CEO at TechRunner IT Dan Komis covers some of his key learnings from the first stage of the pandemic and how it changed his business and relationships with clients.
Dan joins the MSP Breakthrough podcast with 17+ years of IT industry experience providing Business Technology services in the greater New York area. Dan founded TechRunner IT in January of 2008 to partner with the small businesses that drive the economy and communities of Long Island. Currently supporting over 50 locations and growing.
Recently he founded VivaTrace in 2020 to add a technology layer to help nursing homes and assisted living communities (long term care facilities) prevent the spread of infectious disease.
Outside of work, he's all about music, travel and Thai/Dutch kickboxing. Living by the motto people + positivity = happiness and success.
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Announcer: This is "MSP Breakthrough," where successful MSP owners walk us through the pivotal moments that put them over the top.
Tom: Hi, everyone. I'm Tom Watson with Jonathan Crowe, and our special guest here, Dan Komis, and we're here today on "MSP Breakthrough." And we're gonna cover a number of things today. We're going to cover some of what Dan's done at TechRunner, some of the breakthroughs he's had when it comes to service delivery, when it's come to how he runs his business. We're going to talk about transparency. And I'd like to real quickly kick this over to Dan, and maybe Dan, you can introduce yourself and tell us about some of these recent wins we're all excited to hear about.
Dan: Thanks, Tom. I'm Dan Komis, CEO of TechRunner IT. We're based in Long Island, New York. We just celebrated our 13th year in operation. We support over 50 locations and over 1,000 users. Thirteen year is a long time. I started the business by myself, solo. A lot of different challenges you come through when you start that way.
Growing a business is about as tough a thing as you could do, as many people know these days. But I had a great experience the other day with two clients, both fairly new with us, you know, one was with us for one year, one was with us for two years. And times came for renewal. And I sent agreements to both, three-year agreements, with pricing escalations, with increases, sent over the proposals, and within 10 minutes, both came back, signed, sealed, delivered, no questions asked. That had never happened to me in the history of my career.
Jonathan: So, what are the things that you guys had been happening? Like, what do you usually expect in that kind of scenario? Because I know, Dan, the way you're saying this, I mean, you were surprised that it was that easy. How come?
Dan: Well, you know, normally there's a little bit of back and forth, even some basic negotiation and pricing, or why are we doing this? Why are we doing that? In the proposal, I simply included...you know, I was very upfront. I said, "Hey, here's the new proposal. We are increasing our rates.
We are covering for some things that we have been supporting for you that wasn't necessarily included in the contract." I just laid it all out very plainly, very simply, and left no real conversation to be had, I suppose. I said, "Hey, this is it. This is why we're doing what we're doing." And, you know, being upfront, being honest, being transparent, you know, it worked in this scenario perfectly fine. Everybody was happy. And here we go.
Jonathan: You know, Tom, this is something that we talk about on MSP Live Chats all the time. I mean, you have this advice where you talk about how you ran your business, and you advocate for longer-term agreements, like Dan mentioned, the three-year terms, escalating pricing, kind of built-in.
And a lot of the reactions we get sometimes is, okay, that's great in theory, but how am I going to have this conversation with clients? And then, stack on top of that what happened last year? What's still happening with people? Some people are doing well, a lot of people aren't, and it's a tricky time. And so I think under normal circumstances, a lot of people can feel like this is an awkward conversation to have, and these are not normal circumstances.
Tom: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that Dan, you've hit on something really important. I mean, I know as a former MSP owner, and I talk to many MSPs that simply aren't billing for things, and let it go. Or then you have something like this pandemic, and maybe you don't want to send someone a bill for something additional, something where they ran over or, you know, I mean, listen, a lot of mistakes happen.
We know that technicians will put software on people's machines that they're not authorized to, you're paying for licenses then, that aren't being billed. There's a lot of things that go into that. And I think what's so great is that you were able to send that out and communicate that in such a way that they understood it. And I think you spoke just before we started recording that your services are at a level and your people are at a level that that had a lot to do with them just signing and going forward with the contract. Is that right?
Dan: Yeah, I think that really... It made me smile in a big, big way, because if we're sending out price increases, and the only response that we get is "Okay," that just says the world about my team and what our clients think about us and think about everybody here. And nothing makes me happier than great reinforcement that TechRunner is doing the right thing and people are loving it.
