There’s an old adage I used to reference a lot when potential clients would balk at the price of my services, and it goes like this:
A manufacturer’s main production machine broke down. Nobody could fix it - not the technician, not the foreman, not the IT team, not the mechanic. So they called in the developer who came in the next day. After walking around the machine for a few minutes, the inventor pushed a button and it started right up in perfect working order. She handed a bill to the manufacturer for a million dollars. The customer, aghast, said, “a million dollars for 5 minutes of work?!?!?!?!?” So the inventor took back the bill and scribbled a new one which said:
Pushing the button: $1
Knowing which button to push: $999,999
There are many different iterations of this story, but the point is the same…in IT administration and MSP life alike, your worth is not the pushing of the button. Your worth is the years of education and experience you bring to the relationship.
Whether you’re pricing your services as an MSP, or asking for a raise, or asking for a salary in a job interview, you should be aware that the value you bring to your role is so much more than simply your ability to complete a task. This IT world we live in is not simple piecework; it is much more complex, much more nuanced than that. Your work requires a complex set of skills, talent, and experience that can be more fluid, more difficult to shove into a spreadsheet cell.
Said another way, you are more than the work you do. You are the product of your education and experience. Let’s try to make the intangible, tangible. Your value is more than the problems you solve, it’s the life experience behind those solutions.
Unfortunately, one of the sadnesses and frustrations of being in sysadmin or tech support fields is that too-rigid feeling of being treated like an assembly line worker. If your KPIs mean you’re getting paid for repetitive tasks or by the number of complete tickets, your work is likely unsatisfying at best; maddening at worst.
If you’ve been working in support for a year or more you have experienced a lot of trauma. You’ve been yelled at, demanded from, had your abilities questioned, and maybe once in a while you’ve been thanked. I mean, you have a LOT of on-the-job experience that’s more than simply replacing mice and rebooting workstations. You’ve been learning how to work around problems you have no control over and did not cause, working with developers who code for (but don’t document) one behavior while you expect a different behavior, and navigating users whose friend’s cousin’s nephew is a whiz at computers.
Basically, you’ve been through it all. You’ve learned the MDM, the DaaS platform, the security protocols. You’ve been through OS training, vendor training, and project management training. You have experienced a LOT. And you’ve (hopefully) learned through those experiences how to manipulate - I mean work with - your customers and users into not being mad at you for the failures of the technology over which you have no control to speak of.
Your experience counts for a lot. A single year in Admin Life experience is worth more than most other office administration work. You have to learn to manage people and manage technology with equal aplomb. Alongside experience, education is another “intangible” that’s hard to stuff into a spreadsheet cell.
Education and training are not the same thing. While training is a form of educating a person, it’s scope is relatively narrow. Education encompasses a broader spectrum of behaviors and knowledge. It’s more than just knowing how to put a nut on a bolt; it’s knowing which nut to use and the ramifications of using the wrong nut - even if it fits the bolt.
Education teaches a person not just what to think, but how to think. It teaches skills that are more than technical skills. It’s the reason that the thing I looked for most when I was growing my MSP was any higher education. Generally, people with broader education experiences were more likely to have decent communication skills. If they were bright, I could teach them the tech they needed. But I couldn’t teach the written and verbal communication skills that come from learning a broad variety of topics.
So when it’s time for your review or when you’re sitting in an interview and you’re asked to evaluate how much you or your services are worth, you have to take all of this into consideration. Why is your 5 minutes worth more than someone else’s 5 minutes?
The answer lies in your personal journey documentation.
Document everything. I mean everything. Did you have a success today that wasn’t strictly changing a mouse battery? Write it down - what techniques did you use to gain the user’s trust and confidence? Write it down. Did you refer back to some documentation you were smart enough to create 3 months ago? This is future you thanking past you for that documentation! Write it down.
Write it all down - the small wins and the big wins. Because at some point you will be asked about what differentiates you from the competition or from your colleagues or from yourself a year ago. Did you help the lightbulb go on for a technophobic user? Write it down. Solved a complex problem in record time using a script you created ages ago? Write it down. Developed a project plan that streamlines the onboarding process? Write it down.
All your successes - write them all down no matter how small. Y’know how you struggle when annual self-assessments come around? Yep, this will help you get through those easier. When you write it down now, you won’t have to wonder what you’ve been up to when the next assessment asks for your successes - you’ll have it all “right there” waiting for you.
So when your client or your boss raises the money question you are now armed with solid information. You will be able to answer the question: how much is YOUR 5 minutes worth?