Well, I Didn’t See THAT Coming

As the saying goes, life’s a funny old dog, ain’t she?

Last month I crossed a threshold I swore in my early entrepreneurial days I would never cross: hiring my 40th employee. Some of you may shrug and think, “Big deal.” For some, hiring and growing a team is an exciting, celebratory process that fires you up and brings you great joy. A sense of accomplishment. Me? I’ve increased my trips to the liquor store. All entrepreneurs have their kryptonite, so don’t judge.

For the record, I’m not horrible at hiring and managing people; compared to what I see going on in some businesses, I could even argue I’m downright brilliant. But like it? Absolutely not – which brings me to two very important, very critical points about entrepreneurial success for MSPs and IT services firms:

ONE: If you have any hope of succeeding in growing your IT services business, you must maintain enormous flexibility in how you get to where you want to be. Goals might not change, but plans on how to get there MUST. No one can truly foresee and predict the future, much less control it. People, events, competition, technology, buying trends, laws, taxes, government regulations and opportunities ALL change over time, and MSPs that are inflexible and cling to their “way of doing things,” remaining closed about testing new approaches, are hamstrung.

When I hosted Marc Randolph, co-founder of Netflix, at one of our Producers Club events, his story of growing the now $16-billion-plus entertainment giant could not underscore this more. Blockbuster laughed at Marc when he approached them about selling his fledgling company to them as an add-on to their brick-and-mortar stores. Laughed. Today, Netflix is arguably one of the biggest success stories of our time, and Blockbuster is GONE. (Click here to watch me interviewing Marc Randolph about the importance of testing new ideas. His answer is genius.)

Of course, the natural tendency is to become more fixed, more rigid, less accepting of change and new ideas as we grow older. My father goes to the same restaurant every Friday night and will not try a new place. His opinion is that once you find something you like, why even try anything else? That may be okay for picking a restaurant, but if you’re in the same business next year as you are today, your business is in jeopardy of becoming extinct.

TWO: Closely tied to being flexible in your approach is being willing to admit where you were WRONG in your thinking, your approach and what you believed to be true in the past. To let go. This is no easy thing for many people. I often have to say to clients, “Would you rather be right or RICH?” to get them to TEST new ideas, venture into uncharted waters (for them) and be open to changing their approach.

The simple reality is that you cannot move forward in life or in business clinging to and burdened down by dead ideas. Forest fires burn up the forest, killing wildlife and people – and that’s not good. It’s painful and tragic. But in many aspects, a forest fire that burns everything to the ground is needed and necessary, and part of the natural cycle of the forest’s growth and replenishment. Over time, dead trees, leaves and branches pile up, clogging the forest floor, preventing new growth, stagnating and killing the forest. Same goes for us as human beings.

Over time, our own baggage, shortcomings, insecurities, resentments and bad experiences build up and harden, freezing us into a way of doing things that prevents new growth. Burning that off IS painful, which is why you need a decided, controlled burn, not an out-of-control wildfire (hence, me hiring more people but slowish).

That’s NOT to say that fundamentals change, because they don’t, but the application of them, and how they are utilized, does. Success in business will always be about providing value to the customer – but what customers value will change based on what they can get from your competition and what they need today. Success in marketing will always be about getting the right message to the right customer at the right time. Over time, media (which is how the message is carried to the customer) has changed and will continue to change, but the fundamentals of communication – getting someone’s attention and getting them to buy – won’t. Technology and AI will continue to change our workforce and the type of skills and talent we need to acquire in business – but ALL businesses need to find and retain top talent to succeed. Outside of that, you’re locked into staying and playing small.

The key is to keep your feet firmly planted in the fundamentals of business success while staying flexible and open to new approaches, new plans, new ideas of getting where you want to go. My questions to you are these: What is new and different about your MSP this year vs. last year? What NEW marketing and sales methods have you implemented over the last six months? Last year? What NEW services are you launching and introducing to your clients today? In the last year?

If the answer is nothing or not much, you are a dead forest full of debris. SO much is changing and evolving in our industry right now that you MUST be rethinking everything: your service plans and what you do for your clients, the talent you are hiring, your pricing strategy, your contracts, your operations AND the vendors you are working with. A few are getting these changes right and are profiting big; others are still barely hanging on and will find themselves in a position of no return in about three to five years, unless they change now. We HAVE moved into a far more complex, higher-risk game over the last few years with the continued onslaught of cyber-risks, regulator compliance and the Internet of Things.

This is one of the reasons I’m addressing the “trends, tribulations and turmoil” going on in the IT services industry at my opening night of Boot Camp (www.RobinsBigSeminar.com).