Get It Right the First Time
On this most recent podcast with Bill Black, I had the opportunity to learn from someone who has built a career on giving first. His disposition is all about being in service to others and he deeply cares about helping business leaders improve their “machines” so they can stay focused on growth.
Bill is the founder and CEO of FocusPlanit, a consulting firm that helps outsourced IT service providers optimize their use of ConnectWise Manage, a business and technology operating system. I wanted to bring Bill on because his team embraces the importance of the “plumbing”, getting the system and processes set up and refined, so that the client can make the most of their investment in the software.
What I really loved is at around minute 13:40, Bill talks about focus. He shared, “When you focus on one thing, you’re able to better manage your stress levels. You know what you know so that the only thing that really gives you stress is hitting deadlines and dealing with difficult personality types.” So true. It doesn’t matter what business you are in, if you can de-risk your product or service offering through focus, that will significantly reduce stress.
We also spent some time talking about Bill’s Go-giver ethos. His life intention is to help people and FocusPlanit is a vehicle, or vessel, for him to do that. He has also been involved in about 7 businesses which means he has acquired a lot of wisdom. He shared, “One of the things I learned late in life is that you are not the business. The business is the team doing the work and the culture of the team becomes like a family.” He stressed the importance of relying on each other and not feeling like, as a business owner, you have to do everything yourself. Words to live by, Bill.
In this Podcast episode with Bill, you will learn:
- Where and when FocusPlanit can be valuable for your business
- How to implement a tracks system for business matchmaking
- Acknowledging that you are not your business
- Why now is a great time to be an MSP
Enjoy learning more from Bill and the work that FocusPlanit is doing to support the industry.
We are fortunate to have Bill available to spend time with us on this edition of Stride 2 Freedom. If there is a speaker you’d like us to interview, click here and let us know. Stay well. Stay safe. Stay healthy.
Show Notes and Links From Episode:
Bill Black LinkedIn
Bill Black Email
Russell Benaroya: Hey, everyone. Welcome to the Stride 2 Freedom podcast. My name is Russell Benaroya, and I’m the co-founder of Stride Services, a virtual back office, bookkeeping, and accounting firm serving hundreds of clients around the United States. This podcast is designed to help small business owners focus on growth and innovation. In other words, focus on those things that inspired you to start your business in the first place. We call it your genius zone. We do our job on this podcast when business owners feel like they have the trust and confidence to build the right team of partners around them that will help them grow. Thanks for joining. Let’s go.
Hey, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of the Stride 2 Freedom podcast where we help business leaders get and stay in their genius zone. What is your genius zone? Your genius zone is that thing that you do that feels effortless to you where you lose track of time, where you’re truly achieving your highest and best use. My name is Russell Benaroya, and I am your host. The Stride 2 Freedom podcast is sponsored by Stride Services. Stride Services is an outsourced back office, bookkeeping, and accounting firm that helps business leaders with a thirst for learning achieve their highest and best use. Let’s jump in. I am super excited today to welcome Bill Black to our conversation. Hey, Bill. How are you?
Bill Black: Doing well, Russell. Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Russell Benaroya: Oh my gosh. It’s such a pleasure, Bill. Bill is the founder and CEO of a company called FocusPlanit which is an IT consulting firm that helps manage service providers operate at their peak performance. For those of you that might be listening to the show that don’t know MSPs, think outsourced IT services firms. There are so many of them throughout the United States. I think there’s something like 20 to 40,000 outsourced IT services firms that are in the business of helping other businesses manage their security, manage their infrastructure, manage their network and architecture, and help their employees operate at their peak performance.
What I love about FocusPlanit and the reason that I wanted to have Bill on today is because so often companies jump into solutioning before they have established the right plumbing that is going to be required for that solution that they implement to be successful as they grow. FocusPlanit is very much in the plumbing business. They help MSPs architect their business and their business processes so that they can serve and grow their client base and better support their clients. Was that a reasonably good explanation, Bill?
Bill Black: Fantastic. It’s a perfect explanation.
Russell Benaroya: Okay, I’m your marketing department now.
Bill Black: There you go.
