Many of you who read this blog are solo computer consultants. In other words, you are the CEO, Marketer, Technician, and Secretary rolled into one extremely busy individual.
You ARE your business, and without you, it doesn’t run.
This is great for many reasons:
- You have ultimate control over all aspects of your company.
- You don’t have to spend money on employees and all the expenses that come along with that.
- You don’t have to worry about managing anyone and making sure they meet your high standards.
However there is one glaring disadvantage. If you should be unavailable, either by choice or heaven forbid by accident, your business essentially shuts down and you don’t make money.
Absence Makes the Work Grow Harder
I experience this first hand every summer as a member of the Maryland National Guard. If you aren’t familiar with the National Guard, it’s basically part-time military service funded by the state. As a member I am responsible to show up for duty two days every month and two weeks during the summer. The two days a month part isn’t so bad, but two weeks during the summer? That’s two weeks that I’m guaranteed to be away from my business, sometimes in an area where I have no WiFi or even cell service.
You don’t have to be a member of the military to know how this feels. What if you want to take a vacation? We work like dogs in this business and sometimes it’s to our benefit to take a breather and refresh, if even for an extended weekend.
Plus, you must always consider the worst case scenario. What if you get sick, or hurt, and are unable to perform your job? This happens and unless you are prepared for it, it can end your business quickly.
This summer has been worse than most. Not only did I have National Guard for two weeks, but I also had to go off for Advanced Leadership Training for the Guard which is ANOTHER two weeks, and on top of that I had my usual teaching gig at a local University which lasts for two weeks as well.
That’s a month and a half of being physically unavailable to service my clients.
Yet my business is till going strong.
I’d like to share some tips for how I keep things running when I’m away, as well as some advice for preparing your own business for this type of situation:
Get your Customers (and yourself) Comfortable with Remote Support
You can perform a surprisingly large amount of troubleshooting tasks and service work via a remote connection. Don’t wait until you go away to try out remote support. Choose a remote support option and start using it with your clients. Get them used to the idea of their computer being accessed remotely so that when you are in a situation that requires it, your customers will not be put off by it.
My free eBook, 20 Things, has a list of a handful of remote support service providers that you can try. For a more in depth look at how to set up a remote support business, check out the 6th episode of the Computer Business Podcast, where I interview Lisa Hendrickson about her book: Call That Girl’s Remote Support guide.
Grow your Recurring Revenue
Earning recurring revenue, or being on a retainer, means that you get paid on a regular schedule, regardless of how much work you ACTUALLY do that month. You can be on a retainer for system maintenance, backups, or for a certain number of support hours or help tickets, or even for just being on standby in case something goes wrong.
This is a great position to be in if you need to take a short leave of absence because it means you’ll still make the same amount of money from your recurring customers that month. This is especially true if you charge for things like web hosting or automated backups, both of which require little hands-on maintenance throughout the month.
To go along with my point above, it’s key that you communicate early and often with your customers about the possibility of your unavailability. As a solo consultant it’s inevitable that there will be times where you cannot be there at the drop of a hat. So make sure you never give the impression to your customers that you are available 24/7. No matter how badly you want to land a client that needs 24/7 support, if you are a one man shop, it’s probably not in your best interest to take on such clients unless you can hire someone to take your place if you’re away or unavailable.
For retainer clients, you’ll want to make sure you write a clause into the contract at the beginning that makes allowances for periodic brief periods of unavailability. State at what length of time that you both agree is acceptable, and if you are unavailable for longer than that, you can discount their monthly fee. However you structure it, be sure it’s in writing so the customer can’t come back to you later on ad give you grief for not being available 24/7.
Finally, if you plan on going away for something like a vacation, make sure you give your clients plenty of heads up on the exact dates that you will be gone. Also don’t forget to set-up an out-of-office notice in your email client and change your voicemail message on your business line with a message that specifies when you will be able to get back to them.
Make Friends with Your Competition
Many computer business owners see other computer business techs in their area as the enemy. They’re the competition. However, if you approach these folks as a peer, as a fellow tech just trying to get by in this crazy world, you may be pleasantly surprised that one or two of them could become a great friend and ally in the business. Try to find a fellow tech that can fill in for you from time to time. You can simply forward your customers to that person while you’re gone and then ask for a percentage of the payment they get from the work.
This works great for retainer clients because you can have already been paid, so you can simply send the other tech to do the work and then pay him an hourly percentage for the work. It’s really a win win and will most likely be reciprocated to you when that tech is out of town.
I’ve had a relationship like this with a friend of mine in the area for as long as I’ve been running my business, and it’s worked out very well for me.
Build Your Savings
No matter how much you plan for a leave of absence using the above tactics, there’s still the possibility that you could be out of commission for an extended period due to illness or other unfortunate circumstances. For this reason I feel it is imperative that you have a healthy savings account.
Shoot for 6 months of living expenses, but try to get it up to a year. I know many friends who have unexpectedly lost the ability to do their current job and were left stuck for an extended period without any income.
Hope for the best, but plan for the worst, no amount of tactics can replace money in a savings account.
How do you handle leaves of absence in your business? Let us all know in the comments below!