How to Lay a Solid Foundation for Your Business

Photo: Andresr

Amidst opportunities and uncertainties in the local economy, Chuck Goad started BrookStone Technology Services, LLC, in April 2006 to provide IT support and backup services to commercial clients in the Winston-Salem area of North Carolina. The business landscape had been changing for years, as health care and technology-based research have continued to surpass economic mainstays of tobacco and textiles.

Recognizing health care as a profitable and still-growing industry, Chuck decided to pursue clients in this market. BrookStone is booming by equipping health care providers with electronic medical record (EMR) software along with backup and disaster recovery services. His approach took this path:

1. Identify market segments and potential clients in the health care industry, specifically private practices, such as cardiology, orthopedic, and gastroenterology groups rather than major health care organizations and their physician practices.

2. Conduct research to detect market trends and learn about products relevant to clients. Chuck discovered that IT businesses were adopting a managed-services business model that emphasized ongoing maintenance and support, and moving away from a break-fix model that focused on responding to urgent requests. He designed service packages to provide backup, monitoring, and maintenance services for a monthly fee but continued to provide consulting and project management services at an hourly rate.

His investigations helped him to become aware of products that could be useful to his clients, concentrating on services that supported high productivity (e.g., monitoring tools that yielded information needed to maintain system reliability). To confirm that solutions performed as expected, Chuck tested software on his equipment before reselling to clients.

3. Collaborate (and co-brand) with larger organizations that have the resources to design and develop state-of-the-art products. Chuck became a local partner for gloStream, which offers "voice-enabled Microsoft Office-embedded electronic medical record and practice management solutions." Now, he brings the solution to the attention of local decision-makers and handles installation, configuration, maintenance, and support.

4. Develop, package, and sell (or resell) offers specific to the targeted segment. Chuck extended his service offerings from standard offsite backup to a more comprehensive backup and disaster recovery program. The more complex offering meets stringent requirements of the health care industry for system uptime and EMR access.

5. Tap funds flowing from government programs. You don't have to do business directly with a government agency in order to benefit from federal legislation. By adopting EMR solutions and showing meaningful use of EMR technology, health care providers can earn incentives related to Medicare and Medicaid, offered through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The incentives boost the return on investment and demand for IT providers like BrookStone that are ready to install these systems. Though Chuck won't receive a check from the federal government, his company benefits from the stimulus package.

6. Sweeten your offer with a guarantee. Both gloStream and BrookStone guarantee that clients adhering to prescribed plans will qualify for incentive dollars, or receive a refund of expenses paid for EMR services.

7. Allocate resources to growing sales and client base for this segment. Crafting strategies to reach as many clients as possible is the current challenge, after the successful introduction of a program appropriate for privately-owned practices, home health agencies, and medical facilities. Earlier this year, Chuck hired a part-time sales representative dedicated to calling on potential clients.

Even in boom times, business owners need to manage cash flow. Chuck offers these tips:

  • Generate a steady, predictable flow of revenue. (BrookStone delivers managed services that include reporting on system performance and recommendations for improving results for a monthly fee, which also allows clients to budget for IT expenses).
  • Control travel expenses and expand geographical reach by serving clients through remote access; engage a local partner to respond quickly to service requests if clients need face-to-face support.
  • Hire when you need help but don't rush to add staff.
  • Lease functional — not luxurious — office space.
  • Keep minimal levels of inventory: locate and work with local vendors that stock the supplies you need and sign service agreements with corporate providers that guarantee parts within aggressive time frames. (Chuck uses Dell's warranty on hardware.)
  • Use technology to save money and boost productivity.
  • Generate sales leads primarily through networking and client referrals.

Chuck pursued measured, rather than explosive, growth. Delivering outstanding service became the foundation of his business as well as a catalyst for growth, supporting client retention and producing solid referrals.

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