IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

No Unicorns in IT!

 Sometimes I find it hard to believe that, after more than fifteen years of pushing documentation and standard operating procedures, I still meet people who believe one of these falsehoods:

  • All of our clients are unique. We cannot create policies or procedures across all clients.

or

  • We are unique. Our mix of products, services, employees, and clients makes it impossible for us to standardize what we do and how we price it.

I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you can't build a successful business based on exceptions to the rule. And there is a rule - a norm.

If you're super old-school, your small business clients probably look a lot like this:

  • Primary Server
  • Maybe another server for backup, SQL, Exchange, or Line of Business app
  • Office products - probably Microsoft Office. Open license or O365/M365.
  • Hosted web site (not onsite)
  • Network includes router, firewall, and one or more switches
  • Maybe a wireless access point
  • Security includes anti-virus, spam filtering, anti-malware
  • Most people print to network printers. A few have USB-connected printers.
  • Desktops include monitors, keyboards, pointing devices, speakers, Windows-based operating systems, VOIP phones, and UPS batter backup
  • Maybe a few Apples
  • You support some additional devices, including a big scanner/copier, label printers, signage, or cameras
  • Perhaps client-specific technology such as access control, employee time tracking, or CNC machines

If you're not old-school, and you've figured out cloud services, all of this is the same except:

  • Hosted storage
  • Hosted Exchange mailboxes
  • Office is definitely M365

Of course, one client is an architect and they will have a large onsite storage system and monster onsite backup system. One client is a dentist and has x-ray equipment and related storage. One client is a call center with 300 phones and 1,500 employees.

Each client might have some things that are different.

But the lists above probably apply to ninety percent of what you need to manage at ninety percent of your clients. When clients have unique setups, it's probably on top of the standard stack that you sell, install, configure, and maintain at every single client.

Yes, there are exceptions to the rule. That's what exception means. but you can't build a successful business based on exceptions to the rule. But you CAN build a standard operating process based on the 90%. 

Early in my career, I was impressed with the book and concept The HP Way. You can Google the HP Way and find a list of values-based guidelines they developed to guide their growth and success. The book is also excellent.

When I started my business, I was committed to providing very high quality service. I had a believe that there really is a "best" way to do things. So I went in search of the best way to design backups, the best way to set up desktop PCs, the best way to hire, the best way to invoice, and so on.

Was my way THE best way? I don't know. But I quickly began to refer to our way of doing things as The KPE Way. My company was KPEnterprises. The KPE Way was our way of documenting networks, processing purchase orders, creating tickets, tracking time, etc. Everything.

Well, we tried to document everything. Let's be honest, some things really do happen once. Some happen once every four years. The Y2K roll-over happens once every thousand years. So, we acknowledged that some things fall into the ten percent we can't document and create SOPs for.

But here's the good news: Whenever we came across one of these rare incidents, we still found that ninety percent of our behavior was guided by our knowledge, processes, and procedures drawn from daily habits of acting within our established SOPs.

When a unique incident arises - such as Y2K or the time a client's office burnt down - we still had the way we go slow, document carefully, backup up again and again. Because all of our technicians were steeped in The KPE Way, we had a lot of guidelines to help us excel at the unexpected.

As a Company Grows, The Boss is Often the Problem

As companies grow to have ten, twenty, or fifty technicians, there's one common obstacle that keeps them expanding their processes and procedures to be truly scalable: The boss.

In many cases, the boss (often the owner) makes most of the sales. The boss also makes "exceptions" to the rules. So employees can never know absolutely and for a fact how to handle each client. It depends on the price the boss quoted and the promises the boss made.

And, all too often, these things are not written down. They're not in the PSA/CRM. They're not standardized. That's the problem.

This insistence on the uniqueness of each client, each relationship, and each interaction keeps the company from growing. To be successful, you need to stop believing in unicorns.

Don't get me wrong: You can grow your company to a very large size by most standards. But it won't be successful. It might not even be profitable. This behavior is self-limiting. I have worked with multiple companies who have five, ten, or even twenty million dollars in sales but are unprofitable or barely profitable.

Did you ever notice that business owners love to talk about their revenue and not their profit?

In the next post, I'm going to talk about some strategies for overcoming this self-limiting behavior.

:-)

About the Author

Karl W. Palachuk, is a technology consultant, author, speaker, trainer, and coach. He is the author of fifteen books. He has built several successful businesses, including two managed services companies. His books include Managed Services in a Month and The Network Documentation Workbook. Karl is a frequent trainer and speaker in the SMB Community. His popular blog can be found at SmallBizThoughts.com. He has more than twenty years experience as an I.T. professional and serves on advisory panels for several hardware and software companies.

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