This is the second in our quick 3-part series on Monthly Maintenance. Last week we talked about scheduling. Next week we'll go over the list itself.
Regular Server Maintenance is the Core of Our Business
Way back when I started my first business (1995), I did what most consultants do: I figured it out. I took the knowledge I had and struck out on my own, in search of gold. I offered up "services" and waited for the phone to ring.
But the phone didn't ring. Apparently, the universe did not know that I'd spent $60 on business cards and I was now a consultant. So I had to go dig up my own clients (gold). That meant I needed a pitch. I needed a way to get my foot in the door.
If you've ever sold subscriptions of any kind, you know it's a one-two punch with a kicker. First, what am I giving away for free right now today? Second, what will you get if you sign up today and welcome me back every month? The answers to these questions make up your sales pitch. And the kicker is: If the prospect says no, what can I do to get invited back some day? Here's what I came up with.
Second, I propose to come back every month and tune up your server. I'll verify that you are properly protected, backed up, and virus scanned. I'll put in all the patches and fixes and updates. If you want, I'll even monitor your system remotely so that I get paged (it was 1995, remember) when something goes wrong. Most monthly maintenance is performed in about an hour. On rare occasions it takes longer. So the cost is about one hour of labor per month. Plus monitoring for $150/mo. Later I raised this to $250/mo to cover software costs, and about two hours labor. No complaints.
Kicker: If you really don't want monthly maintenance, may I please put you on my mailing list? We provide a monthly newsletter for free. Of course you can cancel any time.
And that's how it all began. Clients sometimes hired me to put out fires. But normally that was not my first contact. My first contact was to convince them to let me look at their computers. Nine times out of ten I found a snake pit of a network that had been neglected for years. So while I wasn't putting out a fire, I WAS solving a problem and increasing their performance. And I got invited back every month.
As you can imagine, in the days before "managed services" I found problems on a regular basis. Over time the server got better and better. But neglected desktops had problems. Old network equipment failed. Because I was on site at least once a month, I was the computer guy for each of these offices. So I got all the calls.
But the server also got older. So eventually, performance degraded. When hard drives spin 24x7 for three years, they start to have issues. Bad sectors. Maybe a fan gets noisy. Move and more software means less and less disc space, and longer backups. The maintenance never stops. But here's an important key to success: I entered the scene without recommending a new server (nine times out of ten). I did maintenance that pushed out the need for a new server. I was saving my clients money and they knew it.
At the same time, because I got to see them every month, I exposed them to my philosophies about computer maintenance.
"We only quote and sell business class equipment."
"Everything we sell has at least a one year warranty. We prefer three."
"We like to see machines get replaced every three years."
"A good server will give maximum performance for about three years."
"If you replace 1/3 of your computers each year, your costs will be very predictable and all of your equipment will always be under warranty."
This is like drip marketing. I might support a server for 2-3 years before I finally tell them that they need to get a new one. By that time they are fully indoctrinated into the "Karl way of thinking" about computers.
It is a great business policy, in my opinion, to help clients avoid big costs as long as possible. It's good for their wallets and good for your relationship. But when they DO need to buy something, it is also a good policy to tell them that they need to spend money. If you started the relationship by being frugal with the client's money and giving good long-term advice, you'll be very credible when it's time to recommend that they spend some of that money.
Welcome to Managed Services
Eventually, we had fifteen servers on a monthly maintenance schedule . . . at $250 each. This included all remote monitoring and monthly maintenance. It did NOT include labor to fix anything outside of the monthly maintenance visit. Therefore, basically everything was billable.
Eventually, I decided that I could use some of that money to buy RMM (remote monitoring and management) license. (By the way, that's when I joined ASCII because I saved so much money on licenses that it paid for my ASCII membership times ten. See www.ascii.com.) After that I had 100 RMM agents. I could those 15 servers plus another 85!
Managed service allowed us to monitor desktops with the same attention we gave to servers. That meant we developed offerings to keep the entire office patched, fixed, and updated.
With managed services, we now do a lot more remotely. And because machines are monitored 24x7, almost all of the "check-ups" on the MMC are handled automatically. For example, free disc space is now just an alert. When the light turns red or we get a Continuum alert, a ticket is created. So we check the main portal every morning and handle any issues that arise.
All of that managed service activity gave the clients a better level of service than they ever had before. BUT it also meant that they see us a lot less. So we have to make a point of staying in touch and making sure the client knows us and loves us. Otherwise, everything works perfectly, but we don't get the credit!
Why We Do Monthly Maintenance
So, finally we get to the summary. We do monthly maintenance because:
1) It is central to our business that we lead the entire client relationship with Preventive Maintenance.
2) A few tasks still need to be done in person. This is particularly true with most backup systems. Left in the hands of clients, backups fail.
3) We need to look our clients in the eyes, chat with them, and continually build that relationship.
If you have clients who are not on managed services, you should still make every attempt to sell a monthly maintenance service. Servers that are maintained live longer. And all servers give off clues to when they are getting ready to fail. But someone has to actually look for those clues. So even today you might be doing a full monthly maintenance "by hand" and not with automated tools.
But you need to do it.
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About this Series
SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.
Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at SmallBizThoughts.com.
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Next week's topic: The Monthly Maintenance Checklist
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