In this episode, Jeff Loehr, Joe Rojas, and Steve Salmon delve into the challenges many businesses face when expanding nationwide, particularly the onboarding process. With Steve Salmon’s insights, they explore the groundbreaking potential of tools like Field Nation to alleviate these pains.
However, at the episode’s heart lies a deeper conversation about mindset: the inherent fears associated with growth, loss of control, and embracing external resources. The dialogue continuously circles back to the value of specializing or “having a niche” – stressing its significance in efficiency, process formulation, and confidence-building.
Amidst discussions on the perceived decline of the MSP model, they highlight the importance of adapting to an ever-evolving business landscape, focusing on genuine customer pain points, and steering clear of fleeting trends. Join them as they navigate these intricate terrains and converse with Steve about the future of MSPs.
Steve Salmon thrives on building, transforming, and leading high-performance sales, presales engineering, solutions marketing, sales enablement teams around SaaS, XaaS products and services
He’s on a never-ending mission to refine and improve value-based selling approaches for better customer outcomes and sales results.
What is the problem you solve, and for whom?
I help IT service organizations optimize revenue and profitability
How do you help MSPs
Variablize and optimize service labor costs
Your Company Website/URL
What you are promoting:
Jeff Loehr: So Joe, I was talking to somebody the other day about growing their business, and here’s their problem. That they are actually onboarding people around the country, and it is painful. And so he is talking to me about the fact that how do we onboard people?
Like we have to vertically niche. Like we have to understand our niche. We have to understand the people that we’re working with. I get that geography is not a niche. And then he is saying it’s just too tiring to go around the country and do these installs.
And so today, we’ll talk to Steve Salmon, who will guide us through how to use Field Nation to do that. And we’ve had some amazing success stories with-
Joe Rojas: We have.
Jeff Loehr: And in that, we’re going to talk to ’em about the fear of working with someone like Field Nation overcoming some of that fear.
But, I think what it comes back to, for me, more than anything, Joe, is a mindset issue.
Joe Rojas: A hundred percent. It’s a fear of something new or something different, something that I don’t control, or something that I don’t understand.
It’s this mindset that if that person’s not on my payroll, I can’t control them, and it’s mostly driven by a lack of process.
Jeff Loehr: I’m gonna push back and say there’s a process. You’ve gotta have a process. But I see too many people; they even have a process and are afraid to use someone like Field Nation. So I don’t think it’s process; I think it is mindset.
Process. You can fix a process; you can go create a process. But I think it’s a fear of growth.
It’s a fear of you just saying it like I lose control. And there’s a fear of losing control. But you know what? If you are going to grow a business, you cannot be in control of everything. No, of what happens in that business. Like, I don’t care what it is. You use Field Nation, you somebody else, whatever it is.
Even if you hire somebody, you cannot be in control of everything they do and expect to scale the business. And I think that’s the problem. I think there’s an issue with just letting go of control and not controlling what we’re doing is what the business is doing.
Joe Rojas: I think you’re spot on in terms of the mindset and all that stuff.
And then the other piece, which is what we’re always talking about, is if you don’t have a niche. And every time you do, it is different. So you’re terrified because you never know what you’re doing. You actually don’t know what you’re doing.
Jeff Loehr: Why is it just that every conversation keeps coming back to having a niche?
And it’s true, though. If you’re doing an onboarding for the hundredth time at a grocery store. I’m working with some of these grocery stores, and you know how to hook up their POS and how to hook up their inventory systems and how to make all that stuff work. ’cause you’ve done it a thousand times, it’s really easy for you to explain it to somebody else. But if you’re so good at grocery stores and then you go off and work with dentists or body shops or, I don’t know, libraries.
It is gonna be hard like it is inventing the wheel and reinventing the wheel. So when you know what you’re doing, it is much easier for you to create that standard operating procedure and to be able to define how they’re going to do it. Because you know it, you’re not reinventing; you’re not doing it now for the first time.
Joe Rojas: And what that does is it gives you confidence, right? And then when you have that confidence, and you have a process around it, it’s easier to work on the mindset, but when your mindset is screwed up, and you are free-falling, you don’t know what you’re doing anyway. It’s terrifying.
Jeff Loehr: But I’m still gonna say even if you have the process, even if you know what you’re going to do, even if you’ve got it defined, it’s still a leap into the unknown
Joe Rojas: hundred percent
Jeff Loehr: to have somebody else do the work for you. And there’s this amazing thing that happens, like people are so scared, and then they do it, and they come back to us, and they’re like, oh my God, that was great.
