‘People are investing in their businesses again’

Small Business Inside Track Q&AJoe McGivern, SupportIT

Joe McGivern is co-owner of supportIT, which provides IT support, consultancy and outsourcing services to SMEs and not-for-profit organisations. Established in 2004, the company initially facilitated clients on an ad hoc basis. The past five years has seen growth in the contract side of the business and it now services over 160 clients, many of them on a contract basis. SupportIT has eight staff based at its offices as Smithfield, Dublin.

What sets your business apart from the competition? We are very relationship-oriented and do a lot of hand-holding with clients if that is what they want. Essentially we become part of their team. As a small company, we are accessible up to our management level and because we really know our clients' business, we know what is critical to their operations. Getting individual support and practical consultancy while being well-priced is what we offer to clients.

What was the best piece of business advice you've ever received? At the beginning, our accountant told us to put 35 per cent of everything we earned aside. It's good advice. It covers you for VAT and Revenue and gives you a little extra on top of that. As a small business, it means you are not dipping into your cashflow. Also to go with your gut – if something feels wrong, nine times out of 10 it is wrong. What's the biggest mistake you've made in business? When we moved away from our core business. In technology a lot of similar products are based on the same protocols. On the face if it, this looks like an easy add-on to your product portfolio – which is fine until something goes wrong.

We found ourselves suddenly out of our depth in a product we were not completely familiar with. It cost us an incredible amount of time and money to rectify and we lost face with the customer. The lesson learnt was to stick to what you know while, essentially, keeping abreast with developments in your own sphere of knowledge. And your major success? It has taken us a few years to hone our processes, get the right staff and put the proper supporting systems in place so there is a great sense of achievement in coming out of recession with a well-developed business. We have a good team now and are winning clients from the bigger players in the market. The size and scale of our clients has also grown. Where, traditionally, we would service small user numbers, we have more recently gained contracts with clients who have upwards of 200 users. Diversifying our client-base is satisfying too and we now work with a number of clients in the aviation space.


Who do you most admire in business and why? We have a very good network of clients, distributors and suppliers who are serious operators. If I need advice, I can pick up the phone to a network of people who are willing to help others. They're in the thick of business, are tuned-in and willing to offer advice – these are the people I admire most.

Based on your experience in the downturn, are the banks in Ireland open for business to SMEs? As a service business, we didn't need a lot of start-up capital and good financial advice over the years meant we haven't needed any business loans. We spent money where we needed to over the years on staff and infrastructure but never unnecessarily.

I would say the banks weren’t lending and business people just weren’t borrowing, putting everything on hold. In the past 15 months, there seems to be a turnaround and people are investing in their businesses again.

What piece of advice would you give to the Government to stimulate the economy? I know there is a lot of controversy around the JobBridge programme but it helped us grow our business and we were able to create two full-time jobs from the scheme, so I would hope the Government will continue with that.

More incentives on the PRSI side of things would be welcome and would help stimulate the economy by encouraging companies to take on more staff.

What has been the biggest challenge you have faced? One of our biggest challenges is staffing. The big multinationals are attracting all the good IT people and it is very difficult to compete with that, particularly in a market where clients want good value for money. Our business requires us to have a comprehensive knowledge of a huge range of technologies and predicting trends is also a challenge for us; we get caught between giving clients the right solution that is future-proof and cost effective, and meeting the requirements of new trends in terms of training and resources.

How do you see the short-term future for your business? Short term it's about building on the reputation that we have and grasping the opportunities inherent in coming through the recession with a strong business. We are getting our good name out there and want to capitalise on that.

Developing the new technology side of our business with regard to the Cloud and Visualisation is also vital, as is becoming ISO-certified. ISO is important to us in terms of putting in place strict systems and procedures which will benefit both the business and our clients.

What is your business worth and would you consider selling it? At the beginning when people phoned looking for Joe McGivern, it was based on individual skills and reputation but now when they phone looking for SupportIT it means the business is worth more than the sum of its parts.

We haven't had the business valued financially but it's running well so we have no intention of selling it right now. supportit.ie RUTH O'CONNOR