I’ve always dreamed of owning my own business. At 19 years old, I worked for two women who ran a successful company from their basement office, eventually growing to over 100 employees. While I didn’t love my job, I loved watching them dress up in expensive suits and high heels, attend important meetings and create a culture of hard work and friendships. At least, that’s what was important and impressive at 19 years old.
While the company added new employees weekly, I was especially impressed with the new leaders who came in to manage and continue to grow the business. Back then, it was all about the people, having fun, and the unique service offering that attracted new clients daily. Today, you need to build a team you can trust and continuously learn from if you’re going to grow your MSP business.
How I Started My MSP
At 29, I started my own IT company, MXOtech. I didn’t have much money, I didn’t have any investors, and I didn’t have a team of engineers, but I did have a commitment to having my own company.
I reached out to every person I knew—old colleagues, previous clients, friends and family—telling them about my new company (me, myself and I). I landed my first big client through an old boss, and I hired my first programmer to fill the job. I became his project manager and we both billed for our time. I made money for every hour I worked (and every hour he worked), saving enough to hire more engineers and selling more projects. After growing to around 20 employees, I knew I couldn’t manage everyone anymore, so I asked myself if it was time to build a leadership team to cover the missing pieces.
Building My Leadership Team
Technology was changing and we needed special expertise; clients were growing and so were the finances; customers were getting larger and required innovation; and my team was growing and needed mentorship. I wondered: how can I afford that? How can I find these smart people? What skills and qualities should they have? It was important to create a leadership team that aligned with my vision, core values and who complimented one another, but were different enough to bring unique ideas.
First, I looked within and realized that one of our main Network Engineers would be a great Service Manager. He was extremely reliable, client-centric and treated my business as if it was his own. To this day, he continues to grow our customer support team with a strong focus on great service.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the same luck with the person that was leading our application development team, so I had to find someone new who had specific technical skills but was also entrepreneurial-minded with a servant leadership style. I hired my first CTO on a consulting basis through LinkedIn, which gave both of us an opportunity to get to know one another. He’s implemented state of the art technologies to support our clients, built and managed a passionate team, and has also helped me with business development.
Next, I couldn’t hire an expensive CFO/COO, but I knew this role would be critical to our success. I found a coach with this exact experience (who was a former competitor and eventually sold his business). Within a year, he built a finance strategy, key performance indicators, effective rate measurements and operational processes to help us grow and meet our vision and permanently joined our team.
Now, I may have just covered all of this within the last three paragraphs, but building the right team took over one year! I read many articles and books (I highly recommend Traction by Gino Wickman), talked to other business owners with larger companies and wrote out my vision for each person. Then, I created a detailed job description for each individual role with key performance indicators and goals. I structured their pay with a base and bonus, based on performance. I have learned that experienced and confident leaders appreciate a compensation plan that’s dependent upon their success. This also allows you to afford a more senior leader without all the risk.
I also had to be very cautious about who I brought onto the leadership team. There was a “courting” period wherein we worked under a consulting arrangement before I felt this group could be trusted as company leaders. After all, they were going to be responsible for the future success of the entire company, including my employees and clients. Not to mention, the “sweat and tears” I personally put into this company for 10 years prior.
I wanted people who were motivated by leading others, not just a big paycheck. Being a leader requires more than a little fearlessness. You have to be ready to recognize, assess and seize an opportunity when it surfaces. You must be willing to face the future without a safety net. You need to determine what professional capabilities are needed from your team in order to carry out your vision wisely and strategically.
Building a leadership team was very important to me because while I believe business success starts from the top, I knew I didn’t have all the skills needed to take MXOtech beyond my vision. Each member brings unique values and expertise, ranging from age 29 to 60, with very different personalities. Yet, we share the same goals: building a great culture, providing kick-ass-customer service and innovation of IT solutions to help our clients grow their businesses. Most importantly, we live by our core values of Clarity, Inspiration, Trust and Accountability that we consistently deliver to our staff and clients. They are people who I enjoy meeting with on a weekly basis, as we learn from each other, challenge one another, share meals together and make our dreams come to reality.
5 Steps to Building a Successful Leadership Team
So, with all of this being said, here are the key steps I’ve learned are essential to building and growing your own leadership team.
1. Stay consistent with your vision and make time for your team daily.
Continue to grow their skills through leadership education, and allow them to be genuinely part of your vision to create something special and meaningful.
2. Define the gaps within your organization.
These are roles that are key to growing your business and require someone else’s perspective, expertise and dedicated time.
3. Create job descriptions for each role, taking care to consider the type of personality and style that will be ideal for you and your team.
Remember, you need to be able to share a meal with these people and enjoy it.
4. Look within your organization for high potential candidates even if they don’t fit the role today.
Remember, they will already be well versed with your current culture and organizational systems. You are half way there.
5. Determine your leadership style and the system you want in place for making the team successful and aligned.
We follow the Traction model that allows us to row in the same direction.
Looking back, it was scary because I didn’t think I could afford it, or trust the team enough to let go of the control. But it was one of the best decisions I have made for my company and for myself. I get to take quality time with my family and sleep at night. Most importantly, I’m so proud of the team we have developed that continues to drive the legacy of our business.
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