Don't Kill Your Technician... Give Them A Checklist Instead

Episode 13: Don’t kill your technician… give them a checklist instead

Paul Green

Paul Green's MSP Marketing Podcast
Paul Green's MSP Marketing Podcast
Episode 13: Don't kill your technician... give them a checklist instead

In this week’s episode

  • MSPs thrive or dive on the successful completion of small technical tasks. Paul suggests an easy solution for those times when a simple small mistake can be devastating to the business
  • Check out the first of a two-part interview with an ex-Microsoft employee who can help you sell Azure with fantastic margins
  • Also in this week’s episode; how to spend more time out of the business with the Three Plus One plan. And the best way to run an email marketing campaign

Show notes

Episode transcription

Voiceover: Made in the UK for MSPs around the world. This is Paul Green’s MSP Marketing Podcast.

Paul Green: Hello. Here’s what’s coming up on today’s show.

Joseph Landes: Taking advantage of these five suggestions that we’ve made. You can easily make up to 80% margins on Azure. You can save up to 80% off the list price of Azure.

Paul Green: That’s Joseph Landes from from Nerdio. He’s going to be telling you later on how you can sell more Azure and make a lot more profit on it. We’re also going to be talking about checklisting everything in the business using paper, not screens, and I’m going to be answering a question for an MSP about the most powerful form of email marketing.

Voiceover: Paul Green’s MSP Marketing Podcast.

Paul Green: One of the common themes of this podcast is that the business is there for you. That’s the purpose of the business, to feed your life. And yet actually far too many MSPs, in fact, just general business owners, treat it that their life is there to feed the business. It’s a very easy trap to fall into. In your first few years, you get busy, you throw yourself into your work, you’re doing 60-hour weeks and it’s the right thing to do at the very beginning of the business or when you first acquire the business. But long-term, it’s not a healthy thing to do. It’s not good for your health, it’s not good for your mental health, certainly not good for your family and for the people who love you and who are supporting you.

Paul Green: And I think as you develop your business over time, you need to readdress the work-life balance. And there does come a point where you have to say, if this business can’t give me sufficient money, and sufficient time, and sufficient fun, then I need to change the business. I either need to get rid of it, or I need to dramatically change it, or I need to do something different.

Paul Green: And I was talking to one of my clients a few weeks ago and he was telling me about his plan for this year for what he’s going to do for the rest of this year and next year. And it’s very much about addressing that balance and making sure, in fact guaranteeing, that he has enough fun and enough downtime in his life for him and for his other half to go and enjoy. And he’s come up with something called the three plus one plan. Now, this is a very simple plan. You have three weeks of work and then you have a week away. Three weeks of work, week away. Three weeks of work, week away.

Paul Green: Now this particular client doesn’t have children or certainly not school aged children, so he doesn’t have to worry too much about that. So they are literally going to spend three weeks working in the business, good quality weeks, then they’re going to have a complete break, a complete week away. And in the early days for this year, he’s planning on going to lots of different holiday destinations. The long-term plan is to find somewhere to live. So they are looking for a second home in the sun somewhere that they can go in that one week off and they can enjoy their lives, him and his partner together. Because they realise at their age, and with all the work they’ve done in the business, that actually that’s what life is all about. It’s about enjoying themselves.

Paul Green: So that’s the plan for this year and for next year. What’s really interesting, is if you look at their plan from 2022 onwards. Because their long-term plan is to flip the three plus one plan around, so that actually they’re spending three weeks away and then one week in the business. Three weeks away, one week in the business. Three weeks away, one week in the business. Now that sounds like fun, doesn’t it? That sounds like a good lifestyle. Of course, it’s not possible to completely run your business in just one week a month, which is essentially what that works out at. So they do intend to be in touch with the staff, to have video calls, but the goal is to flip their lifestyle so that they are spending more time enjoying themselves, living where they want to live, doing the things they want to do, and less time being frustrated with the business.