Tom: Now, do you have more of these to go back to and kind of get people up to where they should be contract dollar-wise? Is this part of something you're doing in your business right now?
2021 Billing Revitalization
Dan: It is. Yeah, it's part of the initiative for 2021. Like everybody, I think, you know, increase net profit, right? So, first place we're looking is internally. Say, "All right, where are we missing things that we probably should be billing for?" To me, it's a simple way to propose it to the client, to say, "Look, you're getting this. You're supposed to be getting billed for it, you're not, so we're gonna correct it," right?
"Leaving money on the table, I guess, or 'Don't leave the church's money on the ground,' as Michael Irvin says. So, we are going back through all of our contracts as renewals come up, and we're trying to address these things."
Part of what's made it easier is that I've made a very conscious effort to really engage all of our clients over the past year. You know, while we weren't doing many projects last year, or we weren't talking about major overhauls, I talked to the owners of our businesses last year, probably more than I ever have in my 13 years of operation. We wanted to know, like, you know, you want to know what's going on. "How are you? How is the business?"
Like, more how are you? You know, what do you need from an operation standpoint, from a business owner standpoint? What can I share with you that has nothing to do with us generating us more revenue? How can I help you in some way, shape, or form right now, so that you're here in a year, even if you just want to talk something through, good to talk to you, see you later?
Spent a lot of time doing that last year, and you're really improving what were really already good relationships, but deepening those relationships with people in charge here. And I think that that probably went a long way in, you know, further strengthening the trust that they have in us, and the faith that they have in our team, that when we say this is what we need to do, the only answer is, "Get it done."
Jonathan: Absolutely. You know, Dan, when we've talked to other guests about breakthroughs, there's been this common element where a lot of times, there's a catalyst, right? And a lot of breakthroughs involve shifting into an area or doing something that's kind of slightly outside a comfort zone, or doing something different, right?
And a lot of times, those are instigated by outside elements, like last year is a perfect example on what you're talking about now, knowing that you need to reach out more. And that shapes the way that you're doing business, in some better ways. And then you look back and you say, wow, that actually opened up things that I didn't fully realize it would at the time.
So, let's walk back a little bit further. Because we, in prep for this show, were talking about what were some of the big milestones for you, and you gave us some good things to talk about. One of those was around your service delivery. And this kind of ties right into what you're talking about with the contracts, being really more upfront and honest of, "Okay, guys, here's what we're delivering to you.
Here's the value of it." Having kind of frank conversations. You mentioned there's a point where you realize you're kind of overpromising. Can you talk a little bit about when that moment was, kind of where that was in the stage of your company, and what happened?
Pandemic Burnout and Helpdesk
Dan: Sure. Our ticket requests went up 50% last year, by mid-May. You know, the March to May impact was just significant. And, you know, our guys were essentially just working as hard as they could, but as the months went on, burnout was happening. So, we signed up with one of the popular third-party helpdesk services, and we implemented them, and they did a great job.
However, our clients, even though we were resolving issues in less than two hours on average, responding in less than 15 minutes, our clients were like, "This doesn't work for us." Not all of them, but there was enough people were like, "This is...you're taking too long to get back to us. This isn't getting solved immediately. When I call, you don't immediately pick up the phone." Because now we had a separation between, you know, our techs answering the phone. I'm sure anybody would tell you, you know, never, ever allow your technical staff to answer the phone, right? But that's what we had been doing.
And, you know, we had a really frank conversation with the CEO of that company, who was like, "Dan, our team is doing great here. We're getting all of the stuff done. All of your tickets are getting resolved in an incredible fashion. But what have you been doing for these people in the past, if they're not happy with what we're doing?"
So, we had created this expectation that we were just gonna get everything done in 10 minutes. And, you know, you were always gonna speak to a technical person right away on the first call. And, you know, even if they would call us and it would take us hours to get something resolved, they were happier with that than if they called, didn't get a technician right away, and it got solved in 30 minutes.
Restoring the Customer Experience
So, it was very interesting that, you know, there wasn't over-delivery there, but I think it was more of a customer expectation, right? It wasn't, you know, we pick up the phone, we promise we'll get it solved in 30 minutes or your service is free. But that was the impression, that was the customer experience that they were getting, so people were satisfied. But we really had the chance to look at our numbers and go, like, you know, we're delivering at a level that is impossible to grow with, it's impossible to scale. We have to put some separators in here, while maintaining that customer experience and getting the work done.
