I’m a big fan of learning from the stories of others, whether it be in the computer consulting business, or any other facet of life. I feel it’s important to get varied perspectives from people who have experienced the subject first hand. Everyone has different motivations and strategies for starting their own business and by exposing myself, and my readers, to multiple points of view I hope that we can better be prepared to face the challenges it presents.
I started my interview series last month, with an interview of computer consultant and blogger Eric Hamm. Through that exchange I gained insight into the importance of putting your consulting customer first and really separating yourself from the competition by providing superior customer service. Also, I learned that traditional advertising isn’t always the best route for a new computer consulting business and word of mouth and reputation can also be effective ways of gaining new clients. I was excited about the insights I gained from this interview and was looking forward to learning from other consultants.
A couple weeks ago I posted an article called When is Enough Enough? in which I quoted a user named “Prime Suspect” from the forums at Icrontic.com. Mr. Suspect responded to my blog post and introduced himself as Brian Ambrozy, none other than the Editor-In-Chief at Icronic. In speaking with Brian I found that he too had his own computer consulting business before he chose to tackle Icronic full-time. You can read about the soap opera-like history of icrontic.com here, but for the purposes of this article, we are going to focus on his earlier consulting business.
Brian was kind enough to allow me to share his answers to some questions in relation to the consulting company he ran successfully for 8 years. He brings a unique no-nonsense attitude to advising others about starting a computer business that I think helps cut to the heart of what this game is all about, passion and freedom.
Can you describe your business, the services you offer, and how long you’ve been running it?
Sarcnet industries provided consulting, network design, network installation, server and desktop installation, support, and maintenance for small businesses. We also provided managed hosting for clients with unique hosting needs. We were in business from 1999 – 2007.
What were the biggest obstacles you faced in getting your business off the ground?
Providing assurance to my new wife that there would be a steady source of income to support our young family. We had a new house and a new baby. I had to convince my family that I wasn’t insane- including my parents, grandmother, etc. The biggest obstacles were mental.
What were the biggest factors that motivated you to start your own business?
The single biggest factor was that I recognized a need for my services. Small businesses with under 20 employees often had 5-20 computers but no one to set up or maintain a proper network. They usually had a neighbor kid, or a cousin, or some part time person who came in when “he had time”. Small companies need a network administrator, even if they can’t afford the salary of one.
Did you create a business plan before starting your business or afterwards? Why?
No. I never really felt a need to commit it to paper, since the passion was so firmly in my head.
What freedoms do you feel you have been afforded by working for yourself as opposed to working for another company?
All freedom! Freedom from someone elses schedule, from someone else making rules that you may not agree with, from structure that you are philosophically opposed to, and countless other things. Working for yourself is complete freedom FROM working for another company. The only thing you give up is security, and even that isn’t guaranteed in today’s wild economy.
What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a business owner?
The biggest challenge was losing 3 clients in a tough economic climate – two of them went out of business within the same six month period, and one could no longer afford our services. In a single year, we lost over 40% of our client base due to trickle-down economic woes from the automotive and manufacturing industries. [Editors note: I’m sure this situation can apply to many more people in the current global economic climate and this is one of the biggest risks in running your own service business. I feel it can best be avoided by ensuring you have a diverse and extensive client base.]
Finding a family of mice inside of a customer’s PC. Actual live mice.
If you had one piece of advice to give to someone who is looking to start their own computer consulting business, what would it be?
Don’t do house calls. Focus on business clients.
Mice?! Wow, that’s a new one. I guess we can add “pest control” to the list of skills required to be a successful computer guy!
As you can see, Brian was able to recognize a need for his services and capitalized on that need with very little formal preparation. This is one example of how passion and determination coupled with skill and talent can merge to help one realize a dream career. Of course, I will need to find my own successful mix of these elements in order to grow my own business, but it’s encouraging to hear stories of others who have done well in this business.
You can find Brian hanging out at Icrontic.com under the name Prime Suspect.
Previous interviews on YFNCG: