Our new series, MSP in the Spotlight gives you the opportunity to learn from other IT service providers, get an insight into their journey in the industry, and better understand the challenges they have faced to get to where they are today.
About the MSP
Our first spotlight is shone on UK-based MSP, Abussi Ltd. With 13 years of experience, MD Craig Sharp founded Abussi in 1995, after a background in project management for the National Health Service.
Originally, Abussi focused on IT training services for governmental bodies, as well as companies such as AVIS car rental. This slowly morphed into software services, as well as writing databases and other applications. By 2002, Abussi had become a more recognisable MSP provider, with customers in wide-ranging verticals from architecture and interior design, to financial services, recruitment and property.
You can find more about Abussi on their website.
We talked to Craig about his journey.
How do your clients find you? Or do you find them?
Historically we would use traditional marketing methods, from cold calling to direct mail. Now we focus on web content which strikes key areas. Here in the UK, people tend to buy services which are geographically local, which gives them the comfort of knowing that help is close by in an emergency.
The vast majority of our clients are SMBs, usually with between 5-30 users. However, we’ve recently started to find ways to expand this, either directly or through partnerships. One client with 220 users hired a VoiP company who couldn’t provide the desktop support they needed, so we stepped in to provide this small part of the project. We would never have taken on a client of that size, but in partnership it was possible. Another client has 120 users, but they are split over 3 offices with just 40 in each, which makes it much more manageable for us.
I’ve found over the years that IT services are changed very rarely, similar to legal or accounting services. Once customers find someone they get on with, who does a good service and can manage their systems in a way that works for them, you need to do something pretty terrible before they get rid of you! That’s when you can show that your company would be a good fit for their needs.
What was your biggest challenge when you started out as an MSP?
It’s hard to downplay the impact that the global economic crisis in 2008 had on the business. The sudden and significant changes in the market put any growth to a sudden crashing halt, teaching us life lessons which may seem obvious now, but weren’t at the time. It’s lent a practical necessity to the way we take on clients.
If you have a small number of large clients, losing even one can have a significant impact on your bottom line.
We’re now really focused on our spread. We make sure to have a small number of clients with 5-10 employees, a small number with 10-20, etc.
We’re in a much safer position if a similar situation was to occur.
How are you different/ what makes you different?
The way we work really sets us apart. At Abussi, we have no formal fixed premises, we have 5 employees, all with a dedicated home office, working in a distributed way. Studies have shown this increases productivity and motivation. We don’t waste time travelling, we enjoy better flexibility, and we have more time to focus on family and other priorities. I think this marks a real difference between Abussi and other MSPs. It’s about focusing on what your personal goals are. Personally, I’ve never been driven by money, so I’m not focused on flashy cars or big holidays. But there is a finite amount of time, and the more you can get back for yourself, the better.
Would you say that this ethos is something you’re offering that other MSPs aren’t?
Absolutely. This way of working gives us the opportunity to ‘walk the walk’ in terms of what we’re offering our customers. ‘Eating our own dog food’, so to speak.
We made the move over to Office 365 five years ago, a lifetime in IT terms, putting us ahead of many other MSPs who may still have Exchange servers on site or use other traditional methods, even now. In contrast, we’re advocating cloud services for our customers, and nearly all of them are now cloud-based. We’re modelling the positive changes it can create within our own business, first and foremost.
When I go to visit a client at their offices, and I sit down at any empty computer, within 60 seconds I have logged into my email, I’m accessing my data, I’m group chatting with our own people and accessing our support tickets. The message is clear to the client. You could have this for your business; work from any location, sit in any Starbucks and access your own data and email.
Of course, it’s not just a technical solution. It also involves discussing the way that a client’s business processes work. They could have flawlessly implemented technology, but if the business operates a 9-5 in the office mindset, all the technology in the world won’t facilitate that change. Often our job straddles IT consultant and Business consultant too!
Many MSPs believe their role is to sell hardware, but that’s not what excites us. Sure, selling hardware might be part of our job, but our role is selling advice and support, and we live and die by the quality of our service.
Truthfully, most people who aren’t in IT understand very little about IT, and it can scare them how much it is becoming a part of their everyday life. They want the comfort of knowing that someone will solve the problems for them, and give them good advice so they can adapt for the future.
The client doesn’t care about the technical minutia, they just want to know that their IT works. In that way, our real job is to be noticed as little as possible.
As a client, if you come into work every day and face IT problems, you’re gonna wonder ‘Hey, why are we paying those Abussi guys?!’ In contrast, if you never hear from us or need to think about us, that means we’re doing a great job.
Do you have any recurrent challenges with your clients?
Often, we find new clients after they have experienced a relationship breakdown with their current IT provider. They haven’t been responsive enough, or knowledgeable enough. Maybe the pricing is wrong. We’ve noticed that more “traditional” IT providers may be reluctant to move their clients over to cloud-based services, as they make their money from selling expensive hardware on a three-year cycle for example. The client is looking for cloud-based software, online mailboxes, storing their data in the cloud etc, and it’s just no longer a good fit. They begin to feel under-serviced and look elsewhere.
In response, we try to keep our solutions targeted to what the client needs, and as non-technical as possible, which makes things straightforward. I always say to a new client, the whole point of this arrangement is for us to push a metaphorical box across this table, and for you put all your IT worries inside. You then hand it straight back over to us. We will be like the IT department at the end of the hallway, except we’re at the end of the phone.
After that, the first six months are definitely the most intense, and that’s when challenges occur. We use this time to make sure systems are protected, ensure new clients meet our minimum standards, and look at ways to get them to a level we both feel happy with.
Of course, you can’t always predict it. We recently on-boarded an eight-person property management company and thought it would be simple. Through our work and due diligence, it’s ended up taking three times as long as we expected to get them up to speed. But if you’ve done your job right, after those first six months things get a lot easier.
So many things, but I’ll pick a controversial one! Sometimes, no is the best answer you could give. When I started out, I got involved in all sort of things I thought might be helpful, while in the back of my mind I wasn’t sure it would be a good idea.
I was too keen to please, too keen to push forward and too keen to take every opportunity.
When you’re new to the industry it’s important to find as much traction as you can, but there’s no harm in looking at the opportunity, assessing it and seeing if it will work for you at that time.
If you say no properly, professionally and correctly early on, no one will be offended. They will respect that and maybe even come back to you later on. If you say yes and make a mess of it, you’ve lost that opportunity forever.
Before you go, one final question.
Apart from Atera, what professional product or service can you recommend, for under $100 that has made the biggest impact on your business
Genuinely not just saying it, but Atera has been transformational in what we do. Outside of that as a close second, it has to be our Office 365 subscription. For £10 per month, we get email, which is still the main way people communicate, I can store my data in a secure location, and have access to Microsoft Teams, which is how we keep up to date with all the engineers. For that price, I don’t think you can get something which is more helpful and more vital. Simply put, if I didn’t have office 365, I couldn’t do my job.
What did you think of this interview? Do you have any questions for Craig? Let us know in the comments!