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Growth strategy: Slowly does it

Growth strategy: Slowly does it

It takes patience and the right team to accomplish great things, says Mary Henderson of GeekIT.

Mary Henderson left behind the perks of a corporate IT position in 2005 to back herself in business. It was a gutsy move, even she

admits. She was bursting with big ideas - from websites to fashion -

but took some sound advice to tackle them one at a time.

"Build your brand first," the 39-year-old recalls a potential investor

telling her. Her ambitious business plan was scaled back.

Entering the depths of business toe first meant her company, GeekIT,

was agile enough to respond to market feedback, the kind that comes

only after an unnerving period of blind faith. The business was

tweaked: what started as a general website developer morphed into a

custom web application builder with a niche focus.

Since 90 per cent of GeekIT's clients were marketers, not IT

professionals, Henderson decided to target them with web-based

products ranging from document managers to complex portals. Her

husband's design agency was a ready-made client base, and the business

soon grew.

During the early years, it was hard coming to grips with the firm's

small size. Unlike at a large corporation, not everything was

possible. A frequently uttered word was "no", something Henderson

struggled to embrace. "We were pitching for our first big job and in

my mind we had what it takes to deliver," she says. "We ended up being

unsuccessful."

When Henderson did a postmortem of the bid, it became clear GeekIT

wasn't ready for "that size job". It was a big reality check.

But GeekIT isn't "little man's land", she insists. The company must

act big and think big, a goal only impeded by the firm's limited

manpower. With just 10 staff, it was important to understand client

expectations, set realistic deadlines and be honest about

capabilities.

With this in mind, it took a few years and some solid growth before

Henderson was comfortable enough to introduce the next big idea: tech

fashion accessories such as laptop, CD and camera cases. The

reasonably priced range is carried by a number of stockists, and more

items are planned for March.

GeekIT forecasts total revenue of $3.5 million this year, up from $2

million in 2007-08.

Moving into retail during a downturn is risky, she agrees, but says it

will work so long as the customer sees value and products are good

quality. She doesn't expect much decline in demand on the web

development side, so long as projects can be shown to deliver clients

a return on investment.

The big concern for GeekIT has been finding "the right sort of

talent", says Henderson, who prefers to hire experienced candidates

and not "fresh young things" straight out of university, even though

they are cheaper.

With the business operating at full tilt there's not enough time to

bring a greenhorn up to speed, she says. "Our business can't afford it

right now. At this point what we deliver is the collective IP of the

organisation. My team is the heart of my business. I believe that

senior people give confidence to my clients. I think this is where a

lot of development houses get sidetracked. They get these amazing,

young, talented people that don't understand commercial outcomes."

Henderson has been burned by many fickle twentysomethings. "They are

eager to begin with," she says, "but tend to be trying to work out

their career pathway and whether it is right for them. You can't know

this at 23. Insecurity is detrimental to my business."

A youthful dalliance typically results in expense, lost time, and

projects left in disarray. The ideal candidate is often in their mid

to late 30s, technically proficient and understands business.

"The wrong people in your business can drag you down," she says. "If

you can see that the individual is not working out on day seven of

their employment, you've got to get rid of them."

Lately, Henderson has steered away from using recruitment firms and is

placing ads and vetting candidates herself. It can be time-consuming,

she says, but candidates tend to be a "better fit". Other recruitment

tactics include word of mouth, employee referrals and open nights held

at the office - the free pizza and beer proving to be good talent

bait.

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