IT Support Company: What I wish I’d known when I got started
My name is Fil Strati and I have been running an IT support company for ten years now. Over the years, I have learned that having a business plan that is targeted to your market, and setting boundaries with customers, are some of my biggest lessons in IT support.
Creating a Business Plan
Choose a target market – and actually stick to it. I’ve found that many people including myself have a target market in mind, but never build their business around this target. I started off offering IT support to both residential and small businesses.
The goal was to eventually service more business than residential as I quickly found that residential (although less stressful), was not going to promise an on-going income. Even though at the back of my mind I knew this, I still used advertising mediums which catered for (and attracted) residential and businesses. I wasted time posting out flyers to homes and offering additional services such as weekend availability and nights to pull in further work.
I was going out of my way for the wrong target market.
I was actually standing in the way of increasing my business to residential ratio. Even my website had no specific mention of small business IT support. These days I stress (to anyone looking to start a new business venture) the importance of drafting and discussing a business plan in depth and making sure that you’re going to actually follow what you’ve written down.
Many people stick to the plan initially but then stray in order to take what’s available.
This again comes back to and should be a big part of your business plan. It should be clearly defined from the start and you should try as best as possible to stick to it. Setting boundaries early on will help prevent issues when it comes time to expand.
Boundaries must include who you will service, when you will service, and what you will service.
Like most first time business owners, I started off my IT support business on my own. I’d answer the phone, book appointments, go out on-site and then invoice the customer. Did I set boundaries? Why would I do that when I had to offer better services (unrealistic expectations) in order to beat my competitors? I’d be available for work during the day, nights, weekends and public holidays. I’d also always have my phone on me so that I wouldn’t miss any potential new customers or urgent calls.
Now it may be normal to get to a point where you start blaming clients for your level of stress, but this all comes back to setting your boundaries. Due to my lack of boundaries, customers would call me late at night, very early in the morning and also on the weekend when I was trying to wind down.
Ideally you’d expect that clients would only call you if the matter was urgent and only briefly to secure a booking for the next business day right? Clients are also people too, so in most cases being available all the time would not only mean the customers would call to book a job, but to vent all of their frustrations about their recent computer melt down (which is understandable), ask your opinion and work out their options. You can understand why this would be frustrating on a Sunday when you’re at a function and you’ve received five of these calls which could have waited for Monday. Again it’s up to the business to set the boundaries, clients aren’t aware of what stress they are putting on you or how many others you’ve spoken to that day.
Now to combat this, we went back to our business plan and re-defined it. Our goal was to service mainly businesses so why make yourself available on nights and weekends? We still wanted to service residential, but we needed to find a way to compromise without burning out. So we notified our customers that we would no longer be available on weekends. Residential customers could book a night visit if needed.
We then enlisted the help of an admin who would then become the first point of contact and bookings department for the business. This helped new rules which would stop clients from calling me directly. It took some time for customers to adjust because as mentioned before I had no boundaries in place and customers had become used to having direct access to me at anytime. If I had set these boundaries initially, the transition from one to two staff would have been smoother. Now there’s nothing wrong with customers wanting to talk to you directly or vent their frustration as it helps build a strong long lasting relationship. However by setting such boundaries, these conversations can take place during my time on-site with the client and admin can concentrate on making sure jobs are booked in a timely fashion.
Answering your phone as soon as it rings and responding to emails as soon as they arrive can form unrealistic expectations and will give clients the impression that your boundaries are easily broken. As a rule of thumb, I never check emails or answer any work related calls on the weekend.
Employing an admin to handle booking requests also helped me define the time boundaries. Businesses (our priority target market) counted on our availability during business hours so would it be worth paying someone to take bookings at 11PM?
Keep in mind to that when setting boundaries, you don’t finish off with words like “unless it’s urgent”. What you consider to be life and death and your client does are completely different. Some clients will even attempt to make several calls in an attempt to warn you that something really urgent is required. If you respond to this behaviour your client will continue it again and again in future.
Now, looking at “what you will service”, this comes back to what I mentioned earlier about “If we start to “diversify” for fear or loosing clients we’ve now spent more hours in the wrong direction and as a result still haven’t moved closer to our goal.”
Stick to what works and what you’re good at and improve it further. There’s nothing wrong with offering customers other types of work, but you need to decide early on whether you’ll be doing it yourself or whether you can subcontract it. We found that many of our customers needed websites, advertising media such as business cards and flyers. Now you’re almost needing to create a new business plan in order to offer this, but you also don’t want the customer going elsewhere and they’d rather use you based on your existing relationship. We enlisted the help of a graphic designer and a web designer who we’re contacted as needed and referred to our clients. This way we’re not having to change the way we operate, but can still provide that one-stop-shop approach.
TechSeek On-Site Computer Services
M: 0418 950 469