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How to Grow Your IT Services Business with Outsourcing

How to grow your IT services business

So you’ve been working on your IT services business and things are going well, now you’d like to expand and grow your business further, but how can you do it with the limited resources typically available to a small business? Perhaps you are currently a “one man band” or have a small team of technicians and you face problems such as:

  • How do you provide 24/7 coverage?
  • How do you provide expertise in other specific areas?
  • How do you scale on demand for busy periods?
  • How do you minimize the risks associated with hiring?
  • How do you cover vacations?
  • And many others…

It’s a big leap to make, financially and otherwise, hiring staff and investing in related resources to allow for the expansion you would like and which you believe your business is well capable of. Is there another way? Perhaps an easier way and less risky for a small business or SMB? If so, what and how? The short answer is outsourcing, but of course that whole arena is something of a minefield so must be navigated carefully to make it work for you but it can indeed be made to work well.

Freelancers

There are a number of ways you can implement outsourcing in your IT services business, one way is just to find some sub-contractor somewhere, somehow. These days of course it is much easier to find any service you require due to the Internet and finding sub-contractors or freelancers is no exception here. Web based services such as oDesk and Elance and many others of that nature exist and can be used to expand your business with very minimal financial investment since you only pay for hours worked (or tasks completed) and don’t have to worry about paying full time salaries and dealing with all the other expenses and hassles associated with hiring staff.

Hiring freelancers to work on tasks for your hard won clients is not without an element of risk and it could easily backfire if the freelancer messes up or in some way damages your reputation. Needless to say, all potential hires, whether they be freelance or otherwise, should be vetted appropriately and this is something which freelancing sites like oDesk can help with since they typically provide ratings and reviews and in some cases even online skills testing of all the active freelancers using their system, so you can easily see how they’ve performed for others in the past and assess how capable they are in the fields that matter to you.

However you probably should not rely exclusively on the provided ratings/reviews and those of you with a suspicious mind may well think that they just got their friends and family to hire and review them to help build a good looking profile, which is probably true for many! This is more of a risk with new freelancers who will typically find it hard to get that first real job before they have any reviews, no matter how capable they actually are, however for those who have been active for a long time it is much more likely that the reviews are real.

Even if you intend to play it safe and only hire those with a long history and nicely filled out profile, you should still tread carefully at first. It is well worth outsourcing several test tasks (you don’t have to tell them they are just tests) to assess their actual ability to do the job and also to see how well they communicate and work with you.

Virtual Team of Freelancers

Once you have vetted, selected and tested your freelancer you can then add that person to your virtual team and send work his or her way whenever you need. Of course one of the advantages of this type of virtual team is that you are not limited to hiring a single person and in fact you can hire 5 or 10 or as many as you want since you will only pay them for tasks they work on whenever you actually have something for them to work on. This allows you to have people available on a 24/7 basis, to cover for vacation times or for when there is a sudden increase in the amount of work you need to complete – you can always rely on things going wrong at the worst possible time and having several clients all needing urgent work done at the same time is a big problem for a small business with limited manpower but with your virtual team you have got it covered.

You can also use your outsourced virtual team to expand into multiple areas that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do, furthering the opportunities to grow your business, for example if you are a Windows shop you could expand into Linux or Mac support or if you are providing office IT support you could move into the Internet Server support market or you could perhaps recruit Ethical Hackers and move into the lucrative Pen-testing/Security market.

Of course your virtual team doesn’t have to be limited to technicians – if you want to grow your business you will also need to focus on sales and marketing and there is no reason why you cannot also build an entire marketing team through outsourcing!

Another aspect of using virtual teams in this way is that what goes around, comes around and many of the freelancers offering services through sites such as oDesk are of course small business owners just like you and may also be hiring other freelancers for the same reasons – while they may offer expertise you do not have, they may also be in need of your expertise at times and can pass work your way. They may also be providing vacation cover for you, but you could also provide vacation cover for them – small business owners may not get much opportunity for vacations but with a trusted team of people like this, you can finally take that much needed break!

Local Team

Besides the remote/online virtual team you can also get to know subcontractors in your area who could provide on-site cover whenever you need their specific expertise or for busy periods. Again as mentioned above, this can work both ways with them sending work your way. You can find these people through your industry contacts, but another good way is by attending local IT events so you can meet them and put a face to the name before hiring them to work on your jobs. These local people will also be as concerned about their business reputation in your area as you are and so will generally be less risky to rely on and being local you have more control over what they do for you.

