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MSP business planning for 2021: What you should consider

From remote working to new security threats, 2020 introduced a range of new dynamics for MSPs. Here are four important considerations to address in your business planning for 2021.

However exhausting and obvious the sentiment may be -- and however redundantly it's been conveyed by months of memes and dark sarcasm -- it bears repeating that 2020 has been an objectively strange and difficult year.

As the year winds down, it's incumbent upon us as MSPs to enter 2021 well prepared to use the lessons we learned to strengthen both our businesses and our clients' businesses.

Here are several points to consider as you begin business planning for 2021.

Get your margins

As an industry that provides critical support to nearly all other industries, MSPs have had a front-row seat to plenty of financial hemorrhages this year -- either from our clients or from our own businesses. Now is the time to review end-of-the-year financials and check all agreements for profitability.

While some MSPs fared amazingly well in 2020, taking on a slew of new clients as the COVID-19 pandemic rushed demand for IT services, it's important now to stand back for a moment and take another look at your agreements. For example, consider the implications of clients with remote workers. The work-from-home (WFH) dynamic translates to the addition of significant extra time spent per client. If your clients are still doing a lot of WFH, you should consider that and price accordingly.

In some cases, you might want to consider adding some extra dollars, even if only temporarily.

Security, security, security

The uncertainties of 2020 seem to have produced a particular brand of opportunists, and the MSP community has had an intimate look at one glaring example of this as we watched bad actors exploit holes in professional services automation and remote monitoring and management tools. Those gaps in the software have allowed hackers to ransom entire government agencies, hospitals and small businesses all in one chunk.

2021 channel business trends chart
Channel business trends for 2021

Cleaning up from 2020, the very first thing on your agenda should be an internal audit. Figure out what you as an MSP business need to do to protect your clients. If you don't have a good security stack already laid out as part of your existing services, you are really behind the curve. If you are still in the market for security offerings, look at some of the zero-trust vendors in the MSP space as a start -- and always remember, layering different vendors and products is a good thing.

Depending on your capacity, you may want to outsource this entire piece to a third party. They do exist, and most of them do bundle multiple vendors to provide one "complete" package.

Either way, security was a make-or-break component for many in 2020. Prepare now. Don't start 2021 behind the security curve, or it may be too little, too late.

Explore security awareness training options

In 2021, MSPs will need to continue looking at what can be done to keep clients in the best possible position in an environment of opportunistic security risks. Our MSP, Level5 Management, is putting a persistent emphasis on training our clients' and their employees, for example.

If you don't have a good security stack already laid out as part of your existing services, you are really behind the curve.

Studies show a 70% decrease in security incidents when security awareness training is used alongside phishing simulations. Tools are great to have, but the employee is the first line of defense in the prevention of security events. Dozens of vendors and an expansive spectrum of pricing exist in the security awareness training space. So, ask around, demo, and find something you like and can package and price in a way that appeals to your client base.

Improve customer experience

The past year saw a surge of customer experience tools come on the scene. Some MSPs opted to provide clients with USB logo buttons, while others have added chat and help desk apps to clients' desktops. There is now even a ticketing system that uses AI to attempt to fix problems. The system responds to users based on keywords like printer or slow computer, walking clients through the troubleshooting process while automatically running some basic tools before submitting a ticket.

With all these neat new tools, look for the term MTTR, which is mean time to respond (or resolve). Your goal as the MSP is to lower ticket volume and deliver an automated/self-help or one-contact resolution. The experience of putting in a service request should be easy and contain enough information for your team to resolve it without having to email back more questions or pick up the phone.

If you aren't looking at your options in the customer experience area as part of your business planning for 2021, there's a good likelihood your competitor is or will be offering it as a sales and marketing tool.

About the author
Ben Filippelli is a member of The ASCII Group, a North American IT community of MSPs, solution providers and systems integrators.

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