Last week we sat down with Lisa Hendrickson from CallThatGirl. Lisa is an author, computer repair business owner, and one of the leading experts on Microsoft Outlook, among other things. We asked her about her recent e-book “Remote Rockstars“, which teaches IT
Professionals how to take their business from break/fix to remote, the right way. Our interview with her was awesome, and we were able to learn about her story, and get a ton of useful information that IT Business owners can implement in their own businesses. Here’s the transcript.
Could you tell the readers a bit about your background?
Sure no problem. I started in computers in 1996, and I fell in love with e-mail at the exact same time. I was fascinated by it. I started working in the computer labs as a free helper because people always used to ask me for help as I was always in the lab. So eventually I started working there for real. And then in my college years, up until 2000, I worked in the computer lab with software and email. We launched a ThinkPad University for IBM, so I helped with that. I have a criminology degree. I was just so into computers I stayed in this industry. From 2000-2007, I worked in the corporate world, mostly doing helpdesk and customer support with computer and server administration duties. Because nobody wanted to get to know Outlook, I took it upon myself to get to know it real well, and I got hired on most of my jobs because of my Outlook expertise. And then in 2007, I started CallThatGirl, and found that I didn’t know a lot about hardware related computer repair, so I slowly started focusing more on software support. In the past few years, I’ve had a few stores. At one time I had 3. I had a big hardware division, and eventually I just closed it all up and went remote only, and haven’t been happier.
Nice. From reading your book it sounded like you had like 15 employees right?
Yeah I had 16. During 2012 I actually had 29 employees on payroll at different times. It was a headache.
Wow. So how was the transition from having 3 stores, to downsizing and being on your own?
The transition happened because I had a contract with a big company in 4 states. I was servicing their computers at their retail locations, and they pulled the contract on us with no notice, and I didn’t have an agreement in place for them to have to give me notice ahead of time. At that point, the company just started to collapse because I couldn’t keep up with finding enough work to keep people employed. In a 6 month period I ended up laying off everybody, closed 2 of the stores, and the 3rd one, the full-time technician decided he was going to move on, so I closed that one too. I don’t like hardware, I don’t want to deal with it ever. When people come into the store, they bring in computers. So it was an easy choice for me because I could rely on my remote support. So it was last year at this time that I was getting interrupted by people coming into the store when I was on bigger remote computer support jobs. So while I was charging large amounts of money to the remote company, someone was asking me about a $40 fan, and wanting to talk for half an hour. It just wasn’t my type of business. So I closed that store, and I changed all my marketing to be more online. Started doing more Google. Getting more active with online marketing, and got out of any local online advertising and went national.
So do you do a lot of Google Adwords?
No I don’t do any. I do a lot of blogging. I’ve found myself doing well with blogging about the type of work I’m really good at, which is Office 365 and Outlook. I blogged in that space and the blog titles help me get the work. If you google “Outlook Experts” I’m on page 1 internationally on Google. My client load now is me helping people around the country. I have some Minnesota clients, but we’re marketing nationally now, which is nice.
Nice. One of the interesting distinctions I noticed you made in your book regarding your work, was that you didn’t want to be an MSP, you wanted to do Remote Support. Can you provide some insight into that decision?
Sure. So here’s the thing. There’s break/fix technicians, that get paid for jobs per hour. And then there’s the MSP guys, that can be sorted out into server work, or pay per computer monthly fees, and remote support’s included, and all support would be included. I needed to figure out my own path because I was learning that my break/fix pricing wasn’t getting me more money. It was staying stagnant. So I started to get creative last year, I started to sell pre-paid tickets, I started selling GFI. So GFI is not an MSP thing, so much, it can be for us too. We sell the monthly/daily monitoring packages. We do online backup. I do Microsoft Exchange transitions. So I’m kind of in the MSP world, but not really, because I’m not managing service, other than the daily monitoring of GFI pretty much. If a business client calls in and they have a virus, I don’t just go and fix the virus anymore, I talk to them about all of their problems, and I sell them packages. I took it to the next level, now I make a $99 ticket turn into a $1200 ticket.
Right, because you can provide them with the anti-virus, the online backup, pre-paid tickets, etc.
Yeah it really just comes down to me changing my strategy with interviews. Instead of people asking how much a virus removal is, I say “Let’s get you on a support ticket” and then that turns into a $450 call. It’s really helping me grow the company.
So how does that benefit the client? They’re paying up front so they get a discount?
Yes. A prepaid ticket, just a standard one, is 4 hours, $450. So the hourly rates might seem higher, but really what happens is, they will usually call in with small fix problems. It might only take us 5 or 6 minutes to fix the snag. Well my regular break/fix rates are $49, and my Outlook rate is $69. So I “All Inclusive” it to my Outlook people for $450 for 4 hours. So if you did the math, let’s say someone calls in 16 times, for 16 tiny little things in a 2 hour period, what’s 16 x $69? (For the lazy = $1104). See what I mean? They’d be paying way more. $450 is far more appealing. What’s funny is that people call more when they have this ticket, which we want them to do because most of the time clients will struggle with the repairs or make it worse, or they just waste their own time. So I tell them just call in, we work nights and weekends. Most of the clients buy it. My average ticket price has gone up a lot because of this.
It seems like you’ve been really successful by understanding what niche you’re good with, is there advice you could give to other repair business about how to find out what they’re good at?
