As I transition from part-time to full-time computer consulting, I thought it would be interesting and motivational to interview other fellow independent techs who took their passion for computers and entrepreneurship from hobby to career. These folks took a big leap by throwing away a safe 9 to 5 existence for the chance to forge their own path. I enjoy reading about how others got started and became successful. No two stories are alike and something can always be learned from the journey others have taken.
Continuing the series today I’ll be chatting with Michael Hurst, a computer consultant who runs his business in the UK. I met Mike on Twitter where he is an active tweeter and overall nice guy. I also found out that his story is similar to mine in that he was steadily employed when he decided to give it up voluntarily in pursuit of his dream to run a computer business. In talking with Mike, I found that he’s implemented a great idea for an untapped niche in his local market. Lets find out what that is, along with how Mike got the courage to follow his passions and what has helped him be successful in his endeavours.
Hi Mike, thanks for taking the time to be interviewed. Please start off by telling us a little bit about yourself and your background.
I worked as Quality Assurance representative for one of Europe’s largest custom contact lens manufactures. I was there for 9 years in total. I’m a keen sportsman and love football (soccer!), golf and cycling. I’m also a gadget freak and amateur cook.
Why did you choose this line of work?
I’ve always messed about with computers, taking them apart for fun, upgrading mine and family/friends systems so it was the perfect route to doing a job I love.
Do you run your business part-time or full-time?
I ran it part time along side my old job for 6 months just to test the water and to see if: A) it was what I wanted to do and B) if there was a need for a PC repair guy in our town.
What made you decide that quitting your job and going full-time with your business was the right move to make?
Basically, I had nowhere else to go in the company, so I had to do something to keep me sane, I could’ve just sat there like many others, earned my wages and been bored out of my brains doing the same thing day in day and moaning about it in the process, but that’s not in my nature. It was my wife that gave me the final kick up the arse to go full time.
How long have you been running your business full time? Has it been worth the switch?
May 1st will be my 2nd birthday. Year 1 was tough going, but this last year has been amazing, referrals galore, tons of new customers and so far, no regrets!
What were some of the biggest obstacles you faced in getting your business off the ground?
As previously mentioned I was employed for 9 years by 1 company, so leaving behind easy money and good friends was very tough. Getting the business started up was the easy part, even though I had no experience in self employment. At the end of the day Google is your friend!
What advertising method works best for you in your area?
My first advert was in the window of the local stationary supply shop, this worked very well giving me a few jobs per week. I then put an advert in a local paper which was a waste of time. Then I put a free advert on yell.com (I still haven’t had any work from this!) My best move so far was a 1/8 of a page advert in a local “In Business” A5 booklet which hits every house in a 10 mile radius of where I am based, I have recently increased it to ¼ page and most of my work comes from it. Also local group pages on Facebook cost nothing and give me a lot of work. I’m also a member of a local networking group, where we meet once a month and I gained some decent work from this. Author’s Note: For more ideas on advertising methods, see 5 Ultra-cheap Advertising Methods and 4 Free Automated Advertising Strategies.
What customer niche (elderly, small business, stay at home moms, etc.) has been your most profitable?
Probably 90% of my customers are home users, lot’s of “Silver Surfers”. To be honest I’m not really interested in businesses for that side of things, I have a new service starting soon will be aimed specifically at large companies.
On your business’ website you offer a computer cleaning service. Have you found there is a need for this type of service?
This is what I was referring to in the last question, I have a call centre already on my books where I clean their break room keyboards, mice and monitors. I feel it is such a an important service which every employer undertake because in the long run it can lead to reduced staff sickness. Author’s Note: I wrote about the computer cleaning niche a couple years ago. Great to see someone putting this unique service into practice!
What is your vision for your company in one year, five years, ten years?
1 year: Making the computer cleaning side of the business a bigger income generator than the repairs side.
5 years: Have a team of cleaners doing the work instead of me.
10 years: Retire!!!
Seeing as we’ve met on Twitter, how have you leveraged twitter as a computer tech? Do you use it to gain customers or simply as a source for news…or something else?
I love Twitter, it keeps me up to date with all the tech news I need quicker than visiting individual web site. Although the account is in the name of the business there isn’t too much tweeted about the business, just enough not to put people off and enough to keep them updated with promotions and things. I use Tweetdeck on my Android phone (Nexus One) and it updates both Twitter and Facebook.
What other online tools have helped you grow your business?
Google Places, Freeindex, HotFrog and a monthly newsletter that currently gets emailed to around 230 people. I’ve been told that the newsletter is really appreciated and helps keep me in people minds. I also run a computer surgery once a month at a local information bureau, offering free advice for anyone who wants it. This has gained me a lot of new customers. Author’s note: This last bit ties in well with my post about leveraging teaching as a tool for your business.
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?
Regret doing it, rather than regret not doing it.
Interested in being interviewed for YFNCG? Let me know in the comments below!
Previous interviews on YFNCG:
- To Teach is to Learn Twice: and Interview with Randy the Tech Professor
- Filling the Void: An Interview with Daniel Hand
- Never Stop Learning: An Interview With Bryce Whitty of Technibble
- Of Mice And Freedom: An Interview With Brian Ambrozy Of Icrontic.com
- Taking Care Of Your Customers: An Interview With Eric Ham