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When I think of MSP peer groups, many types come to mind.
First, there are informal gatherings of MSP business leaders. Members get together on a semi-regular basis to chat about what they are working on and issues they may have. Of late, these meetings -- like most meetings today -- have moved to video conferencing.
Another type of peer group is a community facilitated by a trade association. The ASCII Group, CompTIA and other IT channel industry organizations have communities for their products or services.
Advisory boards also function as a kind of peer group. Trade associations and manufacturers often have advisory boards to keep their finger on the pulse of the channel.
Lastly, there are peer groups run by various companies and industry associations that focus on MSP business development. MSP business development peer groups differ from the groups described above because they dive more deeply into MSP-specific problems and goals. In addition, business development peer groups often focus on a particular business discipline, such as business management, sales or marketing.
Each of these groups exists to help you and your business succeed in an area where you may need some help. The most important way MSP peer groups can help is by providing accountability, however. As a member, you are typically required to open up and share business information for others to review. Not only that, you must be ready to receive constructive criticism on how you can run your business better.
Peer groups also serve as sounding boards for new ideas. Sometimes, crowdsourcing -- or group sourcing, in this case -- can lead to great things.
MSP peer group considerations
Before signing up for an MSP peer group, you should take the following into consideration:
What is the demographic? Ideally, make sure you join a group that is large enough to have members that are "your people." This can mean the other members serve similar vertical markets (for example -- legal, financial or education), or it can mean they fall into a similar revenue bracket as your MSP business. It is also important to consider the members' geographical markets because you do not want to join a group where you are among your direct competitors. The size of the group is important, too: If there are too many members in a group, you may find yourself lost in the shuffle.
What is the cost? MSP peer groups aren't free, folks. They cost money. Some groups have monthly or quarterly fees and require you to have on-site meetings throughout the year. Consider the total investment over a year, including travel expenses.
What is the time investment? In addition to the dollar cost of a peer group, there is a time investment. Make sure you can handle the amount of time you will have to devote to the group. Be mindful of homework, as well. In order to succeed with a peer group, you need to show up and participate. You can't skip meetings. If you skip meetings, you let yourself and the group down.
What is the cancellation policy? Read the fine print. If you find the group is not for you, what is your out? Find out what it costs to cancel your membership.
What measurable result will you get from the group? Joining a peer group because you are experiencing FOMO (fear of missing out) is not a good idea. You should join because you expect a measurable outcome. For example, if I'm looking at a sales training program along with its peer group, the desired outcome is mastery of the sales techniques, plus coaching as I apply the techniques. While this may not have a clearly measurable outcome, I can certainly look at sales numbers and compare them to before and during my group membership to gauge effectiveness.
One more consideration
After you identify a group, there is still one more important question left: Will you get out of your own way to make the most of what the group offers? If you don't actually do the work required by the peer group, you will not achieve positive results. If you attend group meetings and don't do the work, you will find yourself behind the curve of your peers.
Peer groups can help you grow your business -- only if you are prepared to put in the effort. Show up, participate, do the work and grow!
Ed Mana is chief technologist of Technology on Demand, an MSP and A/V software development company based in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Mana is also a member of The ASCII Group, a North American IT community of more than 1,300 MSPs, solution providers and systems integrators.