Paul Green: Now, that’s the plan for, as I say, two to three years away. But what’s interesting is that they have to start working on that plan now. So even though the business can quite safely sustain them going away for one week a month now, as the business stands today, it can’t sustain them being away for three weeks of the month. And so they’ve got to start that work now to make that business more resilient without them. In fact, isn’t that the goal? Isn’t that the dream? But the business thrives, not just survives, not just ticks along, but thrives whether you personally are there in the business or not. This is a great goal. I mean, this is a truly life-changing goal and this is the real purpose of a business. The business does really well. It thrives whether you are there or not.

Paul Green: And you get to choose whether or not you spend the time in the business. And the key thing there is the choice. I love work. I love throwing myself into projects and doing stuff. But do you know what? I love my family more. And I love holidays more. And I love going for long walks and running and all the things I like doing. And that’s the point, It’s about the choice. It’s about the choice to say, “I’m going to go and spend a couple of weeks back in the business because I enjoy it.” I’m going to go and take on this big project, or do this big upgrade, because I want to do it. It’s all about the choice.

Paul Green: Now my clients in two years time or three years time when they’ve got that business restructured, there’ll be at that position where the business runs without them. So they know already, they’ve got to get someone who can run that business day-to-day when they’re not there. They’ve got to put in place systems, standard operating procedures so that decisions can be made when they’re not there. This is actually quite exciting. We’re going to be talking shortly about checklisting things and systemising things, and this is exactly what they’ve got to do within that business.

Paul Green: What makes that particularly exciting is the more they do that, the more sellable that business becomes. And we’ve talked before about the fact that we’re all going to have to leave the business at some point and either we sell the business or the business goes bust, or we die at our desks, which is not a great way to exit a business. The most sellable businesses thrive without the owner needing to be there. In fact, it’s interesting that it’s exactly the same set of things you do to a business to sell it, to make it more sellable, as it is to create a business that feeds your lifestyle. And this is the challenge for you this year, next year, the year after whatever stage you’re at, however many staff or however few staff or however many clients or few clients you’ve got, that’s got to be the long-term goal to make the business so good, so self-sustaining, that it creates an income and allows you to have a lifestyle regardless of whether you turn up or not. That is a true business. And really it should be the goal, something that we’re all working towards.

Paul Green: Now as I say, you may choose to still go and work in that business for three or four weeks of the month. That’s fine. That’s your choice. But the day that you change your mind, the day that something happens in your family, or you and your other half just decide, let’s spend more time away or you want to go away on a six-week holiday just you and your kids. If you’ve already done that hard work and that business thrives without you, you don’t have to go through the two or three years of pain to reposition that business. You’ve already done it. And that’s why for every single one of us, that should be our goal going forward.

Voiceover: Here’s this week’s clever idea.

Paul Green: So staying with the same theme, let’s talk about checklisting things. And I have another client who I work quite closely with. I’m not going to name him, but I know he listens to this podcast, and I know he’ll have a smile and a chuckle as he hears me talking about this. Because we had a conversation, oh it must be a couple of months ago now, and it was about one of his engineers who is a perfectly competent guy. He’s experienced, he’s pleasant with customers. And the only thing wrong with this guy is when he goes out to a site, he will always miss two or three tiny things. Let’s say setting up a new server. He’ll get the installation done correctly. He’ll do all the big things properly. Then he’ll miss one or two. It might be just one or two little tick boxes. And it’s been frustrating my client for years, I mean literally for years. And when you get him talking about this subject, he will go off on a 10-minute rant talking about this engineer and how he’d like to just gently put his hands around his neck and squeeze a little bit.

Paul Green: Because I’m exaggerating a little bit, but you get the idea. And maybe you’ve had a similar thing in your business where you’ve got great staff, who can do a great job most of the time, but they make tiny little mistakes. In fact, maybe you even do it yourself. Maybe you make tiny little mistakes when you’re doing jobs that you do very often. There’s a great book called The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande. Highly recommend that you get this book. Think I’ve talked about it before on the podcast. It talks about systemising things.

