We talked to Norm McLaughlin, founder of Norms Computer Service about technical support in the computer industry and this is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Norm McLaughlin: We’re doing really well thanks Edyta. Being in Australia we’re somewhat removed from the rest of the world and we haven’t been nearly as badly affected as Europe, the United States, and elsewhere.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Norms Computer Service.
Norm McLaughlin: Well, I’m from Northern Ireland originally and I studied Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Queen’s University, Belfast. I spent the first eleven years of my career in the industry working for Nortel Networks (formerly called Northern Telecom). I had a great time there, starting off as a junior engineer and eventually becoming a technical specialist and team leader. Nortel was at the time one of the world’s leading companies in the telecoms and datacoms industry and I had opportunities to travel widely, mostly to Canada and China, and elsewhere.
After Nortel, I made a total career switch and worked for the next 14 years in the non-profit world. I was working for another global organization and it was during this time that I transferred from the organization’s UK office to their Sydney office. That was in early 2009. Although I was utilizing an entirely different skillset during those years, my technical leanings never left me and I eventually decided to start my own business in computer repairs and IT support. I launched the business at the beginning of 2016 and went full-time later that year. The company grew rapidly in the following years and I relocated from Sydney to Brisbane in 2019.
How does Norms Computer Service innovate?
Norm McLaughlin: Innovation is at the heart of technological advancement and, as an IT company, it’s important to remain at the forefront. Norm’s Computer Services innovates by introducing clients to new technologies and better ways of doing things. Very often clients, whether they are a business or residential, have been doing things in a certain way for a long time. They may be using outdated systems that may work for now, but may not continue to work as technology continues to advance. It’s always a pleasure to introduce a client to a new and usually more efficient and effective way of doing something.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business?
Norm McLaughlin: My business is a cash business and any slowdown in the economy affects people’s willingness to part with their money. With the coronavirus pandemic, people, in general, retreated into their own space, often literally, as lockdowns were imposed. However, this also presented opportunities.
My business model is primarily about going into homes and businesses to resolve people’s computer and IT issues. In the event of lockdowns, this obviously became impractical. However, it opened up opportunities in the realm of remote support. Whilst my preference is for on-site in-person support, in the event that this becomes impossible, there is a world of opportunity, quite literally, in providing remote support. In fact, remote support is the only way to go when people are locked down at home. For my business, this presents the opportunity to offer support over a much wider geographical area than is possible with on-site visits.
What positive steps did you take as a result of the pandemic?
Norm McLaughlin: As well as looking at new ways of working, Norm’s Computer Services also used the lull in activity to study the competition, to upskill, and to develop new digital marketing initiatives. When you’re working flat-out you don’t usually have much time to think about what the competition is doing. But there’s often something we can learn, both in the realm of things we could do better and in the realm of how not to do things. Upskilling involved taking additional courses and certifications. This is also something we often don’t take enough time to do in the midst of the business of normal work life. New digital marketing initiatives specifically involved an intensification of the company’s SEO activities, which is something that is undertaken in-house by Norm’s Computer Services.
These activities have set the company up for greater success in the long term. Sometimes an enforced lull in operations can be a good thing as it forces us to think differently, strategize and find a better way forward.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources and what are the lessons learned?
Norm McLaughlin: Actually, the period of lockdown here in Brisbane was relatively short. My heart goes out to small businesses that have really suffered through this pandemic and have had to cut back, reduce staffing, and, in some cases lose their place in the market entirely.
Your final thoughts?
Norm McLaughlin: This pandemic has been a rough ride for many of us. However, despite the challenges, opportunities abound and Norm’s Computer Services looks to the future with hope and optimism.