How to start and run a business – build a business machine
MSP ownership isn’t easy. But does it have to be so hard?
So-called “hustle culture,” common these days, tells us that the amount of success you enjoy is directly proportional to the amount of hard work you put in.
Following this framework to its logical conclusion, many MSP owners assume they need to grind harder, put in more time and more effort every day, rest less, and maximize productivity in the short term if they want to achieve more success.
No pain, no gain, right? There will be plenty of time to relax when you are successful…or at least that’s how the thinking goes.
Well, that mindset is more than simply misleading. In fact, it can be downright toxic. Another phrase for “hustle culture” is “burnout culture,” and if you are overworking yourself every day, always trying to put in more time and more effort, going on productivity binges, only stopping to sleep and eat, you are not only putting yourself in danger of harmful side effects — you may not even be getting anywhere.
Of course, growing any business takes patience, attention, and dedication. However, some of the most successful MSP owners know that the key to success isn’t just hard work. It’s about creating a business machine that gives you the power and freedom to control your own destiny, on your terms.
In this post, I’m going to show you the tools that you need to stop “hustling,” transform your business life, and begin to truly thrive. Then, at the end, I’m going to give you a special opportunity to delve more deeply into this topic.
You can create your own business machine with these three critical questions:
- Who cares about what you offer?
- How does your business satisfy those people’s needs (the problem you solve)?
- How can you find and reach those people?
Are you ready to discover more detail about each of those three elements, and learn how to bring it all together to break free of the grind with a business that does the work for you?
Table of Contents
Let’s get started with:
Getting caught in the MSP ownership spin cycle
Picture a shovel.
Maybe it’s the snow shovel in your garage. Maybe it’s a gardening trowel. Or maybe it’s the plastic toy you used in the sandbox as a child.
Now imagine shoveling that snow, dirt, or sand manually, by hand.
A shovel is a useful tool, up to a certain point. Nevertheless, if you imagine trying to move an entire mountain, I think you’ll agree that some jobs are just too big for your shovel. What you need is a machine.
The same principle applies to MSP ownership. When you first start a business, things can feel like they’re going well (if you’re lucky).
You’re getting customers or clients, you’re growing, and you can see new opportunities forming down the road. Sooner or later, however, reality kicks in. The reality is that if you’re doing all the work yourself, you are limiting your growth potential. There’s only so much you can do by yourself with a manual shovel.
Broadly speaking, you can divide business into two parts: Delivering, and overhead.
Delivering is the thing that you do, the transformation you offer to somebody else. Overhead is all of the work you have to do to get the opportunity to deliver (sales, networking, building, growing).
What happens to so many people is that they get caught in the MSP ownership spin cycle: Business is booming, and the overhead is doing well, so you turn your attention towards delivering. Then, suddenly, sales aren’t doing so well anymore, and you have to focus on overhead, at the expense of delivery. Once the overhead is doing better, you notice delivery has suffered. And so on…and on…and on…and hustle culture tells us that if we just work a little faster, a little harder, a little better, a little longer, we can turn it all into success.
But the spin cycle is random; it’s unpredictable, and there’s never enough time.
So your business has good days and bad days, good months and bad months, good years and bad years, and the spin cycle continues in perpetuity. So you don’t have the right tools to get out of it.
There is good news for those starting a business.
Whatever it is you do, whatever it is that you’re so good at delivering that people are willing to pay you for it — that skill is harder to learn than building a business machine.
The skill or ability you have already mastered is more challenging than learning practical, successful MSP ownership.
If you can do what you already do well, you can do this, too.
You can’t do it with that shovel, though, no matter how many extra hours you put in. But, no matter how hard you grind, it’s simply not possible to move a mountain with the wrong tool.
Put down the shovel. There is a better way, because…
Running a business is a problem that has been solved
Euris Rivas, President of UpCasa Technology Services, knows a thing or two about this subject.
He was once caught in the MSP ownership spin cycle, working all the time, not paying himself, and not getting anything out of it. Why? He had randomness and unpredictability built into his business. Now, he is a CEO, not an employee.