Paul Green: Now, Atul Gawande is a medical doctor based in the States. He looked at why doctors and nurses make the same mistakes time and time again. Whereas in aviation, obviously a mistake in aviation has fairly far-reaching effects. In aviation, they’ve pretty much pushed mistakes out. They’ve created a culture of openness regarding mistakes, and every single mistake is investigated and it’s used to improve the systems. And he attempted to put in place in his hospital, a series of systems to stop the small things from going wrong. Because what he found was that, heart surgeons can do a four or five-hour operation, do absolutely brilliantly, but they’ll make a small mistake at the end.

Paul Green: It might be something like leaving a swab inside someone, or the patient might not be given the right drug or something like that. So they started to checklist in his hospital, all the small things. You don’t check just the big complicated things that would require extensive flow charts and people train for years to do. I’m thinking installing servers, that kind of thing. It’s the small things that you checklist, such as setting up a new user or changing a password. Now, the conversation I had with my client was that these checklists, I know you can do them within things like IT Glue and Autotask and ConnectWise and stuff like that, but these checklists really come to life when you put them on paper. And I know that’s heresy. I know that paper is evil and we try and have a paperless office and all of that stuff.

Paul Green: But as humans, we respond better to paper. Even technicians respond better to paper. I helped my client put in place a checklist. He put it onto whatever system they were using, his engineer went out, it was on an iPad and he still didn’t do it. He still didn’t complete the checklist. He still made the small mistakes. And it made my client even more frustrated. And the last conversation we had about this was, “Put it on paper.” Because when you checklist something like that, you put it on paper and the engineer has to print it out before they go out to do the job. And then they have to tick all the boxes. And then, and this is what makes the paper one so powerful, they have to sign it at the bottom. When they have to do this, suddenly it becomes real.

Paul Green: Taking a pen, physically ticking a piece of paper and signing your name at the bottom, that’s more real than ticking boxes on a screen. Especially when you sign it. The signing it is an act of committing your name to the work. If you’ve ever looked at some luxury cars, I think Aston Martin does this, and there’s a whole load of other top end manufacturers do it, they get the people who are making the engine, say, to sign their name or to print their name on the engine. It’s a very powerful thing to do. Because it makes sure that those craftspeople absolutely check every little thing that they should be doing, because it’s their name on the engine. When the engine goes wrong and to mistake that they made during the construction and production of it, their name is on it. So putting their name on it makes it of a higher quality.

Paul Green: You think of the psychology of a signature, what do we sign these days? We sign contracts. We sign things that we’re committing ourself to. You’re getting your engineers to commit themselves that they have completed the checklist. And it actually makes the HR side of things very easy. Because if they have said that they’ve done all these things and they’ve ticked them off and they’ve signed it and they simply haven’t, is very easy for you to pick that up and for that to become a disciplinary matter.

Paul Green: So, as much as it torments you, as much as it creates you pain, as much as you don’t want those checklists going around on paper, paper checklists work. I highly recommend you pick up that book, The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande and I highly recommend you try some paper checklists. Don’t try and checklist everything in one go. Just pick one thing that’s a little bit broken right now. Could be a password reset, could be a new user, could be a tiny little job that you and your team do day-in, day-out. Pick one thing.

Paul Green: Write the checklist of exactly how you want it to be done, the perfect way it should be done. Introduce that checklist to your staff. Make it the new law that they tick all the boxes, they sign their name, and then they put the checklist in a tray on your desk or somewhere for you to collect. And then perhaps once or twice a week you should just pick a checklist at random and go and check that job. You don’t have to check all the checklists. They just need to know that your checklisting some of them now and again. So long as they see you in enforcing it, they will fall into line with this system and they will do a great job.

Voiceover: Paul’s blatant plug.

Paul Green: So this is one that’s just for my listeners in the UK and it’s about videos. I have a joint venture with a video guy called Darren Wingham and together we have a website And the reason we do this is because all the work I’m doing with my clients, helping them to improve their marketing, helping them to have a better impact or greater impact on prospects. We found over the last couple of years that having a well-made, well-produced, short, impact video on your homepage just has a greater impact than anything else. In fact, there are all sorts of statistics to show that videos keep people on your website for 88% longer. It increases the chances of people making contact by 46%. And, when you put something in a video, people are 95% more likely to remember what it is that you’re trying to say.

