If you’re an MSP owner and have ever felt like just giving up – whether that’s selling the damned thing off cheap for whatever you can get, handing the keys over to the employees and walking away or just closing it down, this article is for you.
For starters, the saying “Winners never quit and quitters never win” is B.S. Sometimes you need to quit certain things – quit cheap customers, quit tolerating poor performance, quit bad marketing campaigns, quit paying bad employees to show up and make your life miserable, quit a business partner that has a different work ethic or vision or even quit your MSP if you can’t get it to work and it’s making you seriously unhappy – which is the one I want to talk to you about today.
Even if you’re running a successful business (and therefore don’t want to actually quit), if you don’t wake up every once in a while wanting to quit, you’re not doing much of anything. Super fit people will readily admit they don’t always look forward to a hard workout and often have to play mental games to trick themselves into getting a workout done. Top salespeople and professional athletes alike get into slumps they have to talk themselves out of. Nearly all highly successful CEOs have struggled with addiction, often as a means for dealing with the stress they are under.
This is why we admire entrepreneurs who achieve massive success. We KNOW how difficult it is to be running a $1 to $5 million MSP business, much less a $100 million+ MSP empire. As an entrepreneur myself who built my business from the ground up – no investors, no partners, no experience in running a business, no college education on finance, marketing, leadership, etc. – I will assure you there are many, many days when I’m crushed with a monster workload and a feeling of anxiety about getting it all done. ADD to that the knowledge that there are so many things needing my attention – operations, finance, hiring, leadership, etc. – and the fear that I’m not being the leader I need to be for my people. ADD to that the long list of things that are dysfunctional or not excellent in the business that I need to fix. ADD to that all the personal stuff – working out, taking care of the dog, the house, personal finances and the kiddos and husband.
My emotions can range from anxiety to anger. SERIOUS frustration abounds. If I left those feelings unchecked, I would quit, or worse – worse being the development of a drinking problem or serious health issues related to the garbage-truck-sized dump of stress I’m eating for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a few pissed-off biscuits snacked on in between.
So yes, there are days when I’m overwhelmed and want to quit.
Let me tell you what I do and have done to work through it.
First off, remind yourself that you CAN quit. Anytime. Right now. No one is holding a gun to your head. There are other things you can do. Many people would respond, “But I can’t.” Can’t meaning they can’t disappoint their customers, employees and family. I get it. But what might really tether you is that you aren’t going to easily find another gig paying you the same amount of money and offering you the same level of freedom and control. That’s worth noting. You can forget about that when you’re seriously stressed out. It might be that while the business is stressing you out, it’s still a pretty great gig to have.
Second (and this is EXTREMELY important), identify and clarify exactly what is creating the most amount of misery and anxiety for you – and you’re NOT allowed to say “ALL of it.” Not only is that not true – because there probably are things you like and that are good – but it’s also not helpful in eradicating the problem. You need pinpoint accuracy.
When I coach members through difficult times, I find that what’s really causing their stress is not clear to them. They’ve allowed themselves to be SO busy that they’ve not paused long enough to just sit and think. “Breaks” are filled with Facebook scrolling or YouTube videos to distract them. They’re constantly sucking on the teat of technology (ticketing systems, e-mail, Slack channel, etc.), to the point where they are overwhelmed by “all of it,” but they haven’t clarified what the specific source of their misery is.
If that sounds like you, my suggestion is to UNPLUG and invest a solid 20 to 30 minutes writing out a brain dump of what you’re anxious about. Keep peeling back the onion to get down to what’s causing you the most stress and anxiety. That is a START. You might need to really think about this over several days or weeks. Ponder it. Keep adding to and refining this list.
Once you have something on paper, the next step defining what you WANT. What does success look like FOR YOU? If you’re stressed out and feeling defeated because your MSP is not growing or not profitable, then you need to clarify exactly what you WOULD feel good about. Let’s say you need the profitability to move from 10% to 20% to feel like a success. Perfect. That’s measurable. What else needs to be true for you to feel like a success? What else? What else? Write it all out.
You cannot hit a target or standard you’ve not clearly defined yet. If you’re ill, the doctor is going to say, “Tell me where it hurts.” If you say “everywhere,” he can’t treat you. Define a set of “symptoms.” Getting clarity WILL give you energy.
Next, ask yourself what needs to change. Maybe you DO need to replace an employee or two. Maybe you DO need to raise your prices, fire a few cheapo clients. Maybe you do need to find a solid leader to run operations, marketing, sales, etc. But most important, you need to create a “stop doing” list, not just a “to-do” list – and this is critical. Maybe you can’t stop doing it now, but set it as a goal. “By June, I’m going to stop doing all technical work.”
Or maybe you’re asking for a goal that is simply unattainable. Often new members come to me saying they want to add 5 new MRR clients a month, starting from zero clients a month, no marketing, no salespeople, no list, no experience. Is it possible? Sure. Is it likely? Not at all. Building a marketing system can take 2 to 3 years. Building a sales function can take at least that much time IF YOU’VE NEVER DONE IT BEFORE. In business, you have to think long term.
Another thing you’ll have to accept is that everything won’t be perfect. This is MY Achilles heel. There are some bathrooms that won’t be clean, Mr. Kroc. Growth is messy and requires creating chaos, then making order out of it, again and again. Most companies don’t grow because the minute things heat up, the owner slams their foot on the proverbial brake to slow it all down to maintain an easier, less stressful ride – but you can’t go forward with your foot on the brake. You need to learn how to make order out of chaos over and over again.
Ultimately, here’s my #1 piece of advice from ALL of this: Get clear on the OUTCOME you want in your life. The “means” for how you get there might have to shift, and you might choose to quit what you’re doing IF you have another better plan to get what you want. Get a LONG-TERM vision. The truth is, 5 years from now, none of the problems you’re dealing with will matter.
Very little, including situations, people and results, needs to be constant in your life. The only permanent resident in your life is you – everything and everyone else, a tenant. Things only stick around if you allow them to. Permanence needs permission.
Everything I now do well, even brilliantly, from which I generate millions of dollars, has come from years of practice and doing embarrassingly awful at first. Hiring, leading, finances, development of systems and processes and even marketing and selling. If my past performance and skills were permanent, you wouldn’t be reading this right now. If all the bad hires, mistakes, oversights and bad choices were permanent, my business would be in the toilet. Much of what I was frustrated with 10 years ago is no longer what I’m frustrated with today.
I am at a point in my life where I could quit. I don’t need to work another day, but I do. Trust me when I say to you that YOU won’t quit either. Yes, the idea of selling or closing the business to lessen the burdens feels like a cool drink of water in a very dry, hot and dusty existence. But in no time flat, you would miss all of it and find yourself on another dry, hot and dusty road.
Better to learn how to fix the problems you are dealing with here before thinking the grass is greener in the pasture over yonder.