There are a lot of generic, non-technical names for “running your own computer business,” such as “IT/Tech Support” and “PC Repair.” The first of those is more or less equivalent to a help desk that people call to get assistance over-the-phone. “PC Repair” more or less suggests.
More technically, you’re starting business as an MSP, or Managed Services Provider. Your business is going to make money selling subscriptions of tech services to small businesses. Usually on a contract, they’ll pay you every month for a bundle of services that usually revolves around selling the Big Three:
- Maintenance and monitoring of systems
- Administration of servers & platforms, e.g.
- A Domain Controller
- Microsoft Office
- Microsoft Exchange
- several hours of your labor
So a client might pay you to maintain and monitor five workstations and one server, and also prepay for two hours of your support, per month, for when they call you with questions or issues.
They’ll also inevitably be other services you need to offer, like:
- Mobile Device Management
- Licenses for MS Office & Windows
But it’s probably not going to be very lucrative to sell these “Add-Ons” without the Big Three, so it’s up to you whether to bundle them into a per-system Maintenance/Monitoring fee or sell them at cost/cheaply, a-la-carte, in addition to your Maintenance/Monitoring fee.
By the way, “Maintenance/Monitoring” is usually referred to as “Remote Maintenance and Management, or RMM, and the software you use to do that Maintenance and Management—RMM Software—will be a big part of your business.
Anyway, you’re simply offering the Add-Ons because most clients need them and it looks bad to say, “I don’t do that” again and again. Remember, people are turning to you in part because you’re going to take care of their tech needs. If they still need to manage Services X, Y, and Z themselves, or need to get someone else to do it, they may just decide to skip you all together and go it alone or with someone else who can take care of everything.
That said, you don’t want to get roped into doing everything that comes up on client systems. You’ll need to have some familiarity with the basic programs in each field at least to:
- get it up-and-running on a new system
- get it to play nicely on Windows.
- back up
Each business has one or more of these, for example:
- Engineering firms use 3DS Max and apps from AutoDesk.
- Accounting firms use Lacerte, and apps from Thompson Reuters.
- Farms use agricultural management software like Granular and farmbrite.
- and everybody uses QuickBooks.
So since you can’t get out of dealing with some of these programs in a few basic ways—because you don’t want to turn away a client over one program!—learn what you need to learn about them and if you don’t intend to support them, make that clear. Who knows, though, you might find a niche as an MSP that also offers great support for AutoDesk and build a reputation in the engineering community.
Finally, clients come to you for onsite hardware repairs and upgrades, which usually involves swapping out hard drives, memory, and power supplies, and setting up new systems and peripherals.
You, the Provider
Now that you have the gist about what an MSP offers, you should have a basic idea of what you’ll be doing, which will chiefly be three things:
A. Monitoring Your Agents
Your RMM solution uses software (aka agents) that run on all of your managed systems (aka endpoints.) These endpoints do three things:
- execute maintenance tasks
- report status data to you
- provide you remote access to the system
You’ll then either have web-based access to a cloud service that controls the agents, or you’ll remotely access an onsite-appliance on the client’s network that controls the agents. You may also configure other on-site hardware such as routers, firewalls, printers, etc., as well as cloud services, to email you alerts.
At setup you’ll configure your agents with a policy customized for the client that tells the agent exactly what to watch and report.
Of course, when a report indicates something is wrong, you address it ASAP.
B. Staying Up-to-Date
One of your biggest selling points as an MSP is that since busy professionals can’t keep up with the constantly evolving world of technology in addition to running their business, you keep up with it for them. So you’ll need to be on the up-and-up about things like:
- Security flaws
- Patching schedules and known issues with patches
- end-of-life dates for software
- end-of-warranty dates for hardware
- subscription renewal dates
The biggest of those topics is patching: sometimes you’ll need to push one sooner, sometimes you’ll need to pause one temporarily, and other times you’ll want to block one from going out at all. In every case, you need to know what’s about to be pushed out to your managed systems via System Updates.
C. Administering Platforms
Whether it’s in Exchange server or an office domain controller, administration (apart from patching and monitoring) boils down to:
- initial setup
- adding/removing users
- creating, pushing, and updating policies
- scaling for growth
The more dynamic the business, the more activity you’ll have on this front.
D. Being Available
You’ll need to be available during normal business hours to take support calls. We’ll talk about your support system and how to handle calls later, but realize your availability is a big part of what people expect when from your services.
There’s a lot more to consider, but that’s the essence of the job. It varies considerably, however, depending on what clients you have and what hardware and software you support.
There’s also a lot more technical knowledge that you’ll need because computer problems, like many others, tend to snowball. You can very quickly find yourself scratching your head, far afield from the apparent source of the problem. But this work is the essence of managed services.
We’ll talk in the next section about how your skills stack up.