Paul Green: The only difficulty is getting a half-decent video done by someone who understands MSPs, understands technology, but also knows that the decision makers that you want to reach don’t understand it. And that’s why I’m working with Darren. I’ve trained him to understand MSPs, to understand IT support, and he brings his incredible videos skills. Darren’s superpower is telling stories using the form of video. So if you’re looking for a new video for your homepage, for your about us page, perhaps even some testimonial videos and you’re based in the UK, just go on to

Voiceover: The big interview.

Joseph Landes: Paul, it’s great to be on the show with you. My name is Joseph Landes. I’m the chief revenue officer at Nerdio where we empower MSPs to build successful cloud practices in Microsoft Azure.

Paul Green: Now this is the first of a series of interview format experiments that I’m going to do this year. And this interview with Joseph runs over two parts. So next week, he’ll tell you how you can sell more Windows Virtual Desktop. But we’re going to start this week by looking at Azure. And I asked him a question, how do you make more money selling Azure?

Joseph Landes: Well Paul, that’s a great question. I worked at Microsoft for 23 years and I came over to Nerdio a year ago and one of the first questions I got from MSPs that I would speak to is, “I know that I need to move to the public cloud, and I know that Azure is the way I want to go, but I’m really concerned that there’s no way to make money on Microsoft Azure.” And in fact, it’s quite the opposite. You can make a lot more money selling Microsoft Azure and building your cloud practice in Azure rather than staying on premises. Certainly if you’re an MSP and you have not embraced this and you have thought gone in this direction, you’re definitely missing out. So what I’d like to do now, Paul, is walk you through five tips that we have for MSP’s who are looking to make more money selling Microsoft Azure. Would that work?

Paul Green: Yeah, let’s go for it.

Joseph Landes: The first thing we say is you have to become a Microsoft CSP reseller or a cloud solution provider reseller. The most expensive way to buy Azure as an MSP is what Microsoft calls pay-as-you-go. That’s where you take your credit card out of your pocket. You type the numbers in and you say, “Hey, I want to buy some Microsoft Azure.” That is not the way to do it if you’re an MSP. If you’re an MSP, you need to become a CSP reseller. You go to what’s called the CSP distributor in the UK or wherever you happen to be located, and you sign up. And by doing that, you will make at least 10 to 15% off of the list price of Azure. That will be the discount that you get. And in fact sometimes Microsoft has special programs that are running that will give you even more of a discount.

Joseph Landes: So step one, similar to how you’re probably a CSP reseller for Office 365, or Microsoft 365, become a CSP reseller for Microsoft Azure. So step two is doing something that most people get a little bit nervous about, but really is the way to make the most money selling Microsoft Azure, and that is leveraging something called Azure reserved instances or Azure reservations. So the concept here is that you go to your distributor, to your CSP distributor, and you say, “I want to make a three-year or a one-year reservation on Compute. So you calculate with an automation platform like Nerdio, how much Compute your customer is going to consume over the course of the coming period. And you say, “I want to make a reservation. A one-year reservation or a three-year reservation.” And in return for doing that, Microsoft will give you up to a 57% discount off of the list price of Azure.

Joseph Landes: Now you’re probably sitting here thinking, well gosh, why do I want to make a three-year reservation? That seems kind of risky. What if my customer goes out of business? Well the truth is, is that you can return your reservation at any time and the most you will pay is a 12% fee on the unused piece of the consumption. So when you compare the 12% fee versus the 57% savings, it’s really a very easy decision. So we always recommend to MSPs that they leverage Azure reserved instances and specifically they make a three-year reservation on Compute.

Paul Green: It sounds brilliant. So what’s the third thing you should do?

