IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

Finding a Business Opportunity in Balance

MSP turns downward spiral into a crucial lesson in business. Is wearing too many hats impeding your success? By John Verbrugge

SEVERAL YEARS AGO, my IT business was booming—my clients were happy, my technicians were busy, and the revenue was coming in. Financial projections showed our company growing between 10 to 20 percent for the next four or five years, and my biggest concern was how to quickly bring on one or two more employees to handle our increasing workload.

Then the bomb dropped.

In the back of my mind, I knew having one client much bigger than the rest was a potential risk. But I also understood (or thought I did) that they were happy and we were serving them well.

They left. They fired us. Without warning, I got called into a meeting and informed our company was to be out within a couple of weeks.

That incident began a downward spiral including issues with revenue, employees, service delivery, marketing, confidence, and personal problems. The business became unbalanced, and we spent the next two years trying to fix everything.

Instead of focusing on hiring my next technician, I had to concentrate on finding my next client while cutting expenses to keep from going into the red. All our business priorities changed, and I struggled to adapt.

Wearing Three Hats

One of the lessons that came out of that era was that none of the three “hats” most entrepreneurs wear—service delivery, business growth, and operations—can be ignored.

Let me define a few things here. Service delivery is the “doing” of tech work. Business growth is the work that prepares the organization for the future, such as marketing, lead generation, following up with prospects, and developing new service ideas. Operations are the little tasks, like running reports, tracking down lost shipments, researching billing questions, scheduling meetings, and so on.

Service delivery is a matter of having enough technicians on staff. The owner provides a vision for business growth and is responsible for much of the actual development. Operations, the third role, is where I learned the biggest lesson.

That part can kill you. Or at least affect your ability to get anything else done.

Getting My Time Back

I know business owners who spend almost all of their time on operations—cleaning up tickets in the system, chasing down technicians to ensure they enter their time, looking up accounting data, filing paperwork, and responding to emails and social media.

Indeed, I used to be one of them. People advised me to bring on an administrative assistant to help with operations and free up time to expand our marketing, which I had neglected to concentrate on when the business was doing well.

They were right. My administrative assistant restored balance to my business and life.

Think about it. Let’s say you spend half your week doing administrative work and then bring on an assistant to take on just five hours’ worth of those activities. You now have five precious hours to put toward marketing efforts, building referral relationships, and closing sales. One additional client is often all it would take to pay for that administrative assistant several times over.

As I spent time working with my assistant, she began to take on an increasing number of ticket system tasks—ensuring that each was entered correctly, making sure the technicians were logging their time properly, following up with clients, sending out reports, and more. She essentially began filling a service coordinator role. And as she did, I was able to focus more on building client and referral partner relationships.

In fact, hiring a service coordinator has been such a lifesaver for me, I believe every small IT business should do the same thing. Just a few hours a week is all it takes to make the difference between a business that flounders and one that thrives.

JOHN VERBRUGGE is CEO of Shared Hands Administrative Assistants and Nonlinear Tech, both located in Grand Rapids, Mich. Shared Hands helps by taking on administrative and operational tasks, allowing business owners and managers to focus on increasing their revenue and building their teams. 

Opening image: Pixabay

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