Monday, August 19, 2013

IT at the Small and Growing company

This post was originally published to Daniel Jefferies' Medium blog feed.
“A company this size can’t afford mistakes.”
For the last 13 years or so I’ve been working on IT with great folks in small, mid-sized and large organizations all over the country. In that time I’ve noticed that just as businesses change as they grow so do the IT departments that serve them. As the business changes, the IT challenges change. Sometimes the IT department keeps up with these challenges and sometimes they get stuck in the ways of the past. I want to start today by looking at the IT needs of Small and Growing businesses which many times have no IT department of their own. In future posts I also plan to cover lessons learned in working with IT in Mid-Sized and Scaling businesses as well as Large and Transforming organizations.
Impact Athletic builds quality work surfaces and storage equipment for Athletic Trainers.

Impact Athletic builds quality work surfaces and storage equipment for Athletic Trainers. I’m a entrepreneur at heart. I love to meet people that are starting something new. Kevin Mcleod and his company Impact Athletic are great examples of this type of small and growing company. Like most small organizations they have no IT department of their own.
“I love tech, I love shiny new things, but I was absolutely frightened by what we had to tackle in IT.” recalls Kevin.
Like many small companies, Impact started out using whatever consumer technologies were at hand. Personal email accounts, a copy of Quickbooks and whatever hardware seemed to be the best deal at the local big box electronics retailer or online. This approach works great at the very beginning but as the company grows this “just use what you have” approach begins to breakdown.
Kevin realized very quickly that he needed an IT partner to get him set up with the right tools so his team could “move fast.” Kevin selected Newmind to be that partner and in Kevin’s words Impact had “infrastructure overnight.”
When I asked Kevin why he had chosen to invest in an IT partner he said, “A company this size can’t afford mistakes.”
I really like working with companies like Kevin’s but not all small companies his size make the smart decisions he did. I’ve noticed that they usually have some common challenges and some make common mistakes. Here are the challenges and mistakes that I have observed other companies making in IT during their small and growing phase.

3 Challenges

  1. Can’t afford the IT help that they really need.
  2. Need good IT to stay productive and win against larger competitors.
  3. Often the owners of the company aren’t strong on IT and feel frustrated having to make decisions without advice from a trusted and experienced advisor.

3 Common Mistakes

  1. Most business owners wait too long to find an IT partner that can be a trusted advisor and take the IT workload off the owner’s shoulders.
  2. Many small companies develop defacto IT people. Sarah in accounting knows a bit about IT so all the questions go to her. Before you know it she is spending half her time on the accounts payable and half on IT. Her accounts payable workload is suffering and the IT work isn’t getting done very well either. She’s probably frustrated as well and thinking of leaving because no one appreciates all the extra work she is doing.
  3. In the early stages companies tend to work harder not smarter. They hire more people to do labor intensive manual tasks rather than getting IT help to make the people they have more productive. From a cost perspective they end up spending much more than they would have if they had made a larger investment in IT at an earlier point in time.

3 Recommendations

  1. Find an affordable IT Partner early in the life of the business.
    Your people will be more productive and happy and you will have more time to grow the business and fewer IT headaches to distract you.
  2. Invest in the right tools for your team.
    Many small business owners have tight budgets. When it is time for a better email system, a customer relationship management (CRM) system or other tools they tend to drag their feet because of the cost. If you have an IT partner as a trusted advisor early on this can help you make an informed decision. They will probably tell you that to attract the right people you need the right tools. Failing to invest in the right tools can create a frustrating environment and make it difficult to retain your best employees.
  3. Stay flexible.
    Look for an IT partner like Kevin did and sign a flexible agreement with them. Choose IT tools that are flexible and have short term commitments, a la carte pricing options and trial periods. Your business is growing fast and you need to be able to make changes quickly if needed. If you are a small business owner or manager I hope some of the information in this post validates some of the great decisions that you’ve made regarding your IT. If you see some mistakes you’ve made I hope I’ve given enough information to help you make corrections. If you have any questions please feel free to reach out to me by leaving a comment or on twitter @heydjeff.

Daniel Jefferies
Daniel Jefferies is the founder of Newmind Group. Based in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Newmind Group began as a small, regional IT company in 2003. Since then, we have opened offices in Charleston, Minneapolis, and Silicon Valley, and have grown in scope and size to become a national provider of cloud computing solutions for businesses of all sizes. Our specialty is moving legacy systems to more cost effective and reliable cloud based systems hosted by Google, Amazon, and Rackspace.