The most direct path to profitability for an MSP is automation.
And that means more than a Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM), it means your provisioning process, your escalation process (well, Rocketship does that for you), your documentation process, your hiring process (as much as possible), etc. It’s EVERYTHING.
How do you decide what to work on next?
The most important automation to avoid (at first) is the automation you think impacts your ability to be efficient as an owner.
“What!?” you say?
Certainly, if you automate the things costing you time and causing you personal frustration, you will get value. But is the value worth the cost? Automation can be very time-consuming, and the ROI is all that matters here.
Quite often, the things impacting the owner are important but not urgent. Conversely, the things slowing down your team are both important and urgent. In fact, I’d argue that 99% of the time, if you have to decide between automating something that impacts you as the owner vs automating something for the team, you should just pick the team.
The reason is simple: The math says that if you save yourself 1 hour/day, then you get.. 1 hour/day. But if you save 1 hour/day for a technician, and you have 10 techs in your helpdesk, that is 10 hours/day saved. That’s a 10x reduction in wasted labor.
Let’s give an example from my own life as an MSP owner.
Use My Bad Decision as Your Lesson
Converting quotes and the overall procurement process are painful in almost every PSA in the MSP world. Many will argue that this or that PSA is better at it, but that’s only because people have become used to the pain. The reality is that it’s not fun doing these processes in any PSA. There are always little things you have to take care of after converting from opportunity to work item.
So years ago I wrote a tool that hooked into the Autotask API and did most of the Opportunity -> Ticket/Project conversion, bypassing the Opportunity Win Wizard for the most part, and setup everything just like I wanted, from calculating S&H to ensuring every charge, ticket, task, whatever had the correct PO#, all the project UDFs were preset, etc.
I spent a lot of time on this, and we got value!
However, the value was limited. We only needed to convert several quotes per week, while the helpdesk itself was handling several tickets per hour. My ROI was a few hundred dollars per month from my automation. When I later developed Rocketship to automate dispatch/scheduling/escalations (it began its life as an internal tool) and we later lost our dispatcher, we never needed to replace her, so we saved roughly $5k/mo. Even while she was working with us, Rocketship was dramatically improving how effectively each tech was working, including an almost complete elimination of “ticket diving” by the dispatcher or service manager when they wanted to know the status of work.
Think of the difference. A few hundred dollars/mo vs $5k/mo. Procurement vs helpdesk.
I should have spent more time automating helpdesk.
Fast forward to today, and the MSP that I own (but no longer run) uses Microsoft Forms for procurement and it works great! No custom coding, very well document, and easy for anybody to adjust. Before, I had to make any changes to the automation. And helpdesk is more efficient than ever.
My Automation Lessons Learned
To summarize, here are lessons learned:
- Prioritize team-focused automation: When deciding what to automate, prioritize processes that impact your team’s efficiency and productivity over those that primarily benefit the owner (or a single manager). Saving time for multiple team members can result in significant labor savings compared to saving time for the owner alone.
- Assess the ROI: Consider the return on investment (ROI) when automating processes. Evaluate whether the time and effort required for automation justify the value it brings. Focus on automating tasks that yield substantial benefits and contribute to long-term productivity gains.
- Balance urgency and importance: While tasks affecting the owner may be important, they often lack urgency. Conversely, tasks that slow down the team are both important and urgent. When faced with the choice between owner-centric automation and team-centric automation, prioritize the latter as it can have a more significant impact on overall productivity.
- Identify high-impact areas: Analyze which areas of your operations have the most significant impact on productivity and efficiency. For example, in the case of the MSP owner, automating helpdesk processes yielded substantial savings compared to automating procurement processes. Identify the processes with the highest potential for time and cost savings.
- Evaluate existing tools and solutions: Before investing time and resources into custom coding or developing complex automation, explore existing tools and solutions that may meet your needs. In the blog’s example, Microsoft Forms proved to be a simple and effective solution for procurement, eliminating the need for custom coding and frequent adjustments.
Remember, effective automation requires a strategic approach that considers the impact on the team, ROI, urgency, and importance of the processes being automated. By focusing on the right areas and making informed decisions, you can optimize your time and energy when automating processes in your organization.
P.S. One thing that has helped me as the CEO is to think of myself as the Chief Executive Obstacle (CEO). As CEO, we tend to be me-centered vis-a-vis the team. My initial automation around procurement was not the right use of my time and didn’t remove me as an obstacle to the team — in fact, it made me more of an obstacle because I was the only person that could fix the procurement automation — whereas developing Rocketship greatly freed up their time and kept me out of their hair.