Tom: Did you find that they needed some kind of touch, and then that gave you a buffer before you would have to really get started on the ticket?
Dan: Yes. Yes, we did. And for clarity, we have since abandoned that service and moved to a, we use an answering service now, between our clients and our technical people.
"And now, we've restored the customer experience in full. But yes, they want to talk to somebody. They just need to be heard."
Like anything else, you just want to make sure your issue is heard and someone understands, right? I always say we're kind of in the business of everything's going to be okay, right? So, you get that done, and then that next touch, as long as it's reasonable, you know, our SLA is two hours for remote, for a P3, right? We're always under... You know, if it goes over an hour, I'd be shocked. We typically hit 45 minutes.
Ticketing Process and Customer Service
Tom: Yeah, I think for people listening, I mean, what we're talking about is someone that answers the phone, even if it's an answering service, takes down some information, listens to what they say. And then generally, the person calling, the user, gets some type of email confirmation that a ticket's been created. So, there's two touches before they actually get contact by a technician, but that way, those two touches will usually give, my experience was, that will usually give you as much as three hours buffer for even a severe problem on a machine.
Dan: Yeah, that's how we're running it. Three-hour buffer? Ooh. We're in Long Island. We don't get those buffers here.
Jonathan: Well, it's interesting, I mean, because, you know, one of the common themes that we hear a lot with people, especially smaller shops just getting started, you know, everyone wants to make prompt customer service their differentiator, like, everyone wants to say, "Hey, we're super responsive. We're the best customer service you'll get." And this is an interesting story to say, "Okay, you gotta be very mindful about how you set expectations," because you actually, you know, especially early days, you want to win everybody, you want to promise the moon, and then that can come around in the end, especially when you're trying to scale and grow, there's some things that may need to be adjusted.
Job vs. Business Owner
Dan: You're 100% on the nose. It's hard for anybody to start up, you know, your one-man shop, and then, you know, grow it into a business, right?
"Like, do you have a job? Or do you have a business? Right? Two completely different things. And even though you may be growing into a business, a lot of people, I think, still have that mentality that they have a job, right?"
You can have 10 employees, you might still think, "Well, you know, this is still my thing." Right? No, at some point, you have to find the ability within yourself to see your business as an entity, as its own living, breathing thing, at which point you're a function of it, you're a huge piece of it, you're the most important piece of it, but you have to let it be, you know, its own thing. You have to let it fly, right? When you hire people, you make sure you hire the right ones, and the people who represent your values, the people who match the culture of your company. And if you maintain that path, you can still see your logo and feel the same way about it 20 years down the line as you did the first day you had it made.
Jonathan: Are you still...
Tom: Now, Dan, I'm looking at...
Jonathan: Sorry. Go ahead, Tom.
Tom: Well, I was gonna go on to something else. I've got in my notes here, I've got about trusting the team to get it done. I gotta tell you that every one of these that Jonathan and I do, we're talking to MSP veterans like yourself, and one of the breakthroughs I like to ask about is stepping away from tech work, or, we've already heard, like, phones. What are the things that you have stepped away from that have now allowed your business to scale, and tell us what that looked like, and kind of some of the struggles that occurred, and what has been the result?
When an MSP CEO steps back from the day-to-day
Dan: I mean, the first thing everybody mentions is limiting your technical work, right? That takes up the most amount of time, so you have to remove that from your plate. And as I've hired more people, we have five full-time people now, I've been able to slowly but surely, you know, as more people came on, remove myself, remove myself.
That step alone has 10 steps within it, right? But documentation, it's the most popular word in our industry these days, I feel like, but it's the most important one. You have to get that stuff out of your head to your team, so that you now exist in your documentation system. You don't have to exist at the other end of the phone, you don't exist at the other end of Teams or Slack. All of that, you know, it's like artificial intelligence transferred, is get it out of the person, put it into the system. Now Dan lives in the documentation platform.
So, that's huge, and training or text to create the documentation as well, you know, being clear that every contribution that anyone makes is a tenfold contribution down the line to the company. The more we add to it, the more it helps the next person, the more it helps you. Do you want to be a level two tech for the next three years? Do you want to be a level three, four tech? Do you want to be an engineer? Great, keep writing great documentation. You will reinforce that knowledge within yourself, and ultimately create the job for the next person, right? And then hand it to them. You'll know how to give it to them.
