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Advice from Darren Coleman, Coleman Technologies in Langley, BC
Like many others, I started out of college as an intern for a small, break-fix IT company. I wasn’t expecting to get hired, but due to my small-town values and work ethic, they offered me a full-time job. After a few years, the owners asked if I wanted to buy their business. This was the beginning of Coleman Technologies. It took many years of persistence and hard work, but today Coleman is a very successful managed services IT company.
After a number of years, I knew that we needed to make the transition from break-fix to Managed Services. Believe me, it wasn’t easy. I started by going to our top clients because they trusted me, and I tried to show them how it would benefit them to use our managed service offering. Because they trusted me, they listened. Once they switched, they soon found that we saved them both time and money. Rather than being down for hours at a time, we could now solve their IT issues before they caused downtime.
We then looked at our customers based on the revenue they provided us and made the difficult but right choice to let go of the low-revenue, high-effort clients. This allowed us to provide better support for our managed service clients. Fewer emails and phone calls made life much easier for us. Today, all of our clients are on a Managed Service Agreement where we can provide IT services at a fraction of the cost of them hiring a lone IT tech. Our clients get the benefit of a full team of professionals with 24/7 remote monitoring and help desk services.
Shifting Gears from Tech to Marketing
I knew I needed to market our business to get the word out. To do this I had to shift gears from being tech-minded to growing the business. We were making more money, but I knew that if I didn’t switch gears, I wouldn’t enjoy doing this for the long term.
I met Stuart Crawford from Ulistic on Linkedin. I realized that Stuart had true vision when it came to marketing MSP businesses. So, I went to Vancouver to attend one of his workshops. Stuart helped me get involved in marketing, and this changed my business in a dramatic way. Today we think of ourselves as a Marketing Company that specializes in Tech.
Our primary vertical had always been real estate brokerages that were too small to have their own IT department. We served this industry because this was what we knew. We started branching out into other verticals such as manufacturing. We found that this benefitted us in the same way as moving from break-fix to managed services did. The real estate agents, because they came and went, required a lot of hand-holding, and were taking too much of our time. Our manufacturing clients didn’t. We continued to focus our efforts on these clients and others that provided the best ROI for our efforts. We made some tough business decisions by “retiring” certain clients, but this has paid off.
Establishing Trust in The Community
I have always worked to build trust in the community by contributing my knowledge via speaking engagements, webinars, and wherever I can. Word got out, and I was asked to contribute to the book Easy Prey: How to Protect Your Business From Data Breach, Cybercrime & Employee Fraud.
This provided the platform that launched me into being a subject-matter-expert in the field. I was invited by a friend to present to the Harvard Business School’s Faculty Club. I was very excited about this, but I was supposed to fly out to Hawaii with my family the next day. Nevertheless, I made an effort to present at the event, and since then it has paid off. After speaking at Harvard, I’m now a different person.
That’s the key; you must make an effort. It’s important to get out there. It doesn’t have to be at Harvard either – speak at your local business association or Chamber of Commerce. You can also reach out by holding online webinars and podcasts. Even if you don’t get many people signing on, over time your audience will grow.
I’ve learned to never turn down a journalist. If you do, they’ll never call back. I made sure the local papers knew that I spoke at Harvard. Anytime we win an award or are mentioned on a notable site, I make sure people know about it. You must be persistent and work to get published in your local channels. Don’t give up. Pitch your stories around what’s happening in the marketplace such as ransomware attacks that occurred in your area. You never know who’s listening or reading. I’ve gotten great clients with 200+ users who found me by simply reading an article.
Growing and Changing
At some point, you’ll realize that you can’t continue to grow by doing the same things over and over. I knew that what got us here, won’t take us to the next level. The business has to change, and we have to change. As the tech world evolves, we do too.
Invest in yourself, your team and your marketing. Go to marketing and sales training programs. If you get leads and you can’t close them, you’ll have wasted all your efforts. Keep learning and “sharpening your saw” to get better at what you and your team do. I never know what my ROI is on my marketing efforts, but I do know that my company is making more money. – the more I make, the more I put back into marketing.