MSP Exec On Why Community And Education Are Key For Growth

‘People are willing to share, but they're also willing to help each other out. Where I see opportunity for us overall is pulling everything together,’ says Dan Tomaszewski, president of Green Light Business Technology and Everything MSP.

Dan Tomaszewski is all about helping educate other MSPs.

“When MSPs become part of a community, it allows them to realize that they're in the same boat as others,” he told CRN. “Learning from others gives them the confidence to be able to tackle the next challenge, have a community to fall back on and learn from.”

Tomaszewski is the president of Jenison, Mich.-based MSP Green Light Business Technology. He is also the president of Everything MSP, a community-based organization aiming to help MSPs grow.

“The goal of launching Everything MSP was to build a community that allowed MSPs to learn, share and grow,” he said. “MSPs often feel as if they're on an island by themselves when in reality they're experiencing the same challenges that many other MSPs either have faced or are currently facing.”

The organization, which has more than 7,000 MSP members in the U.S, Canada, U.K., Australia and New Zealand, has a weekly newsletter and holds two Zoom calls a week.

[Related: How One MSP Founder Is Breaking The Mold, Harnesses DEI And Started His Business Out Of Spite]

As a 20-year MSP, Tomaszewski said what he’s seeing most in the channel is people starting an MSP business but not going through the motions to scale it.

“There is no progression or progressive steps to becoming an MSP,” he said. “You can wake up tomorrow morning and you say, ‘I'm an MSP.’ There's a very low barrier to entry.”

He believes there should be more of a progressive step toward getting to the point of establishing an MSP business and not just jumping into it.

“You want to be able to have the experience and the knowledge to be able to say, ‘I'm making an investment into becoming an MSP and when I make this investment, I feel comfortable and confident that I'm ready and I'm ready to hit it hard,’” he said.

And once an MSP business is established, he said some owners are stuck being in the business instead of being on the business.

“You're wearing all the hats and you’ve got to do everything,” he said. “But as you scale that business, you have to learn to step away from the hands-on. You’ve got to put the right people in place that are going to be able to take over those areas of responsibility so that you can put more time and energy into driving the business forward to getting it to scale. If you don't, you're just stuck. They’re not going to scale to a point that they'd like to if they continue down that path.”

Tomaszewksi spoke to CRN about how MSPs can grow, where his biggest challenges lie and the impact of community in the industry.

What do you want to see more of in the channel?

What's incredible about it is people are willing to share, so that's something that's certainly not lacking by any means. People are willing to share, but they're also willing to help each other out. Where I see opportunity for us overall is pulling everything together. We go to a lot of conferences and a lot of times there's education that's covering security or sales and marketing, but it's all this fragmentation of education that's coming out. I think there's still an opportunity where MSPs need assistance to be able to pull it all together.

Another is there are so many products and services out there. I think it can get confusing for some MSPs because there's overlap. Trying to clear through that clutter is important and just helping people to understand what a particular vendor can do. Going back to the education component, some of the educational content that comes out is more surface level and isn't drilled down deep enough for the MSP to just add water, and there needs to be more of that.

What do you think of all the MSP M&A in the channel?

I think growth through acquisition is not a bad thing. When you take a look at growing an MSP and scaling it to where you want to see it, you're either going to grow it organically or you can look to find other talent. The whole idea of merging with another organization and having two or three owners, I personally feel that that's a recipe for potential disaster. Unless the culture fits and everybody has very definitive roles, then there's going to be trouble. What's happening, though, is much larger MSPs are looking to continue to grow and they're buying other MSPs to bring them into their system. I really think that's a great model especially if it's a model where that small MSP can be acquired by a larger MSP but they can still operate as if they're a local MSP. They still have the back-office support, the sales, the marketing, the HR … all those business functions that they couldn't do themselves. When you can leverage that, that's huge.

What do you want more of from your vendors?

There are two things—one is the community. Some vendors have great communities where you get support because not everything is straightforward. IT is far from being black and white; there are many shades of gray in between. Most MSPs scratch the surface of what vendor products and services can do. There is so much more depth that could be taken advantage of that can be done through continued education by the vendor and can also be done through community. There's nothing more satisfying than going into a vendor community, being able to post something saying, ‘Hey, I'm having this challenge,’ or, ‘This is what I want to do,’ and then all of a sudden you get a flurry of people saying, ‘Yeah, this is what we've done.’ Sometimes you go into vendor communities and you look at other posts that are out there and they're from ages ago. If there isn't any new and relevant activity, then it provides absolutely no value. The more that a vendor can develop a community that's active, that's critical. That helps just catapult an MSP from saying, ‘Hey, I'm using this RMM tool for A, B and C,’ to be able to use it for D, E, F and G.

The second thing kind of ties into what I said about helping to gain depth to what their product offering is. There are many vendors that have a very deep catalogue of products and services available. It really comes down to just educating that MSP so that they know that there's more to it. The more that an MSP leverages as part of the vendor’s products and services, the more successful that they can be. That’s only going to lead to good things for that vendor because that means there is stickiness there. I think if there are more use cases that are brought out about how a vendor's product can assist that MSP, that just gives them ideas as far as what direction the MSP can go. You can either determine that you can be more efficient at how you're using the product or you can expand your offering. You're able to do more for your clients because you're leveraging more of the tools that are there.