Joe Rojas: Why haven’t I been doing that all along? Why didn’t you tell me before?
Jeff Loehr: All of a sudden, they realize that they don’t have to do it all themselves. So I think it was a great chat with Steve. I was very, very interested in the idea of starting an MSP in the nineties, and in a lot of the conversations that I’ve been having, people are saying, oh, the MSP model is dying.
And I think that what’s dying is really the fact that you just can’t do business tomorrow the way you did it yesterday. The world is changing, and it’s always changing, and I think understanding that customer pain and probably staying away from the shiny things that are out there and really focusing on solving that pain, I think that’s always going to serve you well.
So on that note, let’s go have a chat with Steve, shall we?
Joe Rojas: Let’s do it.
Introduction to Steve Salmon from Field Nation
Jeff Loehr: Steve, thanks for joining us and coming to talk with us. I’d love to just have you give a quick introduction of yourself and what you do, and then we’ll just take it from there.
Steve Salmon: Okay, as you guys know, I’m Steve Salmon. I am the Executive Vice President of Enterprise Sales at Field Nation and our Partnership and Alliances Strategy. I’ve been in the IT services and technology industry for about 30 years in numerous different roles.
Most recently, before Field Nation, I spent 12 years at Compucom, helping grow Compucom from about 250 million in services to over a billion. And then, we ultimately sold Compucom to Office Depot back in 2017. And then before that, a number of different technology companies, but probably most notably that you guys are interested in, is that I had my own MSP. From 92 to 97, and successfully sold that company in 97 to a public company and really had a great time doing it. It was one of those things where it was some of the best times in some of the worst times in that period.
But I’m sure we’ll talk more about that.
Steve talks about his old MSP business
Jeff Loehr: 92 to 97, that was the early years of the MSP wave there.
Steve Salmon: It was, and what was interesting about that particular time in kinda business history is it was the last true recession in the United States. 2002, 2008, 2001.
We’re very kind of focused on recessions, very specific part parts of the market. But that was a broad recession in the early nineties there. And so we had to manage that business through the nineties and that period of time, which was interesting.
What was key to growing your MSP
Jeff Loehr: So what was key to you growing? So I take it you took this thing from nothing to a sale, right?
Steve Salmon: Yeah.
Jeff Loehr: And what was key for you in terms of growing the MSP in the nineties? That’s an interesting situation.
Steve Salmon: It was kinda these things I just fell into. I worked with a couple of guys.
We were frustrated with the company we worked with. We weren’t making enough money. And we were young and dumb. Only a few years outta college.
Jeff Loehr: That helps when you’re moving into an entrepreneurial major.
Steve Salmon: I thought I knew a lot more than I really did. That’s really probably the more proper way of saying it.
But, we decided to go do this thing, and I had two partners, and one of ’em, he quit first. I said, let’s just go do this thing. I said, I dunno if I’m quite ready yet. So he quit, and we got into this thing, and it took off. It was in the age when Novell was really the thing that everyone was talking about in local area networks, and there were just weren’t enough people doing that.
The demand was way higher than the supply. So it really was a great time to get into that.
Jeff Loehr: That’s interesting. We’ve been doing some research and some interviews with MSPs lately, just looking. What are some of the trends in the market? And one of the consistent themes that, I think, comes out of my conversations with MSPs is just this idea of knowing what that next thing is and developing some capabilities around it.
At that time it was, putting in your network, and now two things seem to be coming up. One of them is cybersecurity, and the other one is customization and being able to give customers what they want.
It’s almost like the MSP world has gone through a period of standardization to one of customization and delivering customers what they want. And it seems like there’s like this constant theme, right? If you look at it, understanding what that next thing is in developing the capabilities to be able to ride that wave.
Steve Salmon: Yep. It’s so hard to pick it. If you think about it, just a couple years ago, everyone was talking about the Internet of Things IoT. And there were a lot of folks that invested in IoT, and it took a long time for that really to generate returns. And, a lot of people made investments that they never saw the returns on in terms of training their employees on different skills.
And just now, we’re really starting to see that with electronic store shelf technology. That’s just really taken off.
Joe Rojas: Yeah. Yeah, one of our clients is really getting into the electronic store shelf technology, and you’re starting to see IoT pop up all over the place.
