There have been many times that I have been asked how my business (DragonPoint) has maintained a successful service firm for almost 30 years. Founded in 1988, we grew when the economy surged and survived economic slowdowns including the 2008 Great Recession. So how have we done this?
Focus on your team: You can’t provide a great service without great people. To succeed in a business like ours (custom software), we must have brilliant programmers who can work as part of a team. With a 1 percent unemployment rate for software developers, one of our highest priorities is finding and – more importantly – retaining the best employees.
Small companies like ours have to think creatively to compete with big company salaries and benefits. Ask your employees what makes them feel appreciated and build their answers into your reward system.
Often employees don’t mention money as their primary motivation. For example, we have retained a very valuable employee for more than 12 years by allowing her to work part time. Intangible benefits like job sharing, flexible hours, time off, or a casual workplace may be just as important as a paycheck when it comes to retaining great employees.
Focus on what you do best: There are a lot of software languages and platforms, but we have invested in becoming experts in the Microsoft suite of development products. If potential clients approach us with projects outside our primary expertise, it’s tempting to divert our resources to learning the new tools necessary to win the project. We’ve learned the hard way that it’s best for us – and for the potential client – to refer them to a business partner who is better equipped to meet their needs. We’ve rejected the temptation to be pretty good with a broad set of tools in favor of being the best software development firm for the Microsoft toolkit.
Focus on your clients: Many studies have documented the lower cost of repeat business compared to winning a new customer, so you should know the importance of keeping existing customers happy. Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all formula that defines client satisfaction.
For example, in our industry, clients have told us horror stories about software development firms who work in a black hole, meaning they appear in the initial meetings and then disappear for weeks or months, only reappearing when the software is complete. The black hole causes a lot of stress for the buyer who wonders what’s happening with her investment.
To eliminate “black hole stress,” you need to get rid of the black hole. Provide weekly status meetings, verbal and written updates, and quick answers to client questions. Your goal should be to keep your clients so well informed that they never have to worry about the projects you are working on for them.
What kind of pain do your competitors cause for your customers, and how can your company eliminate the pain? When you focus on eliminating your client’s pain, you’ll differentiate your firm, make your client happy, and increase the probability of repeat business and great referrals.
Where do you focus? There are plenty of other important contributors to a company’s long-term success. Building a strong sustainable sales process, avoiding excessive debt, monitoring your cash flow, finding great partners, outsourcing when appropriate, delivering on time and in budge – the list is long. Don’t get distracted or overwhelmed focusing on somebody else’s keys to success. To sustain and grow your business, figure out the three or four most important contributors to your company’s success, and then focus on them.
Sylvia Garner is President of DragonPoint Software, founded in 1988 and specializing in designing and developing custom software applications that meet unique business needs. Sylvia has served as a board member and IGNITE mentor with weVENTURE.
Columnist series are sponsored by weVENTURE at the Florida Institute of Technology College of Business. weVENTURE has locations in Melbourne and Rockledge. The Center is funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. For more information, visit weventure.org or call 321-674-7007.