Russell Benaroya: The other reason that I wanted to have Bill on is because Bill is an entrepreneur, too. Bill is a business leader. More than anything else that has impressed me in my conversations with him is this is an individual who leads with heart. He is a giver. He knows the value of creating connection, and he really is a role model for how to build an organization from a place of purpose, why I do what I do versus just what do I do. It’s a lot easier to operate in your genius zone when you are inspired and passionate about the thing that you do. Let’s jump in, Bill.
Bill Black: Exactly. Fantastic.
Russell Benaroya: Okay. Maybe it’s a good first question. Why are you passionate about the work that you do, if I characterized plumbing in as sexy of a term if that’s possible?
Bill Black: Right. Yeah. I’ve always been in a position to be able to help someone my entire life one way or another. I used to have an MSP of my own, and I grew that company. I had it for about 13 years, and I sold it. One of the things that really bothered me during the entire time I ran that company was that we had these magnificent tools to work with. In this case, I used ConnectWise Manage. I had this perfect tool to work with that handled everything from quote-to-cash sales, opportunities, purchasing, ticketing, scheduling, project management, invoicing. Everything.
The only problem is that it took a little bit to get it set up, and it took some time to really get in and understand how the tool works. I was never able to find someone that would actually get in there and make the tool work for me. I found a lot of people that would tell me what I needed to do, but I wasn’t able to find anybody that would actually do the work. And so that’s why I started this latest company, FocusPlanit, just to be able to help people do the work.
Russell Benaroya: When you were running that MSP, again, thinking about you being in your genius zone and doing what you were uniquely positioned to do as the owner of that MSP, what did not having that partner to help you actually do the work do for you or not do for you when it came to prioritizing where you put your energy in trying to build your business?
Bill Black: Right. Yeah. That’s a great question because it’s something that I still see to this day with clients that we have and people that I talk to in the industry. There are so many people that have very talented technicians, engineers, project managers that are utilizing their talents internally. They’re building their own tools internally instead of helping their clients which is the whole reason they’re in business. We see people very talented that are spending their time trying to build out their own internal tools instead of letting a professional just come in and build it out.
In my case, I found that I would sit and just focus on trying to learn how to use this tool and focus on trying to set it up especially when I came back from an event. I would spend this time, and the clients would suffer. The service delivery would be impacted because they’d have to wait longer because I was trying to figure out how to send an automatic message with a ticket or something like that. So, overall, just using billable time to do internal work was challenging.
Russell Benaroya: Business partner and I like to say that there are no expenses in business. There are only investments, and we choose to make those investments. Those investments are designed to have an ROI. And so when you make an investment in a new employee or you make an investment in a consulting firm or you make an investment in marketing, what is the investment that… If you were sending a message to the MSP community and certainly to the clients you’ve worked with, what is the investment that they’ve chosen to make as it relates to the intended return on that investment from working with a partner like you?
Bill Black: When a client invests in us, we become a part of their team. We’re just like their ConnectWise experts just down the hall, the ConnectWise department. We are able to resolve any questions they have to set up things much quicker than anyone internally could because we know the answers before we even start. Investment to them is they’re able to utilize 100% of this tool and in doing so, provide the services and see the metrics that are important to them as they run their business and look at how their client services and client service delivery is being performed.
Russell Benaroya: You’ve mentioned ConnectWise Manage a couple of times. For those that are listening to the show that don’t know ConnectWise Manage, it is a PSA or professional services automation tool that houses all the workflow around ticketing and services and agreements in order for an MSP to better manage a client relationship and manage their business. Did I capture that? Is it okay?
Bill Black: You did. It’s basically a business operating system.
Russell Benaroya: Do you find, Bill, that prospective clients are coming to you when their house is on fire? I like to say if you have rats in your house, you’re like, “Whatever it takes. Help me now.” Or if you have a dent in your car, that’s a little bit different. “I’d like to fix the dent, but I can still drive.” What’s your experience?
Bill Black: We have both. We have people that are coming to us with new cars asking us how to drive it. We have people that have been in a fender bender and say, “We’re not able to get this particular function to work the way we want it to. Can you help us?” Then we have people who have a terribly crumbling or complicated foundation, and they need to simplify. We have all sorts of companies that we work with in all different stages of company growth. So, yeah.