Not everybody is going to be an Outlook expert. Because Outlook is tough. What most people can do is learn Office 365. So this is kind of the winner for people right now that are not having good hardware sales or their stores are struggling. If you can learn the basics of 365, you definitely can benefit because that’s a fresh marketing opportunity in medium size towns to start putting some google ads out and wordpress blogging, and maybe some print marketing, to do better than the competition. Because a lot of the competition don’t know it. Another thing I recommend you do, is find out what your competition is doing better than you, and find out what your competition does worse than you. Then you go and formulate a plan. If you find out they are doing something really good that you don’t like to do, you should try to partner with them. You only can benefit from that. You can actually give each other work, and as long as you have a non-compete contract, it works out.
So how does customer service play into remote support?
When you’re doing remote, you have to get to know the person in the first few minutes to gain their trust. You’re gonna say “Hey, give me $500” (She said this while chuckling), so customer is very important.
How did you get involved in writing your ebook? You’ve written a few now right?
Actually I’ve written 9. Well, I consider each revision a different book, because they’re each a rewrite. I’ve done 3 manual of operation updates. I’ve done a social media book. And then I wrote the exchange book. The exchange book is my latest book, and is a bonus book for the remote support ebook. The exchange book is a 22 page ebook that took me months to do, because I had to detail it, fine tune it, test it, and make sure that people could read it and understand it. I had to learn the hard way how to do it and struggled and learned. I was only going to make it a 4 page book, but then people wanted more. So they got it.
Back to how I started writing books. I actually started writing in college for my school paper. I got hired because I lived next door to the editor. I never thought of writing until I applied as a paper delivery person to make a few extra bucks a week, and she asked me if I wrote, and I said “No, but I like to tell stories”, and she said “Perfect! Go write me some stories.” I started writing and then after college, I had my own underground newspaper called “Censor This”. In college I also started writing manuals for the computer lab. I wrote the first one, “How to use Windows 95”. I don’t think anybody read it, but it was my pride and joy paper. I started blogging in 2008, that was really my time to start telling stories to my newsletter people. I’ve kept it up ever since.
When was the first E-Book released?
I wrote the first one, “CallThatGirl’s Guide to Social Media” in 2010. It’s still very relevant in today’s social media world, it’s a bit outdated, but I have no interest in updating it at all. None. But, what’s interesting is that I published that in September of 2010, and two months later I published the Manual of Operations, and 4 months later I published the Remote Support guides. So I got 3 books out in like 7 months. I just wrote furiously, because people wanted the information. The Manual of Operations just came by accident because I was on the Technibble forums and mentioned that I had written it, and someone said “Can I have a copy?”, and I said “Well, for a donation”, because honestly the thing took me a year and a half to write so I was like, I’m not gonna give that away. Then they said “Well why don’t you start writing a book about remote support? Because we all wanna learn it.” So I wrote the Remote Support book.
So now you’re on the 3rd edition of it?
Yes, this is the 3rd and final edition of it, because now we went online with future updates www.remoterockstars.com. It includes ongoing live updates and the forums and the little privy stuff that’s only accessible if you have a user account, that have bought the book.
So what do the books cost?
If you buy the full set it’s $39, and you get a ton of documentation. You get all the books, access to Remote Rockstars, and the private videos, which I’ll have out soon.
Why should IT Professionals be interested in reading your books?
Let’s say an IT Business wants to add on more services. The book has a huge list of services that I do, that sometimes shops don’t consider doing. It also tells you how you’re going to save time and money by not driving out 10 or 15 miles to someone’s house to fix something simple. It teaches you how to manage a remote bench. It really can take a small town business and teach them how to do remote support in a 20 mile radius, how to do marketing in those towns, start taking calls, interview correctly, and once they learn how to interview, people don’t even care where you live. If you sell it right, you can start taking your competition from other towns. In bad weather, you don’t have to drive, start adding on pre-paid tickets to your current clients, I teach you all of that in the book. On how to make more money, do less work, have better services, offer quick and fast support for you clients, and to continue learning.
I read it and definitely learned a lot. I hadn’t been doing a lot of those things when I was running my shop in the past. You definitely have a lot of great insights and an interesting story.
It was a failure turned success story for sure. I knew I was going to turn it around too, because I’m making so much more money now. It is just relieving to see profit for once. I think I never saw profit for 4 years.
What was your favorite chapter to write?
Oh boy…I think my favorite parts of the book were the parts where I was seeing small successes as I was typing. Because I had already tested them through the years, it was the pre-paid tickets. Pre-paid tickets absolutely are easy to sell, you change up your interview process, you sell those, you get more money, the clients are happier. And I was in the process of changing up from a small ticket to the larger ones when I wrote that because I already knew they were successful. I sold two today for $800 each. They’re nice. I quit selling the small ones because the 4 hours were selling, and I quit selling those because the 8 hours were selling. The value of selling an 8 hour ticket you get cash flow now, then when we’re slow you get calls that keep you busy. I do it all day and I’m never really that swamped. And when you sell the 4 or 8 hour pre-paid tickets to people, don’t worry about them calling in all day. That’s not what they want. They want to know that if they call you you’re going to be responsive. The biggest complaint as to why they come to my business is “My other IT guy, he won’t return my calls”. The first thing I say to people is I’m very fast and responsive. And they say “I know you emailed me a minute after I sent you an email”. To me it’s been 7 years of me being super busy, and that’s how I’m going to grow the company, with that reputation.
You can learn more about CallThatGirl and Lisa’s e-books on her website.