White-label NOC

Another type of outsourcing which is increasingly popular in the IT services market is using white-label NOC services which are quite often bundled with monitoring or RMM services. Examples of this type of white-label NOC include Continuum and AVG Managed Workplace and among the advantages of this form of outsourcing is that you don’t have to mess with any of the vetting, selecting or managing of freelancers who work on your jobs – the whole process is already done for you.

Such white-label NOC’s can have hundreds of employees covering a wider array of technologies than you could ever hope to manage alone or even with a team of freelancers (unless your team is huge!) and any of them can be assigned to deal with any task that comes up for your clients, even without your intervention – being combined with an RMM means they know when something is going wrong immediately and can set to work fixing it if that is what you want them to do. Just how much of your daily workload you want to offload to them depends to a certain extent on your own preferences but at the very least it allows you to truly offer 24/7 coverage which in this age is pretty much a key requirement for an IT service business.

Of course it’s a highly useful if your RMM/NOC also integrates with your favorite PSA!

The Hybrid

Yet another option is to employ a hybrid approach – have your own trusted team of freelancers and local subcontractors managed by you to work on your big projects and specific tasks from technical to marketing, combined with a white-label NOC service to cover the routine maintenance such as installing OS updates, applying security patches and antivirus updates, reboots and restarting services in response to RMM alerts as well as calling in the appropriate expert from your virtual team where required.

The method you ultimately choose may depend on your own personal preferences or the type of services you offer your clients and perhaps other factors as well, but either way, careful outsourcing clearly offers many potential benefits and can be a great way to scale your business with minimal risk and expense.

Until next time,
The CommitCRM Team

 

 

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A Quick Overview of Quick Preview

Quick Preview is one of those little features which many people overlook as it is easy to miss but it is actually very useful and can be found in various parts of the system. It is available wherever you see the little lightning bolt icon and clicking it pops up the quick preview for that particular record which could be for example Account info or Contract info.

Quick Preview

Particularly useful is the Quick Preview available when creating new records such as (but not only) a Ticket, Asset or Contract as shown in the screenshots below. This allows you to quickly see the relevant details of the selected record so you know you have chosen the right one to link to the record being created when the you finally click OK.

Quick Preview New Asset

Quick Preview New Contract

Quick Preview New Ticket

 

Throughout the system, whenever you are creating, editing or viewing data keep a lookout for the illuminating Quick Preview lightning bolt!

Until next time,
The CommitCRM Team

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12 Ways to Kill Your IT Services Business

Running an IT services business requires many skills from technical to business to communications and more and there are many minefields to negotiate along the way which could quickly kill your business if not handled appropriately. Here, in no particular order, are 12 ways to kill your IT business…

1. Overcharging – trying to milk your hard-won clients by overcharging for services or hardware. When you’ve earned the trust and loyalty of your existing customers you need to continue to prove you deserve that loyalty and if they start to feel that you’ve cheated them then they will be gone before you know it, taking with them those juicy rebills and the good word of mouth. Loyalty only goes so far so don’t abuse it.

2. Undercharging – trying to win customers by lowering your fees to unrealistic levels is risky and will only lead to the demise of your business. You should always aim to compete on the quality of the services you sell, not the price. Serious customers are generally willing to pay a fair price for a quality service. There is of course a place for loss-leaders when used in moderation and assuming you’ve crunched the numbers to ensure that that initial loss becomes a profit before too long.

3. No rebills – recurring income is the gift that keeps on giving (as long as you keep on providing!) and providing IT services is ideally suited to generating these precious rebills. Focusing on one-time fixes means forever fighting for new jobs and no stability to count on which you could have if you have clients on recurring monthly contracts. It is far better to have fewer clients rebilling like clockwork, than many more who may or may not have another job for you at some time in the possibly distant future. This doesn’t mean you can’t succeed without recurring contracts but it will be a whole lot harder and a lot more stressful!

4. Bad customer service – you don’t have the luxury of ignoring this aspect of business so you must always aim to provide a great customer service experience that goes the extra mile which will result in not only happy customers who rebill every month, but potentially an even greater benefit is the word of mouth they can produce which brings you many more clients over time and so is worth a huge amount of money.

5. No backups – everyone knows (or should!) that backups are important to any business and so of course you need to make sure your backups are safe, up to date and restore-able. But in the IT services business this often also means you are responsible for the backups for your clients and needless to say if you mess this one up you’re going to be Mr Unpopular with that client. The above mentioned word of mouth will quickly take a turn for the very much worse if you fail here.

6. Bad sub-contractors – it is very common in IT work to rely on sub-contractors for various reasons such as expertise which you don’t have in-house or to cope with increased demand which your staff can’t currently cope with due to their odd refusal to work 24 hours per day. However it can be very risky and those sub-contractors can very quickly destroy the reputation of your business if they do poor work or act unprofessionally. Be very careful who you work with, make sure they can do the job well and will represent your business the way that you want and need.

