I’m sitting at our dining room table, grinning to myself while listening to the birds and drinking my coffee. That peaceful moment falls away when it dawns on me that Clark Computer Services is entering its fourth week under this new paradigm. On March 17th I sent out an all-staff email to implement work from home in response to this pandemic. We kept a skeleton crew in the office but for the most part our team was working from home in order to keep ourselves healthy and remain able to deliver on our services.
During the Great Recession, we had plenty of work but many of our clients simply didn’t have the money to pay. We came to realize, at that time, that we were operating under a new paradigm where clients NEEDED technology to stay in business but with their revenue down they couldn’t afford it. For CLARK to stay healthy, we had to change our mindset. Our main goal had to switch from increasing revenue to client retention.
In doing so, not only did we keep our clients through the recession, but we grew our client base.
How did we do it?
It started with accepting the new paradigm – understanding that we needed to show our client’s that we were there for them by doing more work for a smaller fee. Yes, it meant tightening our own belts for a while, but in the end, those sacrifices bought customer loyalty. It allowed us to grow in a time when things were tough through referrals.
If you want to grow a business, regardless of the economic situation, focus on referrals and client retention!
Coping with this Crisis
Covid-19 has had a huge impact on all of us, personally and professionally, the affects of which are felt by some people and organizations more than others. My heart goes out to the small businesses owners and employees who simply cannot operate during this crisis. I see reports of companies and people doing everything they can to stay in business and make a living. Whether it’s a brewery making hand sanitizer, car companies producing ventilators, or people sewing masks at home, this crisis has forced us to adapt and operate under a new paradigm.
For those of us fortunate enough to remain in business, to say this new paradigm is a management challenge is an understatement. We here at Clark Computer Services are fortunate in that our services are essential, so our phones are still ringing. I don’t have to ask myself if we will stay in business, I have to ask, how will we stay in business?
Reflecting on that question, I have to admit that although there have been a few bumps, this new paradigm has not been too difficult for CLARK. Over this past week, as I’ve been thinking of this blog and mulling over our transition to a distributed workforce and how we were able to – for the most part – transition seamlessly into the new paradigm, I thought a lot about how we managed it – that is what I want to share here.
To get through tough times, whether it was the Great Recession, the current Covid-19 Pandemic, or the next crisis, you have to have a plan.
#1 – It starts with policy. Most of us hate hearing about policies but its times like this that policies prove their worth. Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery plans are there to tell you what to do when crisis strikes. Sometimes it’s difficult to see the value of putting the time, effort, and money into it, but there’s always another potential crisis on the horizon. Not all are as wide-reaching as COVID-19, but regardless of the size, the inability to react to a crisis will bleed small businesses dry – statistically a large percentage of businesses fail after a crisis.
#2 – Keep the team on the same page. Again, here is where policies pay you back – a work from home policy is critical to continued operations. If you don’t have one, get one in place this week. In fact, download this template – Work From Home Policy – and call us with any questions you may have. Our work from home policy is a tool that is designed to put us all on the same page, managing the expectations for each of us so there is no question.
#3 – Stay in touch throughout the day. Utilizing video calls, we communicate with one another, conduct check-ins, and hold our regular contract and staff meetings. Taking this a step further, we’ve implemented a soft rule that instead of picking up the phone and calling, we use Microsoft Teams to make video calls when we need to speak. This keeps us interacting face to face, even though most of us are working from home. I’m a firm believer that it’s important to see each other regularly and video calls are a great way to ensure we stay bonded as a team.
#4 – Leverage cloud technology. Although any cloud based technologies will add overhead costs to your business, IT PAYS OFF! There are numerous benefits during good times but it’s during a crisis such as this you see the true value. Cloud technologies allow a small business to react quickly and shift to a remote paradigm. Instead of bleeding money, we were able to keep delivering services without missing a beat.
#5 – Cloud based phone system. It’s impossible to deliver services to clients without a means of contact – it’s that simple. We use a VOIP solution which is hosted by Comcast, allowing us to move our phones to our homes so that each of us can not only answer our direct lines, but we can all work together to answer the main line. Our office staff can answer the phones as quickly as if we were all in the office together and clients love it when you answer the phone quickly!
#6 – Create a plan to leverage down time. During a crisis there are almost certainly going to be times when things slow down. Accepting this has allowed us to plan for it. Choosing to play the long game, instead of seeing the downtime as a detriment, we choose to see it as an opportunity. During this time we can – Provide training. Complete internal projects. Be productive. Invest in the future our employees and the organization!
#7 – Reassure the staff that we’re all in this together. Here at CLARK, our staff is extremely important to our success. We hear it from our customers and see it in our reviews. I feel that for us to remain strong throughout this crisis we must ensure that our team stays strong and isn’t weighed down with any unnecessary worries or be placed in harm’s way. To that end, we’ve made a commitment and stated it out loud – CLARK will keep all staff employed through this challenging time and strive to keep all of us safe. I strongly believe that by showing our team that we are all in this together that we will come out stronger in the end!
Good Luck and Stay Safe
It’s a scary time. Covid-19 is not just affecting Maryland or Pennsylvania or the United States. It’s a global crisis. This is a hard time for all of us – that is one of the reasons we’re always hearing that phrase – We’re in this together. This is a time for us all to be diligent and take the precautions needed to take care of ourselves and the people around us. That includes our businesses. It’s not too late to react to this new paradigm and focus on how to stay in business and deliver goods and services.
You can not only make it, but you can come out of it stronger.
I left big business to start Clark Computer Services in 2003; not because I had a grand vision, but because I had three young children who needed their Dad around. Knowing I had to replace my salary, I went door-to-door visiting small businesses to introduce myself and ask if they needed IT support. I heard story after story from business owners and office managers about IT companies not returning calls and emails, grumpy technicians showing up late or not at all, and systems being down for days, weeks, and in some cases…months. I realized quickly that there was a clear and pressing need for reliable, honest, and professional IT support completed pleasantly and on time.