Tech & Work

10 mistakes that can send an IT support firm off the rails

Keeping a tech support business healthy requires you to do a lot of things right -- but you also need to avoid critical mistakes like these.

One of my favorite things to do is observe. I watch from every vantage point possible. And being in the IT support industry allows for some interesting perspectives. One such perspective is that of watching how support firms make crucial mistakes that ultimately lead to either failure of technology or the supreme displeasure of clients. I thought it would handy for owners and IT support staff to see the list of mistakes I have compiled.

1: Overlooking the little guy

This one hurts firms that tend to start seeing dollar signs in the corporate IT world and begin focusing on larger and larger clients. When this happens, those small clients (the ones that made the firm what it is) start disappearing from the radar and, eventually get completely neglected. This is bad because although those smaller companies might not have the budget the larger companies have, they still have a fairly strong voice within the community. That voice can easily spread word of neglect and poor service. Enough negative statements spread about your company and things will go south quickly.

2: Trying to be larger than you can handle

There are many levels of bad involved with this. The biggest  and most pervasive is that you will simply not be able to deal with the tasks at hand. It's one thing to have grand designs, but those designs must include the ability to actually handle the workload. This situation can also turn around and bite your budget in the behind. As you spend on your clients, and your client hesitate to remit payment, your debt is climbing.

3: Not vetting prospective employees

One of the most challenging aspects I have witnessed in support is finding qualified engineers. This doesn't necessarily mean just qualified to handle the technical task at hand. It means knowing the engineers you've hired can work with others, be friendly and professional, work under pressure, be creative with solutions (when necessary), and assure clients the job will get done. The biggest problem with hiring employees who lack these skills is that if you are constantly having to train new people, work is not getting done. These are setbacks you do not need.

4: Losing sight of the mission

This falls somewhat in line with the first two points. If your mission is about the small to midsize businesses, don't get sidetracked with the spotlight your corporate clients might shine on you. Your company must have a mission, and it must adhere to it at all times. Otherwise, the company will struggle to remain successful on any level. Over time, you will either wind up doing too much or too little. Know what your goals are and know how to achieve them.

5: Not staying current with technology

Technology moves incredibly fast. If you can't stay current, you will lose out. For example, tablets are growing ever more popular and are being deployed more and more by businesses. If your company hasn't bothered to keep current with tablet technology, you're going to miss opportunities. Make sure you know the most current technologies and what's about to hit the streets.

6: Deploying faulty technology

This one always astonishes me. It's not so much that the hardware isn't up to the task, but that software is deployed that is not best suited for a job or that isn't configured correctly. If software is poorly chosen, poorly configured, or installed on bad hardware, you will be returning -- and that return trip will be on your dime.

7: Failing to plan jobs properly

In the same vein, jobs must be planned properly. The required software, hardware, tools, time, and engineer must be perfectly matched to the job. This most often becomes a problem with time. By not scheduling the proper amount of time for a job, the job gets rushed. A rushed job is a poorly handled job and will always cause problems later on. Always, always, always plan for extra time. Drive time and padding for the unpredictable is a must for every job. Do not cut engineers short just to pack in more jobs.

8: Not considering the morale of employees

Those employees who are being overworked, undercompensated, and demoralized? They're going to leave. And the last thing you need is a high attrition rate in your company. That kind of reputation gets around, and the next thing you know, you won't be able to hire an engineer to save your life. Treat your employees like the precious cargo they are. When you have a group that works well together, do everything in your power to keep them together.

9: Overselling products to clients

You know that product that will make you a huge profit but that might not be the best solution for a job? You might not want to sell it as often as you are. Yes, it might have a profit margin like no other product. And yes, it might even be well suited for a job. But if a less expensive product can do the job just as well in some circumstances, you're better off selling and deploying that less costly product, lest the client catch wind that they've been oversold.

10: Sending out engineers before they're ready

I often see firms send engineers into the field before they're ready. Sometimes, these engineers are just out of school, but other times, they're experienced engineers who are used to working internally. The best thing to do is to use new engineers for remote support so they can get used to dealing with different situations and different clients. Once these engineers have proved that they can handle remote support, they're most likely ready to give the field a go. This extra step will keep your employees from melting down under pressure ,and it will go a long way to ensuring client satisfaction.

Other mistakes?

Not every situation, organization, or employee is the same. But some issues can be applied across the board, no matter how big or small your business. What other mistakes have you seen that cost a support firm some business?


Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website


the first point about "Overlooking the little guy" is a mistake most firms make... DO OVERLOOK the LITTLE GUY - if your bigger than your clients - chances are they cant afford to work with you... I mean can you pay anyone $100 to $200 an hour do any thing for you? As your IT business grows so will your expenses - and if your old clients are not growing - chances are they are not a viable business, cant afford you and should be DROPPED... your time is not infinite - spend it working with firms that are growing and have a well defined IT budget and specific projects in mind. You are not a "IT Psychiatrist" and if you are - you are in the wrong business....


11. Not listening carefully to your clients from the moment you first meet them. Not just a fault of bad IT supporters, of course, but there is a regrettable tendency for some IT people to make unwarranted assumptions about new clients' knowledge, ability and needs. 12. Working down to a price instead of up to a standard. It's so tempting to undercut the competition on price - sell YOUR services what THEY are worth. You'll know if you get this right because people will recommend you and keep coming back. [The competition may charge ??50 for what they call a 'System Rebuild', but I call it reinstalling Windows and handing it back to the client to spend a couple of days finishing the setup.] 13. You are people, employing people, selling to people, don't forget it. Again, not just applicable to IT support. It doesn't matter whether you are installing 250 new desktops for a local major business or a new router for your elderly neighbour, good manners and a friendly personal interest are worth more than any certificate.


Many years ago I started a firm that, inevitably enough, dealt with small firms and private individuals to start with. The small firms did the usual trick of extending a 30 day agreement to 60, but they generally paid up. The private individuals were frequently a nightmare to get payment from. So, another tip I can suggest is that regardless of the clients size, ensuring that they know what you're payment terms are - cash in hand if necessary - before you start getting into the work. The little guy is an important client too, but they've got to pull their weight. It's the businesses responsibility that they do pay up in good time to ensure that cash-flow keeps on flowing, and that ongoing relationships with the client are good.


So many support companies see time where staff is not on the road as lost revenue. So they don't take the time to train them. So when sales is pushing new technology and products and also installation, support has to figure it all out on the fly. Some customers will just let you be, but some stand over you and watch and if you are trying to figure out how to do basic things, it doesn't look very good. Also try to be upfront about what your staff can and can't do. I worked for a support company where the owner told a customer we had a "licensed electrician" on staff. What we had was a guy who knew how to do wiring.

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