Joseph Landes: So the third thing you want to do is you want to leverage a unique licensing program that Microsoft has called Azure hybrid usage. Now they only have this for the Azure Cloud, not for AWS or GCP. The concept of Azure hybrid usage is that you get credit as an MSP for the windows server that you have already purchased for your customer and you can bring those licenses to the cloud. Now you either need to have software assurance, which unfortunately most MSPs don’t have. Or you go to your CSP distributor and you purchase something from them called a software subscription. And when you do that, you can take those licenses you’ve bought for Windows Server and you can move them to the cloud, saving you at least another 20 to 30% off of the list price of Azure. And again, that only is relevant when you move Windows Server into the Azure cloud.

Joseph Landes: The fourth thing you’d want to do is you’d want to leverage a platform like Nerdio for auto-scaling. Now, the concept of auto-scaling is similar to the electricity in your home, where the more you have it on, the larger your electrical bill will be at the end of the week or the end of the month. Similar with Azure. When you have the meters running, when you have the compute and operating system meters running, you’re going to pay more for your consumption. Now, reserved instances, that’s what stops the compute meter from running. Azure hybrid usage stops the operating system meter from running. But if for some reason you don’t want to leverage those two programs, then you would use an automation platform like Nerdio to implement auto-scaling, where the system looks at your customer’s configuration and it looks at the IT environment that you have set up, and scales down the environment when it’s not being used.

Joseph Landes: So it says, “Hey, this server is not being used,” let’s say from the hours of 10:00 PM to 7:00 AM in the morning, “We will shut down or spin down those servers or those people’s desktops so that they are not consuming Azure credits.” And at the time when they need to be turned on, it will automatically turn them on as well. So scaling down and then scaling back up. So that’s the fourth way of saving money for an MSP on Azure.

Joseph Landes: And then the fifth is something that very few people know about, but it’s actually when you’re setting up your IT environment at Azure, you want to leverage something called the B-Series, B like boy, the B-Series virtual machines. So Microsoft has created this thing called the B-Series virtual machines, which are called burstable virtual machines. The concept of a burstable virtual machine is that, if you have an application that is very bursty and only needs to be used at certain times, the the virtual machine will spin up and you will consume credits during the time that that application is being used. But when the application is not being used, you actually bank credits.

Joseph Landes: So, imagine your application only needs to be used maybe a couple of hours a day, for the other 22 hours, your banking credits to use during that time that your application is bursty. So leveraging B-Series virtual machines wherever possible is something that we at Nerdio recommend as well.

Joseph Landes: So those are the five ways to save and to make more money selling Azure as an MSP. So by moving your it infrastructure to Azure, and taking advantage of these five suggestions that we’ve made, you can easily make up to 80% margins on Azure. You can save up to 80% off the list price of Azure.

Paul Green: I love this, I love this because it is, although obviously some of the things you’ve talked about there are quite complex and very technical, actually the basic concepts of them are very easy to understand. Let’s control our costs. Let’s plan ahead a little bit more. Let’s let’s automate the switching off the lights, which is essentially what Nerdio does by the sound of it. I was thinking of me wandering around the house, switching off things after my daughter’s been through a room, and then leveraging some of those smart things you were just talking about there. Do you find the MSPs are more likely to embrace Azure and push it as more of a solution for their end clients when they can see that actually yes, there’s some really good margin they can make on it?

Joseph Landes: I certainly think so, Paul. Most MSPs are not equipped with a business model that allows them to grasp making money in a cloud world. So if they want to stay competitive in 2020, they’re going to need to adapt a business model based on recurring revenue. And, as someone famous once said, “Updating servers doesn’t grow your business.” So, figuring out a way to make money in the cloud world and make money from the first day, really allows an MSP to make that transition into the world of recurring revenue into the world where they’re going to make a lot more money than simply updating their server and hoping that it lasts for a few more years.

Paul Green: That’s brilliant. Thank you. Joseph, I know you’ve got a lot to talk about Windows Virtual Desktop as well, so would you mind coming back onto the podcast next week and perhaps we can talk about that?

Joseph Landes: I would love to. I’d be happy to be your guest every week we have so much to talk about. But let’s start with Windows Virtual Desktop.

Paul Green: Okay. We’ll talk about that next week. In the meantime, where do we find you and what’s the best way to get in touch with you?