But it’s because we’re the early adapters MSPs. We’re always, like, training on stuff that’s like a year out or a year and a half out or two years out. And so we get sucked in by the technology and wanna know more about that. And what I’m interested in is, back in 92, when you were making this jump, where did you narrow down?
What did you focus on
Joe Rojas: What did you focus on? Was it Novell that you focused on? What’s the thing that you narrowed down on? That had you ’cause you went turbo there for a little while.
Steve Salmon: Yeah. It was interesting. So for us, there were a lot of people trying to do Novell, and I had personally had some experience with Unix systems.
And so what we saw pretty quickly where there were a lot of companies were struggling with their accounting systems or back in those days it was an ERP, it was MRP on some kind of Unix-based host. And then they were put in these local air networks, and they couldn’t connect the two.
They had different communication protocols, and one was IPX with Novell and then, of course, t early TCP/IP, and at that time, TCP/IP there was not a lot of work in there. And so you really had to have some skills to connect the two. And so we saw that as an opportunity. And so that was the thing that we really specialized on, finding folks that had accounting systems on Unix-based hosts.
And so it just really worked out well for us. We quickly caught the eye of Novell and IBM, and even Sun, with their distributed systems, was really starting to take off at that point. And we caught their eye. And so next thing you know, all of these companies are interested in us because we had TCP/IP expertise and Novell IPX expertise with a heavy, really heavy skill set in Novell.
And then back then, and I think it was 90, right around 97, Novell purchased Unix systems labs from AT&T. Which, you can’t make this up, right? They just got lucky. And because we had this really strong relationship with Novell as a partner and an MSP with Novell, they invited us to be part of the advisory committee for USL.
What USL became as, when it became part of Novell, and so the little bit of that was luck, but I think the point you’re making is we had this focus. We picked that as our niche as opposed to just joining local area networking as a general approach.
We had a niche that really worked well for us.
Jeff Loehr: And what I think is important about it is, and what’s different between that niche and the Internet of things. Is that what you identified as a pain, right?
History of Internet of Things (IoT)
Jeff Loehr: And then you were solving the pain. So the Internet of Things was a McKinsey thing.
It wasn’t real. McKinsey came up with this idea, the internet of things. Like they’re the ones who published the first paper, they went around the Internet of Things. Internet of Things. And if you really sat back and looked at it like, wait a minute, what are you talking about? Like there, it wasn’t really well-defined.
Yeah, there’s gonna be a bunch of things on the network, but where’s the opportunity here? There wasn’t a lot of pain in it. Except in very specific situations like manufacturing and mining, where I was working at the time, the idea of IoT would solve problems for us. But you still had to come in and solve the problem for the client. Like it wasn’t like, Just, Hey, we’re gonna, we’re gonna have things attached to the network, isn’t particularly exciting. So I think it’s interesting you identified that problem in the nineties and solved it. So I think when you look at it today, you have to identify what are the problems that your clients have that your target customer has?
What are the problems that the target customer has? And then come up with solutions to that pain. And I think that seems to be the consistent story of growth.
Steve Salmon: Yeah, I would agree. I think when you get sucked into the hype, the IoT hype, that started back five, six years ago.
And it’s tough. When you’re in that spot, and you’re having to pick those areas, where am I gonna invest? You’re not gonna get every one of ’em all the time. And so you gotta look for where the customer problem is and not just what the product side is.
It’s not about the supply; it’s more about the demand side. I think that’s the point you’re making. And I think that’s a really good one.
Jeff Loehr: You just can’t push things on people. There has to be a problem; there has to be something that you’re solving.
What is the latest hype in the MSP space
Joe Rojas: But I so that kind of reminds me, and just as I go through and look at the conversations, I think that AI is that new hype that everybody’s on now.
Yeah. It’s, oh, how do I push AI? How do I use AI? But it’s not solving a problem yet for the client, or they’re not looking at it through the lens of solving the customer’s problem. See, AI could be great. If it solves your customer’s problem, but if it doesn’t, you shouldn’t even be talking to your client about it.
If your client comes and you know it’s not gonna solve their problem, you need to be able to tell them, look, this is not gonna work, or it’s not gonna do the thing that you think it’s gonna do or let’s look at it. But I think there’s a real danger of getting sucked into that hype the same way that we got sucked into the IoT hype.
And you do all this training, and you train your staff on it, and you make all this noise around it, but you get stuck. And being able to generate more revenue, which is why you are in business.