Russell Benaroya: I imagine, just given what I know about you, you have to turn on a different level of emotional quotient depending on where they are in the stack. Maybe when they come to you, it’s a major car accident. Your empathy level goes up. Maybe you become more of a guide and a counselor because they’re looking for some psychological help.
Bill Black: Exactly. Yeah. They’ve just purchased that new car. They’re all excited, and they know what it can do. They just don’t know how to do it. In this case, it’s the same. But there are a lot of times when clients come to us, and they’re very frustrated with trying to make their systems come together and trying to create this consolidated, cohesive environment that their
entire team can understand and work with. We come back and say, “Hey, don’t worry. We’ve got this under control. We’re going to figure it all out. It might take a little time, but we’ll figure it all out. Everything will be just fine.” Then we’re there for them along every step of the way to support the changes and to train as needed and just take care of everything that they need in every aspect.
Russell Benaroya: Excellent. Let’s get to a segue and important point around how you deliver your service. Maybe walk me through what a client experiences when they call you up in the various states that they’re in.
Bill Black: Right. It depends. Let’s take worst case scenario. It’s a large client, and they’ve got people doing a lot of different things. We just need to bring everybody together and get them on one system. What we do is we just start meeting with them and meeting with the different stakeholders in the company just to make sure that we understand… First of all, the most important thing for me to understand is your culture. What is your culture like? Who are the people that are working in these different roles?
Once we understand the culture and we understand where they want to go, what they want to be when this is done, then we’re able to just take them and start creating the game plan. We create that game plan in their system so they can see how the system works by using the system. We create the game plan, and we start meeting with everyone as needed. Then we will test drive the changes, and then we’ll turn around and implement the changes and train everybody on how it works. The engagement is, it starts out with a lot of just discovery, a lot of just listening to questions, trying to formulate the best answers, and grading the game plan to execute going forward.
Russell Benaroya: I love that you started with culture. We start with culture. The most important elements of business traction are within this arena of cultural design and how the business is structured in such a way to help everybody who is there achieve their highest and best use. In many ways, you serve to help unlock that for them. One thing that really impresses me about FocusPlanit which by the way, this is not a commercial for FocusPlanit. I just want to be clear. This is just good learning around business model design, is that you’re fairly focused.
You seem to, and correct me if I’m wrong, prioritize ConnectWise Manage. Obviously, there’s a big market out there of MSPs, managed service providers that are using ConnectWise Manage. But you could theoretically broaden out to other systems. You’ve elected to stay fairly focused and stake your claim on that system. I’m curious if you could talk to me a little bit about the benefit of focus and how you’ve considered it over the years.
Bill Black: Yeah. Over the years, I’ve learned that when you do focus on one thing, you’re able to better manage your stress levels because you really know what you’re doing. You know everything there is to know about this one thing. The only thing that really gives you any stress is hitting deadlines and dealing with difficult personality types and things like that. Over the years, you learn how to deal with those things as well. A deadline doesn’t always mean it’s an actual deadline. It means that we’ve got to make sure everything’s in line in the system that we know very well to hit that goal. The difficult personality types, well, that’s life. There’s going to be difficult people. Humans, yeah.
Russell Benaroya: Humans. Darn humans.
Bill Black: Yeah. In order to learn the most about a system, you really have to focus on it. We’ve tried in the early years. We tried to branch out and look at other systems and look at other things that we might be able to help work with. We still might as it relates to some third party integrations with our system. But for the most part, we intend to stay focused on the ConnectWise environment. I feel that it’s a very impressive piece of software, always has been. There’s a lot of growth potential with it. I’m excited about the future for ConnectWise. And so that’s the reason we want to stay focused on it. We want to be the ConnectWise experts.
Russell Benaroya: I appreciate that. We have a saying that system proliferation is expensive. What you shared is there’s a distinction to be made around business stress which is the systems-related stress, and then there’s organization-related stress or client-related stress. Knowing where your stress points are in the organization and how to mitigate or neutralize those, super valuable. I see you’ve chosen to mitigate the systems-related stress through focus. I really liked that. It’s cool.
