Most MSP business owners desire growth. They want to bring in more MSP new business. They want new sources of referrals. They want to have a bigger impact and reach more people with their expertise.
The challenge that we often see, however, is that MSP business leaders want growth but without the growing pains. They are hesitant to leave their shell, and as industry forces become increasingly fluid, change-aversion is incredibly widespread. The shell of what you have always done feels safe, and it feels even safer when the world outside looks turbulent and uncertain.
Change breeds angst and anxiety in even the most experienced business owners, and those feelings can cripple your ability to make positive steps in your growth plans. Prospects won’t visit your shell. They are often too busy hiding in their own shells and won’t poke their heads out for a meeting unless you go to them and knock.
The picture I’m painting sounds like an exaggeration, but it is an all-too-real metaphor for how business is conducted. We want huge returns in our marketing but also do not want to leave the safety and comfort of how we have always done things to get it.
You need to manage your own anxiety around change, and you need to help your partners and employees to do the same.
Here are the top three things you, and anyone you work with, needs to know:
- If you turtle, you lose.
- Leaving the turtle position is always going to be hard, so make a practical plan to lead the way.
- Embrace failure. Some failure is inevitable, and you need to push through it to get anywhere worthwhile.
These are not new ideas. In fact, many of them were covered in Managing at the Speed of Change, a classic ’90s-era leadership book that was released shortly before the Y2K panic spread. The non-event of Y2K was a demonstration of what can happen if businesses aggressively pursue solutions to problems. A supposedly insurmountable paradigm shift of having to rewrite nearly every piece of software created up until that point turned into just another New Year’s celebration. The fireworks went off, the lights stayed on, and all the world’s missiles stayed in their silos.
The anxiety and fear surrounding the event forced leaders to act. The consequences of not acting were simply too great to ignore.
But isn’t that the same story in your business?
The greatest businesses in the world rise because of innovation. As soon as they become complacent, they begin to wither. Somewhere along the way, the entrepreneurial spirit gives way to upholding the status quo. It feels less risky, but really the decision to turtle is a decision to opt-out of all of the growth opportunities in your industry.
How to break out of your shell
Here is how you can break free of the anxiety that drives you into your shell:
- Build a leadership team of various roles and perspectives. If you create a dynamic where each leader is given equal opportunities to share their ideas, you can share the responsibility of forcing the business into action. If more than one person is involved in making decisions, you can unofficially take turns carrying the business forward and dragging everyone else along. To do this, carefully hire and nurture a team that can candidly share their perspectives.
- Make multiple small bets rather one big bet. As you look for new opportunities to grow, test out a range of new ideas with smaller, less expensive experiments. This approach can protect the stability of the business while still giving you the freedom to explore new ideas. Once a small bet begins to show promise, commit. You can bet the minimum forever and probably tread water, but to get the big return, you eventually have to push more chips on to the table.
- Understand that failure is a learning process. If an experiment fails, learn from it, and move on to the next experiment. If you follow our advice of not betting the business on a single idea, a misfire shouldn’t sting too badly. The more important part of this is that you’re identifying the ideas that do work so that you can start investing more heavily in those avenues. Word of warning: Remember that resistance is different from failure, so don’t give up on an experiment just because it’s challenging.
- Schedule a cadence of experiments. If you and your team can agree to try one new thing a quarter, the long-term return can be substantial. We often see business owners pay lip service to stepping outside their comfort zones but then put off doing anything new. Before they realize it, a year has gone by. Instead, start experimenting, decide who on the team is in charge of what, and agree on how you will measure the results and who will be accountable.
Change is a powerful force, and if you lean into the hardship where your competitors shy away, you will gain ground and grow your business.