I’ve just returned from a week of IT Conferences and peer group meetings where dozens of IT business owners get together to exchange ideas, best practices and discuss how they can grow their business in a collaborative environment.
If you’re looking to grow your IT business, then time spent at these type of events is invaluable in opening your eyes to potential ideas and inspiring you to take action on them.
But for every IT company I meet at one of these events, I’ll speak to another five who tell me that they’d like to attend but can’t afford to take the time away from their business to do so.
As the former owner of a Managed Service Provider (MSP) business myself, I totally understand how busy a job it can be. But it’s very important to take time out of your business to gain perspective and recharge. The most successful IT businesses I’ve worked with do attend Conferences and regularly take time out of their business.
How do they do this without their business falling apart in their absence, or clients howling with complaints? Even as a “one man band” where you’re the sole employee of the business, it’s possible to take time out of your business -- for a day for a Conference or another event or even for an hour to do some planning. Let’s explore how.
Use a Call Answering Service
One of the first -- and most important, in my opinion -- things you can do to free up your time to either work on your business rather than in it, is it to remove the interruption of your telephone ringing.
We’ve all been there. Whether you are on a client site, sleeves rolled up and hands full when your mobile rings, or whether you’re trying to carve out 30 minutes to do some business planning but keep getting distracted by your phone ringing, the telephone is an interruption we can do without.
Of course you already have the option of voicemail, but the reality is that most people -- especially clients -- don’t like leaving a message. Why? They are uncertain when you’ll get their message and how quickly you’ll be able to respond.
Instead of voicemail, redirect your calls to a call answering service. For a small fee, such services will provide a human voice to answer your call, assess the importance, take a message, and importantly, set the callers expectations on when you will respond.
If you want to have an hour undisturbed, then a call answering service can let a caller know you’ll respond in an hour. Most problems and most people can wait an hour! If they can’t? The call answering service will contact you to let you know it’s important -- you don’t have to screen the call to find out yourself.
If you’re at a Conference, a user group event, a business networking event -- let the call answering service screen your calls and set expectations.
Set an effective out of office message
Whether it’s for an hour while you do some planning, or a day for an IT Conference, a well crafted out-of-office message can ensure that you don’t have to keep one eye on your inbox while trying to concentrate on the task at hand.
A simple out-of-office autoresponder can set expectations on your availability. A message such as “Thanks for the email. I’m at an IT Conference today so will only be checking email at lunchtime and the close of business and may not be able to respond immediately. If you have an urgent issue that can’t wait this long, please call me and leave a message and I’ll get back to you sooner.” is simple but effective. Again, as long as they know where they stand and when you’ll respond, most people are happy to wait. It’s the uncertainty of knowing when you’ll respond that unsettles people and if they do have an urgent issue, they know the escalation routine you’ve set - to leave a message for you by telephone.
Buddy up with another IT company
If you’re a one-man-band, then taking time away from the coalface may seem impossible. After all, even with a call answering service, even with an out of office message, there are some fires that can’t wait for you to put them out immediately.
If you’re in this situation, then you will want to build up a relationship with another IT company to provide cover for you during busy periods, time out of the office, holidays and sickness.
You may feel uncomfortable about doing this initially. Fears over allowing another IT business to speak to your clients, for instance. As somebody who has built an MSP business off the back of multiple strategic alliances of this nature, let me tell you that you’re not alone in those fears -- but if you take the initiative, then there are plenty of your friendly competitors who will jump at the chance to collaborate in this way. After all, there are enough clients out there for everyone!
Take steps to reach out to your fellow IT providers today. Broach the subject. Ask if they’d be open to working together to provide resource cover as and when is needed. How would that look? What would work best for them? Explore the opportunity without dismissing it out of hand.
Taking time out of your business -- to do planning, to attend Conferences, to be inspired, informed and motivated -- is highly important.
Whether you are a one-man-band working alone or a bigger business, remember that people crave acknowledgement. Setting clients expectations by using a call answering service in addition a well crafted email out of office autoresponder message that highlights an escalation routine for urgent issues, helps set people’s expectations.
To take this a step further, consider buddying up with another local IT provider to provide cover for each other during busy periods, sickness and holidays.
Using these three simple strategies you can start to free up your time from working in your business, and start working on it.
Richard Tubb works with MSP's to help them focus on what is important, free up their time and make more money. You don't have to do it alone any more!