Jeff Loehr: Oh, that’s what we’re doing. Oh my gosh.
Joe Rojas: So that’s the thing, right? We get so enamored with the tech that we forget to make money. And I’ve been there as an MSP, where I get enamored with some new thing that comes out. I remember when Smart Switches came out, and I could see the traffic on the switch, and we fell in love with it.
And we took our focus off of sales for a little bit. I was like, oh crap.
Steve Salmon: Who wants to buy these at that point? Yeah. Yeah. I think it’s not just being enamored by the technology. It’s a huge part of it, but also it’s, you feel like you’ve gotta be first. It’s like a race. You’ve gotta get there. And so there’s this innate human thing that happens to us, right?
You wanna win, you wanna be first, you wanna get there. And being first isn’t always best. It’s gonna be here for a while. You might make a little bit more money on the front end in terms of the hourly rate. You can charge for something before that starts to commoditize.
Steve shares how his MSP focused on Lotus Notes
Steve Salmon: Or normalize anyway. That was the thing that happened to us. We did a couple of things like that when we had our business; we did that with notes. So notes came out. Remember Lotus Notes? Oh yeah. Lotus notes came out and
Jeff Loehr: I do remember Lotus Notes!
Steve Salmon: It was gonna be the next biggest thing.
And we jumped into that, and we made some investment in that. And you, we made some money on it, but it definitely didn’t go the way we’d hoped it would go with the investment we made.
How do you avoid the hype trap
Joe Rojas: And that’s the thing, right? So if you’re an MSP now, what’s the advice that you would give MSPs today to avoid that trap?
What are the, what’s the kind of thinking that you need to be doing? Because you’ve been there. You’ve been there; you saw what happened to you. So what is the kind of thinking when you get all, yeah, they’re all excited about it? What’s the thinking that you need to be doing around that?
How do you stay out of the trap?
Steve Salmon: I think it’s what Jeff said a few minutes ago. You really have to focus on the customer’s problem. You can’t lose sight of the customer’s problem. We start to get focused on the solution, which is the technology we’re talking about.
And while that’s exciting and it’s fun. You can’t lose sight of the customer’s problem. And you’ve just gotta stay vigilant with that. At Field Nation, we have the same thing.
Where we think we’ve got this great new idea for the platform, and then we go test it with customers, and nobody wants to use it.
Jeff Loehr: You got like this whole new AI dispatching job describer that you put in, and it’s all wrong, but it really looks great.
For anybody who’s reading this. I’ve just made that up. I just made that up. This isn’t a dig at Field Nation.
What got you excited about Field Nation
Jeff Loehr: What got you excited about Field Nation when you started with Field Nation?
Steve Salmon: It is interesting. So when I was at Compucom, my last role there, I ran a special project to create a wholesale services division.
We had this big services team, and in-field services are about density. If you’re gonna to have employees versus using third parties. And so we were helping companies build density and build density for ourselves. And so we had this wholesale services kind of approach, and I met the CEO and founder of Field Nation at that point and was just really just enamored with what they were doing.
Just thought this is the coolest thing; this is the future. Never had any idea I’d ever be working with Field Nation and working for Mynul. But we kept in touch after we sold the company to Office Depot. I left Compucom and Mynul, and I kept in touch, and I just really loved where they were going.
They got some equity investment, which really gave them a shot in the arm. And so when I first joined the company, I joined as a consultant for 90 days to the leadership team, helping them think about how to go after enterprise accounts. They’d had a bunch of kinds of hits and misses with enterprise accounts over the years.
At one point, Mynul told a sales team no more enterprise accounts. ’cause they were spending so much sales resource on these deals it would take a year to close or not even close. They said we can’t spend any more time on enterprise accounts. And I came in and did a consulting engagement, and they liked what I did, and I liked them, and they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
And so I’m super excited. The amount of people that we’re able to bring work to, that’s the really exciting thing. The number of people that get work from Field Nation. And we’re able to provide for their families is truly amazing. And we don’t talk about that a lot.
We don’t talk about the provider side and the worker side of the business a lot, but that’s really the heart and soul of the business, all those players.
Field Nations’ niche
Jeff Loehr: No, that is very cool. One of the things I love about it is we’re always talking about creating a niche, and one of the niches that we’ve found to be the least valuable is geography.