"So, you know, from the technical side, you know, documentation is the most important thing. From the human side, and the, "Oh my god, this is my company. Things are gonna break. I'm the only one that can do this side of things that we all have," getting comfortable with the fact that even if the technical part of the work gets done 100%, it's not going to be the same as if I did it."
The experience with the customer, the conversation, maybe the speed, maybe it's going to take.. You know? And honestly, it should be the speed. You know, if I have somebody on my team taking care of something that I could do in 10 minutes, it probably should take them a half an hour.
If it's something I've done for 10 years, and I know it like the back of my hand, you can't expect somebody to have that same inherent knowledge, experience, and confidence as the same way you do, you know? Ten years down the line, you're right, maybe it's gonna take them 10 minutes. So, that's hard. That's hard. You have to let it take longer, you have to let it go wrong, you have to... You know, you can correct it when the right time comes, but it's like you have to let people sink. And that's just a really, really hard thing to do.
Jonathan: Dan, can you put yourself, kind of travel back in time a little bit to when you're first going through this process, when you're first hiring on, you, you're still in the trenches, you're still doing some technical work, and you're starting to let go. Anything kind of jump out at you where you were trying to do this? Was it easy from the get-go for you, or...?
Dealing with vendor support
Dan: No. Not even a little bit. And I think that's probably the case with most people in my position. I think solo MSPs who start growing, like, are good at the same things, you know. You're very organized, you're on top of stuff, you're on time, you're multitasking, like, it's a personality type thing. But the first thing when I really had a full-time team going, the first rule we put in place was, Dan doesn't call customer service.
So, we eliminated that. So, that was like my big, okay, this is my first technical work I'm stepping back from. Now, that may seem like it doesn't answer your question, however, when I would find people on the phone for three hours with technical, with technical support for a vendor or an ISP, I would come out of my office, I'm like, "What the hell are you doing? Three... How are you on the phone for three hours with people? Can't you just get through them, cut through the muck.
Just get it done." And then I kind of circle back, I'm like, "The reason we put that rule in place is because sometimes it takes three hours to get through to somebody who can actually get us to a point where they solve the problem." So...
Tom: Yeah, I mean, that's a great one, Dan. I mean, I like to talk about stepping away from things. One of the big ones, I recall, maybe you can tell us what you related to, was when you stepped away from individual clients, the ones you had brought on early, and they call up and have a problem, and they want you to fix it. And then, can you tell us, for our audience out there, how you handle that effectively, to be able to... And that's a tough one, you know, because you're trying to pass them on to someone else in your company, and you know it's not going to be done exactly the same way you did it.
Dan: Yeah. So, yeah, that is super tough. I still get emails every now and then. Now, when I get an email from a customer about a technical response, I just move the email into our support mailbox, makes a ticket, and it goes to servicing. No questions asked. You know, I don't address it.
Tom: You don't even reply to it. That's part of your strategy. There you go.
Setting up warm client transfers
Dan: No. Yeah, yeah. At this point, no. But to roll back and answer your question, of course, it took a long time to get there. So, I guess we would start with, like, warm transfers, you know. Originally, if it was a thing that we didn't have a mature process for, I guess, be like, okay, let's engineer... Okay, this client called. Client has a problem. They want us to fix it. All right.
Engineer, get the client on the phone, get me on conference call, and get the client on the phone. Let's talk it through together. "Okay. Great. What's the problem? Okay, we get it. Have the engineer go through the work, they go through the issue. All right. Great. Engineer's gonna take care of it, we'll make sure it gets done. I'm gonna hop off. You guys finish up however you need to. Thanks, bye." Right.
"So, you know, reinforce that trust. And we do that for VIPs, and the owners and things, you know, obviously not everybody who's working there. But for those people that we're worried about, you know, one by one, just build their trust in the team."
Tom: That's great. And I've got here, one of the things we talk a lot about, and we create a lot of content for prospects and partners out there are contracts and agreements. And it always seems like a big stumbling block early on for what you'd even call maybe an IT service provider, maybe not yet an MSP, to put clients under contracts, to require them to do so. And I've got some great notes from talking to you here about it, of how it's an opportunity, and how agreements are an opportunity for both sides, and kind of how you position that.