7. Hiring the wrong person – hiring staff is never easy and many of the pitfalls are shared with sub-contractors. The wrong employee can rapidly sink your business and then move on to something new, leaving you to pick up the pieces and try to rebuild your shattered reputation. Always do appropriate due-diligence, talk with references, do suitable background checks, make sure qualifications are real and of course ultimately make sure they can actually do the job itself while also having a good attitude.

8. Not keeping up with the times – the IT business is particularly exposed to the onward march of technological advances and if you want to stay in business you need to stay on top of your game, not stagnate and become stuck in your old ways. Your customers won’t ignore new technologies that could benefit them, for example cloud computing (in some cases), and so you too cannot afford to ignore them or your business will soon become obsolete and find it increasingly difficult to acquire new customers or even maintain existing.

9. Out of the loop – your customers, particularly those who are on managed services recurring contracts need to be kept in the loop and up to date with what you are doing for them. Being proactive is essential and providing regular reports of work done, planned and considered along with reasoning behind major decisions taken should be included. You may think that just because you are keeping their systems working that they will assume they are getting their moneys worth but in fact it could well be the opposite and they may be thinking that they are paying you for nothing since their system has been so stable anyway! Make sure they know that the reason their system is stable is because of the work you have done and continue to do on it. Give them well documented reasons to have confidence in your ability to help keep them in business.

10. No business analytics – there’s a lot of data about your business which you could and in fact should be logging and analyzing such as hours worked by each employee on each account, number of tickets opened and completed, parts bought, deployed, repaired, scrapped, and much more. Failure to log and crunch such data means you have very little idea of what is really going on in your business at any point in time and are in effect flying blind when you could be making informed decisions on the collected data. How else will you avoid flying into that mountain looming ahead of you in the fog?

11. Benefiting the wrong party – there’s no point providing your customers with tools and services they don’t really need or want and ultimately won’t buy. They won’t be happy with you pitching them stuff that doesn’t adequately benefit them and being seen as out of touch with the industry does you no favors. Offering solutions from which YOU benefit the most rather than offering a solution the CUSTOMER benefits most from is a certain shortcut to unhappy camper land and we all know what happens there.

12. Bad accounting – not keeping proper track of your business finances is sure to lead to disaster sooner or later. You need to know if you’re making a profit or a loss, whether or not income and profits are heading in the right direction or the wrong one, you need to know how much it costs to acquire your customers and how much they are worth. Then of course you need to make sure you pay the taxman because otherwise he will bring down the hammer on you like the grim reaper with a scythe.

There are surely other ways you could perhaps irrevocably damage your business or at the very least hamper it but if you really do not want to kill your IT services company and instead aim to stay in business and prosper for the long term, you certainly don’t want to be doing any of the above!

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Accounting for Account Status

When you’re dealing with an ever growing list of accounts in your CommitCRM system there comes a time when you need a simple way to filter out the old ones or the inactive accounts which you really don’t need to see anymore except when you really do want to see them. So now in v7.0 you can choose to easily hide those inactive accounts and to do so all it takes is changing the status between Active and Not Active on the Accounts window and check/uncheck the “Hide inactive” box to suit.

Show inactive accounts

CommitCRM now takes account of the account status wherever it is used throughout the system, not just in the Accounts window itself and even applies it to secondary contacts under an inactive main account. In doing so, it facilitates applying a variety of other functions to just active accounts. For example when inactive accounts are filtered out, the active accounts list can then be used for a batch update job or the list can be exported for use elsewhere or a range of other tasks. This new Status filtering feature is also available through the Web Interface as well as the desktop client so you can benefit from it wherever you are.

Hide inactive accounts

Hopefully this seemingly simple but actually quite powerful feature will make working with your Accounts on a day to day basis much more efficient.

Until next time,
The CommitCRM Team

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Yet Another Way to Create Tickets

There are already many ways to create Tickets in CommitCRM, such as through the Web Interface, via email sent by a customer, by an employee directly in the desktop client perhaps after a customer phoned in, through the API even for those who like to do a bit of coding. So is there really any need for yet another way to create a new Ticket? Well we believe there really is, particularly when it can save time and improve efficiency while also contributing to customer satisfaction, not to mention when such a feature is often requested by our customers!

Prior to version 7.0 there was a workaround which could be used to configure the Email Connector’s Automated Emails feature to enable an employee to create a Ticket on behalf of a customer, should the need ever arise and judging by the feedback we got it did indeed arise often enough.