Being tied to a geography typically these days just isn’t an advantage. Like it used to be an advantage you could go over to somebody’s office quickly, but it just isn’t an advantage anymore, except that sometimes. You do need to go to their office. And sometimes you do actually need to go there, and it’s a painful thing that if you know somebody in Las Vegas has a problem and I’m living in New York, and they may be a great client, and I need to see them tomorrow, like to get on a plane and fly over there to plug in a cable is just too painful.
What is very cool about Field Nation is that it gives the MSPs the ability to hone their capabilities around one avatar, one way of doing business, and not be tied to geography.Jeff Loehr
Joe Rojas: Yeah. And that’s magical. The other thing is that you can have as big or as small a field presence as you want on any given day, right?
You need 20 technicians to do something. You can; because you’ve got this giant project and you’re a four-man shop, you can get it done. You need one to go do something in Alaska; you can get that done too. So that’s the cool thing about it that I think it’s really awesome.
I can’t tell you how many times I’m talking to an MSP that’s under a million, and they tell me, oh, I just, I’m having this problem, and we have this install, and I just don’t have enough manpower to do it, and da and I go, why don’t you use Field Nation? They go, what’s that? This breaks my heart.
Steve Salmon: It breaks my heart. How do they not know?
Jeff Loehr: So basically, Steve, what we’re saying is you gotta do more marketing.
Steve Salmon: Apparently!
Joe Rojas: Because the big companies know, they can leverage Field Nation. Anybody that’s over 5 million, I say Field Nation, they know exactly what I’m talking about.
But the little guys don’t know. And so what happens is they don’t take advantage of the opportunity; even if you’re geographically tied, you can build an amazing work pool in your geographies wherever you like. Let’s say you have clients in Florida and New York and California.
You can build a great work pool in those places and take advantage of that. And if you don’t know, you are literally flying around to do the work. And that takes you away from sales. It takes you away from everything else. But
What can you tell first-time users of Field Nation
Jeff Loehr: I do wanna ask you a question, Steve. So with these small clients, and we work with a lot of smaller MSPs, there’s actually a lot of fear around using Field Nation.
You know, especially the first time. And what we hear over and over again is they’re just not going to do it as well as I do it. They’re not gonna do it the way I do it, or I don’t know how to control that. And I’m wondering how you address that concern with your new customers.
Steve Salmon: I would tell you that issue exists with companies of all sizes, whether it’s a large enterprise, a major global OEM, or it’s a small kind of one or two-person shop; that same kind of trust concern factor exists with everybody the first time. And, what I’d say is that the tool’s got a number of features built into to help manage that and make sure that you can effectively communicate with the worker what it is you want to be get done so that it really gets down to, having two things:
- Selecting the right worker
- Then communicating.
Clear communication on the expectations of what you want to have done when that person’s at the customer site. Really, those are the two things, and that’s really it. And so what we’ve seen is people have bad experiences on Field Nation, and what happens is if you just drop a work order onto the platform and just let anybody take it, you may or may not get somebody that, that has the right skills and tools to do that job.
So there’s a little bit of vetting that goes into that, and there are tools in the platform on how to do that, how to vet, how to determine if that worker has the right background and skills. And, of course, a lot of the workers have thousands and thousands of jobs, so it’s really easy to see.
Where else can you get a thousand referrals for a potential worker? It’s hard, right? You have to take somebody’s word for it. Have you done this? Yeah, I’ve done it. Now and on Field Nation, you can look and see how many jobs they’ve done. You can see what other people have said about them.
And that’s a really useful tool. But most importantly, it’s, it gets done through communication. We even see n some seasoned customers get sloppy from time to time with the work instructions. And if you don’t tell somebody what you want ’em to do and you expect them to get it done, that’s a big stretch.
Jeff Loehr: They go there and do stuff and then, but they didn’t do it the right way. It does help to tell people what stuff you want to have done.
When delegating, keep it IKEA simple
Joe Rojas: Yeah. I always tell everybody they gotta be IKEA simple. The instructions have to be IKEA simple.
Steve Salmon: It’s interesting the workers are accessing most of the work via their mobile devices.
A job comes up in their area that they’re qualified for and available pops up on their device and says, here’s the thing. They look at that job, and they quickly decide, is this a good rate? Can I do the work?
And if they do, then they request the work. And so that simplicity that you mentioned, Joe, is really important. If you write a huge novel in that thing. You’re not gonna get the good workers; I don’t wanna do that. If the work instructions are poorly written, the experienced workers won’t take it. ’cause they know that’s gonna be a problem. They’re gonna get on site, and it’s gonna be something else than what was described.
