Mistakes, I've Made a Few

By Dave Sobel  |  Print this article Print

I recently sold my MSP business, and now with the benefit of hindsight, here are the mistakes I believe I made when I started it and built it. Has your company made similar mistakes?

I sold my MSP business.

At every sale, there are always a large number of success claims about how it was built to sell, and how everyone is delighted about the sale of their company. Many go on to tell war stories about how "they did it", assuming that the advice is useful and everyone should replicate that success.

The problem with that theory is that if you follow that advice, you are working to get similar results. I’m going to offer some thoughts on things I think I did poorly – things I would change, if I had a DeLorean and could go back in time and do it again. A mistake list, if you will.

This is not intended to criticize my team – particularly the team I had in the transition to new ownership. Instead, this is a look back over ten years of owning a solution provider.

My mistakes are things I think could have been done significantly better, and would have resulted in a better company. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with my sale. But wouldn’t you always like to do better?)

Have a partner. The Right One.

Looking back, I wish I had a second owner. Some of the biggest strains in my organization were due to me being the only person invested in the business as an owner. There’s a lot to owning a business, and a second person to work with would go a long way. Bouncing ideas, dividing effort, driving accountability, and executing better would have come from a second owner. The right partner – not just anyone, but the right trusted collaborator to work with.

Pay your people hourly.

I had this idea that paying people on a salary would even out the ups and downs, and would help drive up profitability. I was wrong. If I could do it all over again, I’d pay my people hourly. Everyone, hourly. That way, if you work hard, you get compensated for it. Too often there was "just enough" from employees, when if they knew the extra effort would directly benefit them, it would make a difference. Often, employees would be "gone" the moment their forty hours were in. If paid hourly, they could do a little better for themselves right away by just doing that last thing today, rather than tomorrow.

Build compensation around profitability.

Coupled with paying people hourly, my management team was not nearly linked enough to profitability. While they had the idea of profit, and understood the basic need, their own compensation was not nearly tied closely enough to the company being profitable.

Your assistant is your first hire.

I waited far too long to hire my first assistant. In fact, years and employees too long. In hindsight, hiring my assistant was the best move I ever made. By making this hire, I was more productive, got more done, and had a significantly better company because of it. Those "little things" that make such a difference were done, and done well, every day. She thought of all the details, made sure I did the right things, and helped me get organized. Instead of hiring eight years in, I should have hired this position right away.

Hindsight is 20/20. By learning from the things I didn’t do well, rather than simply touting success, I hope to offer a few thoughts that help others grow their businesses.

Dave Sobel is the founder and CEO of Evolve Technologies (www.evolvetech.com), a consulting firm that provides information technology and computer networking services to small businesses in Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia.Evolve Technologies provides a wide array of services including server installation, virus protection, network security, backup services and complete information technology outsourcing. The first Microsoft Small Business Specialist located in the Washington, D.C. area, Evolve Technologies is a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner. Prior to founding Evolve Technologies, Sobel worked as a Web architect for a consulting company. He also has experience doing security, network and infrastructure design for Fortune 1000 companies. Sobel holds a bachelor's degree in Computer Science from the College of William and Mary. He can be reached at dave@evolvetech.com.