Rick Sternby Rick Stern, Chief Executive Officer, Nitel, Inc.

Most telecom agents have mastered the art of selling. But to truly grow your business, are you paying attention to the fundamentals of running a small company?

In my experience building a company over the last 14 years from agent, to master agent, to switchless reseller, to network provider, I have found paying attention to basic business practices is crucial. If you are not thinking about the following topics, you should be:

    • Structure- The way you create and align your org chart plays a big part in the scale of your company and your ability to serve your clients. At Nitel, we keep it simple yet efficient. We operate with four distinct departments: Finance/Accounting; Operations; Sales and Marketing; and IT/IS. It’s imperative to build the chain of command while maintaining an open door policy.
    • Strategy- We’ve all heard the saying, “It’s just as important to know what you are going to do as it is to know what you are not going to do.” Understand your advantage, your niche. Know what problem you can solve for your clients and why. Create an advantage and stick to it. Don’t try to be all things to all people.
    • Innovation- This is a tough one. Let’s face it….If I had invented the iPod, I probably wouldn’t have time to write this. Be innovative in your approach to everything (corporate culture, products, customer service, agent support, lead generation, tools, corporate image, and so on). This may sound like a buzzword in a field as rapidly evolving as telecom, but innovation typically improves value. Figure out what positive changes your company offers to clients in service, product, efficiency, quality, or other factors.
    • Culture- Retaining talent takes more than paying competitive wages. Make the workplace fun. Treat people with respect; it pays dividends. These efforts allow you to demand the highest levels of integrity and work effort. Once established, you will see employees will demand it of their peers. Try adding a 360-review process, or implement a process using forum groups made up of various staff members where staff are able to review, recommend and implement change in your company. Create your mission, vision and corporate goals. Unify the staff behind them with incentives.
    • Outsourcing- Outsource, outsource, outsource. (There, I said it.) Stick to your core competencies. You will find you can save money and time by contracting experts in every area from legal to accounting, customer service, IT and more. When it makes sense, bring the function inside.
    • Plan- Make sure you tie all departments together and build a plan on how to accomplish your goals. Take it from me, having a good idea with no mind share or organized goals around it is fruitless.

I do not profess to know it all here. I just speak from my experience and hope to spark readers’ thoughts on areas to focus on beyond selling the next account if you want to scale your business.

Rick Stern is co-founder and CEO of Chicago-based Nitel, Inc., a nationally recognized provider of telecommunications network services. Stern has grown the company from a single office offering telecom consulting to a nationwide provider of data connectivity services. Nitel has been named to the Inc. 500/5000 list of the fastest growing private companies in America for the past three years and has been ranked among the fastest growing companies in the Chicago area by Crain’s Chicago Business for the past three years. Stern was a 2010 Midwest finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award and is a member of the Chicago Area Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame. Any opinions expressed above are his own and not that of Nitel or its agents, employees or customers. Learn more about Nitel at www.nitelusa.com.