Q&A | October 9, 2013

Practical Advice On Providing Managed Services

By Bernadette Wilson, associate editor, Business Solutions magazine
Follow Me On Twitter @bernadeditor

John Rutkowski

Business Solutions’ Channel Transitions VAR/MSP Executive Conference provided first-hand advice on successfully offering managed services. John Rutkowski, CEO of BOLDER Designs, filled the morning keynote at the conference on October 7 in Philadelphia with practical takeaways for VARs making the transition — and for MSPs looking for ways to grow their businesses. Rutkowski, who spoke at the conference on behalf of sponsor AVG Managed Workplace, has successfully launched, operated, and managed three businesses over his career. He began his presentation with principles based on his experience providing managed services.

Design the customer experience. Rutkowski said you should ask yourself how customers work with your business or experience your product. The answers will provide insight into what your customers want and expect from you. Rutkowski’s company, BOLDER Designs, looks at the technology available to businesses and then builds solutions based on what a company needs and the technology that is available to do it. His goal is to not have his customers call BOLDER Designs with a problem. He wants to be able to tell them that he saw the problem coming and fixed it before it was a problem.

Have an understanding of your finances. Rutkowski said he was in business when interest rates rose to 20 percent — and learned he could still make a profit. He said successful managed service providers have deep understanding of their finances — something that isn’t always true of break-fix VARs.

Price products and services to sell. He said understanding how to set prices is crucial —  adding it’s not about markup (how much more you sell something for compared to what you paid for it), it’s about margin (the percentage of the final price that is gross profit).

Business plan first, resources second. Rutkowski stressed the importance of a business plan — and regardless of circumstances — having a plan first. He said he contributes his success, in part, to finding a good business model. He also said he is a strong believer in peer groups for support and advice.

Follow the customers, not the vendors.  He said at one point in his career, he made the decision to take a business in a direction that made it smaller.  He said his vendor was encouraging him to take a direction that would mean more business for the vendor — but he decided this was not in the best interest of his customers, and ultimately, his business.

Reapply the first principle again— and then find vendors who support your vision. He said he appreciates vendors — like AVG Managed Workplace — that are 100 percent channel-friendly: “When I find vendors, I don’t want one doing end runs around me.” He also said AVG supports BOLDER with its services including AVG’s Network Operations Center (NOC), 24/7 Help Desk, mobile device management, and automation.

Set defining rules for your business. Rutkowski said companies should document the principles that define what they stand for. For example, one of the rules of BOLDER Designs is to “fall on the grenade.” Rutkowski said BOLDER employees take ownership of problems and try to fix them.  He also said employees follow the “20 minute rule.” If takes more than 20 minutes to solve a problem, employees take the problem to the next level of decision-making so no more time is lost.  Other rules are keeping an open, “no secrets” policy with customers, being willing to learn, and staying in touch with customers — with phone calls and meetings, not just social media.

For conference attendees interested in learning more, Rutkowski suggested a book, The E Myth Revisited:  Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work And What To Do About It by Michael E. Gerber.

Channel Transitions is sponsored by: AVG Managed Workplace, Mercury, OKI Data Americas, GFI MAX, ModernOffice Suite, and Harbortouch with industry association partners The ASCII Group, CompTIA, and the Retail Solutions Providers Association (RSPA).

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