What do first time buyers have in common with the modern SME?

House keys on desk, first time buyersAs any business owner knows all too well, there’s never a one-size-fits all approach when it comes to managing a team. But, once mastered, such ‘people management’ skills can come into play in all manner of scenarios.

The beauty of this transferable ‘know-how’ is that you never stop honing the perfect approach – and with every new encounter, you become a better manager, colleague, friend and family member. Lorna Stellakis, MD of IT support firm Q2Q, takes a look at this concept in practice.

To set the scene, it’s been an interesting time in the Stellakis household recently. All three of our ‘young adults’ are in various stages of buying their first homes, which is incredibly exciting, a little challenging, and incredibly humbling – in equal measure!

As a blended family, there is quite a broad range of personalities at play, thus making for some very interesting, middle-of-a-pandemic, first-time-buyer experiences across the board – or dining room table, truth be told. And, while you might wonder what this has to do with a leadership blog, I ask you to humour me a little…

The eldest is buying with his girlfriend, a long way from home and – touch wood – it’s been straightforward so far. They’ve managed most of the process independently, with just the occasional phone call for some advice, to gain an understanding of the terminology, or gentle reassurance they are making the right decisions.

Our middle child, meanwhile, is buying with her boyfriend, but has encountered some additional complications that have been challenging – and at times very stressful. However, she has always been extremely resourceful and during this time she’s demonstrated the tenacity to find a way around every problem.

Finally, the youngest is buying on her own and has asked for a lot more ‘hands-on’ support throughout her journey. She’s still in the early stages but is asking a lot of questions and wanting clarification on all terminology and processes already – keen to be thorough in every aspect.

She has spent days pondering the pros and cons of every decision and sought reassurance at various stages of the process. I’ve sat on calls with the mortgage advisor, emailed her solicitor, and translated almost every communication she’s had thus far.

Now, you would be forgiven for jumping to the conclusion that the youngest is maybe not as confident or ‘clued-up’ as the elder two, but I’d argue quite the opposite. In truth, she’s simply more hesitant when it comes to risk-taking, and wants to ensure she understands everything fully – prior to committing.

As a parent, adjusting my advisory approach to each child – albeit while explaining the same thing three times – has been an interesting challenge, and one which felt akin to adapting my leadership style back at Q2Q HQ.

When it comes to acting as a mentor, advisor, or simply a parent, it’s important to invest time into understanding how individuals prefer to be managed or helped, and find the right balance of managing vs empowering in order to elicit the best performance from each person.

Some will prefer a structured framework with clear guidelines and continuous support, others will need the overview and a couple of gentle nudges along the way, while a handful might find any kind of direction restricting and prefer a top-level outline of the desired outcome before being left to work out the details for themselves. Much like our three children.

By understanding what approach works best, and for whom, as leaders, we’re then in the strongest position to elicit the very best performance from those around us. And that’s something I’ve always been keen to impress upon the Q2Q family.

That approach is something we like to call ‘technical empathy’.

Rather than looking for a company-wide IT support approach, the Q2Q team is always striving to provide a personalised service for each of our clients’ employees. Naturally, some will be more tech savvy than others, meaning we can include technical data when presenting solutions to an issue, while others simply want the problem to go away – and only need to know that it’s fixed.

It’s our job to find the right balance, get to know the nuances of the teams we work with, and deliver a service which addresses all the factors at play – and for support-led firms like ours, that concept should always be front-and-centre.

In all cases, we make it our mission not only to ‘fix’ problems, but also to educate whenever possible, in order to empower teams to recognise any recurring issues and work with us to deliver basic ‘how to’ guides for common, user-related problems.

Of course, this approach must be sensitive to the individuals because, for many, the world of tech is something they don’t want – or need – to understand in order to do their job. It simply needs to work.

That’s exactly why we work hard behind the scenes to hone those technical empathy skills – using yours truly as the ‘test dummy’ for all communications and guides. As the resident technophobe, my input ensures users are given exactly the right level of support to fix their problem – and makes them feel as though they’ve learned something too!

While the ‘nuts and bolts’ of IT might not be my strong point, leadership and team motivation is something I know and love. So, if you’re a leader wondering if your communication style could do with a shake-up, or considering how to get the most out of your teams post-lockdown, I’d be more than happy to jump on a video call to share ideas and inspiration. Get in touch to set up a time!

About the author

Lorna Stellakis, MD of Q2Q ITMy role is to provide the overall direction and “eye on the compass” as to where we, as a team are heading, setting the overall business strategy and financial budgeting. Whilst always having been involved with systems implementation throughout my career, I have an operational background and no specific IT experience. However, if anything, I believe this makes me more qualified to ensure the team deliver great service, drawing from my operations experience, and having been on the wrong side of poor IT support in the past. I can relate to how crippling this can be to a business, making it paramount that we ensure that IT issues are as invisible as possible, leaving the customers to get on with running their businesses smoothly.