Your LinkedIn says you are a go-giver which is probably from the book by Bob Burg, Go-Giver. You’re also a business matchmaker which is cool. I’m curious if you could share a little bit about you. Because there’s so much of you that manifests in what FocusPlanit is. The fact that you elected to identify yourself with this go-giver moniker, business matchmaker moniker also says a lot about you. So love to hear it.
Bill Black: I don’t know where to start, Russell.
Russell Benaroya: I just threw a ton at you on that one.
Bill Black: Yeah. Over the years, you meet a lot of people. I like to attend events. I like to talk with people and really understand where they’re coming from. In doing so, you run across people from all areas. People need help in different ways, in different resources. From the go-giver perspective, I really would rather help people. That’s what my life intention is, is to help others. From the business matchmaker perspective, there’s no better way to help others than to bring them the resources they need to have a discussion with.
In our system, I’ve built this… We have a thing in there called tracks. Tracks are automated things that can happen, and part of the automation is they can send an email. I have a list of tracks that send emails that introduces people. When someone comes to me and says, “Well, I really need some help with getting my accounting squared away and make it more efficient and clean.” Then I’ll drop a track on him that says, “Hey, meet my friend Russell.” Over the years, there are times when I’m not able to help someone directly. But it seems like 100% of the time, I know someone that can help. That’s where the business matchmaker comes from. So, yeah.
Russell Benaroya: Yes. If we turn that table and I laid down a track and I wanted to be a business matchmaker back to FocusPlanit, what would I be looking for? Or what would you guide me to say, “Hey, Russell. You should ask these questions. Or when a individual answers these particular questions in this way, that might be a good trigger for you to lay down the FocusPlanit track.”
Bill Black: Right. Right. You’re in the financial space, and a lot of what we do deals with all the work that takes place in a system prior to it ever landing in like QuickBooks. If you’re working with someone and you find out it’s taking them a long time to do invoicing, for example, they probably need to talk to us because it shouldn’t take long to do invoicing in their system.
If they’re being challenged with being totally overwhelmed all the time and never have time to schedule or to get you the information you need and their overwhelm is being created because of their operational issues, then they probably need to talk to us. Those kinds of things, things that it just takes a lot to get the information they need. I’m sorry, the information you need to help them out. Then we drop a track on them and introduce you.
Russell Benaroya: Awesome. I love that you’ve institutionalized business matchmaking, and you made it very efficient which I love. That’s cool. As a business owner, as an entrepreneur yourself, you’re running every day to build FocusPlanit. But what’s something that you wish or would like people to ask you about your business that… I knew this was going to be a hard one for you because you went back and forth on it. But what do you think is interesting to share about being a business leader and trying to grow a business that you don’t get a chance to really answer because nobody ever asks you? They think Bill’s got it all together. He’s doing his thing.
Bill Black: Yeah. I don’t know. I think one of the biggest things that I learned late in life and seven businesses later is that you’re not the business. The business is the team that you have doing the work and representing you. And so the culture of your team and the kind of people that become a part of the family is so important. I think if people would just understand that it’s okay to have a list of things to do, it’s also okay to share that list with someone else to get it done.
As a business owner starting a business, it’s not good that you’re trying to do all of your own accounting and all of your own system setup and managing your own equipment. It’s not good doing that because you’re not focusing on growing the business. Like I said, all these businesses later, I learned it too late in life. But it’s one of the things that people when and if that ever comes up, that’s one of the things I always like to talk about with them. Not sure that’s the answer you were looking for, but-
Russell Benaroya: Oh, I think it’s a great answer. What I’m hearing you say is there are some learnings that can really only happen through the journey that we’re on and the experiences that we have. Every business that we’ve endeavored into is an opportunity to learn more about ourselves and how we want to conduct ourselves, how we want to be the organizations we want to create. What it sounds like is FocusPlanit for you is the result of that learning to create an environment that is enabling people that you bring into it, whether that be clients or employees, to thrive and be successful and achieve their highest and best use. Stride 2 Freedom podcast, why we’re here.
