Outsourcing

10 services your consulting firm should avoid offering

It may be tempting to build your business by offering to fulfill all your clients' needs. But be careful: Some services may turn out to be more than you can handle.

If you're a consultant, or you manage/own a consulting business, you know there is only so much you can do. Limited workforce, skill set, resources -- there's always something keeping you from stretching your reach to bring in more clients and bigger business.

Here's the thing. At some point, you may overreach and offer a service you wish you had never placed on the table in front of your clients. And you'll wish someone had stopped you from offering that service.

That's where this list comes in. Here are 10 services you might want to think carefully about offering.

1: Hosted Exchange

If you don't already have the technology in place for this, don't even go down that rabbit hole. It's one thing to support in-house Exchange or even help your clients with their third-party hosted Exchange. But offering to host Exchange services brings a torrent of possible issues, including failover, disaster recovery, and more headaches than you're probably prepared to handle. Unless you are ready to take on what might be your biggest headache of all time, you should avoid hosting Exchange services for your client. If, on the other hand, you have the hardware, the pipes, and the staff... have at it.

2: Laptop screen replacement

If you've ever tried this, you know how much of a challenge it can be. Not only is the actually replacement a chore, finding the right screen can be a headache as well. You can take two laptops -- same make and model -- and find two different screens inside. So unless you have a reliable source of screens, where you can order specific models, this is a task best left to the laptop manufacturers.

3: Hosted offsite backup

There are a plenty of options already in place for this, such as Carbonite and Mozy. Though not perfect, they do work, and a third party is responsible for the upkeep and management of the machines that handle the services. This fits nicely in the same category as hosted Exchange -- it's not a service you should be adding to your menu unless you know, with absolute assurance, that your staff and infrastructure can handle the load.

4: HIPAA compliance

HIPAA compliance is crucial for industries that are governed by that body. If a company fails a HIPAA compliance audit, it can get hit with some hefty fines. Don't be the company that audits the infrastructure only to find out you were the indirect cause of the organization's failure to pass the audit. If that happens, there's no guarantee that those hefty fines won't wind up weighing down your bank account.

5: Payment plans

At the end of the day, payment must be received. This is your bread and butter, and if your clients don't pay, you don't eat. One of the more frustrating issues consultants face is the client who's eager to upgrade and get working, reliable service -- but not so eager to pay the bill. This is slippery slope. I've seen IT bills upwards of one hundred thousand dollars. Of course, these types of bills are not the norm, and clients have signed off on figures like this. But typically, most clients will do everything they can to hold off on payment -- so some will ask about payment plans. This is never a good idea. Not only are you not getting your money in a timely fashion, you're involving a third party.

6: Video surveillance

This is another sticky wicket you probably don't want to get involved with. Video surveillance is an area best left to security companies. Why? One of the big issues is knowing you are on call 24/7 and that you are, ultimately, responsible for the equipment that provides human safety and protection. It's one thing to govern the protection of software. But to be responsible for the lives within a company? That is not something you want to be a part of in any way.

7: Smartphone support

I see two levels of smartphone support: You set up email on their phone or you troubleshoot broken hardware and/or account information. If you're okay with supporting the former, you must make sure your clients are aware that you do not, in any way, support the repairing of smartphone/tablet screens, mobile accounts, or management of mobile devices.

8: Printer repair

Printer repair is another loaded field where you could wind up spending more time/money than the hardware is worth. Not only that, but most consultants do not have the tools or the skills to truly repair printers. This is a service best farmed out to a printer repair specialist. Otherwise, you will have to stock tools and parts you may have trouble getting. Besides, you don't want to have to carry an inventory of toner and ink cartridges.

9: Home theater install/support

You might think this one has no place in the world of computer consultancy. But with the continued evolution of the television and streaming media, the area between black and white is becoming very gray. Do not give into the temptation. If you do, you'll wind up being asked to hang 72" high def televisions and risking damage to a client's home. Unless you're certified for this type of work, don't even attempt it.

10: Home network cabling

This is another no-no for consultancies that falls under the umbrella of "you break it, you fix it." Working in a business building can sometimes allow for a less-than-perfect run of cables and placement of termination points. But in a home, people want everything perfect. And running networking cables into finished walls is not something you want to be messing with. You also run the risk of damaging home furnishings. Stay out of the home as much as you can -- unless you're working on PCs and networking equipment. Have a favorite cabling specialist in your back pocket for these jobs.

Other services to avoid?

In the end, you might still offer some of these services. Just thoroughly vet the offering before you make it public. Be sure you can back up what you claim or you might find yourself with some unhappy clients. And never expand your business until you know, without a doubt, that you can handle the added workload.

Have you ever regretted offering certain services or overextending your reach? What other types of jobs would you add to this list?

About

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

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