By building a business machine, Rivas generated 14x revenue growth within three years, all while enhancing his customers’ satisfaction and delivering on UpCasa’s promise to them.
Matthew Harms, Founder of Pen For Hire, turned his concept from a dream into a successful writing business in just six months by following the pathway I’ll outline in this post. Corinne Statia Thomas was able to grow her business, Absolute Events, by 85% in one year by applying her ability to build a business machine rather than just doing work.
I can’t guarantee that you’ll have the same results as Rivas, Harms, and Statia Thomas. Here’s what I can guarantee: They did it, and so can you.
Start by defining what you want from your business
First and foremost your business should support you in living an extraordinary life. So what does an extraordinary life mean to you?
We divide the question into three components:
- Impact: What impact do you want your business to have?
- Freedom: What freedom do you want your business to give you?
- Wealth: What do you need in order to thrive?
If you can answer those three questions, and understand what your answers mean for you, then you have begun to shape a vision for yourself. We even have a prosperity plan template to help you.
That vision is useful, but it’s not enough by itself. Plenty of MSP owners can imagine the impact, freedom, and wealth they’d like to gain from their business. Most of them don’t succeed.
Because they get caught in the world of hustling. Because they haven’t created a machine.
I’ll give it to you straight: Hustling doesn’t work.
You have a skill that you’re good at, a skill that can transform people and deliver a result for them.
When you focus on that, and on building a machine around that, then you begin to see something very special: the ingredients for a successful, meaningful, and (most importantly) scalable business. It is only through creating a scalable business that you can
What’s scalability’s worst enemy? Variability.
Henry Ford knew that just like he knew the only way to create a scalable business is through standardization and repeatability.
Once you start creating repeatable models and standardized systems of delivery, you are starting to build your machine. And your machine, once built, will reduce both the overhead, the work you have to do to get the opportunity to deliver, and the delivery.
When the business itself is a machine built to deliver a standard, repeatable result, you eliminate the need to figure stuff out. You figure it out once and you are done.
Henry Ford didn’t have to worry about what everyone in his factories was doing at any given moment, or whether he could count on his employees to deliver quality products. The assembly line machine took care of that, leaving Ford with more mental space to think about the future and innovate.
This doesn’t just apply to Model T mass production in the early 20th century anymore.
Today all modern companies like Uber, AirBnB, Facebook, and even The Cheesecake Factory are using the same recipe for scalability that Ford pioneered in his factories.
Euris Rivas, Matthew Harms, and Corinne Statia Thomas understand these principles, too. That’s how they were able to build their business machines with UpCasa, Pen For Hire, and Absolute Events.
Got it, Jeff. But how can I apply this to MY business?
As I mentioned at the top, there are three critical steps to building your own business machine. I’m going to take you through them, beginning with:
Machine Part One: Who Cares?
Here’s the truth: You can only ever sell one thing to one person.
Yes, one thing to one person.
Before your MSP ownership immune system rejects this idea, hear me out. What I’m about to tell you applies across industries, no matter what product you sell.
As a side note: I often hear things like, “I don’t sell a product; I sell a service.”
But the truth is:
“Saying that your service is not a product is an excuse that allows you to work really hard and get very little done.”
Your service IS a product or should be a product if it isn’t already.
It is only through defining a product, refining it, and delivering it repeatedly to create the machine. Only when you have a product can you explain to others what you do and how to do it.
But it is not even the product that you sell. You define the product to make delivering results predictable and repeatable. The results inform what you sell, but only one thing you ever sell.
What is that one thing that you sell?
Your potential customer is in a state of unhappiness. Then, they work with you, they buy your product, and you work your magic, then they’re in a state of happiness because of what you’ve delivered. They are transformed.
That’s it. It doesn’t matter what your product is — when you’re communicating with potential customers, it’s a transformation that you’re selling.
Think of it this way: think of Mario, from the Nintendo games. Mario would eat those fire flowers, and he would power up.
Suddenly, he could do things he couldn’t do before, like shoot fireballs and defeat enemies. Your potential customer is Mario; your product is the fire flower.
