Two Lists (And One Decision) To THRIVE During Tough Times

Jack Miller (center) shown in the early days of the Quill Corp. (Wikimedia Commons)

We’ve all been there…

Your business…your life…seem to be spinning out of control. There’s too much to do and not enough time to do it. You’re crushed under the projects, the tasks, the urgency, everything left undone weighing heavily on your mind. Free time? Forget it.

For starters, you have to first accept there is no “time management,” only self-management; no balance, only choices. Being productive is all about getting yourself to prioritize the things that you NEED to do, delegating everything else and restraining yourself from doing things that are low-money activities and things that need to go on the “Stop Doing” list. Easier said than done.

Those few things that you truly MUST prioritize and get done are what you really get paid for, that bring you the most equity, the most stability, the most profit, the most progress. They must be on the top of your “Need To Do” list.

Remember, your job is simple: it’s to make your company successful. It’s not to fritter away your time on things that really aren’t critical to that mission or on things that really can be done just as well (or better) by others – and it becomes even more critical during tough economic times like the one we’re in right now.

A few years ago I interviewed Jack Miller, former CEO of Quill Corporation, an office supplies store that he started from nothing and later sold to Staples for $685 million. Jack started the business in 1956 on a small loan of $2,000 from his father-in-law. All he had at the time was a desk, a chair and two phones. His first office was in the back room of his father’s poultry shop on the north side of Chicago (he joked with me about having to explain to prospects what the constant clucking sound was in the background).

Jack built his client base through old-fashioned prospecting. Cold calls. Walking into prospective clients’ offices to sell them on buying their supplies from him. No e-mail, no LinkedIn, no websites, no SEO, no pay-per-click. When he finally secured a small book of business, he immediately plowed that money into marketing, revolutionizing his industry by mailing product catalogues to clients, becoming the first mail-order company in the United States. Because of his aggressive marketing, the company’s revenues skyrocketed to $180 million in the mid-1980s.

When I interviewed him, Jack shared with me that the biggest secret to his success was creating two lists: things that ONLY he could do, and everything else. He relentlessly focused all his energy on those things he felt only he could do, delegating or forgetting everything else. The #1 on the top of his list was marketing – specifically the role and responsibility of getting clients and making the cash register ring.

I hear a lot of small MSPs blame their lack of money as the main reason they can’t do well in business, can’t do marketing. Truth be told, this is just a giant excuse to let themselves off the hook from doing something they simply don’t want to do. MANY of the multibillion-dollar companies we now know were ones that were started by an entrepreneur hitting the street and cold prospecting, just like Jack Miller. Fred Smith. Michael Dell. John Paul Dejoria. Richard Branson. The list is LONG. Picking up the phone and cold calling is not ideal but is often necessary until you have sufficient funds to build a sales and marketing team that can assist you and invest in more “sophisticated” ways of marketing.

Another excuse: I don’t have time to do marketing. You’re not overwhelmed, you’re confused. When you printed “Owner” on your business card, you took the responsibility to bring in clients, like it or not. If you don’t like it, you’ll be far better off taking a job doing technical work. There is no “lack of time.” There is only a lack of motivation. Sometimes it’s a fear of selling. Sometimes it is pure laziness. If you are truly that busy, you ought to be making enough profit to hire staff to shed the lower-income-producing activities you’re doing so you can invest more time into marketing. If you have “no time” and no money, you’re failing, period. Cut out all the clients, projects and activities that aren’t profitable and START working diligently on activities that bring you ones that ARE.

If you’re serious about growing a business, then stop right now and make your two lists: 1) the most important things you must do to grow the business profitably (which is every CEO’s #1 job), and 2) the things you should stop doing, or be delegating.

I’ll make you a good-natured bet that you’re spending multiple hours a week on things that are of low importance or no importance, unprofitable, unproductive and outright unnecessary, all while telling yourself you have “no time” for marketing. Turn those tables and you’ll find money flowing your way. It’s not magic.

For MSPs who want to discover even more things they SHOULD be doing to thrive right now, join us at one of our upcoming Roadshow events:

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There’s no doubt about it: Robin Robins has helped more MSPs and IT services companies to grow and prosper, liberating them from stagnation, frustration, drudgery and low incomes. For over 18 years, Robin has been showing MSPs and IT services firms how to implement marketing plans that attract higher-quality clients, lock in recurring revenue streams and secure high-profit contracts. Her methods have been used by over 10,000 IT services firms around the world, from start-ups to multimillion-dollar MSPs. For more information and a FREE copy of The MSP’s Ultimate Guide To IT Services Marketing And Lead Generation, go to