Imagine you needed brain surgery (not a pleasant thought I admit, but just go with me on this one).
You're in the hands of the Number One Brain Surgeon in your area, which makes you feel a lot better about the situation. As you're lying there on his table he's getting prepped for the operation
"Big drill? Check. Large hammer? Check."
There's a ringing sound. It's your brain surgeon's mobile. He fishes it out of his pocket and answers.
"Hello... she hurt her leg? Right... can she walk on it? OK, that's good... give her an x-ray and bandage her up. Bye".
He picks up a big wobbly saw from the table and starts sharpening it. But is interrupted by his mobile again.
"Hello... he's got stomach ache, has he? Right, give him a few tablets and tell him to come back tomorrow if it's not better."
Now your brain surgeon starts whistling as he organises his chisels.... and his phone rings again.
"Hello... he's got a persistent cough? Let's play safe with this one and run full bloods on him. Let me know what you discover"
Suddenly you realise what's happening... your brain surgeon is triaging new patients turning up at the hospital. While he's prepping your brain surgery.
"Um, doc," you say, hearing the nervousness in your voice. "You're not going to answer those calls while hacking into my head, are you?"
"Of course not!" your surgeon replies with a laugh, adding: "I've got to scrub my hands in a minute. The nurse will answer my calls and put them on speakerphone".
What's going on here?
Let me explain. This is plainly a ridiculous scenario that would never happen in real life, right?
But yesterday I heard the MSP equivalent of this story from one of my MSP Marketing Edge members. Let's call him Tim *not his real name.
Tim's at breaking point. He's had his MSP for 15+ years and has followed the classic journey of building it from zero revenue to a business of 6 people. Four of those are on his helpdesk.
Yet Tim is bombarded every day with messages from clients and staff. And I don't use the word bombarded lightly. He is literally overwhelmed, all day, every day.
To make a point, I forced him to go back through 24 hours of communications on his phone... looking at every email, text, phone call and Teams message he'd received.
And we calculated that in just one day, he'd been involved in 28 different items relating to service delivery. These were a mix of client requests (mostly first line) and questions from his staff (mostly low level).
And he was handling many of these, while trying to do Third Line / Specialist work (the IT equivalent of a brain surgeon triaging patients during surgery).
BTW 1 - Tim admitted this was a quiet day 😳
BTW 2 - it's only in writing this today, I realised that we forgot to look at how many PSA tickets he touched... they get an average of 40 tickets a day, so maybe that 28 items was actually 38 or 48?
Tim had also fallen into the deadly trap of reading and replying to messages outside of normal work hours... we're talking 11.30pm at night.
Unsurprisingly, the net result is general unhappiness.
Tim says he has a great business that pays him well. But his overall life quality and relationship with Mrs Tim are suffering. Plus, he struggles to pay more than lip service to growing his business.
I'm not surprised, are you?
Here's my diagnosis and suggested treatment regime
I reassured Tim yesterday that the disease he has is common, and every MSP suffers from it at some point. Tim has one of the most serious cases I've ever seen, but with the right treatment he could be completely cured within a month.
However, he must take urgent action. He is at serious danger of becoming a burnt out business owner, which would be such a waste of a nice and talented person.
Dr Paul's diagnoses
Diagnosis 1) Tim cares about his business and clients. He cares SO MUCH that he doesn't ever, ever, ever want them to be let down. His way of ensuring this is to permit them to contact him directly, day or night, whatever the issue. This way he can own every problem.
They know there is a helpdesk, but when they phone Tim he jumps into immediate action for them, even for something as minor as a password reset. Essentially, Tim's still acting like a one man band for his clients. Except there are too many of them now for Tim to have much of a life left outside of work.
Diagnosis 2) The quality of Tim's work is probably the lowest it has ever been. He recognises this but is getting away with it because as the business owner he's not really accountable to anyone. However this is setting a dangerous precedence and culture throughout the whole business.
Diagnosis 3) Tim doesn't really trust his team. Maybe this is because he's never had the time to train them properly, so they are doing stuff the way they think it should be done, rather than the way Tim wants it to be done.
Dr Paul's treatment plan
Treatment 1) Brute force re-educate the clients how to get support
Because I discussed this in detail with Tim I could see this was a highly emotional subject for him. Emotionally, he's compelled to get involved with every little client issue, even though at a cognitive level he understands the craziness of that.
So I prescribed cold turkey for him - total removal from all client contact at the start of every support enquiry. Most MSPs don't need to go full cold turkey with this, but I believe Tim must. I told to:
- Put his phone on permanent divert to the helpdesk. Set up an auto reply on texts doing the same. And an Out Of Office on his email. All of them sending clients directly to the helpdesk to get support
- Maybe he should even get a secret second number shared only with staff, friends and family
- Certainly he should get a new email address. Perhaps even a virtual assistant (VA) to read his emails and flag up the 3 or 4 a day that genuinely need him to deal with
Treatment 2) Funnel all contact with his helpdesk staff into huddles
Rather than let his staff interrupt him all day with low level questions, Tim should funnel all contact into 4 structured huddles a day.
That means logging out of Teams. And not answering his phone if they call.
Instead, everyone jumps on a short call every day at 9am, 11am, 1pm and 3pm. They can ask their questions (to which Tim's answer should mostly be "what do you think the answer is?"). Tim can stay in touch with the support requests coming in, without having to actually touch them. This will help him grow confidence in his team, plus give them enough contact with him to get their work done.
Over time, he can reduce this to 3, then 2, then one huddle a day. He'll know when this is right.
Treatment 3) Immediately invest excess time into business growth, life quality and relationship
If Tim can implement treatments 1 and 2, he will suddenly have an abundance of time to fill. This extra time could create more anxiety, ironically. After 15 years of working every hour on every thing, it can be very hard to adjust.
So he should fill much of that time with business growth activities. Improving his marketing. Cultivating more sales.
The world's most focused business owners only do something if it generates new revenue or protects existing revenue.
This can be a great aspiration for Tim.
I also recommended he take a regular afternoon or day off - "I don't work Fridays" can be life changing. But only when you invest it into seriously enjoying a proper hobby or other pastime.
Tim's initial investment of his spare personal time should go into Mrs Tim. She's tolerated years of him putting password resets before her. It's time to flip that round. A few surprise weekends away, or even something as simple as meeting for lunch every Friday can do enormous amounts of good in most relationships.