By Chad Kempt, Fast Computers
One of the more challenging aspects of starting a company is generating new business. However, once you’re established and have new business coming in, you can find yourself in the position of receiving too much business, leaving you unable to service your existing clients properly.
For us, it has happened several times and it can sneak up on you. It typically starts where you are working on the pipeline for several projects, some of them seem far away and others you believe will close soon. If the ones you believed were going to close soon get pushed out, and you receive approvals for all the projects in front of you, you will have trouble delivering on the service. While this is happening you will likely have an inability to hire and onboard new staff fast enough to keep up.
The way we have addressed this challenge is by focusing on communicating our plans with the clients as far in advance as possible. For example, we have a three-year forecast on who will be requiring server replacements and who will be migrating to the cloud when their servers’ warranties are up, and the closer the timeline is the more concise our planning needs to be.
At the time of this writing, we are currently looking at the first quarter of 2019 and laying out where all the projects we know about will land. We spread these install dates out so we have a solid buffer, then when we engage a new opportunity and are planning to onboard them, we can slot them into the gaps. This helps but it is only part of the solution as certain events outside of your control can cause issues with the best of plans.
One of the biggest life changing events we have had in business was joining our first peer group. Though there are many choices for peer groups to join in this industry, the most important thing is to understand you will only succeed in these groups if you are also willing to contribute.
Speaking from personal experience, I have received back many times what I have put in and that has continued to trend for a solid 10 years, which is when we joined our first group. The relationships we have built in our peer groups and industry associations have enabled us to get access to products and skillsets we otherwise would not be able to access quickly or easily. Further, because we share a commonality in the group, there is an inherent trust in the relationship enabling us to move faster and with a higher level of confidence that wouldn’t be possible without that trust. This is a two-way street: we have small firms using us to cover their vacations and emergencies and we have larger firms utilizing some of our specializations and service offerings they need for their clients but don’t offer themselves.
Another thing we have done is focus on products that are easier to support. In some areas we have been able to go from requiring senior engineers to do all the support on a complex, though well working, system down to having simple processes and fail-safes in place that even very junior technicians can assist with. We have varied levels of success with this but by keeping this in the front of our mind when evaluating vendors to work with and products to sell it has streamlined our efficiency and enabled us to do more with less.
The last big area for us has been avoiding being all things to all people. Going back to networking with trusted peers, we extend into areas with local companies that are complimentary. If we don’t offer physical security services for example, by partnering with a company that does we get better service for our clients with proven experts and not guys just figuring it out for the first time. This also works well as a potential automatic lead generation system that will lead to more of the work you want.
This doesn’t happen every time, but we have ended up with far more partnerships that worked out than did not. As you grow and add more staff, you will be able to consider taking on more services in-house. However, keeping the set of services small relative to your size will enable your staff to be hyper-focused on becoming the best they can be on the products and services you are delivering. This also will allow for more overlapping of skills to prevent a single point of failure if the person in the office that knows a certain system is on holiday, ill, or leaves the company.
By managing realistic expectations and not overextending yourself when you have limited resources you will enable more growth, better customer retention through higher levels of customer satisfaction and less stress for yourself and your team. Everything from marketing through to sales and then to service delivery becomes simpler and more efficient, which leads to less wasted time; which translates to more money on the bottom line.
About The Author
Chad Kempt founded Fast Computers in 1998, is an active advisory board member of the ASCII Group, Datto Inc., and a board member of the Grand Erie Business Centre.