So I think the work instructions and simplicity are the key. And we have had tremendous success with that. And if going back 10 years ago, a lot of the workers on our platform there weren’t as many seasoned professionals. We recently did a survey, and we were amazed that 75% of the workers have some form of postgraduate kind of training or technical training.
It’s quite amazing. There are true professionals out there on the platform.
The value of testimonials and reviews
Jeff Loehr: I just wanna go back to something you said that was really important. Steve, which is just the idea of these people they’re qualified, but the other one is thousands of reviews.
Where else are you going to find somebody that you can actually know with such specificity what their capabilities are? So you can actually see people who’ve done the work that you’ve done and gotten good reviews from other people on that work. If you put a job offer on LinkedIn or something, you’re not going to get nearly the depth of review or insight that you get from your platform.
Steve Salmon: That’s right. And let’s just say that you do call someone’s references; you’re gonna call two of them or three of them? And here you get thousands. And it gets really specific, right? You can see, oh, this worker’s got 500 reviews for cabling work, 250 reviews for desktop laptop work, a 100 reviews for networking work. 300 reviews for point of sale. Whatever the different technology is, you can see.
And so if you have a job, let’s say, for example, let’s go out and drop a cable and install a point-of-sale device or drop a cable and install a desktop. You can see people that have done, that level of specificity and what people have said about their work and how they’ve been rated. I think that should put people a little bit more at ease.
That at least they know that they’re dealing with somebody who’s got some experience, thousands of jobs.
Jeff Loehr: I think that the MSPs just have to realize that they’re not that special when it comes to a cabling job. Yes, you have to have clear guidelines.
But I just, I was talking to somebody the other day, it’s wow. But we just have this special way of doing things, and it has to be, and it’s probably not that special. The work that we’re talking about here is work that you can describe what has to happen.
You can describe what has to be done. And I think to a certain extent, people just have to get over it, and they just have to try it. You know what I mean? Nothing is perfect, but this is a good way to add resources and add customer value and do it. And part of that resistance is just mindset.
MSPs’ resistance to change
Joe Rojas: If you look at that resistance, Jeff, it’s across the board with changing the way they market is with picking a niche, is with this, it’s all over the place, right? It is not; that’s not how we do things. But here’s the thing, guys. How you do things is why you’re not making money.
So if you wanna make money, you have to really start to look at whether the things that you’re doing are gonna produce the outcomes that you want.
And if they’re not gonna produce the outcomes that you want. Because the MSPs that are successful, that are on the platform, that is on Field Nation, and that are niched down, and that have done all these things that we’re talking about all the time.
I’m talking about all of it now, everything that we talk about, right? In every different podcast, we talk about a different thing that you should be doing. But if you’re doing those things, what you’ll notice is that you start to make more money. And at the end of the day, do you wanna have a great life?
Because it is about how you’re going to live your life and being able to go kite surfing, Steve?
Having employees is a 24/7 type of job
Steve Salmon: Exactly. So when I sold my company, we had about, it was about 150 employees. And that’s a lot. That’s a 7 by 24 job when you got 150 employees.
I was getting the calls on Saturday night at midnight. Hey, I’m at the emergency room. My insurance card’s not working. Call the number on the back of the card. I can’t help you. I, what can I do? It was a 7 by 24 job.
And I think one of the opportunities is when you can access variable on-demand labor like this when they’re not working, you’re not having to provide for the care and feed them. And on a number of different levels. And so they do a number of different jobs.
They work for a lot of different companies. And the value in that is it gives you that opportunity to enjoy your life. I think had there been a Field Nation option when I had, my company would’ve been amazing. I would’ve definitely taken advantage of it.
We have so many stories at Field Nation where we’ve got these small MSPs that start off, sometimes individual providers on our platform, they start off, and they get so successful that they have so much demand for their work on the platform that they’ll bring in another person.
And then they’ll bring in another person, and then they actually create these little services companies on our platform. About 70% of the workers on our platform are truly independent contractors, and about 30% are part of these small little services companies.
Some banded together as part of the site we need to work together. But some of ’em started their MSP, and they were small. And next thing, they’re $5 million, $10 million, $15 million businesses because they’re not tied to the single geography like you talked about. They can broaden into other areas.
