After graduating from high school in 1982, Patrick Eloi wanted to work in the emerging field of technology, but he couldn’t afford to go to college. He set his sights on technical school and began working his way up in the IT industry.
In 1987, Eloi founded Advanced Business Machines to handle hardware repair and resale. He noticed a demand for typewriter repair, and saw an opportunity. The company eventually branched out to fixing calculators and word processors, then to computer repairs. “The company really took off when we got into the computer industry,” Eloi said. “That’s what I wanted to do initially, but we couldn’t get into the market. I backed my way in through fixing something that nobody else wanted to fix.”
Along the way, Eloi earned an associate’s degree in business from Miami Dade College and a bachelor’s in computer science from Barry University, and learned the backbone of running a business. Advanced Business Machines evolved, and in the early 1990s Eloi began getting consulting work, including contracts to handle IT for Miami-Dade Water and Sewer and the Miami City Ballet.
Competition from big box stores eventually made equipment sales unprofitable, so in 2000 Eloi sold his inventory and began concentrating on servicing and computer networking. In 2005, the business was rebranded as Complete Care IT, and Eloi headed in a different direction, offering proactive maintenance contracts with a monthly retainer. “I became their virtual IT department,” Eloi said.
The Davie company now has 10 employees, with about 50 clients and $800,000 in annual sales. In 2015, Eloi joined with a partner to add a sister company, Panacea Staffing, to place IT people and office staff at client companies. “It’s a natural fit for clients who outgrew us, and wanted someone in-house full time,” Eloi said.
Now the company is shifting direction, becoming primarily a sales organization instead of a service company, and needs help building a sales strategy. “Our biggest challenge is how to grow the business to scale it, because we’ve been driven by referrals, and growth has been slow,” Eloi said.
Eloi said he would like to one day be a $10 million company. “We’re looking at the sales operation as a new business, and we’re figuring it out,” he said. “It’s a painful process, because we’re on the launching pad now.” Eloi asked the Miami Herald for a Small Business Makeover, and the Herald brought in Broward SCORE, a nonprofit with volunteer counselors from the business community who mentor small business owners. The SCORE tune-up team was led by David Harris, director of marketing, Greenway Golf Course Management, whose expertise is in operational management, fiscal controls and marketing. Other team members were Tapan Chakrabarty, managing partner of Publishaletter.com, who has had senior operating roles at several Fortune 500 companies, and Michael Statner, president of Focus Systems, an IT and business consulting company.
“You have shown remarkable ability to stay ahead of the technology curve because of your sales ability and your ability to connect with customers,” Chakrabarty said. “Now you need to have structure independent of one man’s ability to sell and service customers.”
Eloi said he learned a lot from the Small Business Makeover process. “It really helps create accountability, gets everybody involved and puts ego aside to figure out what is working and what is not,” he said. “To have other perspectives is extremely valuable. Sometimes you just have to be willing to listen to others.”
Here is the SCORE team’s advice:
Write a business plan: Put a plan in writing that encompasses growth goals and where the company wants to go. “Before you start hiring sales people and look to scale, you need a business plan,” Harris said. “You need to figure out what parts of your business are most profitable.” Detailed financial information also needs to be part of the plan if you ever need to seek capital, he said.
Determine your specialized areas of knowledge: You can’t be everything to everyone, Chakrabarty said. Decide who you want to be. “Your website covers everything, but all of the different areas of IT require specialized knowledge,” Chakrabarty said. “Can you really do all of that, or should you specialize? Will you be able to handle all that you promise in-house? If not, do you have a plan to outsource?”
Define your ideal customer: Who is the target customer? “Look at volume, size and whether you want a vertical niche like the medical field, then add filters like the type of technology needs that fit into your areas of specialization,” Chakrabarty said. Realize that not all jobs are equally as important or profitable, he said. “Look at margins to figure out who you want to go after. Then you can come up with a sales model. The type of customer you are going after will determine your sales structure.” Tailor a marketing plan for those customers, Statner said. He recommended that the company continue to seek South Florida- area clients, so that in-person service calls could be made as needed. “That’s your sales pitch,” Statner said.
Look at competition: Determine if your competition is global, and if companies in other countries can compete for your business, Statner said. “You need to define your market. You’re not going to compete with an HP that has hundreds of employees, because big clients want to deal with big companies,” he said. “Once you define your markets, you will know who your competitors are.”
Explore government contracts: There are a lot of opportunities for work, especially for minority-owned businesses, with federal, state and county governments, Statner said. Because of the specialized requirements and lengthy paperwork required to submit proposals, it may be worthwhile to hire someone to do them, he said.
Account for all job costs: Some equipment sales generate little to no income for the company. Make sure the client is charged for all costs related to the sale and installation of equipment, Harris said. “Use the billing mentality of a lawyer, and assign everybody an hourly rate,” Chakrabarty said. “Put everybody on an internal clock and the culture of your business will change. Your time costs money.” Track time spent networking and volunteering, and quantify results.
Strengthen online position: Optimize the website and strengthen the company’s online reputation to help generate sales leads, Harris said. Make the website more about how you can benefit your client, and less about you, he said. Determine the unique selling proposition, and put that up high. Review keywords periodically to make sure they are current with popular search terms. Add other bios besides Eloi’s to the website to show the strength and experience of the team. Use Yext.com to see how the company’s listing looks on industry directories. Enhance the company’s YouTube channel to help in search rankings, Harris said.
Strategically increase sales staff: Define the roles of current staff, and make sure enough manpower is devoted to sales, Statner said. “You need a sense of urgency if you want to meet your sales goals,” he said. “This is a game of numbers. The more people you have to go out and call on leads, the more successful you will be.” Harris suggested if the business focuses on a vertical market such as medical, look for salespeople who already have relationships in this area, such as former pharmaceutical sales reps. Consider a “Draw Against Commission” compensation plan, which will provide the salesperson with initial income for their living expenses during the building stage of their sales development, he said. Chakrabarty said if the company outsources sales calls, “look at the margins needed to make it profitable. Make sure they are paying for themselves.”
BY JULIE LANDRY LAVIOLETTE Special to the Miami Herald