Are you setting clear boundaries for your MSP clients?

Richard Tubb

A common challenge that I hear from IT Solution Providers and Managed Service Providers (MSP’s) is that they have clients who have unrealistic expectations of the level of service that they should receive.

Set-BoundariesFor instance, one MSP recently told me that they have a real problem with clients expecting work to be done out of hours -- yet when they broach the subject of increasing their payments from the client to cover this work, the client balks.

In this case and others, the problem may not actually lie with the client, but with the IT business themselves for failing to set clear boundaries.

The value of setting boundaries

The simple question I ask of many IT businesses is this -- if you don’t value your time and experience, what hope is there that your client will?

Every time you do work for free when you know you should charge for it, or do something unreasonable for a client when you know you shouldn’t, or allow yourself to give away a discount when you know the client doesn’t deserve it -- you’re setting a precedent which will result in your client valuing the work you do for them even less.

You need to set boundaries which help define the value of the work you do, and stick to them.

I’ve heard boundaries around value described well by a friend who told me that “If you have a field full of old used cars, you’ve got a mess in a field. Put a fence around the cars in that field and you have a scrap yard. Put a building around that field full of cars, and you have a garage”. It’s an interesting analogy which shows how simple boundaries increase the value of the thing they contain.

Give consideration to the boundaries around your time and experience, and what impression a lack of these boundaries might currently be giving your client around the value of your work.

Honouring boundaries

Once you have some boundaries in place around your time and experience, don’t break them easily.

In the example given earlier on, for the MSP who complains that their client constantly expects out of hours work but won’t pay for it, the MSP might consider setting an up-front agreement with the client that any requests for out-of-hours work will now incur a charge. The MSP might explain why this is -- that their engineers need to be paid overtime for giving up their family time, and in order for the MSP to remain viable, the client needs to pay extra. If the client doesn’t want to pay extra, the work can of course be scheduled for the next available working hours slot.

If the client requests out of hours work again anyway, remind them of the boundary -- the new arrangement of charging for out of hours work. The client may not be happy about this but you’ll probably notice that they suddenly start requesting a lot less out-of-hours work. What appeared important to them before, when it was free, suddenly becomes less important to them when there is a charge attached. In short, they are respecting the value of your time and experience more.

Don’t crumble when your boundaries are challenged. Clients -- especially clients who have been given something for nothing in the past -- will try to push your boundaries to see what they can get, and it’s your job to hold firm and politely explain that your time and experience is valuable and the client needs to respect that. Remember, respect is earned and not given.


What boundaries are you currently missing from your IT business. What do you give away for free that you know you should be charging for?

Setting boundaries around the work that you do honours and respects your time and experience and helps your clients to honour and respect your time and experience too.

With clear boundaries in place you are sending a clear message that you value your time and experience -- and your clients will start respecting the value you bring too.