Clare and Dennis Huspeni launched their NerdsToGo franchise business last year with high hopes for their new traveling IT operation. Now, they're having to tweak their procedures amid the coronavirus …
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Clare and Dennis Huspeni launched their NerdsToGo franchise business last year with high hopes for their new traveling IT operation. Now, they're having to tweak their procedures amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Clare, a former call center manager, and Dennis, a former journalist, blitzed networking events and became more involved in the Parker Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Business Alliance. They hired a full-time tech and a part-timer in mid-February before COVID-19 hit.
“It was tough getting through that first year, so we were patting ourselves on the back just a teeny little bit,” Dennis said. “Before this hit, we were really seeing a spike in business, which is why we brought in the second tech.”
Out of their office, at 10841 S. Crossroads Drive in Parker, NerdsToGo serves businesses and residents normally through in-person appointments. Nerds also does some device repair and remote access services.
“Our selling point, so to speak, was that we'd be able to go into people's homes and people's businesses and fix whatever IT needs they had,” Dennis said. “When COVID hit, we knew we'd probably be deemed an essential business. … We immediately shifted.”
The spread of the pandemic forced Gov. Jared Polis to institute a statewide stay-at-home order and require nonessential businesses to close. Most of the country's workforce is now at home, working or not.
As IT professionals, Dennis and Clare said Nerds' services are needed now more than ever. Dennis said he has helped some set up their home offices and that more of Nerds clients have set up work-from-home stations.
“It was tough getting through that first year, so we were patting ourselves on the back just a teeny little bit," Dennis said.
NerdsToGo, like most businesses, has felt the sting of widespread shutdowns. Dennis estimates their bottom line took a hit of about 20% in March.
The company shifted its marketing focus for its search engine optimization to solely reach residents, as opposed to marketing toward businesses. Before the pandemic, Dennis said NerdsToGo spent about 60% of its time working with commercial clients.
NerdsToGo applied for an emergency small business loan as well as a loan through the federal Paycheck Protection Program.
“We were already paying off the capital to own this business,” Dennis said. “We feel extremely confident we're getting a good number of calls and we're still doing two, three, four appointments a day, which is excellent. That's right where we need to be.”
Now, NerdsToGo spends about 80% of its time working with residents. That can have its own challenges, particularly when in-person appointments are tricky to manage while minding social distance and their clients' and each other's personal safety.
For those who request IT help from NerdsToGo, the level to which technicians help a client depends on the client's comfort level. Some are fine with a technician coming to their home donning personal protective equipment, while others prefer as much remote access as possible.
Many NerdsToGo clients are elderly people at-risk of becoming seriously ill if they contract the virus.
“We always try to reassure them and let them know that we're local, we're part of the community and we've lived here forever,” Clare said. Giving their clients options and not upselling on service is vital to gain client's trust, especially now, she said.
The NerdsToGo techs can pick up a broken device, clean it, fix it, clean and disinfect it again and drop it off at a client's house.
One older client of NerdsToGo needed a new computer installed, something that usually takes about an hour with one of its technicians on-scene. The man didn't want to risk bringing them to his house. So the techs set the computer up and dropped it off on his porch and tried to talk him through it. They ended up spending five hours on the phone.
NerdsToGo has seen a spike in clients requesting help to remove a virus or malware, mostly connected to COVID-19-related scams. With more people in the house and more devices being used, Nerds has also seen a rise in broken screens on devices.
The hardest part for Nerds, Clare said, is not being able to do as much in-person networking. They've found ways around it. The two participate in virtual networking events with the Parker Chamber of Commerce as well as in other local chambers and leadership groups.
Even for IT professionals, virtual business is something to get used to.
“It's a big part of our business, being out there and being in an appointment,” Clare said. “Personally, for both Den and I, personality-wise, we like being out and about networking and talking about the business. Coming up on this summer, we booked everything out, and we're hoping we still get to do what we set out to do because that's been a blast, to be part of a lot of nonprofits in the community and the different events that are out there. We're hoping we'll get to do a little of that this year at least.”
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