Here’s the critical point, though: you are NOT selling Mario the fire flower!
You are selling the ability to do amazing things and the power to get closer to the end of the game.
After eating the fire flower, Mario could do rad things he couldn’t do before. If your potential customer buys your product, they’ll be able to do rad things, too. That’s the transformation. That’s what you’re selling.
Here’s where it gets a bit more complicated: To sell that transformation, you have to know who the potential customer is and how that transformation will happen for them.
That’s why the very first step to building your machine is asking: Who cares?
What’s more, your answer needs to be as specific as it possibly can be.
If you try to appeal to everyone, you’ll water down your story and end up appealing to no one. You must be clear about what you’re offering and to whom.
This can be difficult for some MSP owners. I hear the same complaints all the time: It doesn’t work in my market. This isn’t the way we do things. I don’t want to turn people off. That market is too small.
Here’s the irony: There’s actually no such thing as a big market.
“We’ll be bigger than Starbucks!”
I’ll give you an example from a guy named Luis, who I worked with in my hometown. Luis wanted to go into the coffee market, and dreamt of being bigger than Starbucks.
His logic went like this: “There are 300 million cups of coffee sold each day in the United States. All I need is a fraction of a percent of that amount, and I can be wealthy. So I’m going to sell to all of the 300 million potential customers that are out there, and hope a few of them come my way.”
It sounds like it makes sense. In reality, however, it just doesn’t work that way.
Because the coffee market only exists as segments. There are people who like organic coffee. There are people who like artisanal coffee from a cafe. There are people who like Dunkin Donuts. There are those who take home big red tubs of Folgers.
The questions Luis needed to ask is: who is buying your coffee? Is it the group that prefers organic coffee, the group that goes to the cafe, the group that likes Dunkin, or the group that buys in bulk at Costco?
If Luis were to try to sell his coffee to all of the above, he would end up appealing to none of them. How do you convince a Costco bulk buyer AND an artisanal cafe-goer to switch to your coffee…at the same time?
You can’t, because they want different things from their coffee.
But, by focusing on a narrow market, Luis broadens his market actually becomes.
The same applies to your business. So step one is understanding who your market is. What are their demographics and interests, their lifestyle, gender identity, education? What are their purchase drivers? What are their frustrations and fears, their wants and aspirations? What is the story they tell themselves and tell others about themselves? What is it that keeps them from feeling complete?
The idea is to get to know your potential customer as a human being. Once you do that, you can begin to understand how you can deliver them a transformation. You can begin to design products or programs that solve real problems for real people. And you can create marketing that speaks directly to their needs.
Which brings us to:
Machine Part Two: What do they need?
The second part of your machine is your product. Before we go on, there are two vital things to remember as we discuss this component.
Remember, the product is the fire flower and it enables the transformation.
Removing variability and creating a machine was the insight that Henry Ford had. By producing the same thing, the same way, over and over again you increase the reliability of your transformation. you make it more valuable and you reduce the cost of delivery. You can divide business into activities with that function like different parts, each of which has a specific function, in order to perform a particular task.
We’ve gone through the process of understanding who your potential customer is on a human level. Now, you need to define your product.
Once again, clarity is key. As Henry Ford famously said, “Any customer can have a car painted any color he wants…so long as it’s black.” Does that sound limiting? Perhaps, but the principle underlying Ford’s insistence was sound. Ford Motor Company did one thing: make Fords. And the people buying Fords at the time didn’t care that much what color their car was; they cared about having transportation.
For a modern example, consider Amazon. These days, Amazon sells everything to everybody, but they started out selling one thing: Books.
Of course, Amazon has grown significantly. How? Well…
There are only three ways a business can grow
The first way is luck. Maybe you already have a billion-dollar business. Maybe you struck oil, like the Beverly Hillbillies. Or maybe, like Mark Zuckerberg, you were in the right place at the right time with the right thing. I’m not diminishing luck. It takes effort to recognize it when it comes along. But luck is a terrible strategy.
