Part 1 of Maintaining Margin as You Grow – Two-fers

by | Apr 23, 2013 | jahlberg

A Forbes blog entitled “3 Reasons Why Great Companies Stop Growing—And the Solution” said it well, “When companies grow, they come to certain places where the things that used to work, the things that created that level of success, don’t work anymore. We call these inflection points.” In my experience, there are at least two different technology-related inflection points in small to mid-sized companies.  The first is in the 10-30 person range, and then again around 150-200 people. In this blog, I’ll talk about the first, and will tackle bigger companies in my next blog.

Small companies often rely on “Two-fers”

We have worked with more than one small company where all the tech support defaulted to the one person who was most technically able (often the owner or a senior partner). This person ends up doing two jobs at once, eventually spending as much as 30-40% of their time on tech support, which eats into their ability to do the job for which they were hired. This multi-tasking works (and may even be necessary) when the company is small, but it can hobble the company’s growth. The two-fers seem like a good deal until you take into account the opportunity costs of focusing on secondary activities like helping a colleague deal with a computer virus, or deciding what server to buy, or identifying how technology can drive more efficiency. What is the two-fer neglecting to work on technology – strategic planning? creating new products? selling? marketing? What debilitating technical issues are beyond their skill set? How is productivity for the larger organization suffering?

This is a growth inflection point.

I’ve seen companies respond in several different ways:

  1. Outsource to a “break-fix” IT support company (you know, the guys you call when something’s broken and they charge you to fix it). Often that company is made up of one or two guys — maybe a friend of a friend. If you’ve gone this route, you may have found that over time more things are breaking and it’s taking longer (and/or more money) to fix them. You may feel like you’re being held hostage to the tech support, and not getting the responsive help that you want.
  2. Hire a dedicated technical person, asking this person to do strategic planning, network support, and possibly some custom development. And helpdesk support, of course, which is never supposed to take much time, but really does. If this sounds familiar, I suspect you may have churned through several IT managers who are frustrated by being in constant fire drill, never getting to those important, non-urgent projects. Or maybe you’re worried about being too dependent on one person.

There is a better way.

  • Use managed service versus “break-fix” – You need someone paid to prevent future issues — versus being paid by the issue. What is managed service? It is when you pay a fixed monthly fee to have all your needs met – from helpdesk, to network management to CIO-like strategic planning.
  • Partner externally versus hire internally – This way you get (and pay for) just the support you need – maybe 30% of a helpdesk guy, 20% of a network manager, and 15% of a CIO. Growing or have special one-time projects? Support can expand flexibly because it doesn’t happen in one-person increments. You pay for just the time your business needs, when it needs it.
  • Have a team versus one person – While the skills required for helpdesk support are very different than those required for strategic planning, you don’t need a whole person for either. And because this team works with dozens of other clients, they have hard-won experience that internal teams just can’t get, especially in small to mid-sized firms. Plus this team approach gives you greater stability.

There are a number of companies like Waident who provide outsourced technology managed services. Of course, we think we are better than most. At the end of the day, your IT support has to feel like an integral, trusted part of your team – committed, knowledgeable about your business, and on your side. Take a look at what our clients say about us, and you’ll see that we are among the best in the business at what we do.

John Ahlberg, CEO, Waident Technology Solutions

John Ahlberg
CEO, Waident

CIO in the corporate world and now for Waident clients. John injects order and technology into business process to keep employees productive, enterprises running, and data safe.

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