Leadership Lessons from a Successful SMB Owner - Part 1

October 19, 2015  By Jeremy Willis
This post is the first of a two-part series from Jeremy Willis, Owner of Advanced Intelligence Engineering. Be on the lookout for part two in the weeks to come!

In 2007 I helped start Advanced Intelligence Engineering as a moonlighting gig with my brother. Fast forward eight years, my brother has moved on, and I now lead a growing managed IT infrastructure services company with six employees.

I don't know everything about running a business, but someone recently asked me to sum up my top three lessons learned that would benefit others. I pass along the first of these lessons below. It’s an important one in my opinion so it warrants its own post. I’ll cover the other two lessons in the second blog in this series. 

Lesson 1: When times are or get tough, take action!

My brother and I were among the millions of people laid off in 2009. I had a week-old baby at home — our second of three children— and I needed to find employment fast. I had IT business development experience in the small and enterprise markets, and my brother had IT architecting and engineering expertise. Combining our two sets of skills and expertise, we went into business together as an IT services provider that would deliver enterprise-level services to small businesses. We had zero cash and zero clients, but we took action.

The need to provide for my family was clearly an important motivator, but the lesson is that when your plans unexpectedly change, there's often a space waiting for something else — a new opportunity. Start thinking about what's possible based on your skills. You just may determine you have what it takes to go out on your own and start a new company, provide a new service or find a better way of doing something that will benefit other organizations.  

We did just that and within four short years, we were a company of 10 and continuing on an upward trajectory.

I revisited this lesson in 2014 when some changes at a large client caused an unexpected drop in revenues for us. We had to lay off employees, reorganize roles and I had to figure out how to fill my brother’s skills when he left the company. It was a tough time, but taking action saved the company and improved our outlook. Today, I can say we are stronger because these challenges forced me to surround myself with really smart people who can do a lot more for our clients than I can do alone. 

The reality is disruptions in our organization became just the change agent we needed to improve our client-services delivery capabilities. One year later, we’ve established a top-level service desk, and we've more than quadrupled our managed services revenues — all while finding ways to become more efficient in how we do our work in order to reduce our required staff overhead and deliver our client’s an enhanced customer experience.

Be on the lookout for part two of this series, which will be posted at the end of October. I'll talk about the value of seeking input from respected peers, the importance of Autotask to our company and how to nurture high-potential employees.
Jeremy Willis

Jeremy Willis is the owner of Advanced Intelligence Engineering. AIE is an IT managed services company serving the greater Chicago and Northern Illinois areas. You can follow him on Twitter here: @aie195.

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