Case Study: How Former Army Major Scaled His Company
Blake Schwank owns a successful I.T. services business in Colorado. He started Colorado Computer Support after 11 years of active duty in the U.S. Army (he separated from the Army as a Major).
For several years he owned what most of us would refer to as an “owner reliant” business whose survival rested squarely on Blake’s shoulders to be there every day to make sure things happened. He was one of the main “techs” who did the work of the business, and he spent many a late night doing the admin, book keeping, and invoicing for the business that he didn’t have time to do during the working day.
In 2009, when I first met Blake, he had built his company to $450,000 in annual sales, but was stuck there. He hadn’t taken an extended vacation with his wife Christie in years. He was one of those hard working, nose-to-the-grindstone business owners who you’ve seen in your local community. Salt of the earth, high integrity, great work ethic, but trapped in his business.
Fast forward to today. Blake’s company enjoys sales of $2.6 million, his 29 member team and systems are rock solid, and he’s even been able to take his wife and family on several extended vacations.
Here are three of the most important lessons I’m hoping you take away from Blake’s experiences:
Lesson One: Systems are what protect your business and your customers when key staff members leave you.
I’m sure you’ve seen it happen. A business owner makes a key hire and over time comes to rely on this essential person more and more. But one day that person leaves for whatever reason, and the business is left with a gaping whole.
I remember talking with Blake in 2010 at one of our quarterly business owner workshops and he shared how his key “right hand” person had left two weeks earlier.
He said, “David, if this had happened before we started working with you and the Maui team, it would have taken us months to recover. But because we had the systems in place to document the key knowledge he had, we had things covered within 48 hours of him leaving. Sure it was a stressful 48 hours, but this was such a huge difference from how we would have handled it in the past.”
So how about you? Are you vulnerable to a key team member leaving? What steps are you taking on an ongoing basis to be more systems driven? For Blake this meant documenting key knowledge, cross training his team, and creating core systems upon which to scale their managed I.T. service offering.
Lesson Two: The money you need to grow is likely already there in your business, if you just know where to find it.
For Blake, like for most of the business owners I’ve ever worked with, the money they need to take the next step to scale their company is sitting on the table, they just don’t know where to look.
Whether their pricing is too low, or their collections efforts too slow or ineffective, or their sales anemic with easy to trigger campaigns sitting there as low hanging fruit, generally most business owners can find a simple source of overlooked cash flow within 120 days if they could just see their business fresh.
Where did we end up finding this cash in Blake’s business? In his billing procedures. He had let his invoicing system fall into disarray. By working together to make this simple systems fix he freed up over $50,000 of cash in the short to use to grow his company, plus over time he’s been able to mature his collections systems so he professionally collects from his clients on a timely basis.
Lesson Three: We all need outside perspective and prompting.
You’ve done your business for so long that you’ve settled into habits and habitual ways of seeing things inside your company and your marketplace.
One of the most valuable things to help you scale is to enlist the experienced outside eyes of a mentor and coach to help you see things fresh.
For Blake we helped him immediately upgrade his choice of target market. He was originally working with small business owners with fewer than 5 employees. These were the clients he was comfortable with when he first started the company, but he had outgrown them. They were high maintenance, low profit clients. Instead, with a little prompting he determined his ideal clients were larger clients with more employees (and hence more computers and devices for his team to manage).
Today his company works with two primary two market segments: private businesses with 50-100 employees and school districts who need help with Mac computers and tablets.
The results speak for themselves: Over the past six years he’s grown 477% to sales of $2.6 million. His company was even named to the top 250 I.T. service companies in the world by an industry journal.
So how about you? What aren’t you seeing accurately in your business? Where have you settled for less than you’re capable of as a company? Who do you have to challenge your thinking and hold you accountable to execute on your insights?
I hope you enjoyed Blake’s story, and that you leverage his lessons to help you successfully scale your company.