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.
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!
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.
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!
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,