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Getting Started in the MSP Industry

 

Transcript:

Connor Swalm:

Welcome to Gone phishing, a show diving into the cybersecurity threats that surround our highly connected lives. Every human is different. Every person has unique vulnerabilities that expose them to potentially successful social engineering. On this show, we'll discuss human vulnerability and how it relates to unique individuals. I'm Connor Swam, CEO of Phin Security, and welcome to Gone Phishing. Hey, everyone, welcome back. It is Connor, CEO at Phin with another episode of Gone Fishing. And today I am joined by Tom Lawrence. Tom, how are you doing today?

Tom Lawrence:

I'm doing great.

Connor Swalm:

Just great.

Tom Lawrence:

Just wonderful, maybe.

Connor Swalm:

Just wonderful, maybe awesome. So, Tom, not only is he a YouTube, I don't know, sensation.

Tom Lawrence:

I don't know what you want me to call you. YouTube sensation.

Tom Lawrence:

Anything you want.

Connor Swalm:

Professional YouTuber.

Tom Lawrence:

Professional YouTuber, sure, why not?

Connor Swalm:

Professional YouTuber got started in the MSP industry a long time ago. I saw a picture of you in some kind of computer repair shop the other day that looked a little dated.

Tom Lawrence:

A little dated?

That was before the hair was gray. So I think that picture was almost. That picture is pushing 20 years old. I've been working in the industry now for 28 years.

Connor Swalm:

So, yeah, 28. How'd you get started in the MSP industry?

Tom Lawrence:

Well, before MSP we didn't call it MSP, it was just contract it and it's just walking into computer places. Back in the day, I decided that's what I want to do in 1995. And so I worked at a couple of small places, worked at a larger place that had a retail side, which is what they will hire a person who doesn't know anything. And right out of high school. But I learned about some of the. 



Contract managed side then. But I actually left that space and. 



Went into the corporate it world before I came back out and started. 



I don't really think I was using. 



The term MSP until maybe 2016 when we started putting 2015, man. 



I'm trying to remember because there was a tool called long before enable bought it. It was called like dog something. 



And they had the terrible branding of. 



We do it doggy style. Wow. 



Dig around, you can find some of their branding. They later got bought into the conglomerate that eventually landed as solar winds and then switched to the name enable. But we don't use that platform anymore. But I've been doing that for quite a while, so I kind of worked my way into it. 

Connor Swalm:

Sounds like you fell backwards into, I'll. 



Air quote msps for those of you that are just listening because it wasn't an MSP. I don't remember because I wasn't a part of the industry back then, but I've heard the stories of the whole transition from break fix to managed services now. What does it look like today for an MSP to get started? 


Tom Lawrence:
I feel like it's a lot more organized today than it was before. It's more well defined. There's plenty of events and industry specific training you can get on this. There's also a lot of communities out know, shout out to, even though it's in turmoil right now, Reddit, RMSP. But then we have the MSP geek community that's not in turmoil and had. A very successful conference recent.

Yeah, conference. And I think there's a lot more you can gain the understanding, and the term is more specific now. And we kind of say, okay, this encompasses that. Managed service providers have a place. They're being recognized in the outside world as well. And I say outside world because like, the hacker spaces used to hate msps, they still kind of do. There's actually a talk that might be submitted at one of the hacker conferences going up of, yeah, sure, msps still. Suck, but the world sucks less, but.

Would suck more if we didn't have them. So there's still some movi g forward on that, but I think that's helping to define it. So you actually know what that means. Contract it. And companies are starting to realize even the small business space that, oh yeah, I guess I can't just buy a computer and expect it to work. It's like a vehicle. It needs some type of service and maintenance plan applied to it. And the insurance companies are really helping. People along with this. That's what really changed the industry. It's not policies, it's not 20 news. Articles a day about someone getting hacked. It's going, we will not cover your business unless you have x, Y and. Z in your terms. And you go, I don't know what. Those combinations of letter suit mean, but hey, it looks like this guy has it all over his website and knows. What XDR and MDR and a security. Assessment and maybe even some phishing and human vulnerability management is. So they're relying on us better. So now that there's a better understanding from the business side, it's a little bit easier to get into it. On the MSP side, do you think.

Connor Swalm:

More folks have a path into the. Industry like you are? You did where it was, I just really enjoy playing with technology, and that has somehow led to you stumbling into several different businesses? Or is it more like, hey, I'm. Internal it at a big enterprise. This isn't that complicated. I've been doing this long enough. I could go do it myself.

