Starting a managed service provider business is hard work, and it requires careful planning to be carried out successfully. It can be tempting to dive right in and start offering technical services -- after all, that’s what you know best if you have worked in IT before -- but it’s important to ensure that you start your MSP business properly by defining your offerings effectively, establish an appropriate pricing strategy, set up the right workspace and start off on the right foot with your first clients.
Keep reading for tips on starting a managed service provider business. We’ll cover everything from how to formally set up the business, through the onboarding process for your first clients.
Before You Start Your MSP
Before you can start providing managed services, you need to establish your business. Common steps in the process include:
- Register a domain name and set up a website for your business.
- Create (or commission) a logo.
- Obtain a phone number.
- Register the business as an LLC or another type of corporate entity.
- Find an accountant, an attorney and any other business professionals you may need to help run the business.
- Set up a bank account for the business.
- Create an SLA template for use with the business.
- Find office space (to keep your travel costs low, it’s wise to set up shop close to your target clients).
If it’s your first business, remember to keep your documents and records in order. One day it will save your life.
Develop Your MSP Offering
Another basic step in starting an MSP business is to define which specific technical services you will offer, and how you will bundle them together. Although you may be able to perform a range of technical services, it’s important to determine which ones will bring you the most business at the most profitable rates.
One factor to consider in this regard is which MSP services are in greatest demand in your area. If the local market for managed network services is already saturated, you may want to avoid including those as part of your business and, instead, focus on other services (such as managed backup or managed security) that are in greater demand.
You’ll also want to think about which services you can offer most effectively and cost-efficiently.
- Which technical areas do you know best?
- For which types of services will it be easiest for you to find qualified employees?
- Will offering some services require you to purchase specialized hardware or software tools?
In most cases, you’ll decide to offer more than one service. So you need to determine how to combine your different services into a single package, or bundle. As we explain in our MSP bundling guide, bundling makes service offerings easy for customers to understand and consume, while also simplifying things for the MSP. Learn more in the bundling guide.
Further reading MSP’s Bundling Guide: How to Build Your Offer
Determine Your MSP Pricing Strategy
There are many different pricing models and strategies that MSPs can follow, each with different advantages and drawbacks.
At a high level, MSP pricing strategies can fall into one of two categories.
The first is “All You Can Eat” pricing. Under this model, you charge a certain price to deliver a service for a certain amount of time (such as a month or a year), and the customer can consume as much of that service as they choose during that time. All You Can Eat prices are typically set based either on the number of devices you will be supporting or the number of users.
The second overarching pricing strategy is break-fix. With this approach, you define the cost of certain services, and customers pay only when they use a service, rather than paying a fixed monthly rate.
You can, of course, use a combination of All You Can Eat and break-fix pricing. In fact, that is what the majority of MSPs do.
For more tips on developing an effective pricing strategy, refer to our MSP pricing guide.
Further reading The Startup MSP’s Guide to Pricing
Choose Your Software
Most MSPs rely on an arsenal of software tools to help them do their jobs, ranging from remote management and monitoring software to helpdesk management platforms, to backup and recovery tools.
There are multiple tools available in each category. The specific solutions you decide to use are up to you, but you’ll want to spend some time as you start your MSP on evaluating different options and weighing their costs and benefits. The point here is that software selection should be carefully planned; don’t just use the first tool you find or the one you currently know best, because it may not prove to be the most cost-effective or easiest to use in the long run.
Prepare Your Workspace
Once you have secured office space, you’ll need to devote time to set up your hardware and phone system. You may also need to put in place the cloud-based infrastructure that you’ll be using to support your business.
Find Your First Clients
Once you have completed all of the hard preparation work to start your MSP business, you’re finally ready to find your first clients. Of course, finding clients can be a challenge, especially if your background is in technical services, rather than marketing or sales.
Fortunately, finding MSP clients is not as hard as you might think. There are a variety of strategies you can employ:
- Ask for referrals (from friends, business partners, and other customers, once you establish a customer base).
- Establish an effective Web presence both to help clients find you and to instill confidence in the legitimacy of your business. A Web presence includes not just a website but also appearing in places like Google Reviews.
- Partner with existing companies. Remember, not all other MSPs are your enemies; some might be willing to partner with you and send customers your way if the customers are not a good fit for their own business (because, for example, the customers need services that your partner doesn’t offer).
- Be personable and professional. Marketing is an art, and it takes time to learn, but being personable and professional is one of the basics. Introduce yourself to decision-makers at prospective client companies and let them know which services you offer while avoiding being overly pushy.
- Use discounts sparingly. It can be tempting to discount your services heavily when you are launching an MSP, in order to attract new customers. This is not usually a good idea, however, because lower prices decrease the perceived value of your services. They also eat into your profit margins.
For more tips on landing your first customers, see our article on the topic.
Further reading MSP’s Guide on How to Get the First Clients
Onboard Clients Successfully
Finding clients is only half the battle. You also need to ensure that the onboarding process goes smoothly. When a client relationship is new, small missteps can lead customers to reconsider their decision to work with you. That’s why you should take extra care in ensuring that you integrate all of your new clients’ systems quickly and efficiently, train the customer’s employees effectively in working with you and your systems, and schedule routine check-ins to address any issues that arise during the onboarding process.
For more onboarding tips, check out our MSP onboarding guide.
Further reading MSP’s Client Onboarding Guide
Starting a managed service provider business requires a lot of careful work, from setting a pricing strategy to marketing your business, and beyond. But the difficult planning process is worth it because it will help you avoid issues in the long run by ensuring that your MSP business is set up for success from the start.