This post marks the first in, hopefully, a long line of book reviews from Your Friendly Neighborhood Computer Guy. I’ll try to keep these reviews simple to read and concise in delivery so you can quickly find out if the book is right for you. In these early stages of my business formation, I’ll focus on books specifically about starting a business. Granted, there are plenty of books and book reviews out there about starting a business, but I hope to be different by tailoring my reviews to folks looking to start a computer consulting business, even if the book itself isn’t specifically about that. The thing you’ll need to keep in mind is that I’m still in the process of learning as I read and review these books, so my reviews are from a start-up perspective. I think that fact may benefit those who are in my situation more than if these books were reviewed by a “seasoned pro”.
I decided to kick off this series with the first book that I picked up a few years ago when I first started flirting with the idea of starting my own computer consulting business, Start Your Own Computer Business: The Unembellished Guide, by Morris Rosenthal. The straight forward title obviously caught my eye and this is the book that comes up at the top of the list of any searches I did online for books about starting a computer business. Mr. Rosenthal obviously knew there was a niche to fill with this book, but does it deliver the goods?
What’s it about?
In this book, Rosenthal delves deeply into the realistic challenges of starting a computer business. He starts out by setting the stage with a little story called “Your First Sale”. The story takes the reader through a role playing scenario as you sell your mother’s friend Doris a computer that you put together yourself. As you proceed through your first sale, you face the harsh reality of the computer business…that it’s really hard to put together a decently priced computer that works well, and that you’ll be responsible for it if anything breaks. This sets the tone for the entire book. Taking time to set realistic expectations in his readers upfront, the book then continues to touch on all of the major considerations that one may need to take into account when starting any kind of computer business, including buying and selling, product development, accounting, infrastructure, and even a bit of business psychology. using facts, observations, and personal experience with a conservative peppering of comic strips that relate directly to the subject matter being discussed, Rosenthal attempts to paint a dismally realistic picture of the troubles facing those who choose to take the plunge into the computer services industry.
What do I like about it?
I really like the brutal honesty that Rosenthal brings to the book. The curse of many “Start Your Own…” books out there is that they take an overly rosy outlook on starting something that, in reality, is a challenging and often less-than-rewarding experience, just to sell more books. This becomes apparent right from the start, with the first sentence of the book being: “Do you need your head examined?”
I also appreciate that the book is written for the beginner who is starting a business from scratch. For example, a good chunk of time is taken to explain the process of buying wholesale to make sure his readers realize that it’s tough for non-established businesses to get what they need to succeed right off the bat. Because of this small business focus, I found many useful nuggets throughout the book that I feel will benefit me in my venture. In particular there is one section in which he mentions that direct mailings can be a successful marketing technique, but only if used to target businesses that are big enough to have a few computer systems, but small enough top not have a full-time IT staff. He emphasizes starting small and working your way up to bigger and more complex undertakings as you gain experience and money, which is in line with the approach I’m taking to start my business.
Round all of that out with some solid advice on business structure and accounting and you have a very useful book that really gives the budding computer guy a serious and practical look at what lies ahead for him and his business.
What do I not like about it?
The same brutal honesty that intrigued me at first begins to seem more pessimistic as the book continues on. While I don’t mind a spoon full of real life every now and then, the attitude began to hinder certain points the author was trying to make. At one point the word WRONG in all caps was packed into one short paragraph 6 times! Rosenthal has been through the ringer in the computer business and he isn’t afraid to let you know it. The problem is, I think the author’s sarcasm may turn off some people who are excited and enthusiastic about starting their own computer business.
The book goes into a bit of detail surrounding computer sales and commerce, which is not what I’m interested in doing. As such, I found about 1/4 of the book did not apply to me. This is no fault of the author’s, as he was trying to cover as much ground as he could and he seems to have had extensive experience in commerce. He also went into the process of renting office space and hiring employees which again doesn’t quite apply to me at this stage. But it will definitely apply to other readers, and his stories make the sections that don’t apply to you an entertaining read none the less.
Finally, I didn’t quite understand the purpose of the comic strips that were inserted at random places throughout the book. They attempted to illustrate some of the authors points in a humorous context, but served more as a distraction. In my opinion the author’s anecdotes were much more entertaining than these poorly drawn comic strips. This, of course, is a minor detail, but one that kind of struck me as odd and out of place.
The final verdict.
Start Your Own Computer Business: The Unembellished Guide is a must read for anyone who is debating if they want to take their passion or hobby of tinkering with computers and turning it into a full-time, self-sustaining business. Morris Rosenthal does a great job at giving personal real-world examples of what you’ll face as a business owner. The author doesn’t sugar-coat anything and sometimes his approach can be harsh and off-putting. However, at it’s core, Start Your Own Computer Business is a refreshing change of perspective from the normal “for dummies” type of books that are currently flooding the market, and will surely give any budding entrepreneur a sense of what it takes to be successful in this business.
Updates to Resources Page:
- Added Start Your Own Computer Business: The Unembellished Guide to the “Books” section.