The Magic That Consumers Don’t See – Why Cathy Coloff’s Steady Growth Techniques At IT Radix Really Work

What are the top three metrics you use to measure your business, and why?

The first and most important metric I monitor is also the most difficult to measure – it’s the strength and depth of a long-term relationship with our clients. It is all about their happiness. It is so important that we pay attention to the quality of our relationships with the people who make our business possible. This is not solely the key contacts, business owners or managers, but also going deeper to include all the users we touch with our work. That’s number one.

Secondly, we monitor our clients’ overall spend and investment with us. We also pay close attention to our monthly recurring revenue and production efficiency.

Finally, unlike most in our industry, we tend not to focus on the technical team’s billable hours. Rather, we focus on their “connectedness” with our clients. As a matter fact, our hiring strategy is to find and retain individuals in all business and technical areas who can enhance our client relationships, which is our number one priority. We are very high-touch with our clients. We have more business staff than the industry average to make sure we keep in touch with every client. Not every technician knows or understands how technology applies to business. That’s why we focus on hiring team members who are more than just “heads-down” techs, but individuals who are good communicators and take the time to ensure our client’s business need is clear.

Top lesson you had to learn that allowed you to kick-start your business growth?

Sales and marketing was critical. I joke that I’m a “recovering tech.” I was a technician by training, so sales and marketing was difficult and uncomfortable for me. I had to go out and be in front of clients to sell our services and knowledge. It’s pretty straightforward how I improved – I found Robin Robins. We use many of her strategies here at IT Radix. We did very focused marketing campaigns to kick-start our business, and it worked. We’re zealots about consistency and follow-up in our sales and marketing efforts. Those efforts set the stage for long-term, mutually beneficial relationships.

Technology is not an end in itself. My experience indicates we must focus on what the client needs. Robin is a master at that. Most tech people tend to come from a whole different angle: “Isn’t this cool? New technology can do X, Y and Z!” But not all businesses need the extra stuff. Our approach is to tailor the technology to their actual needs, wants and budgets, even if it’s not particularly new or flashy. For example, I’d been advising our clients about the concept of managed services long before it became known as it is today.

Also, being consistent is key. You have to keep at it and you must deliver consistent quality results. I believe “ya gotta be there” to succeed. I’ve been meeting weekly with the same marketing group for 16 years. Unless I was on vacation, I can tell you where I’ve been every Thursday morning for the past 16 years! Consistency is how you get the results.

A final lesson I learned is you can’t do it all. I needed people to help me out so the business could grow. I’m lucky to have a fabulous team I can rely on.

What would you say was the single “secret to your success” this past year?

It’s simple – keeping in touch with our clients, especially during this time of economic turmoil. A lot of people’s attention shifts greatly to new clients, but we like to focus on our current clients. Additionally, we want to make our new clients feel like old clients. We call, email and meet with them on a regular basis. We offer free regular online training to improve their technological ease and security. We’ll often stop by when we’re in the area, we offer free electronic recycling regularly and we hold client appreciation events. These are just a few of the things we do because we believe our clients drive it all.

Depending on the situation, sometimes we’ll even play matchmaker, especially with our not-for-profit clients. Let’s say we have a client upgrading their equipment, but there is potentially still some life in it. We work with our not-for-profit client who can refurbish and reuse the old hardware. It’s a win-win!

Also, if it turns out that our services can’t help a client, we’ll refer them to someone we believe can. I know we don’t have to do that, but it’s important to be helpful (plus, nice!).

Overall, we want people to feel like they’re speaking with a friend. If we find out someone is getting married, earning an award or having a baby, then we celebrate with them. If we find out someone is ill or passed, we commiserate. That’s important: how you focus on your current clients and vendor partners is everything.

What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome this past year related to either reaching that growth – or as a result of that growth?

I have to agree with many of the other MSP Success features I’ve read: finding good people. Finding great people is a real challenge. You have to identify whatever that person’s strengths are and align those with their responsibilities. Some people are naturally better at the nitty-gritty techie things going on. Other people are greater at figuring out customer problems and turning them into technical solutions. Then we have people who love routines, and others who can’t stand them! Finding great people and leveraging the strengths and weaknesses of our team members is a big challenge.

Who would you say is the most impactful business leader or business thought-leader whose techniques or leadership style you either try to emulate, follow or are influenced by, and why?

This is interesting because I’ve been exposed to a lot of different thought-leaders over the years. A recent influence is Jesse Itzler. I stumbled upon him at a Producers Club meeting and completely connected on a business and personal level. He’s really homed in on what’s important to your business and how to accomplish your goals efficiently.

On a more personal level, his philosophies of having “no zero days” and buckets in your life really hit home with me. He speaks about the three C’s of communicating, including consoling, complimenting and celebrating, which we’ve been doing at IT Radix since the beginning. To hear him say this was awesome validation.

Nido Qubein from High Point University is another one. His perspective on business relationships is now accepted everywhere. Robin Robins hosted a Boot Camp guest speaker from Disney World, Doug Lipp. He was the former Head of Innovation & Creativity at Disney and talked about how to make magic happen for your customers. We use the Disney U concept behind the scenes at IT Radix as much as possible. We strongly believe in his suggestion of “putting on a good show” for the clients. Even if there’s chaos in the back, the client shouldn’t be exposed to it. Thankfully, we don’t have too much chaos behind the scenes but rather a lot of dedicated people making sure things run smoothly.

What book would you recommend that other MSPs or SMBs trying to grow their business should read?

Years ago, before I even started this company, I read a business book called The Power Of Nice. I live by it to this day. Some people will tell you that nice guys are pushovers, but doing the right thing is really important. Being nice in a business context was always important to me, but it became completely concrete and well-defined when I read that book. From a growth standpoint, it helps because when appropriate we refer our clients and prospects to other businesses that can help them. We don’t do it because we expect payback; we do it because it’s the right thing to do. We get more positive feedback on how we work with our clients rather than the technical solution and support we provide. That makes me feel wonderful.

In closing, any specific advice or “words of wisdom” you would give to other MSPs looking to grow or build a successful exit for their business?

These might sound cliché, but they’re so important.

First, surround yourself with great people. You can accomplish great things, but only if you lead the way. I started this company because I wanted something different than my previous work experiences. Like Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” You have to initiate, move and lead the way. Good people will find and follow you so you can accomplish great things together.

Second, ask yourself what’s right for your employees; in turn, they’ll ask what’s right for the company. Working in IT is often a high-stress environment. Some clients are kind enough to call ahead for regular maintenance, but more often than not, they call when things go wrong and they’re under stress. To provide a relaxed atmosphere, we celebrate goofy holidays like “Hat Day” or “Bring Your Teddy Bear To Work Day” and we often extend those celebrations to/with clients. They love it. We’re flexible and support our staff’s life goals; for example, we have someone who needed to work part-time so they could attend graduate school. Several members of our teamwork remotely for health and family reasons. Our company culture is focused on teamwork and positivity, while making sure clients are first in our decision process.

I think people genuinely like coming to work here. Sure, we have days where we’re tired, but we laugh a lot too! We’re working hard, but we collaborate and work together. That’s huge.

MSP Success Magazine is a print and digital publication dedicated to helping the CEOs and owners of managed IT services businesses build strong, profitable, growth-oriented businesses. Written and published by Robin Robins, founder of Technology Marketing Toolkit, this magazine is uniquely focused on the topics of marketing, client-acquisition, sales, profitability, leadership and personal development.



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