Contracts and agreements
Dan: Yeah, I had a very significant breakthrough about this a year and change ago, that, you know, negotiations should be a positive experience. And, you know, a contract is simply an opportunity to have a meeting and set expectations for what the client needs, and the services that you provide. It should be a positive experience, you know? "What do you need? Here's what we do, let's align those things."
And be very open about, like, how we're going to solve all those problems or answer all those questions that you have. And then it really prevents a lot of, you know, it prevents a lot of issues and surprises moving forward. I've found with new clients and new companies who have never used an MSP service before that it helps them really understand what you do. Everybody, it helps them understand what to do.
But the newer clients, you know, sticker shock is a huge thing. People are like, "Oh, my god, we're paying this money for what? I don't even know what you guys do." Well, that's the opportunity to lay it all out, and then find out if they're a fit or not, too, you know. Maybe they're not at the time. Maybe that's a conversation that you need to have a year from now, because their business isn't in a position to actually require the services that you provide.
But yeah, negotiation and contracts, transitioning my mindset on those to be real opportunities for open conversation, just a breakthrough times 10. You know, don't get the lawyers involved. Let's talk about the terms. You know, let lawyers be lawyers. But the terms... It should be easy, you know. What's the spirit of the agreement? What are you trying to accomplish? Let's put it in words. We'll write it down. We'd shake hands, but we gotta sign it. And then we get to work.
Jonathan: It sounds like there's... Some of the biggest challenges when you're navigating how to go from, you, one-man IT service delivery guy to becoming an actual business. Like you were saying, do you have a job or do you have a business? It's really trying to get clarity around, okay, what is it that I'm actually providing, passing that clarity on to clients, also getting clarity around who are the types of clients that we want and that we're going to be able to succeed with? And it sounds like a lot of the breakthroughs that you're talking about have been a march towards that. Let's get more clarity about who we are, what we're doing well, and who we do it for?
Business transparency is key
Dan: Yeah. Yeah, you're absolutely right.
"You know, transparency is at the core of our business. I think it's the core of any business that's going to grow. You have to be able to understand what you do, understand why you do it, and understand the value that it delivers to your clients."
And if you can understand all of that, then it should be easy, right? Like, you should be able to do it, you should be able to sell it, and people should be able to buy it. It's not that easy, but, you know, idealism. You, know, that ties into transparency, too.
Jonathan: Yeah, and I mean, the transparent element, I mean, it does have requirements, right? Like you just pointed out, you have to have a clear understanding and be able to articulate what you want to be transparent about. Otherwise, it can be really squishy. Talk a little bit... I mean, you've come on our live chats, we've had conversations, you're great about just talking with other MSPs, and kind of sharing your experiences and sharing what you're doing, building your team.
There is that transparency element where you've clearly been refining with your clients what you're providing, you're going back to them, you're establishing, okay, here's what we're really doing to work together. And you're doing this among your team as well. But yeah, maybe talk a little bit, like, the journey with TechRunner, through last year, or even before that, going up to what it is? You mentioned culture, kind of, TechRunner becoming larger than you. How have you gotten there? And what's it looking like now for next steps? That's a big question, Dan.
Growing an MSP over a decade of change
Dan: It's a lot there. A lot there. Well, let's talk about last... So, first six years of the company, I was a one-man show. I had some support, I had some other local MSPs, friends in the industry, supported each other, grew. I had a job, right? I took that job as far as I could, from a burden perspective and a financial perspective. I had maxed out all my hours I could possibly bill for things, I was a walking mess, and it was, "Okay, I'm either going to get myself to a manageable place, where I can work and make money I need, or we have to turn this into a business."
So, it was at that point that I started my first hires. My first hire was a awesome dude, terrible mistake. It was like okay, let's find somebody else, go through the process. Ultimately, wound up with some great people. And the more honest I was about how I felt about the company, and what I wanted from anybody who's gonna be a part of the team, the easier it became to find the right people.
And that was something, from a business perspective, that I had always been coached against, from, like, traditional, you know, Boomer business people, whatever you want to call it, like, you know, you have to be a shark, you have to be vicious, you have to squeeze people as much as you can, this, you know, the whole profit first, you know, that's what's important.
