Before I get started I just wanted to let you know that posts on this website are going to continue to be few and far between. The project that has put this website on hiatus has been plagued with delays and other things that I was not anticipating. That being said, I still plan on posting when I have a spare moment here and there. If you’re still subscribed to my RSS and email list, thanks for sticking here with me! I promise this website is going to continue forging ahead, I have some great plans for it’s future! Meanwhile, I hope the archives of past articles and links have helped you in your journey!
On a positive note, this part-time business of mine is slowly, but steadily, growing. This is due in large part to a successful hyper-local marketing campaign that I implemented in my immediate community. There have actually been times when I’ve had to stop advertising so that I don’t get overwhelmed with too many service calls!
One of the key ingredients in growing my business in my spare time, without affecting the quality of my work, has been to develop processes around what I do. This allows me to consistently provide the same level of service to all my customers without having to reinvent the wheel every time I do it.
It’s never too early in your business growth to develop a process around your key activities. Right now my “processes” take the form of simple checklists. For example, here is what my new customer “process” consists of:
- Receive request for service from new customer via email or phone (website coming soon).
- Capture customer information in customer database (right now just a spreadsheet).
- Contact customer via the same communication channel they used to contact me.
- Capture as much information about problem as possible.
- Get details about customer (address, phone, email, computer model, etc.).
- Schedule time to visit customer on-site.
- Use information to create a new work-order/invoice (just a simple form made in Word with my company logo).
- Update customer database with new information, if any.
- Do any necessary pre-research based on initial problem description (error codes, etc.)
- Complete service.
- Have customer pay and sign work-order/invoice.
- Arrange for any follow-up appointments or service.
- Email copy of signed work order-invoice to customer within 3 days of service.
- Send follow-up email to customer a few weeks after service to check-up on things.
As you can see, it’s a fairly simple checklist that I run through each time to make sure I don’t miss anything. As I continue to take on customers and find inefficiencies or things that should be added, I’ll adjust the checklist accordingly.
One example of something I’m going to need to add to this list is how to handle taking equipment off-site to repair in my home office. This has been necessary on a few occasions and I’d like to develop a process to handle it.
Once I start running this business full-time, I’ll have more time to flesh out some of these steps into their own branch processes. For example, once I have some more experience under my belt, I see myself elaborating on #6, the actual service visit. Right now, I use my prior knowledge to troubleshoot and repair the problem, but I’m sure I can develop my own system that will be more efficient and effective for that activity, but that will need to be based on more experience in the field.
The most important focus for me (and it should be for you too) throughout my processes are the customers. I always go to great lengths to see the process from the customer’s point of view. Is it the best way to serve them? Are they expending the least amount of effort on their part? Or more simply…are they happy? Without satisfied customers, you’re just another computer guy.
That is why I include things like numbers 9 and 10 on my list. I’ve never had a customer ask me for a copy of an invoice (which I find strange, but I guess most of my customers trust me since they know I live close by, or I was referred to them by a friend of theirs). But I send them one anyway. I also make sure to follow-up with them long after their service has been completed. I could probably assume that everything is working well since they haven’t called me back. But I find the customers are delighted to hear back from me and it sometimes results in their “remembering” an additional reason to call me out for an unrelated issue.
The bottom line summary on my view of processes for computer consulting is that they should be:
Simple to follow
Realistic (make sure you’ve done the activity a few times)
Flexible and Adaptable
How many fellow techs out there rely heavily on processes to run their business? Is there anyone that prefers not to use processes in favor of a more “organic” or “instinctive” approach? Let me know in the comments!