Tom Lawrence:

I know I've heard the jokes said several times around the MSP community is every corporate it person is 24 hours away from being fired and starting an MSP. Every time I'm fired, 24 hours later, an MSP gets their wings, so it takes off. The challenge they often have is the same problem I had from going to corporate it to trying to get clients just in general. And people have really good skills.

Someone reached out to me that is a really good cybersecurity person. They understand how to do investigations. They're like, hey, I'm sick of working for the company I work for. I'm going to go out on my own. What's your advice? I'm like, how are you going to get clients? And it's just, there they are. They haven't replied to that message on LinkedIn. To me, I start there, it's like, cool. I see your credentials on your LinkedIn. But it comes down to just because.

You have deep technical skills. And that's something I felt like, hey, I was really talented. I was head of it. I had all these responsibilities. Here's an awesome track record of technical accomplishments, but that doesn't translate into, you know, how social media marketing, how to connect with people, how to have conversations. How to be in front of people. Or even get that first in person meeting and not just sound salesy. It's really challenging. And you may have these incredible connections. Like, I know lots of people who. Are fingers on keyboards hacking stuff, but I didn't know at the time how.

To join a chamber of commerce. And what would I do there? Just talk about nerd things. Turns out they don't care. You can't have that conversation. So there's an entire other side of learning I had to do deep dives into to understand how to connect with people was never my particular skill. Matter of fact. Hence, first statement about not getting along with HR. I was there a couple of times because I was not a pleasant person sometimes, it turned out.

Connor Swalm:

Did you ever set a meeting with that HR person as an employee to Complain about said HR person?

Tom Lawrence:

Oh, no. I should have, though.

Connor Swalm:

It's their job to listen to you.

Tom Lawrence:

Yeah, sometimes. Well, eventually. The cool thing is the CEO of the company actually brought in a management counselor who coached me, and I thought it was. He was really expensive, but also, it genuinely helped me because he didn't mince words. Because you're kind of an ass, Tom. We're like, all right, were off to the good start. Now what?

Connor Swalm:

Yeah. I see a lot of the same things happening in this industry. That happened to me when I was studying math in college. Is like when you start a conversation. The light dims from the other person's eyes. Their mother, their brother, their uncle, their friend they haven't talked to in 14 years is like calling them from the next room and, oh, sorry, I got to go. I don't want to be here anymore. It's like nerds talk about nerdy things. That they really enjoy, but that doesn't mean that the other person cares at all.

Connor Swalm:

Yeah.

Tom Lawrence:

And I was so deep into my nerd space, which is still my happy spot, I spent a lot of time thinking about how to communicate with others. It's something that still can be a bit of a challenge.

It's even funny if you watch my early YouTube videos. There's a lot of people complaining I don't make eye contact because generally that's not something I think to do. And I can just stare at the floor and talk to you and be fine. But people like, no, you can't. That's not fine, Tom. That's maybe fine in your circles.

Connor Swalm:

Yeah. For those of you listening, I can confirm I have met Tom in person, and he does make eye contact today.

Tom Lawrence:

It's those little things you pick up and learn. But I dove deep into things like. Social media and that to really kind. Of understand how to get people to engage with the content and how you tell the story. And that led to a lot of public speaking. That's eventually what brought me to some of the YouTube was public speaking. Once I kind of figured it all. Out and know I can do this and I can make something very relatable. And I used to do these series of very non technical talks, and I would fill rooms and I worked with places through that, and it was kind of my inbound lead generation system that. Really brought people going, oh, wow, this. Person'S willing to give me something. One, I can take away. Two, he didn't talk over my head or talk down to me. I can say, this person taught me.

Something that I can use today in my daily life, so to speak, to do it. The talk I did that was most popular I used to do annually was called protecting the digital you. What is the digital you? And I would say just about the footprints you leave online. Talk a little bit about privacy. Always got people interested, but very high. Level stuff and have people think a. Little bit differently about it, and then. Eventually they'll hire you for technical things. That you're more in depth about.

And that's how that kind of came to be. Back to the MSP question. Those are all those other side things. That the MSP people may not be. Thinking about, especially when people just leave an MSP because it was poorly run. We definitely know there's plenty of those out. And I get it. Some are just grinders of if you. Spend time, I'll mention Reddit again, if. You go to Reddit, our system, and there's always someone complaining about their job and how bad it is because they're like, they expect me to solve a thousand tickets a week and blah. Blah and things like that, I'm just. Going to leave and start my own company.

And you may be able to pull those clients from the company, but it's. Not that the staying power comes from. How do you mature that into one? Operational and organizational maturity to know how to hire people, price it for growth. Think about all the business elements that. Go around it, and those are just. Very challenging to do. Yeah.

Connor Swalm:

Service delivery is one very important but. Very small piece of what it actually. Takes to run a yeah. Is now a good time for folks to jump into the MSP industry?

Tom Lawrence:

There's always a good time. There's always another restaurant opening. It's not know, we've just settled it that there's enough restaurants. If you look around, matter of fact. While people are in an area, you'll. See these concentrations of restaurants, and that kind of works the same thing. In the MSP space, there's always an opportunity, especially if you come up with a little bit more clever way to do it. Never say, I'm just going to do. It 20% less than the competitor. That's probably the worst idea. That's not innovation at all. It's making sure you price it for.

Growth and price it. Matter of fact, we are swinging much the opposite. We keep raising our rates to where I know I'm a little bit higher. Than average, but that's where we really. Focus on the service delivery and conveying how we do that value. As a matter of fact, that's sometimes what people do. They get scared by the cheapest price going.

They claim they can do everything you can do. That half price seems a little bit ridiculous because everyone else is within like a 15% and they'll see this. This is even how sometimes bid sheets go. That person who's that anomalous number, that. Seems too low to be true. They may ask questions of them, but. Some business owners are savvy enough to go. It's not about the cheapest price, it's about what can the value deliver. And if they don't think you can deliver value at that lower price, they may not choose you. It's a little bit of psychology going.

Back and forth that you really have to consider. And it's not just there are certain. People who shop price. I don't want those people. And you may not want them either. You may have to take a couple when you first start your MSP. But in the big picture, someone who's. Nickel and dime you over the pennies. That'S a systematic problem. You'll find that they may have not the best clients.

Connor Swalm:

Erase to the bottom helps nobody for sure.

Tom Lawrence:

Yeah, cutting everything down there so it takes a while to get to the understanding of that. But that's where back to these peer groups that really help you understand that a little better. So I'd really recommend spending a lot of time just reading through the community stuff to kind of understand, to take everything with a grain of salt. People are more likely to complain in a post than they are to say nice things. So you may get a little biased reading all that. But always remember that people complaining online.

Connor Swalm:

Anonymously, that doesn't happen. Tom, come on.

Tom Lawrence:

Oh, I know. And MSPs are technical people. Technical people have strong opinions and they. Love to share them, especially when they. Can do so with the veil of anonymity.

Connor Swalm:

There's a reason why dumpster fire stickers got printed and were handed out at several conferences over the past year.

Tom Lawrence:

Yes, absolutely.

Connor Swalm:

It's not because people hold weak opinions for sure.

Tom Lawrence:

No, not at all. Yeah, no, you mentioned a lot of good things. You mentioned folks should get involved in peer groups.

Connor Swalm:

I really do think, well, now having, I am not an MSP, for those of you listening, but I attend peer groups as a vendor, and just listening to them describe, oh, were doing. This in our business and everyone else in our peer group was doing this. Other thing that is completely antithetical to. What were doing. And we kind of realized, okay, we. Need to switch things up, we need. To bid our prices higher like you had mentioned. There's definitely a lot of wisdom in that. Anything else you'd recommend that folks do to get started in this know there's.

Tom Lawrence:

Plenty of business books out there. I actually found the traction book to be probably good.

It's a good short read. It is a operating manual for a lot of business process unrelated to specifically MSP, but it just gives you good process. Of course, like there's the e myth revisited. Dive into a lot of those books. There's tons of good knowledge out there. Well, maybe too much. So that's why I named implicitly two books. Those can be helpful just to get a good grasp on the business side of things. I think that's really important to at least understand it from a high level. So you're speaking the same language. You understand what a PNL is, understand how to look at your numbers and whether or not you're actually profitable. And it'll also help with the terminology when you go into some of the. Business level peer groups. This is really helpful out there. Yeah.

Connor Swalm:

Sometimes the business side of things is way more complicated than the service delivery. And if your business plan. I've heard several, not partners of ours, but partners in general, make statements such as, he's like, we're definitely profitable because we won more contracts this month. It's like, yeah, I don't think you know how.