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habits, Q2Q IT - tech support - SME advice

Why focusing on habits is better than the end-goal

habits, Q2Q IT - tech support - SME advice

At the turn of 2020, no business owner could have imagined the challenges facing them in the months ahead.

But, as the UK looks to drag itself headlong into ‘the new normal’, owner of Q2Q IT, Lorna Stellakis, believes it’s important not to get too caught up in ‘the end goal’ – instead focus on the driving force behind your SME’s corporate ambition.

Here, she explains why the key to success in business – and at home – is a willingness to learn.

I try to read a book every couple of weeks, and one that had a huge impact on me earlier this year was, ‘Atomic Habits’ by James Clear.

Dubbed ‘a comprehensive guide on how to change your behavioural patterns and get one per cent better every day’, the novel has got me thinking about how business owners the world over are making hard-and-fast plans for the next six months.

It resonates on a personal level too, and it felt as if James was talking to me directly with every turn of the page. So much so, that I’ve already implemented some of the publication’s key principles at Q2Q HQ in recent months.

How do I know what business targets to set?

Like every company, we gave ourselves some pretty ambitious goals at the start of our financial year – and you might be forgiven for thinking that most of those had gone completely out of the window as a result of COVID-19. But you would be wrong.

The majority of targets were focused on customer satisfaction and improving how we operate as a team, in terms of all-things IT support.

To ensure we have a constant reminder of what we’re trying to achieve whenever we’re in the office, our objectives have been translated into wall graphics for the entire workforce to see – as well as taking pride of place as my desktop background.

Although, those aspirations aren’t solely what drive our 9-5.

Where ‘Atomic Habits’ resonated with me, was by highlighting that although the end-goal will always be important, once you’ve identified a focus, the most important thing is to create the right daily, weekly or monthly lifestyles that offer the opportunity to translate ‘the dream’ into a reality.

An easily relatable scenario is when you have a fitness goal. Let’s imagine you’re new to jogging and want to complete a 5km Parkrun. However, at present, you can only sprint for a minute before needing to revert to a steady walk.

Completing the entire 3.1 miles at full power might seem like a stretch on week one. Plus, if you were to think about it every single day, you’d probably end up feeling overwhelmed or disheartened with what might seem like an unattainable result.

Therefore, a simple but effective strategy is to establish what behaviours would help you become your own answer to Usain Bolt – and focus solely on those. For example:

  1. Train for 30 minutes, three days a week – even if this is simply a fast walk for most of it
  2. Gradually increase your sprints by 30 seconds each time – so run for 60 seconds on day one, 90s on day two and 120s day three.

In reality, all you’re doing is adding half a minute of running each day, but by breaking down the components of your goal – while bolstering your own resilience – it makes your initial aim much more achievable, and realistic.

But how can I deliver on my SME’s plans?

From a business perspective, one of my own intentions for 2019 was to become a trustee for a local charitable organisation. It was important for me to do something positive for the community in Lancaster.

Prior to lockdown, it was clear the best way to accomplish this was by networking as much as possible locally and within the wider North West – which also proved to help Q2Q. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone, I set myself a minimum number of networking events to attend, researched all the options out there, and booked on to those most suitable, trusting this would help me realise the overall goal.

When it came to each gathering, I didn’t focus on the overarching driver behind my attendance, instead it was about turning up with an open mind and a desire to meet new friends, make connections and enjoy a spot of socialising.

Nine months in and the face-to-face meet-ups came to an abrupt halt as a result of lockdown. Yet, thanks to all the amazing people I have met, I’ve not only been invited to many more events – during and post-lockdown – but I am proud to confirm that I am now officially a trustee for the Lancashire Association of Boys and Girls Clubs, which is an absolute honour.

Although it was never part of the original ‘plan’, a presence at events led to us landing two new customers and a couple more in the pipeline – with three further prospects currently undergoing an initial IT audit. All of which are a great by-product of the original goal!

A solution which works

We applied this ‘habits strategy’ to all our aspirations this year – before, during and hopefully following the pandemic – and I believe it’s made a huge difference. It took the pressure off the end-objective and allowed us to implement some really simple, easy-to-maintain approaches that have benefitted us in more ways than one – and haven’t felt like a chore!

So, if you’re an SME owner wondering how best to tackle the coming months, perhaps this could be a great approach? As we enter this phase of relative uncertainty, many of us will be thinking about how we can do things differently, and maybe several habitual routines will ensure you stay on track beyond the first few weeks!

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