Joseph Landes: Yeah, the best way to find us at Nerdio is up on our website,, where you can take a look at our Nerdio Academy where we’re chock-full of information for MSPs who are looking to build a cloud practice in Azure. You could also spin up a free trial of our automation platform. You could take a look at something called our Azure cost estimator, where you could see what it’s going to cost you to actually move your practice to Azure, and we really hope you enjoy interacting with us. We’re there to help you.

Voiceover: Paul Green’s MSP Marketing Podcast. Ask Paul anything.

Andrew: Hello, I’m Andrew Eardley from Prompt PC. I was just wondering, what’s the best type of email campaign to get people to engage with you?

Paul Green: Great question. Thank you Andrew. And it’s a very simple answer. If you want to engage prospects on email, then you’ve got to educate them and you’ve got to entertain them, and ideally do those two things at the same time. A couple of weeks ago, we had a sales expert called Fiona Challis. She was a guest on the podcast, and she talked about moving people into the learning zone. The learning zone is where their mind starts to change. They’re open to discovering what it is that they don’t know, because remember the moment they don’t know, what they don’t know. They are ready to reposition you as the expert in their mind. They’re ready to open themselves up to different ways of doing things and the fact that there might be better solutions out there. And that really is your goal to get them into that learning zone. So your emails have got to teach them about stuff that they don’t know about.

Paul Green: But you’ve got to do that in the most entertaining way possible. Because outside of our world, technology is just a thing. It’s a thing you carry in your pocket and actually it’s quite boring. Most of them don’t really care what Azure is. They don’t really care about cyber security. They don’t want to have to deal with the consequences of it, but they don’t really care about it. So that’s the challenge of email marketing, it’s about teaching them in a way that’s fun.

Paul Green: Because the real goal here is to build a relationship with people. You know that your sales cycle is so very long. It takes people so long to make a decision about sticking with their incumbent MSP or moving to a different MSP. And that’s because technology is so important to their business, but also they don’t understand it. It’s all a bit woo for them. And when they don’t understand something, it’s just easier to stick with the devil you know, than it is to move to someone new. And the way that we overcome that is by building a relationship with the prospects long before they’re even ready to start thinking about switching to someone else. And that’s best done with educational content.

Paul Green: So I think you educate people through videos. You do through written articles. You can do through infographics, you can do it with images. You can take the same content and you can repurpose it in lots of different ways and teach them about technology, but only if it’s relevant to them. Let me give you an example of that. You wouldn’t, for example say, “Here’s why your computer slow.” Because you could write some stuff about that. You could easily create content about that, but that’s not as relevant to the decision makers that you want to reach as, “Here’s why your staff whinge about slow computers.”

Paul Green: Now that’s actually exactly the same content, but we’ve packed it a little bit differently. It’s aimed directly at the decision makers. And if it appears to be relevant to them, and if it appears to be educational and entertaining at the same time, they’re much more likely to consume it. And if they consume it, it’s a major touchpoint. The goal is to touch your prospects 10, 20, 30, 100 times before they’re ready to make that decision. And the more of those touchpoints can be educational, the more likely you are to win the client when they are ready to switch.

Voiceover: How to contribute to the show.

Paul Green: I get a steady trickle of emails that come in Tuesdays and Wednesdays every week and it’s people saying what they think about the podcast. Mostly positive stuff. A few suggestions and thank you. I want to know what you think about the podcast. What would you do differently? What would you like to hear on here? What subjects do you want me to talk about? What guests do you think I should invite on? Go on, drop me an email.

Voiceover: Coming up next week.

Paul Green: Joseph Landes from Nerdio. He’s back next week then. For the second part of his interview, he’s going to tell you how to sell Windows Virtual Desktop.

Joseph Landes: A few months ago, Microsoft released Windows Virtual Desktop, and since then we have been fairly overwhelmed with demand.

Paul Green: We’re also going to be talking about some clever ways to help your clients remember their passwords and why you must fire the internal terrorist who’s making your business a major headache for you.

Voiceover: Made in the UK for MSPs around the world. Paul Green’s MSP Marketing Podcast.