balance beam

It’s Hip to Be Balanced

I was on the phone chatting with masterIT CEO J. Michael Drake a couple of weeks ago. It had been about 18 months since we had last spoken. Suddenly, the tables somehow turned and Drake began to interview me. At one point he asked: “What’s the biggest change you’ve noticed in the IT service provider market — right now — vs. two or three years ago?”

I paused and thought hard about the question. You know the obvious answers — the acceleration of cloud, mobile, big data and now The Internet of Things. But my response involved none of those hot-button topics.

Instead, my answer involved a single word: Balance.

Want me to explain more fully? OK, I’ll give you three words: Life-work balance.

Looking Back to Shape Present-Day Views

My reply was based on my own journey covering the IT service provider market. During the early go-go years while Amy Katz and I were building MSPmentor and The VAR Guy (say, 2008-2009) at our previous company, I firmly believed that many MSPs would work really hard and cash out at really high valuations. Then, they’d live happily every after.

Some MSPs certainly achieved that dream. Most didn’t.

Fast forward to 2010 or so. At the time, Drake described a potential world of entrepreneurial fatigue. Without pointing the finger at his own business, Drake said he began to see some IT service providers burning out while chasing the M&A dream. Next, jump to 2012. The Wall Street Journal said many small businesses were in purgatory — stuck without an exit because valuations were too low.

There Has Been An Awakening. Have You Felt It?

Somewhere around 2014, I think many IT service providers took a step back from their businesses and called a personal time out.

Not by coincidence, thought leaders and community leaders like HTG Peer Groups published guides like Planning for Success the HTG Way (yes, I recommend buying it). The seeds were being planted across the IT channel — it was time to really think about how we were all spending our waking hours.

scott spiro

Scott Spiro

The ripple effects are everywhere. Scott Spiro, CEO of Computer Solutions Group, attended the Continuum Navigate 2015 conference in September — hosting a session on life-work balance. And yes, plenty of IT service providers showed up with questions. But don’t stop there. Check in with small business guru Karl Palachuk, and you’ll notice his popular book: Relax, Focus, Succeed.

Of course, entrepreneurs building startups still need to burn the midnight oil. That’s fine. But that can’t be a “forever” strategy. You ultimately need a path from (A) working around the clock to (B) building a self-sustaining business.

Force yourself to walk the path from A to B. At some point,  you’re bound to achieve balance. Yes, true life-work balance. Pass it on.


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    Karl Palachuk:

    Thanks for the mention, Joe. I recently attended an entire conference dedicated to success with a huge emphasis on work-life balance. This concept is about a hundred years old. But as our lives become busier and filled with more interruptions, this concept becomes more important.

    Joe Panettieri:

    I suppose once you and I finally “get this right,” we’ll be watching the Millennials try to learn the lesson as well… Hopefully, that generation is wiser than our generation. I think we all started working really, really hard after the dot-com implosion, and it took us more than a decade to realize it was time to slow down…

    Michael Drake:

    I really enjoyed our conversation, Joe. Key to my journey is that since I founded masterIT 10 years ago, I have had a partner in Gary Wiseman who is responsible for engineering and delivery, and I am responsible for everything else. In the bootstrap days before revenue and profit, we were each other’s best critic, but we learned to respect each other’s sandbox. Since I don’t turn a screwdriver, there is no way I would have succeeded alone.

    It really paid off. Lessoned learned – 50% of something awesome is a lot better than 100% of the headache alone. This continues to be your and Amy’s model, and some of my best friends and respected mentors in this space have done it this way.

    Second lesson learned – peer groups are essential. They are a uniquely qualified outside board of directors who have given us a different perspective and held us accountable weekly. For us, we have been mentored by True Profit Group, and for the last 5 years TruMethods. Curious what others have to say.

      Joe Panettieri:

      Hey Michael: Thanks for the continued education. Totally agree on the 50-50 approach to build something of high value rather than owning 100 percent of a high stress, low return venture… Re: TruMethods — Ironically, I’m set to visit Gary Pica next week. Always a great, educational conversation.

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