Tom Lawrence:

Go check that out. 

Connor Swalm:

It's like there's a spreadsheet somewhere in your business that might be a little shocking. You should go find it.

Tom Lawrence:

Yeah. Understanding those numbers, applying them. I had kind of an inside track advantage when I worked in corporate. I was involved in rewriting the entire accounting system. So I got some intimate knowledge of they were doing about $41 million a year in 2002, the company I was working for. So I know how a chart of accounts for a $41 million year company. Was at probably 60 or $70 million adjusted today.

But there was a lot of chart of accounts. There's a lot of things like that. And I helped rewrite that system, and I applied that knowledge to try to understand how to break out my chart of accounts and my buckets to understand profitability. And you have to understand those cost centers. And having firsthand experience is awesome. Reading some of the books I read. Even when I was younger really helped. Me understand that and made the business. Decisions a little bit easier later on. Yeah, you made a statement earlier that.

Connor Swalm:

I'd love to bring up another piece of advice I think everyone needs to. Hear is hating your job is not a business plan.

Tom Lawrence:

Yes, I hate my job is not a business plan. I say that a lot. I've actually probably got a couple of videos. If you said, tom Lawrence, I hate my job is not a business plan. You'Ll find multiple videos. Talking about that recent one we did on our business technicality channel, me and Jason Sligel did it. It's a challenge. And me and Jason Sigle did one specifically on the MSP style business, working in it. But some people do that. They go, this job sucks, and maybe. I'll just start a business. You might just need another job.

There's some really good paying places out there. I talked to my friend, we had a really good sit down because he thought he wanted to start a business. And I told him, here, let's break it all down. And he started getting a little bit less. I'm like, also, he makes almost two hundred k a year. I'm like, you want to quit your.

Enterprise job because of politics that are so dumb, but you think running a business and you'll make this much? Well, he has no idea how to get clients. He's running a high level security. He's really technical. And I'm like, I don't think you're ever going to get clients. People just want to use my services. I'm like, how do they find you? I don't know. Maybe I'll make some YouTube videos. He's just like, so based. No real concept of the business or marketing aspect. I'm like, you might just want to find another place to work. Another place offered me about the same. Pay and I'm like, consider it.

Connor Swalm:

Look at it. Yeah, that's funny. If you think your enterprise job is politics, just wait till you have to start a business and start working with clients. There's a whole nother level of politicking that has to go on with.

Tom Lawrence:

Yeah, yeah. Being involved in the chamber of commerce, I was actually for a little while, since a regional chamber, so it encompasses several cities. I was actually on their board for a little while. I'm not now because the politics exhaust. Me, but my salesperson is. And yeah, there's a lot of little. Picking and poking, going back and forth and interacting with people. That can be aggravating. Bret could certainly speak to that because he inherited all that. There's a reason I'm not on the board. Just I can't sit through the meetings. And I want to say things that I probably shouldn't say, but you just have to play the part a little bit on that. It is. It's a lot of handshaking and events. That you have to look formal at, which I'm not a huge fan of.

Connor Swalm:

It's a lot of shaking hands and kissing babies.

Tom Lawrence:

Shaking hands, kissing babies, making deals, and you'll learn. A lot of it is people buy from people they like, but you also got to be careful because you don't know who's friends with who, so you can't say all that person you can't always say what you want to say about some of them. I could be more vocal, though. I've definitely been that way. I'm not afraid to throw rocks and people who do some shady things.

Connor Swalm:

Well, you heard it here first. Throw rocks if you have to. Just hating your job is not a business plan, and make sure you've really thought about the amount of politics you'll have to go through if you start your own business.

Tom Lawrence:

There's always some BS. No matter what job you have or business you run, it's always some BS.

Connor Swalm:

You heard it awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining me today, Tom. This was a blast. I will definitely have you back on some other podcasts to educate the folks that are listening and help them out.

Tom Lawrence:

Sounds good. 

Connor Swalm:

Thanks everyone for listening. Thanks so much for tuning in to gone fishing. If you want to find out more about high quality security awareness training campaigns, how to launch them in ways that actually engage employees to change their habits, then check us out Phin Security at phinsec.io. That's P-H-I-I-N sec IO or click all of the wonderful links in our show notes. Thanks for fishing with me today and we'll see you next time.