They can do one thing, and when they have a good customer that really likes ’em, and they build that customer relationship and the customer says, Hey, you’ve been doing all desktop laptop work, can you go do some networking work for us? They can not do that work because they have access to those skills that they wouldn’t have if they had to go out and hire, like to go out and hire that person to go do the first job is always expensive. ’cause you don’t have enough work.
Joe Rojas: Yeah. You go get that first person; they’re sitting around. And usually, those two skill sets, like cabling and desktop stuff, are real. Like you, it’s hard to find somebody that’s got both of those; they’re either really good at cabling or really good at desktop stuff, but in the middle, not a whole bunch.
So that’s why it’s hard because then if you’re hiring and you’re hiring for that cabling, and you don’t have enough work, you’re now stuck. Feeding somebody that you can’t really use for a lot of things. So I get that.
Growth is messy
Steve Salmon: When we went to the same thing with my company, growth is messy.
If it was a straight line, it would be beautiful, but it’s not. It’s a jagged line. And we, a lot of hiring surges. Unfortunately. We also had to have; we had layoffs at times. Because we hired people and then we couldn’t, we tried to get into a new area.
Hired one or two people who didn’t have the work and then ended up having to reduce the headcount because we just didn’t have the work in that area. And I think this allows you to get into an area without having to make that upfront cash, that cash flow commitment.
Joe Rojas: I’m gonna ask you that same question that I asked you before again.
What advice do you have for MSPs?
Joe Rojas: So what’s the advice that you give these guys that are sub-million? You were there. What do you have to say to those guys that are there now?
Steve Salmon: I would say that we talked about the focus, and I think around the focus. You need to have some core expertise, whether that’s yourself as the founder and the leader or someone else in the business. If you can afford that, if you can afford that, cash flow, you really need that core expertise beyond that core expertise.
When it comes down to going out and executing a lot of the work. I think that’s where using variable labor is the advice that I would give. That’s the advice that my partners and I used to have arguments about how much variable labor we should have, and this was way before Field Nation, right?
This is just back in the day, and back then, our choice was W2 staff augmentation or hiring W2. And we would argue it should be 20% variable and 80% full-time, and we would have these arguments. And that gives us some level of agility.
You could say, we don’t need that person anymore. ’cause they were staff from a staffing kind of company. Today you have a lot more choices as an MSP; it’s more than just traditional staff augmentation. You have this gig economy in the labor, this variable workforce.
And I think I would maximize that as much as possible. You definitely wanna stay outta trouble with labor compliance issues, and you don’t wanna use this kind of worker long-term for jobs that should be intended for W2-style workers.
But I think for short-term work project assignments, anything less than, let’s say, 20 hours a week, I think, the variable label force is really. A great way to do it and really keep your cash flow in your control. Is ’cause now you don’t have a committed cash flow out every month.
I think we almost went outta business three times, and it was really because we were hiring and our payroll demand got so high at times. I was sitting on my own paycheck in my drawer for weeks at a time. Just because I wanted to make sure everyone else’s paychecks didn’t bounce. And that was a large, in part due to our growing payroll demand.
Variable costs versus fixed costs
Jeff Loehr: And I agree. You can’t rely on variable labor forever. But there is this huge working capital situation that happens when you start adding people.
We talk a lot about variable costs versus fixed costs. And as you add fixed costs, you really lose flexibility, and you have that problem. You really want to be careful about adding that fixed cost of the next unit of fixed labor. And as you’re growing, I think, yeah. Did you ever come up with what the right ratio was in terms of variable to fixed? Or is it? Do you think it depends, or what kind of number did you guys come up with?
What is the right ratio of variable to full-time
Steve Salmon: It always bounced somewhere between 80/20 and 70/30. It was it started off in 90/10, and we realized that wasn’t enough; it didn’t give us enough flexibility.
And then, because we ran the business in a recession. Something interesting happened to us. When we were doing this project work, installing these Novell networks and these TCP/IP networks, that was on the front end of the recession.
And project work was going crazy. And then, during the recession, project work slowed down, like discretionary spending slowed down, but maintenance work didn’t slow down. So we shifted our focus to more maintenance-oriented work. ’cause that has to happen. Things break; they gotta get fixed. And so, during the recession, we did quite a bit more maintenance work.
And what we found was that the ratios weren’t the same. So for more project work, a higher density of variable labor was more feasible. And then, for the maintenance work, it was more predictable, right? So we knew what our install base was and what we were on the hook to fix what kind of SLAs we had to fix those.
