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You’re Not The Same As Your Competitors!

I try to make time to visit as many of the UK’s IT Community Groups, Peer Groups and User Groups as I’m able to. Whenever I’m in a town, I look up the local IT Community group and make the time to visit with them. This is time well spent for me, as doing so allows me to build new connections with my peers and catch-up with existing friends, hear how people are overcoming business challenges and generally keep my ear to the ground.

Listen to the introductions…

If you ever happen to be at the same group meeting as me, and fancy a little  chuckle at my expense, then watch my face during the round-the-table introductions typically used at the beginning of these meetings.

The first introduction typically go like this (names and locations purely fictional)

“Hi, I’m Carlos from Best Fix IT and we’re an IT company from Edinburgh. We provide IT Support to Small Businesses in the Edinburgh area.

The second introduction then often goes like this:-

“Hi, I’m Manuel from Faster Fix IT. We do pretty much the same stuff Carlos does, but we’re in Glasgow”.

Remember I told you to be watching my face during these introductions? Well it’s starting to go a nice shade of red now.

The third introduction continues:-

“Hello everyone. I’m Raul and I’m from Supreme Speed IT. Erm – I guess we do the same as Carlos and Manuel, but we’re from Dundee”

Still watching me? Well you’ll start to try to suppress a snigger at this point as you watch my face go a nice shade of purple, biting on my tongue.

Why am I going purple in frustration?

You’re not all the same!

Because whatever business you run, you don’t do the same thing as your competitors.

Cloned businessmen, based on an excellent photo by Jean Scheijen.Even when you’re at a User Group meeting where you are probably surrounded by friendly peers who work in the same industry space as you, most likely with many of the same technologies, you don’t do the same thing as them.

Your clients don’t work with you because you’re the only IT company in your local area. They work with you because of something unique you bring to that relationship.

Why are you unique?

What is that unique thing? Well, it could be because you focus on providing exceptional Customer Service and can give examples of this. It could be you specialise in providing out-of-hours support. It could be a Technical skill you’ve worked hard at becoming an expert in – SQL Server, Scripting, Windows Home Server. It could be a certain Technology you’ve worked with extensively – SharePoint, Linc, Voice-over-IP. It could even be a soft skill – business networking, peer collaboration, strategic alliance building.

My own MSP grew a reputation for building strong working relationships with peers and vendors around the UK, allowing us to provide the same high levels of support to a client 100 miles away as someone within our local area. You could be sure that everyone knew that, because we weren’t shy about telling people!

Specialisation

In my local user group, and I suspect it’s the same for every local user group, there are people who are “Go To” guys for certain things. Sharepoint and BPOS are two that spring to mind. Those people who seem to know everyone are another. The reason these peers are “Go To” guys? They don’t simply state they do the same thing as everyone else, they let people know that they excel in a particular field.

“Hi, I’m Leanne from Fast-React IT. We’re based in the Aberdeen and we provide outsourced IT services to small business clients in the Aberdeen area. We also specialise in helping clients with distributed workforces, providing strong VPN and Remote Worker solutions”.

If you’re not sure why your clients work with you, then go ahead and ask them! It’ll be a useful exercise because you’ll learn a lot about your business, and it’ll give your client pause to consider exactly why it is they value your time.

“Hello, I’m Scarlet from FixIT Services. We work in the Lothians, and our clients tell us they choose to work with us because we’ve developed high levels of Customer Service and go the extra mile to help them. As a result, we typically work with high-value, rapidly expanding companies within the Finance industry”.

Speak about what you really do

The next time you’re at a User Group meeting, think about what you *really* do. I bet when you boil it down, it’s not that you fix SBS systems like everyone else, but something entirely more valuable. Share that reality with the group.

As a result, whilst you’ll no longer have the opportunity to laugh at my face going purple in frustration anymore, I bet you’ll gain a lot of confidence in how you describe your own business.

Business – It’s all about relationships

I’m something of a computing history buff. I love reading books about the rise (and sometimes fall) of the people and ideas that shaped the Technology industry that I now work in. One such book I’ve read is “Dot.Bomb” by Rory Cellan-Jones, which examines the Dot.com bubble of the late 1990’s. The book, published in 2001, still makes fascinating reading today an a cost of just £2-£3, I’d encourage anyone who hasn’t read it to go and grab a copy.

One interesting observation that the book makes is that at the time many people believed the Dot.com revolution was allowing everybody and anybody to make their fortune on-line. Certainly, it encouraged a culture of entrepreneurship as there were stories of everyone from Schoolboys to Graduates who were building web-sites around their ideas, which were often being valued at many millions “on paper”. But with the benefit of hindsight, there weren’t too many people who genuinely achieved great success or made a fortune thanks to those crazy times. In fact, Chapter 9 of the book features a paragraph which I’ll quote:-

“In the dot.com world, the key skill was not the ability to write elegant software, or understand the latest microprocessor architecture, or even draw up a convincing business plan. It was the people who knew how to network who stood the best chance…”

People do business with people they like

Only last week I gave a webinar presentation entitled “Finding Customers through Networking” (which if you missed, you can watch again at www.mspbusinessmanagement.com very shortly) in which I repeated the very familiar statement that “People do business with people they like”. I also mentioned that you could have the greatest business in the world, but if nobody knows who you are then you’ll not achieve great success.

Additionally, it was only last week that I talked about Social Networking vs Traditional Networking and concluded that they go hand in hand, and that doing one without the other isn’t making the full use of the tools at your disposal.

Making time for building relationships

One of the questions that I’ve had coming out of the webinar is “How do you make time for all this stuff?”. (“This stuff” often referring to Social Networking). My answer is – you make the time because it’s important.

Visualisation of Richard Tubb's LinkedIn ConnectionsMy former MSP business was built on the back of strong relationships, and the main reason my new career helping IT companies to grow is happily keeping me so very busy is mainly because of the many relationships I’ve formed in the past and the high levels of trust and confidence I’ve been able to build with people. (As a side-note, you can see a visualisation of my LinkedIn connections to the right. If you’re interested, you can build your own LinkedIn Map here).

Building relationships, be they with your prospective client base, strategic alliance partners, vendors, peers or even your competition isn’t a “nice to do” activity, if you have the time. Attending business networking events and using social networking isn’t something to think about once you’ve done everything else that’s important. Building relationships in this way is something you should be doing all the time, every day, as part of your standard day-to-day business activities.

Use a System

If you’re not a natural relationships person, then by all means use a system or a process – I consider myself a “people person” to whom relationships are very important, and yet I use many tools such as a CRM system to keep track of who, when and how – but the important thing is to ensure you build those relationships.

Because if you don’t then it doesn’t matter how much you know, or how great your idea or service is, history tells us that you won’t be as successful as you could have been.

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