"Make sure you take care of you, make as much money as you can and get out. I'm like, it's not who I am, you know, and this company is a reflection of who I am. And the more I embrace that, the more I was able to find people who match that. And it's fulfilling. It really is. It really is."
So, you know, fast-forward, great team. Last year, I went through the entire year with everybody. At the end of the year, I said, all right, we reviewed the whole year and how crazy everything went, how busy we were, how much we needed extra help, the experience with third-party help desk. We brought back a former employee of ours, who had the opportunity to return to us, he was our service delivery manager. Can't understate, or can't overstate, the impact that his return to us has had on the company. And everybody's really proud of what we accomplished last year. Everybody feels really, really good about it.
Clearly outlining employee and company needs
And we gave everybody the opportunity throughout this to say... You know, I should say the idea of TechRunner has grown with the addition of people, like, not just the actual company and the headcount, but, like, the idea of what we can be has grown far beyond the sum of our parts now. And we gave everybody a one-year plan for the company with, like, literally a roadmap, or an organizational chart, with all roles, responsibilities, where we are now. We made one for next year, so where do you want to be? We made one for five years, so where do you want to be? And everybody picked one, and it was completely...it fits their personalities, it fits their strengths, it fits the company need.
"You know, to say we've found the right people, you know, I couldn't believe that more. So, that has helped me, as well, see TechRunner as something so far greater than, you know, Dan in his Honda Element 12 years ago. It's something that I'm really, really happy for, grateful for, and proud of."
Tom: That's great. So, where do you... What are your big goals for this year? I mean, what do you kind of focus on? Where do you think the growth will come from? I know this is something that people tuning in are wondering, how do you grow a business in these times, that things are a little different?
Finding lost revenue
Dan: So, the first thing was what we mentioned earlier, was finding lost revenue. You know, things we should have been billing for, let's make sure we capture those and get them in, because it's the easiest way.
"It's probably not significant money, but, you know, a few hundred dollars here and there, we're a monthly recurring revenue model, it adds up to a... You know, hey, if it covers the internet bill for the year, look, we found it, we should have that revenue."
I've been networking a ton, you know, in the past year, locally. You know, I've really made it a mission to find other like-minded, growth-oriented business owners in my area. Part of a couple of groups, and actually, I met somebody yesterday who I can't wait to sit down and talk about his business with him. I don't care about doing business with him. He's just so right in the moment of taking his business to the next place, and he knows what he wants to do, he just doesn't know quite how to get there. I want to move into his house, and just feel like, "This is what we do. You got it. You got all the pieces. Let's go, let's go, let's go, let's go, you know." This stuff fires me up.
"But continuing to establish our brand locally, you know, I really try and push our social media presence and make small videos, conversations, and comments with people in my community, business owners. Just engage and meet people."
I've been really at it for a little over a year now, and I look back and I go, "Oh, my god, I have all these contacts, relationships, and referral opportunities here that I can't believe I have." A year ago, I didn't have any of this. You know, you put the time in, you keep talking, you keep strengthening relationships, ultimately, when the opportunity comes up, and someone thinks of IT, thinks of, you know, technology, like, "Oh, wait. Has to be TechRunner." Right?
As far as targeting, and then really going after business, we're really looking at local co-managed opportunities right now, that we've actually gotten contacted by companies for a lot of independent projects right now, not necessarily ongoing services, but that's how those relationships start, you know. We show up, we do a great job on a project, we maintain a relationship. And then potentially when the opportunity arises, again, you know, maybe somebody from their team leaves, they go, "Oh, do we want to hire another full-time help desk technician, or maybe this is a part of our operation that we could subcontract or partner with Dan's firm for better service at a lower cost?"
Jonathan: Absolutely. Hey, going back a little bit to the networking portion, is this something that you've always just been drawn to or been good at? It sounds like you're kind of talking about, like how it was just this past year. What, was this, like, a conscious effort, decision? You decided like, okay, I need to get out there and start doing this more?
Social Media and Networking Correlation
Dan: Yeah. Yeah, it was. I hated chamber of commerce stuff, you know, local networking groups. What's it, BNI? Like, I hate the idea of transactional business relationships, because we're not a transactional company. Like, we are a long term... You know, MSPs are long-term relationships. You know, you, people, what's the average retention in our business? Is it over 10 years now? So, I never really saw I had any value there, and the few that I'd gone to over the years, a lot of them were full of people looking at, like, "Oh, it was only $25 to get this meal and a couple of drinks." Like, not for me. It didn't fit me, didn't fit TechRunner, so I didn't do it.