And so we went for a little bit less bearable work, right?
Joe Rojas: So if you’re an MSP and you’re sub-million, here’s what that translates to. As you’re doing your initial push and you’re doing that, you’re trying to onboard a lot of people, and you’re doing that customer growth, and you’re really focusing, and you’re running, you want more variables.
Because you wanna be able to onboard people quickly and be able to have that onboarding process so clean, so neat. So IKEA style, you can just send out a packet, everything is in the box, all the instructions are in the box, and all the instructions are in the app so that people could just boom. And then, as you start to get bigger, you focus on those SBRs.
You focus on just that maintenance of things as you start to think about what are my next strategic outcomes. Now you got some money to think about strategy because that impacts your cash flow in a big way. Because you get to keep a lot of the cash that you would’ve spent on hiring all these people to be able to onboard.
And so I really like what you said, Steve, about that because that’s really how it all comes together, right? It’s when you’re smaller; you need to hunker down and just onboard and have your core team be really great at customer service and be so focused, so narrow, understand, have that expertise.
So that you really can own what you’re doing for those clients. It’s really cool. That’s a thank you for that. ’cause that’s a really good set of advice.
Start Grow Manages Field Nation Training for MSPs
Jeff Loehr: Good. For anybody who is interested in Field Nation, we do have a lot of our clients use Field Nation as a way to grow.
We’ve certainly had a great experience with you guys, and we know a lot of our clients have as well. So we actually have training available to anybody who wants to get started with the platform. And it’s really geared towards smaller MSPs. Anybody can use it, right? But the idea was that the thing that we saw that was missing was for our clients; how do smaller MSPs get started?
How do they get dispatching rights? And so we’ve got this really cool training, and we will include that in the show notes. And I think that’s a great way to get started with Field Nation just to understand how the platform works. Understand the opportunities to find people and work with them.
People who are reviewed, people who have done work before. And we actually show you how to do that. So I think that’s another way to overcome the fear of using a program like this. And I think the work that you guys are doing is really valuable. I think it’s helping a lot of MSPs grow.
And I guess you guys are seeing the growth as a result, right?
Steve Salmon: Oh yeah. It’s a lot of fun. We’re having a ton of fun. I think that’s the best part about it. As I said, the really rewarding part is the labor side of it to see the people that are getting the work.
But also to see these small companies thrive. We’ve seen a lot of these small companies come in and really thrive. We’ve got some great success stories. As I said earlier, these guys have come in; there’s a single provider on our platform. Yeah. And they grow that into their own MSP from there.
Jeff Loehr: I think that’s really cool, right? Where you’re actually working with both sides and just generating opportunities.
Adam Smith and The Wealth of Nations
Jeff Loehr: We were just talking about Adam Smith and the Wealth of Nations, and that’s the entire idea, Joe, as I was talking about. It’s like people focusing on the thing that they’re good at, right?
And through that, you’re able to create a lot of value and create a lot of opportunity, and you guys are facilitating that concept. Anyway, we love it.
Any thoughts, Steve? Anything that you guys are promoting that people should come to check out from you guys?
We have the training, but anything else that you wanna be sure that people know about?
Steve Salmon: I’d say that a lot of your MSPs are just really getting going. It works for any size company; while I focus on the enterprise businesses, we, it’s from everything from the smallest of the MSPs to these big companies, are on the platform.
We have a different use case for all of those different size companies. You can sign up, and you can use the free version, basically. And so you can sign up, and you can check it out, and there’s a ton of training out there on how to use it.
And then you guys are obviously a resource on how to teach ’em how to use it. So I think, as you said earlier, you’ve just gotta get on there and try it. But don’t forget to be specific about the work instructions.
Jeff Loehr: And communicate. Communicate, yeah. I know we’re wrapping up, but I think that’s universally an issue that we see in this idea of communication.
Communicate with your customers; communicate with your people. And if you’re hiring somebody from Field Nation, communicate with them.
That communication really solves a lot of problems. I think that’s an important thing for people to get.
Jeff Loehr: Thank you for taking a few minutes to chat with us. Your story’s great, and I think that it’s inspiring the work that you’re doing. So thank you very much. And I guess that’s it. Joe, you wanna take us out?
Joe Rojas: I’ll take us out for all of you out there; remember that You Are Loved. We’ll see you soon.