In the first article of this series, Advice for IT Pros Planning to Open their Own Companies, I explained a bit of my own history, and why I was writing these articles. The actual advice is split into sixteen points, the first eight were listed in my next article, Advice for IT Pros Planning to Open their Own Companies, Part II. In this third and final article of the series, I continue where I left off: points nine through sixteen.
Again, I offer this advice without warranties and although I offer this advice do it should not be taken as implied that I feel you or anyone should quit their job (or job search) and become independent. Most IT Pros make for lousy business people. The advice herein is worth as little as what you paid for it but hopefully in some cases it will be worth much more.
9. When you are big enough to hire other people (or contractors) remember these rules:
- Your employees do not (and never will) care about your business, your success, your reputation, as much as you do. That means that you must always have a backup plan in case they drop the ball – and if the client knows they dropped the ball it is an opportunity for you to either show them (the client) that you will pick it up and deliver despite your employee’s failures. Do not expect any extra reward or recognition for that… they hired you and expect you to deliver whether the people you hire succeed or not.
- The people you hire – whether as employees or contractors – represent you and your reputation. Be very careful about who you let do that. Remember that the customer will always assume that the employee is your right hand man and is privy to every decision and conversation. Let the client know that there are certain things – money, terms, and more – that are none of the employee’s concern.
- The people you hire – whether as employees or contractors – represent you and your reputation. I know I said that in the previous point, but holy cow is it important. You can be the best, build the best business. The first guy who blows that in front of a customer can bring it all tumbling down. Make sure that you pick the right people and manage them properly. That does not mean you have to micro-manage them, but make sure they know that you are watching – speak to them every time they go to a client, and see how things are. If their paperwork is not in order make sure that gets fixed before it becomes a habit.
10. Make sure you document everything, and make sure your people do as well. At the end of a client visit present to them (or have your people do so) a completed work order documenting start time, work assigned, work completed, issues, hurdles, and requests. Make sure that these are signed by your customer before you leave. Believe you me, when it comes time to collect money you will thank me for this one!
11. Work smarter AND harder. The ‘hard’ part is staying current on all of the technologies you will be implementing and all of the tools that will help you to do so. The ‘smarter’ is using the right tools to do the job – whether that is deployment, virtualization, monitoring, or anything! (It doesn’t hurt to know the competitive products too… you will be asked to defend your recommendations as a consultant!)
12. Remember that you are worth what you charge… and nothing more. Establish a rate for your work and remember that it is very challenging to raise those rates, so if you think you are worth $100 but decide you want to get your foot in the door of a customer so you charge them $50, your perceived (ergo: REAL) value to them is now $50/hour… forever. When I raised my hourly rate from $100 to $125 I lost 25% of my clients… but I knew that would free up time for new higher-rate clients. I was right. I did not keep a single client when I raised my rate from $125 to $250… not one. The fact that I earn more now than I did then makes it look like a smart move, but hindsight is easy; back then I was jumping off a precipice into the unknown. Make damned sure you are worth it before you try something stupid like that 😉
13. Never forget that there are a hundred guys like you who would lie, cheat, steal, kill to take your clients from you. Your professionalism and friendly face may stop some of that; your integrity will seal the deal. Make sure your clients know that you are a man (or woman!) of your word who always delivers and always finishes what you started… but wouldn’t screw them or anyone else. They will appreciate that.
14. Technicians come in bulk, and decent IT Pros come in cases of 24. If you want to set yourself ahead of the pack you have to learn to be a trusted business advisor. This means that you have to know a lot more than just the technology, you have to be able to understand how your customers’ businesses work and what tools they need to help them. Most business owners don’t care about technology, but they all care about how technology can help them to earn more money. IT Pros are swayed by cool, but business owners and CxOs are swayed by numbers on a balance sheet. Don’t tell then that System Center Essentials is a great product that will make their IT staff’s job easier – explain to them that by implementing an in-house solution such as System Center Essentials for a one-time capital expenditure will deliver a saving to them of 30% over the recurring management and monitoring costs (operational expenditures) in the first year and 100% of those costs in subsequent years.
15. When I started e-Mitch Consulting I was the most arrogant** and cocky guy I knew. I have tried to change that and will ask that you withhold snide comments. The second hardest lesson I had to learn was that I did not (and could not) know everything. The hardest lesson I had to learn was to admit that to others… telling clients and classes and audiences that I didn’t know the answer to their question was also one of the most valuable lessons I would learn; it became more valuable when I followed up with ‘but if you give me a chance to look into it I will find out the answer and get back to you with it.’ With few exceptions (there’s one in almost every user group!) most people accept that nobody knows everything, and trying to look like you do can end up making you look foolish. Admitting that you don’t know an answer shows you are honest; telling them you would find out and get back to them shows you care about them enough to close the loop. As well, getting back to them in a timely fashion shows that you are reliable.
16. Continually do self-SWOT analyses of yourself, your company, and your position. Knowing your Strengths is very important, as is knowing your Weaknesses. Identifying opportunities is not as easy as it sounds, nor is identifying Threats – and threats can take a lot of unthreatening forms, including so-called friends who are also competitors – and although it is natural that IT Pros are friends with other IT Pros, remember that a hungry dog can turn on you in a flash, and that the sharper the knife is the easier it will penetrate, and the longer it will take for you to realize that you are bleeding.
17. Never lose sight of the fact that you may be working for your family, but your kids would probably prefer living in the poor house and spending quality time with you over living in a fancy house that you work 365 days a year to pay for.
There is so much more and I could go on for days; I will end here but invite you to submit your additions to this list. If I get enough – or if I think of more – I will write a follow-up article continuing the list.
**When my mother first looked at my blog (and several times since) she chastised me for the name, The World According to Mitch. In truth, while the technical articles are just that, much of what I write (and especially what I would write in the beginning) was the world from my point of view. In fact, it still is! With that being said, when I first set up the blog and was prompted for a title in the post-MITPro age, my favorite Robin Williams movie (The World According to Garp) was on TV, and I decided to borrow the idea, however temporarily, until I came up with a better name for it.