My first recommendation about your competition is get to know them. They and their business are probably not that different from you and yours, and while you might expect them to be ferociously guarding their market share (and they might be), established people are usually not so insecure as newbies and they just might give you a hand, at least by way of information or advice.
That can shed a some light on the tech business in your locale, and that is very valuable knowledge. They won’t give you the Holy Grail of information—which clients to seek and avoid—but they’ll give you some pieces of the puzzle, even if by accident.
So give them a call. Be humble and honest. The worst they can say is, “Sorry I can’t help, but good luck.”
Your competition is going to come in the form of a few forms:
1. Other Small MSPs like you
These businesses have comparable resources to serve comparable clients, so carefully observe what they offer and whom they serve. Are they retailing cloud services to offices of 5-10 lawyers, managing on-premise servers for engineering firms, or just managing Windows and MS Office? Are they able to get people to buy hours of monthly support?
Understanding your most-similar competition will help find the sweet spot of profitably offering what people want.
2. In-House Support
Offices of 10-20 people are a sweet spot for small MSPs, but they’re just big enough to warrant a full-time in-house position. Once someone is entrenched in that position, they’re hard to dislodge. Unless they’re dong a terrible job or the business can no longer afford it, you’ll probably have trouble budging them. Offering to work alongside their staff is an option, but might make you seem desperate.
A lot of franchise businesses, like real estate and insurance, have their tech needs handled by the corporation. Franchisees often don’t own the hardware and just get a number from corporate to call. They would have to pay for additional support out of pocket, which they probably won’t do, especially if they don’t even own the hardware.
On the other hand, corporations often contract out the support, so if you have a lot of one type of insurance agency in the area, for example, it might pay to go chirping up the chain and see if the local support contract is up for grabs.
4. Remote-Only Support
Plenty of small businesses get support from out-of-town providers that either offer remote-only management or even only tech support assistance over-the-phone. These businesses are often eager for someone nearby who can manage their systems and come in to fix and upgrade hardware.
5. Big MSPs
Big MSPs have probably been around a while. They have their own hardware to which they can quickly add new clients. They have a bigger staff they can use to set up offices quickly, handle multiple incidents at the same time, and give a longer window of support availability. And they have mature policies and ticketing systems. They’re hard to compete with as a startup, except by:
- offering a very competitive price
- bending over backwards to match their support
- persuading a client they’re under-using what they’re paying for
- emphasizing the benefit of your personal attention to their needs