It's a challenge to build a successful company into a viable long-term entity. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, more than 50 percent of small businesses fail in their first five years, while two-thirds of organizations close their doors before celebrating a ten-year anniversary. The reasons are numerous; from cash flow issues or the departure of a key employee to planned obsolescence and mergers.
These challenges are felt by IT services businesses, especially given the complexities involved in acting as a B2B organization. In addition to the daily operational issues that every entrepreneur faces, solution providers often find themselves tackling myriad projects, support calls, vendor discussions and prospect presentations. The skills and knowledge needed to run a successful technology company are more dynamic than a typical business, requiring constant fine-tuning and training to keep up with the rapidly changing IT environment.
So what does it take to build a successful and long standing IT business? There's no silver bullet to ensure solution providers beat the odds, but there are a number of best practices and tools available to help them improve their chances for success. From a technical perspective, there are a variety of programs available to help VARs and MSPs enhance their skills and gain new ones. While IT-business-specific education and training resources are a bit harder to find, CompTIA continues to develop a curriculum that addresses the evolving needs of IT channel organizations.
But before business owners can begin making improvements, they need a solid understanding of their strengths, weaknesses and needs. After all, when an organization's fundamental operations are not running smoothly, adding other activities will likely worsen the situation. A comprehensive business assessment can illuminate areas of concern and help solution providers prioritize the activities needed to strengthen their IT services operations, giving them a greater chance at long-term success.
This year, CompTIA designed and developed an instrument to fulfill that specific function. The Business Assessment Tool allows the association's solution provider members to honestly evaluate their current position in a variety of business disciplines using a simple, Web-based survey. Upon completion of the assessment, participants are directed to the specific CompTIA resources that can best help them improve their organization. The end result is a more targeted approach to organizational improvement, saving providers from what can be a time consuming and frustrating process while increasing their chances for success.
The assessment tool covers organization and structure, human resources, customer relations, strategy and planning and implementation processes. Ten specific areas of a solution provider's business are evaluated during the assessment, including:
- Company Vision
- Strategy, Planning and Implementation
- Business and Market Model
- Organization and Structure
- Human Resources
- Customer Relationships
- Advisory and Legal Board Governance
- Community Relationships
- Information Technology
- Financial Management
Of course, knowing what you need to do to improve your operations doesn't guarantee short- or long-term success. CompTIA's Business Assessment Tool serves as a baseline, identifying an organization's core strengths and offering precise directions and best practices for solution providers willing and able to put them to good use. In order to reach improvement goals, each stakeholder must be committed to the company's specific improvement plan and ensure that each step is completed.
As most entrepreneurs know, failure is always a possibility. While that risk is part of every solution provider's business, it can be lessened when owners understand their organizational strengths, address the areas that need improvement and develop a cohesive team to accomplish their long-term objectives.
Brian Sherman is founder of Tech Success Communications, specializing in editorial content and consulting for the IT channel. His previous roles include chief editor at Business Solutions magazine and industry alliances director with Autotask. Contact Brian at Bsherman@techsuccesscommunications.com.