Wednesday, January 2, 2008

How “techie” CEO’s grow their small businesses faster
by James Farquharson

With all the business owners I talk to in my line of work, I know the like to hear what makes other businesses like their's successful. I found a recent survey from CDW/ O’Keefe & Company (of course CDW has a vested interest in this) was sent to CEO’s that successfully grew their businesses past the 100 employee mark. The aim of the survey was to learn how I.T. played a role in their success, if at all. Of the 862 responses that were received:

· 79% believe that having the best equipment and support in place gave them a strategic advantage over their competition
· 82% defined themselves as “Power Users” or “Total Geeks”
· 61% of these self described “techies” achieved double-digit growth within a 5 year period.
· 65% believe in extending their staff’s capabilities by partnering with I.T. vendors or consultants.
· 54% stated that their biggest mistake was not integrating their I.T. planning into their business strategy sooner.

Put simply, CEO’s that consider their I.T. a vital part of their business are more successful than those who think of I.T. as a necessary evil that should only be serviced when broken.
According to an NFIB study, only 39% of small businesses become profitable. Regardless of whether a business owner is a “techie”, all small businesses can benefit from the I.T. strategies these leaders employ. Based on my experience, the following are core I.T. strategies that facilitate small business growth:

1. Assess – Take an objective look at your company’s network, or have an outside company perform an assessment. Are your computers all 3 years old? Is your server out of warranty? Are software updates applied regularly?

2. Plan – Make I.T. a part of your business planning. Are you projected to grow 10% next year? Planning a move? What is your 1, 2, or 5 year plan for maintaining an efficient system? I.T. equipment and support should be a significant line-item in your budget, not “whatever is left”.

3. Backup – Business continuity is key. The cost to your business of one hour of downtime, one Gigabyte of lost data, or one lost customer far outweighs an investment in proper Data/email backup and power supply backups. Test your data backups.

4. Secure – Small businesses are the easiest targets for hackers and virus attacks, and many never recover from severe attacks. Ensure that your business is protected from viruses and unauthorized activity with good firewall, internal anti spam/virus software, AND external anti spam/virus protection.

5. Delegate – Even a “techie” CEO shouldn’t do all his own I.T. work. Hire a well-qualified full-time person or partner with a full-service I.T. company that can setup and maintain equipment efficiently and scale with your business. You can also “delegate” your computing capacity by hosting email, websites, or “heavy” applications with a hosting company.

Someone may look at all this and say "well, duh", but I see first-hand that the “band-aid” approach is very common, either because of the fear of spending money on new hardware or I.T. services, or because the business’s growth has quickly outstripped its original I.T. infrastructure. This approach is much more costly and disruptive than taking a page from the “techie” CEO handbook and planning for I.T. as a key investment in establishing a successful, growing business.

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