So now in the new version of CommitCRM we have added a new feature to streamline this process so it is no longer just a workaround but instead a designed in function in the Email Connector and is of course easier to use as a result.

To use it you just have to put the customer Email address at the start of the subject line, with an @ symbol in front of it so it looks like this:

@joe@acme.com

Email to Ticket - Fwd by Employee

This can be used in the following ways:

  • For new emails which an employee creates in order to open a new Ticket.
  • For when a customer emails an employee directly and that employee then forwards the email to the Email Connector to open a new Ticket.

Once the email arrives the Ticket is opened and the customer is added to the email recipients list as normal and will be sent all the relevant auto-responses.

Needless to say we’ll add even more handy ways to create Tickets should there be a need for it but we hope you find this new method to be useful in your business.

Until next time,
The CommitCRM Team

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New in version 7.0 – Fixin Yur Typos

No matter how well intentioned or how nimble and accurate your fingers are over the keyboard or even how highly edumacated you may be, whenever writing text it is only a matter of time before an unfortunate typo sneaks in and ruins your carefully crafted work. Such typos may on the face of it seem trivial but they can negatively affect the professional image you are seeking to portray to your clients and partners and so every effort should be taken to prevent such errors from appearing anywhere.

Custom DictionaryFortunately in the new version of CommitCRM the spell checking system has been enhanced considerably to help with such issues and so for example that glaring “edumacated” error above would certainly not have slipped through the cracks – unless you actually wanted it to! Which brings us neatly to a key component of the new spell checking system – the addition of your very own custom dictionary which means all those tricky technical terms, obscure acronyms or strange words which are relevant to your business but not normally included in a dictionary, can now be recognized and dealt with appropriately.

The new spell checking system now also works ‘live’ so it will find any of those annoying spelling errors while you are typing and can even auto-magically correct the errors while you continue writing, if you choose to allow the system to do that. So now, wherever you are in the CommitCRM application, you can get on with your important work more efficiently than before while the system effortlessly takes care of your typos.

To configure and take advantage of all these new spelling and dictionary features just go to Tools > Options > Spell Checking and you can read full instructions our our wiki here.

Configure Spell Checking

We hope you find the demise of unintentional (and allowing of intentional) spelling errors to be a useful addition to CommitCRM.

Until next time,
The CommitCRM Team

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New in version 7.0: Upgraded Report Designer

The Report Designer feature in CommitCRM is a powerful and always popular part of the PSA application and widely used by IT Services businesses, so in this new version it has been significantly upgraded.

New Report Designer

As you can see from the image above, the new improved Report Designer also supports the increasingly popular QR Codes as well as a number of other 2D barcode formats so your Reports can now be even more useful while also looking more modern.

Another great feature for improving usability is the facility to now just drag & drop new fields onto your Report, saving you the time of searching through drop down lists to select from each time. Laying out the Report is just a matter of clicking on a field in the Data Tree, which you will see in the right column in the image above, and dragging it anywhere you want on the page.

On the left side of the Report Designer screen you will see the Report Tree where you can for example select the types of barcode (ie. QR Code, Datamatrix etc.) to use after adding a barcode container to the Report.

Professional Reports

When you are building long reports it is useful to be able to quickly jump between different parts and the new Report Preview screen helps you do just that by means of thumbnails for each page which you can easily browse through. Also when generating Reports you can choose to send different types of Report to different default printers. For example a labels Report could to the labels printer, formal reports to the high quality color laser printer and internal reports could go to a basic black & white printer.

Designing, generating and printing professional quality Reports is now easier than ever before with the enhanced features in version 7.0. We hope you will find these new features beneficial and remember also you can always share your new custom Report templates in the Community Sharing Center!

Until next time,
The CommitCRM Team

 

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New feature in version 7.0: Ticket Labels

One of the more colorful features in the new version 7.0 of CommitCRM is Labels but in fact of course they do much more than simply add a dash of color to the PSA interface!

Labels

Using Labels allows you to easily organize your Tickets queue, assigning incoming Tickets with Labels which can indicate pretty much whatever makes sense in your work flow. For example you can flag some Tickets as VIP to ensure your highest value customers get taken care of appropriately. You could label other Tickets as Hardware or CEO or FAO-Fred or whatever else you can think of and you can even have multiple labels on the same Ticket if you want.

Working with Labels is a breeze – just click a Ticket then drag & drop it onto the appropriate Label and then that Label is automagically added to the Ticket instantly. Removing Labels is just a matter of clicking the X which you will see in a Label when viewing a Ticket in the Preview window. To quickly filter your Tickets list based on a Label all you have to do is click on that Label in the list in the left column which is a very handy way to see what is going on in your busy support system.