The second way a business can grow is through hard work. Hustling. Grinding. Pushing a rock up a hill over and over, like Sisyphus, of Greek mythology. All MSP owners go through this to an extent, but the crucial thing I want you to understand is that hard work has diminishing returns. It’s just a fact. Hard work can only go so far, and if your business is growing there will come a point when working harder, longer, and better simply isn’t enough. There’s no shame in that. It means your business is ready to transition to the next chapter.
The third way to grow is to build a business machine. This is what Ray Kroc discovered in 1961 when he purchased McDonald’s — they had a process that allowed anybody to step in and make a hamburger, so they didn’t need a chef.
Think about this: if you go to a diner and ask for a large half-caff latte with skim milk, a shot of vanilla, and a dusting of nutmeg on the foam…well, the result would probably be about as good as if you walked into Starbucks and asked for eggs over-easy with bacon and hashbrowns.
On the other hand, if you reverse it, and order your eggs in the diner and your latte at Starbucks, you’re all-but guaranteed to be a satisfied customer, because you’re ordering the type of product those respective business machines are designed to deliver in a standard, repeatable, scalable way.
So, what does your business machine deliver?
This question connects back to the first part of our machine: understanding your ideal customer. What is missing from their life, what is standing in their way, preventing them from solving their problem, and how do you solve that problem for them?
That’s the answer to what your customer needs. Next, you should ask yourself:
What is it worth?
Many MSP owners think that price is connected to cost or utility. In fact, price has everything to with value — the value of the transformation being offered.
I’ll give you an example. Imagine a potential customer who feels incomplete because he doesn’t have any pants to wear. So he is shopping for a pair of jeans, and he’s faced with a couple of different options: Levis, Diesel, or Purpose brand jeans. All three of these choices would solve his problem, right? Remember: he’s just looking for something to cover himself up.
Levis, Diesel, and Purpose all address his problem in a different way, and are priced accordingly. Levis will cover him, but they won’t do much for his feeling of coolness. Let’s say they cost around $60. Diesel seems cooler, with sexy branding, and costs more: let’s say $150. Finally, Purpose, which is made in Japan on unique, specialized looms, provides the most coolness of all, and is therefore the most expensive, at $800.
Each of these products will solve the problem for this potential customer. He doesn’t have pants, and all three of these companies make functional pants. The difference is the value in the mind of the potential customer — the personal transformation each product promises goes well beyond simple modesty.
What does this mean for your business?
To understand your price, you need to understand the value of the transformation you offer. It’s not the cost, effort, or time it took you to produce the product. It’s the value of the transformation that product provides.
Now we’ll move into the final part of our machine:
Machine Part Three: How do you deliver predictable sales?
Now that you understand your ideal customer, the transformation you’re offering to them, and how you plan to deliver that transformation, one big question remains: How do you find people to deliver to, and how do you do it continuously with less and less effort, so that you’re not spending all your time hustling, and your business does the work for you?
To define a way to turn people from strangers into loyal fans, we use something called a Customer Value Journey.
Understanding the Customer Value Journey
There are a couple of principles that are key to understand here:
- Simple wins. Write this down: Big can be good. Small can be good. Complicated is NEVER good. A confused mind never buys.
- All marketing is human to human. So often, marketers get stuck in thinking about whether they are b2b, or b2c…there’s no difference! All marketing is about transforming somebody who is unhappy into somebody who is happy. Whether it’s b2b or b2c, it’s all h2h…human to human!
How does this apply to the Customer Value Journey?
It has to do with intimacy.
I’ll explain. Even if we are talking to thousands of people at a time, each individual needs to feel that we are making an intimate human connection. That’s what the Customer Value Journey is all about — a process that builds feelings of trust and personal connection.
If you’re at a networking event (and there isn’t a global pandemic), it may be a very normal thing to shake somebody’s hand. Although, if you haven’t greeted them and introduced yourself first, that handshake suddenly doesn’t feel so normal. Imagine you’re standing at the buffet and a stranger sneaks up behind you and grabs your hand. It would feel like an assault!
The same feeling can happen if you move from “hello” to “buy my product” too quickly. But if you allow your potential customer to work their way through the steps of a specific Value Journey, they have a chance to build feelings of intimacy with your business and feel they are part of a community.
