A business owner’s guide to 5 key area’s to make certain of success
I attended BETT (Europe’s largest showcase of It and technology for the education sector) at ExCel last week but this time round I was on the other side of the fence to normal, I joined our long standing partner Protech Solutions to exhibit. Being the first time I’ve done anything like that I really had no idea what to expect. Asking around the best and only advice on offer was wear comfy shoes, that sure was true but looking back I’ve noticed a lot more, making it a success was much more than just being able to stand for 8 hours a day.
Sure you’ve got the important things like a truck load of tea, coffee and half the world wide supply of mini mars bars but there was much more needed for me and ITSB to make the most of it.
This has really opened my eyes, I think I’ve probably always known these are key but pulling them together and then executing the show really made these things stand out to me; The right partners, the right products, the rightpeople, the right systems and probably most importantly the right time for yourself.
The rightful first place to start is talking about having the right partners, after all I wouldn’t have had this chance had it not been for Protech making the commitment. They came up with a really different theme and for a fairly modest stand we certainly outperformed many of the much larger and frankly more highly funded exhibitors in the hall. Having a rocket nearly as tall as me and a 65” interactive display from the guys at Clevertouch certainly drew people over and if that wasn’t enough who can resist a free coffee and a mars bar? Well more people than I thought but anyway.
I’ve not spent a great deal of time working so closely with Protech before this, the feedback from mutual clients and quality of the work I’d seen was enough to know that we had the same values and was the basis for our partnership. Although I now see how closely aligned we are with our ethics and values. I’m certainly not just a support guy I’ve installed and supported numerous AV solutions over the last 16 years, likewise I’ve spent more time in false ceilings running Cat5 than I care to remember but listening to the guys talk about their approach was like listening to the rest of my team. I think I can sum it up by saying they go the extra miles needed; free surveys, free advice and naturally free quotes backed up by a complete get it done and make it right everytime attitude is what they are about as are we.
We were lucky enough to have a Clevertouch plus 65” on the stand and for that point Protech are giving one away, it’s not often I am impressed by technology but wow it’s so good. Sure there were plenty of other vendors there with their versions, the usual suspects of SMART and Promethean and of course the very cheap far east unknowns but none of them pull together into such a rounded product. Built-in Android OS so you can annotate, browse the web and use Android apps straight out the box without a PC and of course the power of Clever Lynx and Snowflake when you have a Windows PC connected just blew the others out of the park. You’ve then got the extras that only a vendors who’s been doing this for so long can bring to the table; a toughened glass front, which we literally couldn’t break, believe me we tried. A metal bezel with integrated speakers and not some tiny rubbish we see in many of the others, playing a demo of Monsters Inc from Pixar we couldn’t get them to distort much to our neighbours disgust I’m sure.
I’m blessed to have such a good team at ITSB, over the last 18 months in particular we have really matured. We completed our first acquisition in December and hope this will be the first of many more over the coming years. We continue to strengthen and build our technical team, but with the frankly huge goals Lee and I keep setting (more importantly continue to achieve), we’ve also built a sales and marketing team and more recently invested to bolster our management team which now includes our service delivery manager as well as our technical architect, Sales and Marketing and of course Lee and I.
Particularly looking at the work needed for BETT, we were able to turn around a flyer, an ad for the show guide, branded clothing, bespoke landing pages on our site for competition entry and data collection, a full email marketing campaign and the usual for social media elements within 7 days and completely in house. Yet again doing so has meant we have been able to ensure the highest quality, which is something we still do with all our support cases and project by maintaining our own technical teams. There are times where it makes sense to outsource, printing for instance and the promotional clothing.
Something we have spent countless hours on is knowing where we are strong and where we are not, both as a business and as individuals. As such we have a live plan not just for existing staff training but also to bring in the additional staff needed to maintain our service levels, particularly with the fantastic growth we continue to achieve we capacity plan and invest heavily allowing us to be staffed above what is needed and are able to bring the right people in as and when we need to expand. We’re currently sitting at 18 members of staff where we we’re 9 this time last year, who knows where we’ll be next year but well over 20 I expect.
No matter how good our staff are or how much extra capacity we build into the business we are nothing without the systems we use, we constantly review all our systems and encourage our colleagues to “be a 5 year old” by asking why to everything, if it’s not right we improve it. We are clearly lucky to be a technology company so working with systems and data is easier for us than many, but having the view that investment in systems is key we continue to be more agile and more productive than most companies, many of which are IT companies too. The most obvious impact being our constant ability to destroy our SLA’s. Strong words I know but our average resolution time for low issues is far below our stated response times for urgent issues.
For instance we have moved all of our systems (we have a lot it was no small task) either to cloud providers (such as Google Apps and Zendesk) or onto hosted servers which our managed services team maintain with the same great level of uptime 24x7x365 that our customer experience. A hybrid approach like this is in almost all cases right for all. Again yes I understand we have the expertise to do this but you’d be surprised how cost effective it is to adopt this approach compared to the traditional massive up front investment costs. We take it one step further though, we are currently in the middle of a computer refresh ourselves, in many cases this is simply adding SSD hard drives and more memory, a very inexpensive upgrade which sees performance increase exponentially, something which again will not cost the earth even if you have to outsource. Give us a call if you want to know more about what we’re doing and how, we’re very happy to share.
The final thing I want to just touch on is the point about having the right time for yourself, it’s very easy when you run a business to let it take over your life, for that matter it’s easy to do when you don’t run one, as I said before we’re privileged to have some really dedicated people who just do whatever it takes off their own back. All that said you also need to find time to remember what you’re doing it for, I was very lucky to have a completely clear diary last week and knew that I’d have nothing to do other than give the show my all, so I set about catching up with friends and seeing a bit of London. While being out late after being on your feet all day has certainly took it’s toll on me, I’ve come back to the office today keen to get on, with loads of energy and new ideas. I felt the same when I got back from a week away back in October, so I guess the moral is even if you can’t get away on holiday regularly making sure you take some time out of the norm, do something different, go to different places and generally go out of your way to do something different for a few days every so often will without a doubt have a positive impact, it’s helped me get some perspective. I’ve spent a fair amount of time listening to people talk about meditation and similar things, lets not forget the all famous “work life balance” which honestly most people who know me know I’m not sold on but I am sure that breaking the norm will have a positive impact even if it’s not in a way you expected.