Labels can be added and removed at any time during the lifecycle of a Ticket so you can see at a glance what or where a Ticket is within your system or organization and know immediately who it is for or what stage it is at or any other criteria you use for your Labels.

Of course a PSA such as this is all about automation and so naturally you can automate the process of adding Labels to new Tickets! Labels are comprehensively integrated with the Ticket management process throughout the system and setting Default Labels can be done from wherever the Tickets are created, whether it be the Web Interface or the Email Connector or elsewhere. In Accounts, Contracts and Assets you can define default labels to use for any Tickets created from those sections.

Account Default Labels:

Account Default Labels

Asset Default Labels:

Asset Default Labels

Contract Default Labels:

Contract Default Labels

You can even define default labels for all your Tickets which are created by an integrated RMM you may be using (GFI Max or Continuum for example) so you can automatically label them with RMM or GFI or something along those lines which makes it abundantly clear which Tickets came from your RMM. Not to be outdone by the RMM system, the Email Connector offers yet another way to add default Labels for Tickets, this time for those created by an incoming “Email to Ticket”.

Email Connector Default Labels

Labels are already featured in a selection of Reports but the new and improved Report Designer also provides access to Labels so they can be added to all types of Tickets related Report you generate and also Reports can be filtered based on your labels so for example you could create a Report only on Tickets which have a specific Label assigned.

We hope you find the new Labels feature (amongst others!) in CommitCRM v7.0 to be useful and please do let us and the community know how you are using them in your organization.

 

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New CommitCRM v7 Release!

commitcrm-labels-ticket-list-70Hi Commiters,

We are very excited to inform you that a major new version of CommitCRM has just been released!

CommitCRM 7 is ready and available for download right now!

This release is a very significant upgrade which we’ve been working on for quite some time and it comes with a whole host of new and enhanced features designed to make for an easier and more efficient workflow.

As is often the case, the new and powerful additions to CommitCRM 7 are a direct result of the great feedback and ideas we have received from you, our community members. Thank you for contributing to the growth of our product and our company. We appreciate all of your feedback and support!

Click Here for the full list of what’s new in 7 as well as upgrade instructions.

This release also complements our new and improved CommitCRM Website which was published recently and of course this blog which will be featuring a series of new articles with more detail on some of the key features in this release as well as other CommitCRM related matters so stay tuned for those. Furthermore you can always find us on Facebook and Twitter as well as of course on our own Forums.

We hope you enjoy the new version!

The CommitCRM Team
CommitCRM – Business Automation For Successful ITs!

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Death & Taxes

Death and TaxesAs everyone knows there are two sure things in this life – death and taxes. Naturally there’s not much we here at CommitCRM can do about the former. As much as we’d like to cure death, that’s just a bit beyond the current capabilities even of the all new version. Taxes are however something we can work on, at least to some extent.

Taxes of one kind or another are just one of those things we all hate but have to deal with anyway, the taxman always finds us in the end and is not known for being overly forgiving. We are reminded of an episode of the classic sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf which, to the uninitiated out there, is about a space ship crewed by Lister the last remaining human, Rimmer who is a hologram of a crew member that accidentally killed the rest of the crew (including himself), a creature called Cat that descended from the ships cat, a mechanoid called Kryten and a slightly senile ships computer. Lister survived the accident by being in stasis at the time and was only woken up when the ships computer decided it was safe to do so – three million years later.

In one episode (“Better Than Life”) the mail pod finally catches up with the ship and carries with it a letter for Rimmer from the dreaded “Outland Revenue”, in other words the taxman! Rimmer immediately panics, saying “Just because we’re three million years into deep space and the human race is extinct, that means nothing to these people!” Of course you’ll have to watch the episode in question to find out if the taxman does indeed get Rimmer for his unpaid taxes (not to mention three million years interest!) but in the meantime you’ll no doubt be pleased to learn that CommitCRM has a new and improved tax management system to help keep you from falling afoul of the “outland revenue” or any other brand of taxman on or off the planet.

You can read the specifics of the new tax features in CommitCRM on the version history page here but we are sure many of you will find the ability to now define many more different tax rates to be immensely useful. Also Items can now be set as ‘Taxable’ so the taxes to apply are automatically taken from the relevant Account in the Charge by default so you no longer need to explicitly define the Tax Codes in the Item itself. You can also rest easy in the knowledge that all your current settings will be preserved and the system will continue working for you in the way you are familiar with while also being easier and more powerful.

Until next time,
The CommitCRM Team

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