The journey starts with awareness and ends with advocacy for your business. I’ll take you through this journey using examples from personal relationships, and relate them back to business.
This is a picture of the day I met my wife, the day we saw each other for the first time, the day we had our first conversation. At this point, as we first became aware of each other, it would have been crazy for me to ask her to marry me. Ultimately, she did marry me, but only because our relationship went through the necessary steps to reach that level of intimacy.
In business, this awareness stage translates to the moment a potential customer sees a Google ad, or a social media post, or meets someone at a networking event. Just as this stage was too early in the process for me to propose marriage, it is also too early for you to go straight to the sale.
To get to the next stage, whether it’s a potential customer or a romantic prospect, you’ll need to be able to follow up. This usually means getting some contact information.
Subscription, Conversion, Excitement
When you ask somebody for their number at a party or a bar, there is an expectation that you’re going to follow up with them. By doing so, you are making progress in the relationship. Even so, this is still too early to propose marriage. Coming on too strong on a first date is a good way to lose the chance for a second date, right? You have to get to know each other, and let the relationship develop.
At the same time, you do still need to move forward to the next stage, and not let the relationship fall into stasis, with you not actually offering and the other person not actually buying. During that first date, or first experience of becoming a customer, they need to get excited about the relationship. From there, you can move into:
Ascension, Advocacy, Promotion
As the customer or romantic partner gets more excited about going on the journey with you, they become more likely to buy your Core Offer (in the case of my wife, my Core Offer was marriage).
From there, they will start to advocate on your behalf, because they’re so happy…right, honey?
As they advocate, they will get other people interested in what you are offering, as well, and more potential customers enter the first stage of the Value Journey. (This is where the relationship metaphor starts to break down, at least in my marriage!)
The biggest mistake that I see is businesses skipping steps and jumping right to the Core Offer. This can be off-putting, in the same way as coming on too strong, too early in a relationship.
You need to go through the steps.
For your business, that means understanding what those steps mean for YOUR ideal customer, whose problem will be solved by the transformation you offer. If you can do that, you can plug in the machine, push the “On” button, let the gears start turning, and sit back and watch.
In terms of next steps, the first thing I want you to think about is this: What are three things you can commit to getting done in the next 30 days to build your business machine? Take a moment and write them down. This is your personal commitment to break the MSP ownership spin cycle, get out of the grind, and get to building a business that will do the work for you.
As you think about those three things, I want to ask you: Would you like some help with that?
Would you like some help building your business? Would you like help with accountability, support, the team, the tools, and the education?
And I have to ask: What would that be worth to you? What would it be worth to have that impact, that freedom, and that wealth goal?
Before I conclude, I’d like to offer you an opportunity to delve deeper with my course on building a business machine. If you join, you’ll gain access to:
- The full course
- Four live sessions focused on accountability and getting the work done
- Templates, tools, and instruction
- All backed by out Money-Back Guarantee
We are here for you, and we want you to succeed. And if you’re not happy with the course, within 14 days, I’ll give you all of your money back, no problem. And, of course, the materials, templates, and tools are all yours to keep forever.
I look forward to learning more about your business, and having you in our network.
From Start Grow Manage, thank you for being an MSP owner.
How do you manage and run a business?
The key to managing and running a business is to create a set of repeatable activities that solve a crucial problem for a specific person. The more repeatable the process, important the solution and specific the problem the better.
The mistake most MSP owners make is to try to be everything for everyone. Focus feels scary so they spread themselves too thin. But success comes from focus, not from being all things.
Once you have defined these parts of your business, you work on refining them. You get better and better at doing what you do so that you can do more of it at a higher price and lower cost. That is the essence of managing and running a business.
What things do you need to run a business?
You need three things to run a business: a target customer, a solution, and a way to reach your target. Everything else is a matter of solving problems that come up.
Do you need a website? Well, probably. That is a part of reaching your target. They will want to learn more about you and since 97% of all transactions start online you will likely need an online presence.
But, a website is a tool and whether or not you need a tool depends on the work you are doing and the problem you solve.