This is one of the most common questions MSPs ask in peer groups and marketing webinars. You’d think someone would have given a satisfactory answer by now, but it’s still a topic of heated debate.
The reason this question never gets a definitive answer is because the question itself is rather loaded.
Like many questions in marketing, the response is usually biased toward whatever tool, book, methodology the respondent is trying to sell. There are so many different answers because there are a hundred different people trying to sell their answer.
If someone is trying to sell a system that shows you how to run your marketing in 20 minutes a day, their answer is obviously going to be “you only need 20 minutes a day”. It’s hard to consider such an answer objective at that point.
I’m going to give you a much more practical answer to the big “time question” without being biased. In the spirit of objectivity, I’m going to explain the reasoning and logic behind my answer at every step.
First, I’m going to start my answer by asking a follow-up question:
Before I can tell you how much time to spend on marketing, I need to know some things about you.
So tell me:
- How many marketing courses have you taken?
- How many years of marketing experience do you have?
- Do you hold certifications in any marketing disciplines?
- How many marketing tools are you familiar with? What tools do you have at your disposal?
- Are you a capable writer who knows how to communicate well with an audience? How many sales letters, emails, and ebooks have you written?
- How many advertisements have you created?
- Do you understand consumer behavior?
- Do you want to do your own marketing? Does it interest you?
These are just a few important questions that someone would need to know before they can honestly and effectively answer the question. Any answer that does not take your knowledge and experience into account is just a grab-bag platitude or a sales pitch.
The Correct Way to Think About MSP Marketing
Marketing Is Competitive
It’s common to think of marketing as a simple internal business process — kind of like a chore that needs to be done simply because marketing is something you’re supposed to do.
That kind of thinking is fine for linear processes like accounting or payroll or cleaning the break room because these are tasks that simply need to be handled.
Marketing is different.
Marketing is a competitive endeavor. It does not exist inside a vacuum within the walls of your office. The public needs to interface with it. It needs to convince people to choose your business. It has a purpose that exists well beyond “just doing it” because if your marketing is not effective, you might as well have not done it at all.
So I draw this comparison:
If someone asks “how much time should I spend training to be an MMA fighter?” they will get a variety of answers.
Some people will say, “you can take a couple of classes every week and learn the basics”.
Others will say, “you will need a coach, a personal trainer, and you should be ready to devote five days a week to training. And forget eating carbs ever again.”
Both of these answers are technically correct, but one sounds a whole lot easier than the other. (I wonder why?)
You can train to be an MMA fighter by only doing a couple of classes every week. You will probably see some benefit. You’ll get a little better week after week. You get to tell your friends that you’re training for MMA.
You’re going to get your head kicked in after gassing out 90 seconds into your first amateur fight. As soon as you introduce outside factors into the question — like “do you actually want a snowball’s chance in hell of winning an MMA fight?” — the correct answer changes considerably.
That’s the difference between doing something for fun or as a hobby (you don’t care about winning) or doing it competitively (you train to win). Treating marketing like a 20-minute-a-day matter is, quite frankly, training to lose.
In competitive situations, the best answer is never the easiest answer because your effort is going to be measured against anyone who is competing against you.
Marketing is Time-Consuming
There is no amount of platitudes, motivational speeches, or rah-rah nonsense that will change the fact that marketing requires web design, copywriting, graphic design, creative work, setting up automations, testing, research, and probably a dozen other things that I can’t pull off the top of my head right now.
Unless your MPS is located on the rim of a black hole and you can enjoy the benefits of time dilation, you can’t control the amount of time these tasks take. All you can do is sacrifice quality and/or quantity to cram more tasks into a shorter period of time.
Most appeals to fast, easy marketing is actually an appeal to poor-quality marketing. And again, some marketing is not better than no marketing if it’s just wasting your time and energy.
Marketing is Not a Time Problem
Let’s say my rich uncle passed away and he leaves me a boat. I go down to the harbor to check it out and realize that there’s a few holes in the hull and the boat is slowly taking on water. It looks like the whole thing will probably sink in a few days if I don’t figure out what to do, but I can’t take time off work to deal with it. Not to mention that I don’t know much about fixing boats.
Now let me ask you this: is the above a time problem or a skills problem?
Don’t be tripped up by the fact that I only have a few days to fix the boat before it sinks and that I can’t take off from work. The real problem is that I don’t know how to fix it. Time is a factor, but it’s not the principal factor in this challenge.
So imagine a guy walks up to me and says,
“Hey, your boat’s sinking. I used to own a boat, so let me help you. You don’t have a lot of time, but that’s okay! All you need to do is spend twenty minutes a day thinking about the problem. Then take a few hours to try out the solutions you came up with.”
That sounds like a terrible idea. Is it cheaper than hiring someone to come patch the holes in the boat? Yes, considerably. But there is a very, very strong probability that the boat is going to sink before I happen across a solution on my own.
So why would the guy give me that advice? Because he sells duct tape. Once I buy into his suggestion, he’s going to sell me a couple rolls of duct tape to try to patch up my boat. A win for him, but I’m going to end up losing the boat.
Is this starting to make sense? He gave the advice because if I took the smart option and called an expert, I wouldn’t buy his duct tape.
This is the same tactic that many marketing “gurus” use to sell their tools, methods, and groups. They want you to forget about the reality of the marketing challenge and think about it as a matter of time. They profit from selling the idea that marketing is easy and that every MSP would be a brilliant marketer…if they only had the time!
If you buy into this idea, they will happily sell you some duct tape to patch up your leaky boat…but you still won’t have a seaworthy vessel.
So, Really….How Much Time Should I Spend on Marketing My MSP?
You’re the CEO/owner/honcho of an IT company, so the most logical answer is “as little time as possible”.
Unless you have a background in marketing, real field experience, a very creative mind, and loads of time on your hands, you should not try to take on marketing alone. It’s too important to the future of your business and your stakeholders to take a hobbyist approach.
If you’re looking to legitimately grow your business and thrive in this competitive market, you need to approach growth accordingly. Proper attention to marketing is a sign of a mature company for a reason — because only startups try to bootstrap and DIY their way through it. Growth-focused organizations know that they need to invest anywhere from 13-20% of their annual revenue into marketing if they want to see results.
So that changes the goalpost because we’re now talking about effective marketing, not just doing marketing. The former is a strategic objective measured by results, the latter is just a task on a chore list measured by time.
To act on that objective, MSPs must turn to the right sources for their expertise and skills. They need to make the right investments. The upside to all of this is that, when handled correctly, the MSP will no longer have to spend any time on marketing.