business before but interestingly people say, to me they say, "How do you write so much content for blog post." The secret is, I don't actually write that much
I think there's almost, once you start doing consistently, like you say once or twice a month; it actually gives the allusion that you're generating a lot more content than you do because you can reuse that content and share it in different ways. Which I think, brings me on to my next question which is, the role that social media plays in generating traffic for a website. Talk to me a little bit about how Pronto help people on the social media side things because they do go hand in hand nowadays, don't they? Social media and the website?
Derek: Yes. It's important to get those things setup and have an integrated kind of presence and branding across them. That's something we setup and take care about all our client when we get them started. Social media, it can depend, and for business and professional services, how much traffic comes from that?
Again I think it’s important part of the checklist. I would say for most professional services, I wouldn’t over invest in there but I will keep it fresh and I will keep it active, it's not that hard to do; just pictures of what you're doing or things little news about clients and stuff. I think it all just takes a few minutes here and there to do that. I think it's important and part of the online presence for any small business.
Richard: Understood, so you were telling me out there a little bit about how you might manage some of your client's Facebook profiles for instance. To what degree do you actually manage that Facebook profile? I'm presuming you help them post content but maybe when it comes to Christmas party pictures and things not so much.
Derek: Yeah. We kind of have a couple levels of the service. One is, getting everything setup right. Two, we can make sure that if there's content or syndicated content or blog content or things that we can manage for them, we keep those feeding into their page. But on third piece, we often call our social media program one plus one equals three, which is we need you the client to provide some things like those Christmas pictures that we can't provide.
Its social media and you should be showing that kind of face of your business and your people. And so, it's not really that hard; you just kind of get it setup right in the beginning and then kind of put it on your tick-load list to update periodically.
Richard: Yeah. You can action some of it but obviously you can't act so sure everything about the process, it still need that personal touch. But I guess when it comes to producing good quality copy blog post and other market material that's on your website and that. How important is a good quality copywriter for a website?
Derek: It's really important because it's perhaps underappreciated but a good copywriter can encapsulate your story and write it a way that's both pleasing and well written to read and clear; so someone can go through a few sentences. I'm not going to read a book about you but a few sentences and go, "Okay. I get where this person started, where they're coming from, what they're expertise is, why should I trust them."
Our copywriters are well-trained and they have their kind of checklist and things that they need to say and points they need to made. It's a professional discipline. Some people have a real talent for being able to do that.
Richard: Absolutely. I mean, I pretty much write for a living now but I still re-chat some copywriters. It's fascinating when I introduce MSP clients to copywriters. They typically do an interview. The MSP tells the copywriters what they're trying to say, copywriter gives the text back and the MSP says, "That's exactly what I was trying to say." But it isn't as simple as that really, isn't it basically?
Richard: Yeah. Cool. Quick question, you know I mentioned that you're based in Thailand now. How would you even ensure that the content you generate at Pronto is your client is (I guess the best way I put it) geographically specific?
Derek: Yes. We have a majority of our copywriters happen to be Brits, so that helps. In every client, we got to know their business enough to speak to things that might be regional things apart or the vernacular that might be used to say we're in the tri state area or something that even a somewhat local copywriter might not be quite aware of that phrase. We take a little time with the client both us our on boarding process as we write and as view with them, to make sure we've got the tone right of what they want to say, that it sound appropriate for their market.
For that part of our business, we employ native English speakers; that along with the discipline to just communicate with a client, it gets it right.
Richard: Understood. We talked a lot about outsourcing website. There's going to be some MSP, some IT businesses that are listening to this and think, "Well, I got a decent website. Not really sure I need to outsource it." In your opinion, what are the signs that businesses should be outsourcing their website design and maintenance?
Derek: Well, I think there's a couple; is your website really up to date? And not just up to date with content, but are you for instance optimize from mobile 30, 40, maybe 50% of your traffics come in mobile these days Is it working? Are you really integrating it into your activities? If you were a campaign and you want it a landing page; do you know how to do that and would it get done and who would do it? I think there's those elements that are important.
I also think about the cost to solo working with Pronto and I think about the value of the MSP's time. Yes, you could do it but of all the things you could focus on today or in this week, is that actually the highest and best use of your time? Should you be talking to some clients or trying to get some referrals or recommendations or following-up on a sales lead or something like that? I think it's a combination of the two; of what's the value of your time and also realistically, are you going to get things done in a right way.
Richard: Makes a lot of sense. We touched up on the value that Pronto bring and we'll come to you for just a second. Now you got a special offer for listeners of the podcast as well. But before we do that, I just want to close off really (to understand) what do you think are the most common mistakes that you see MSPs making with their website?
Derek: I would say a couple common mistakes that we see: one would be getting over ambitious in terms of website and this is the website that often either never gets done or has inter-pages or places on the website that are under construction. If you're going to do it yourself or if you go out to someone else to do it; keep it as simple as possible. A website is never finish, so don't try to feel like every page and everything and every use and every widget you ever imagine you wanted has to be on that website in the beginning; get the few critical pieces right and then kind of step by step go forward.
Richard: Yup. Makes a lot of sense. I see a lot of MSPs treating their website. I guess they're trying to answer all questions, when of course a website should be a little bit like a CV. It shouldn't try and give the whole story. It should give an introduction to pique people's interest and ask them to follow-up and get in touch for more questions.
Richard: Yeah. So Derek we eluded a little bit earlier but you put together a special offer to our listeners of the podcast. I've got, you're allowed to share but perhaps you could tell us a little bit more about the special offer.
Derek: Sure. The way that Pronto service works is we have a one-time $500 setup fees. That's all the design, copywriting, social media, everything we’ve been talking about here. Then 30 days after that it's $247 a month, for the all you can need service.
What will do for the listeners today is if they click on that URL, it will take them to a special page and they can get $250 off or 50% off on the setup fee for being one of your listeners.
Richard: Fantastic! And I've got the URL here; its http://tubb.co/prontomsp. Using that link listeners can get 50% off the setup fees for the service.
Derek: That's right!
Richard: Fantastic! Well I appreciate you're extending that offer to everyone; that's really cool. As I've said, for everybody listening, I've known you for a long time Derek and I used to use Pronto Marketing for my own MSP business quite back in the day and lots of my clients use Pronto Marketing at the moment. So it really is a great service, very light price for anyone that's procrastinating your thinking about how to they're going to get a website, I've been running and it's a service that I would recommend.
So, thank you so much for your time today Derek. I guess if anybody is listening they want to find out more about Pronto Marketing, they'll find you on social media, how would they find you?
Derek: Well, just search for Pronto Marketing and we'll pop-up at the top at the top of search results.
Richard: There you go. You were practiced what you preached, you got everything down for the SEOs. Well, Derek thanks again for your time today, really appreciate it.
Derek: Sure. Thank you for your effort. It's great opportunity to be on the show. Thanks.
Tue, 17 February 2015
We're all familiar with attending business networking events and being given 30 or 60 seconds to talk about your business -- often referred to as an elevator pitch -- as well as regularly being asked by others "What do you do?". Are you confident with the response you typically give in these situations? Just as importantly, are you sure your response accurately conveys what you do without people switching off?
How To Create a Great Mini Marketing Message
In episode 7 of TubbTalk I speak with public speaking coach and trainer Alan Matthews on how to create a great mini marketing message. In our discussion Alan and I talk about