Building your business

November 2015

BricklayingAs an IT business, you’re probably technically very strong. But is this what your clients really value about you above your competitors? Business consultant Richard Tubb MBCS takes a look at how to build the business that your clients want to have.

Ask any owner of an IT solution provider business what their top goals are and invariably their answer will be to ‘grow my business’. Attracting new clients and retaining those clients are high priorities in most business owners’ plans for growing their business.

Interestingly though, when I ask IT business owners how they will attract and retain these clients, I often hear a variety of answers ranging from offering new products or services through to implementing new marketing strategies.

While those ideas are important, I believe businesses should be focusing on doing something much more fundamental with their business. They should be building the business that their clients want to have.

What do clients actually want?

When I ran my own IT business - a managed service provider (MSP) serving small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) - I created the business because I was a very good technician who was in demand.

As I built my business, I started noticing that it wasn’t necessarily just my technical knowledge that kept my clients coming back to me. It was actually something much simpler. It was a keen focus on three key areas that delivered what my clients wanted.

#1 Build strong client documentation

Take a moment to picture some of your typical client’s offices, and specifically, the owner’s desk within those offices. I’m going to guess that some (and probably many) of them are messy, with papers and post-it notes scattered liberally across the workspace. .

Our clients face challenges in their businesses that get in the way of them doing what they really want to do. They’ll absolutely value and appreciate somebody who helps bring order to that chaos.

What does that mean in practical terms for you? It means building strong documentation about your client’s infrastructure. It means relying less on storing things in your head - or on your desk - and focusing on storing that knowledge in a structured way so that you can easily call up the information at the drop of hat, whenever your client needs it.

Let me give you an example of how strong client documentation can help you become a hero with your clients through way of a personal story. My own IT business was borderline obsessive when it came to documenting clients’ businesses.

Naturally we had all the necessary technical information stored - things like IP address ranges, firewall port exceptions and the like - but we also documented some of the areas of clients businesses that you might not necessarily think of as ‘IT’.

For instance, one client telephoned us in a panic once because the air conditioning unit in their server room was leaking water everywhere. Electricity and water do not make a good combination! In their panicked state, the client couldn’t remember who installed the air con unit, let alone whether it was still under warranty.

Thankfully, we did. We had the information required and we made the telephone call to the air con provider and within an hour they had dispatched an engineer to site to resolve the issue.

Who received the credit for that fix? While the client was very thankful to the air con provider, they expressed gratitude to us for making it happen. They valued the fact they could rely on us to be organised on their behalf, and they were happy to pay for that privilege. By focusing on strong client documentation, you make your business valuable. You’re building the business your clients want to have - an organised one.

Use checklists

Another way to build the business your clients want to have is to use checklists. For those of us who fly a lot for business, we have confidence in the pilots of the aeroplanes we’re travelling on.

They’ve received heavy training, they have a ton of experience in flying and yet before every flight they still run through a checklist to ensure everything is in order. Why is this? It’s because checklists build consistency and people value consistency. We all have processes in our IT business that we need to repeatedly undertake.

The next time you perform one of these tasks I’d ask you to consider slowing down and documenting the steps you take. Create a checklist of the outcomes you might expect so that you and your colleagues can easily do a ‘sanity check’ on your work at completion. These checklists will give you peace of mind that you’re delivering work to a consistently high standard.

By focusing on strong checklists, you make your business valuable. You’re building the business that your clients want to have - one that delivers consistently good service.

Develop partnerships

The third and final key element to building the business your clients want to have is actively seeking out and developing partnerships. Let me be blunt, based on my own experiences in building an IT business. It’s virtually impossible to cover all the areas of IT that your clients will approach you for help with. From a technical perspective, it’s tough to be a company that does data cabling, wireless networks, software development, web design, marketing and more.

Far too many IT businesses I see try to be all things to all people - trying to serve their clients’ every needs and stretching themselves too thin. They end up disappointing their clients by delivering substandard service. The good news is, you don’t need to be a jack-of-all-trades. The real value lies in knowing the right people to call when you need help in a specific area.

You probably know a number of companies who fit the bill already, whether it be through peer groups, local networking groups or companies you’ve used yourselves. Reach out to these businesses. Understand what opportunities they are looking for. Build partnerships that will help both of your respective businesses. Then, keep your eyes and ears open. Look for opportunities to introduce your own clients to these partners.

Far from dilute your own value with your clients, you’ll find your clients appreciate you even more for having a strong network of experts that you can call on to help them.

By focusing on building strong partnerships with other businesses, you make your own business valuable. You’re building the business your clients want to have - a well-connected one.

Bringing order from chaos

As an IT business owner, if your focus is on growing your business - adding new clients and retaining them - then consider three keys areas that your clients will truly find value in. Being organised through strong client documentation is valuable to your clients who are looking for help bringing order from chaos.

By using checklists, your business can deliver the high-quality, consistent service that your clients will value and retain. And by building strong partnerships with other IT businesses who you can call on to deliver high-quality speciality services to your clients - rather than attempting to be a jack-of-all-trades yourself - you’ll build a well-connected company that your clients won’t want to lose a relationship with.

Being technically strong as an IT business is important, but by focusing on the three key areas mentioned here and by building the business that your clients want to have you can gain a competitive advantage over those other technically strong IT businesses who also want to work with your clients. 

Image: iStock/477861129

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