We have the privilege of working in one of the best industries in the world. The IT channel is dynamic and it’s always changing. Most of us who run a VAR, solution provider, managed service provider—or whatever label you want to use—company are typically not born business people.
Most of us are technology-oriented, whether through formal training or experience, typically getting into the business from the IT side. Over the years, we force ourselves to learn what we need to know in order to successfully run our businesses. For some of us, this may be akin to fitting the ‘proverbial square peg in the round hole.’ Those of us who are fortunate to have business background—especially those with experience running other organizations before starting our own—are in a good position; however, this doesn’t mean we should be content.
Most businesses that we tag with the moniker “reseller” are not as skilled with business management, personnel management, marketing or sales (just to name a few), as they are with the technology. So how do we help ourselves run our companies better? My suggestion is to join a peer group.
What exactly is a peer group? It’s just as the name implies, a group of your industry peers all seeking to improve their businesses through interaction and the exchange of information between its members. These communities are typically professionally facilitated, though I am also aware of member-lead peer groups that are quite successful. The historical definition of a peer group stresses the complete business side of the industry but, over the years a number of marketing and sales-specific communities have developed to significantly impact the channel.
If you have worked in this industry for any length of time, you must be aware of the various peer groups that cater to IT resellers of all shapes and sizes. My intent is not to endorse any one community over another; it’s simply to get you to seriously consider joining one. There are peer groups that address a number of aspects of running your business, while others focus on just one part. The choice is yours and the only incorrect decision you can make is not to get involved with one. Take some time to think seriously and objectively about where your business could use assistance. If the need is just around sales, join a peer group that is sales focused and helps you improve skills in that area. If you don’t have the skills needed to properly market your business, get involved in a peer group centered on that aspect. If feel your business management proficiency needs improvements, then join a community that focuses squarely on running a company. Finally, if you’re not sure of your exact needs, but realize you don’t know everything, join a peer group that touches on all elements of an IT business to get as much exposure as possible.
You don’t live in a vacuum, and you don’t work in one either. The old cliché that “it’s lonely at the top” is true. Your technical and sales teams can turn to each other for help and to brainstorm ideas that allow them to solve problems and improve their processes. As an owner or manager, who do you have to turn to for advice? Do you have someone to consult with who has been through what you’re going through, or is faced with the same challenges you are? These are the people you will come to know and trust in your peer group(s). While you get the opportunity to get together with these individuals collectively several times a year, your interaction will carry on throughout the year. You’re likely to build some strong and lasting friendships; the kind you may not have had since your college days. Peer groups truly boost not only your business, but you as a professional. If you want your business to thrive—not just survive— you owe it to yourself to look into these business support communities. You’ve already taken an important step by being an engaged member of CompTIA, OUR industry association. Take your commitment to the next level and become an engaged member of a peer group. You’ll be glad you did.
MJ Shoer is president and virtual chief technology officer of the Jenaly Technology Group, a New Hampshire-based IT services provider business he founded in his basement in 1997. He has been actively involved with CompTIA over the years, serving as a previous member of the Board of Directors and leading development of several CompTIA Communities.