I think in a perfect world, every MSP would have somebody that's dedicating their time to looking at all their vendor solutions and learning more and more about them. If you don't, it's money on the table and solutions on the table. I don't necessarily think vendors need to continue to add more in, it's coming down to what can be done to ensure that MSPs use more of it, because that just keeps them happy.

What is your biggest challenge right now?

Security. I remember the days when I’d go to conferences, many moons ago, when each year there was this theme. One year it might be marketing, the next one hiring and scaling. Then one year, security was a thing and it never went away. It is not going to go away. The challenge that we have is educating our clients and their end users. When a new employee comes on board and you hand over a laptop, that is a very powerful tool that they have in their hands that can have serious implications on their business. There's so much that needs to be put in place from a technology perspective, like overall cybersecurity, but then there's also that human element and educating end users to be able to look out for things because you don't know what you don't know. There's nothing more rewarding or more satisfying than when you see tickets come in from end users saying, ‘Hey, I just got this, it looks suspect to me and I just wanted to make sure if this is legit or not.’ That means that they're being conscientious of what kind of stuff is coming in.

Where do you think the biggest benefit is for AI and how it fits into your business?

Where AI is being introduced into technology is exciting but it’s also concerning. It's a tool that can be used but it doesn't necessarily replace the human. You need to leverage it to be able to be more efficient. I've always had a belief that if you have to do something more than once you should look at that and say, ‘Could we automate this to ensure that the next time it happens either it doesn't ever happen again, or if it's something that the next time it happens we can go through this automation process to be able to do it more in a fast and efficient way?’ Being hands-on and doing all the dirty work, you don't get an award for that. But if you can do things in a more efficient manner that allows you to drive cost down and increase efficiencies and productivity, then that is where you do get the gold star for the day. Why not use technology to manage technology? Why not leverage technology to do more in your business? The exciting part about AI is that it can do a lot of the dirty work that is repetitive. It allows you to redirect or repurpose human resources and repurpose time to do things that are going to provide much greater value for your clients, or much greater value for your own MSP.

There are a lot of different communities in the channel. What makes Everything MSP different than the other ones?

The different communities that are out there have their own specialty and focus. One of the things that is different about what we do is that it's an overall business management, business operations focus, but it comes down to education. We're continuously doing new things like our WTF Wednesday calls, which stands for ‘What the Function.’ It's all about business functions, sales, marketing, legal operations and so on. My goal is to learn, share and grow and the whole learning component of it is us striking up relationships with business experts out there that can bring education. A few weeks ago we had Jim Schleckser on, and he's the CEO of an organization called The CEO Project. He does peer groups for high-performing CEOs and it's all about finding the kink in the hose that's restricting the flow in your business and then putting the right people in place to be able to address that. Everything MSP is about finding different sources that are out there, different sources of education or viewpoints, that are not always technical-, MSP- or channel-focused. I think often we can grow our businesses by looking outside of our own industry, seeing how other industries are doing things and how that can apply to our industry. That's not saying we ignore what we have in the channel or ignore the education that's coming out from different communities, vendors or conferences. It's saying expand that horizon and expand your resources because there are a lot of other service industries out there that are faced with a lot of the same challenges. They might just be doing things in a different fashion that can spark that light bulb.

What does the future of Everything MSP look like?

The educational component is really big, it’s continuing to bring knowledge to the MSPs. There's so much knowledge out there among our members that there are some things in the works of being able to bring that knowledge from other MSPs that are part of our community and bringing more to light to educate more of our members.

What we're going to continue to do more of is look for where MSPs are challenged, and also look for where MSPs are finding great success, and get that information out there. But get it out not at that higher level where it's like, ‘OK, that's great. But how do I do that?’ We want to drill down deeper to a point where they can, to some extent, just add water. The goal is to continue to find those ways that they're challenged, or that others are succeeding with, so that MSPs can look at that and say, ‘I have the same challenge. This is great because if I follow these steps, then I can get through this.’ Instead of reinventing the wheel, why not leverage what others are doing?

Definitely AI and machine learning. Secondly, one of the biggest areas I think is going to be regulation and compliance. If someone's been an MSP long enough, they should have that foundation built. Then you can take a look and say, ‘How do I do more for that client to ensure that they are meeting any kind of regulatory compliance that they might be under?’ Even if they're not under any regulatory compliance, what can you do to have a set of standards that might be required for other types of industries? There's a reason why there's different regulations out there, it’s to help protect and secure. Now, granted, not everything that is put in place are things that people like or love, but I'm a firm believer that the easier we make things for ourselves from a technology perspective, the easier we're making things for bad actors. We are having to have some tough discussions with clients to say, ‘This [isn’t great] that we have to go this route to protect our businesses but this is the world we live in.’

We've got to put our money where our mouth is. As MSPs, we all are painting a picture. We're illustrating to our clients and prospective clients what we can do for them, and we need to deliver on those promises especially from a security perspective. We’ve got to make sure that we're being compliant ourselves and making sure our own houses are in order. In the event there's any kind of incident or disaster at one or maybe multiple clients, we need to make sure that our own house is rock-solid. The last thing that you want to do is battle your own problem while you're trying to help someone else.