Bill Black: Stride to freedom. Yeah. Exactly.
Russell Benaroya: That’s awesome. It’s my last question: Because you’ve been in the business for so long, where are we on the evolution on the curve? What environment are we in right now? Is this a great time to be an MSP? Are there some unique challenges that MSPs are facing either at a macro level, at an economic level, or relative to tools or expectations of clients? I’m curious if you could share some perspective.
Bill Black: Yeah. In my opinion, I think it’s a great time.
Russell Benaroya: I know of one.
Bill Black: Yeah, I think it’s a great time to be an MSP. I think that we have seen so many changes over the years and so many improvements in the technologies and the tools that are available. The biggest thing is that there are so many little challenges that you can overcome by getting the right people in place. Challenges like security. Security’s huge right now. There are a lot of people that are working on becoming certified and fully licensed and everything to take care of security, so you can reach out to them. The technology’s changing. Computers don’t break like they used to.
That being said though, as an MSP, you still have a responsibility to your clients to let them let you be the IT authority to bring them the latest in technology to help you develop or help them develop a strategy that you can work with them on for their future IT needs. I think that another challenge I’m seeing is it seems to be a hiring issue right now. There seems to be people looking for help, qualified help. The quandary is there are a lot of people looking for work, and so there are people looking for help and people looking for work. You would think that there’d be a match there.
Yeah. I happen to know a guy that can help, a business matchmaker. That’s the kind of thing that, in my opinion, is interesting to watch what’s going on. The market is saturated with a lot of people that can help. It’s just a matter of making that match, getting everybody together.
Russell Benaroya: One last thing, I don’t want to miss the point because I want it to be clear for everybody, is that when you bring FocusPlanit into your organization, the intended benefit is what? What would you share that you, as a partner, provide for your clients when they make a decision to partner with you?
Bill Black: I think the biggest intended benefit is they can relax a little bit and have peace of mind that their system is going to… Take a breath, relax. Starting tomorrow or starting whenever the need is, we’ve got somebody that’s going to take care of this for us. We now have a complete department ready to go that’s going to take care of this for us. They’re going to help us with getting everything set up.
They’re going to help us when somebody needs to take a day off, and we’ve got to run this invoice through. They’re going to help us with whatever. Knowing that they can help us and they can help us not just knowing what the software does but also knowing that the people on the FocusPlanit team have industry knowledge and industry experience so they know what we’re going through. There’s always somebody in your corner.
Russell Benaroya: You seem to have assembled a pretty notable team of experts. It’s like a Delta Force special ops. Is that fair?
Bill Black: It’s a small team and very experienced.
Russell Benaroya: Bill, it is such a pleasure to spend time with you. Is there anything I didn’t ask you that’s important for you to share or communicate?
Bill Black: I don’t think so. It’s been a great time. I really appreciate you having me on. It’s fine. So, yeah, any time.
Russell Benaroya: Well, the Strive 2 Freedom podcast is a selfish podcast for me to learn about others. It’s a real gift and a real opportunity. I wanted to do it because I wanted the community to understand that the pieces of the puzzle associated with business leadership aren’t always obvious. It’s not always about, “Oh, I’m just going to buy this piece of software. I’m going to automate these things, and it’s going to be great.” There’s oftentimes for bigger systems like ConnectWise Manage work that happens behind the scenes to really optimize it.
I don’t want business leaders to shortcut it just because they have a short-term anxiety to just get going, get going, get going. Because the long-term implications of not being thoughtful about how you set it up in the first place can be really costly down the road. That’s where FocusPlanit comes in. The way that you approach it, Bill, with your empathy and partnership-related approach is very comforting. And I appreciate it. Thank you.
Bill Black: Great. Thank you. Appreciated.
Russell Benaroya: Yeah, it’s such a pleasure. Well, thank you everybody for joining today. I’m looking forward to our next episode of the Stride 2 Freedom podcast. Special thanks to Bill Black from FocusPlanit for being on the show. Thanks and have a great day. Thanks, Bill.
Bill Black: Thank you.