"But as the idea of, I think, culturally, at least around here, the idea has kind of shifted from transactional networking to business development. And, you know, digital marketing and social media marketing has become something that everybody has to do, so it really has kind of opened it up."
I think, as opposed to that little closed-door session, like, "Oh, go to your local chamber." "Well, you don't know anybody. Guess what? You're gonna either stand in a corner, while everybody who knows each other is gonna talk about chicken parmesan, or you're gonna force yourself into conversations that people are uncomfortable having, because you're not part of the group." So, like, well, I'm not gonna force myself into something that you guys want me here, that's fine. I have no, you know, that's fine. This is your club. This is your club. But I think a lot of people feel that way.
So, with the explosion of social media marketing, and especially last year, you have to have an online presence in order to really get your business known, let alone get new business. I found a lot of new relationships, or I built a lot of new relationships with like-minded people. And I think that's the core of it, right?
You have to find those like-minded people, who don't want anything from you, or you don't want anything from them, right? That has to be the thing, like, I want to grow my business. If you want to refer somebody to me, I love that. That's wonderful. I couldn't appreciate anything more. But that's not the core of our relationship. The core of the relationship is helping one another. The business should come from that.
Big picture of a IT business
Jonathan: And Tom, this goes back to something you talk about all the time, and what we talked about earlier. Dan, how do you have the time to actually go about doing that? Because you actually have employees that you trust, and you're not in the weeds all the time, right?
Dan: Yeah. I mean, you have to build the business to a point where it can sustain that, you know, where... You know, I'm definitely more than 50% out of my daily operation. At least, like, less than 50% of the day is focused on, like, active service delivery for the business. I may check in on something, talk to this and that. I should say it might even be 25% at this point.
"So I have 75% of my day to work on all those business development opportunities. You know, sales, marketing. Customer account management really falls into that, too. But yeah, it's really hard to get to that point."
But if you have a goal, and you're clear about the goal, and you're open about the goal with everybody who's a part of it, you show everybody the big picture, you know, you can get it done. You can get it done.
Tom: Yeah, I think that's really important, that, sounds like you've started to carve out a good amount of time to spend on business development, networking, because it takes that. And Jonathan, we talk a lot about how many touches does it take to get a new client? And it takes a lot. You're building a relationship. And it's kind of one of these things where I talk to people, and they try something, and then they stop doing it.
And so, they get a couple touches in, they start to develop a relationship and contacts, but they don't continue with it. It sounds like you've got a pretty good cadence going on of regular content going out, and touches, and developing relationships with people. And I know that reaches a point, you know, when you put enough time into it, that it'll kind of snowball, and probably create a lot of business this year, I would think.
Networking takes time to scale!
Dan: I sure hope so, you know? I sure hope so. But to that point, I have noticed as the relationships have strengthened, and as we spend more time with these people, virtually or otherwise, the opportunities, they're taking form, they're taking shape, like, we're now getting to those points where like, "Oh, you know what? I think it might be a good idea for you to talk to this person."
Six months ago, even though you have the same good relationship with the person who is referring that person, it might not even make sense to them at that point. You know? So, it is definitely a... It's a long-term...won't say it's a long-term play. But it's a career-long process. You have to just...
Tom: It takes a long time to gel, for people that you're talking to to start to put together exactly what you do and where you fit into what they do, or their referral network, it takes a long time. I mean, it's often a couple years. It sounds like you're pretty well into it over the last year, and so I think this second year is gonna be great for you.
Dan: Thanks, Tom.
"Yeah, people do business with people, right? First and foremost. And once you realize that the business is possible, then you continue nurturing that relationship, and ultimately, hope it, you know, if it gets to a point where an opportunity comes up, it's there for you."
And it should be that much easier to convert, right? You don't do business with people quite the same, like, when they come from a really strong referral, you know? Your best friend tells somebody, "Hey, you know, Dan TechRunner are the firm, like, they're the IT company to work with. Don't go anywhere else." If he has that level of relationship with the person he's making that referral to, there's no conversation. Send over the proposal, it comes back signed, no questions asked.
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