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How can I grow my IT business while trying to make a living?
May 8, 2006 5:07 AM   Subscribe

How can I grow my IT business while trying to make a living? I run a one man band IT support business in the UK. Business was great and got a lot of work through recommendations, then for a better life, me and my family moved into the country 200 miles from our original location.

Getting business where we now live has been an up hill struggle and to help pay the bills, I took on work as an IT contractor.

As my time is taken up with this role, I have been in a situation where I cannot get time outside this role to expand on getting new clients.

I am at the point now where I have been advised that my contract will expire in the next 4 week and I am at a crossroad.

Do I:

A). Try and get business going again after my contract ends to start the business again and continue where I want to be. I would need to be showing a resonable income within 3 weeks.

B). Take on another contract and revisit this at some future time.


My preffered method is A, but if I am unable to gain enough work within a couple of weeks, that will leave very little cash to pay bills and living needs over the next month.

If I go straight back to being an IT contractor, this will allow me to provide for my family, but be apart from them during the week.

I started the business to allow me to spend more quality time with the family, but find it's a fine line now between living or working.

How can I grow my IT business as quickly as possible?
posted by Ostrich to Work & Money (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
In general, start telling *everybody* about what you're doing, and what you have to offer. Ask them about their computer and what they do with it. More often than not, they'll talk about 3 things: The first thing they'll smile about "I send photos to my kids!" the second thing they'll talk about without a smile "...and you know, email and stuff..." and the third thing will be something they're either having a problem with, or something they don't understand, or something they want to learn about "...I'd like to start selling stuff on ebay, but..."


the third thing is where you market yourself to them.

----

If you can, start writing. Get published in the local paper. In my experience, people who need IT help tend to read the newspaper more often than they might read news sites on the web.

If there's a local computer shop, ask them if they'd refer you for their clients who want help at their homes.

Present yourself to the local hotels which tend to have business travelers. Leave business cards (and a pamphlet if you have them) that the hotel can distribute to guests that have problems while they're away.
posted by Wild_Eep at 7:12 AM on May 8, 2006


I don't know what your 'reasonable income' number is, or what your overhead expenses are, or what your specialty is, but I've seen lots of ads for simply removing malware from windows PCs, or installing wireless networks at customers' homes.
posted by Wild_Eep at 7:28 AM on May 8, 2006


Not meaning to be selfish or ungrateful, I would if at all possible not be looking to service the "home user".

I have found that your usual home user (present company excepted :) does not like to pay for the work that needs doing at a rate that would be suitable for me. I need to earn at least £25 / hour constantly just to provide the house and pay the bills.

My experience with home users in the past have nearly always been negative, with people having the same sort of issues that you repaired (e.g. virus, malware, spyware etc) and expect you to come and put it right FOC. This is after showing them where they go wrong and what to do.

The normal home user does not realise that a computer requires looking after. It is not like a fridge where it will generally take all the crap that you throw at it.

So.....

My main market is looking towards SME's who would appreciate a "virtual" IT manager who could not only provide the technical know how, but could also negotiate cost savings with suppliers and bring them into line legally for licenses etc... Maybe (and hopefully) paying for my services on an annual retainer basis.

I have 12 + years experience in doing this for some of the major companies in the UK.

I still do the odd home user, but more as a favour, rather than as the norm.

I do like the idea of though getting the local press involved. A help column could raise the profile...
posted by Ostrich at 8:13 AM on May 8, 2006


Try a sales letter

You don't have to set aside any specific time for the marketing tactic, you can write it in your spare time, buy a list, and drop them in the mail in the middle of the night.

A great book on sales letters is The Ultimate Sales Letter by Dan Kennedy. Most of the advice first comes off as very over the top but it works.
posted by Mick at 10:28 AM on May 8, 2006


What county are you in Ostrich?
posted by DrtyBlvd at 10:43 AM on May 8, 2006


I semi-second Mick's advice to check out anything by Dan Kennedy. I'm about to start a small business (actually, in the exact same field you're talking about, but in the US, so we won't be in competition! ;) ) My "small-business mentor," my father-in-law, has built a VERY successful CPA firm using Dan Kennedy's techniques.

If you have some friends in the area that are members of some sort of professional organization, try marketing to them. Even if you don't know anyone, find a meeting of a lawyers or CPAs organization and give a presentation to them - something along the lines of "The top 10 geek secrets to a better office network" or "the 7 things you could do more efficiently with a new {$HARDWARE_COMPONENT}." Dan Kennedy talks about this a lot - give them just enough information for them to know that you are an expert, but leave the meat of the benefits to those who enlist your services.

That ought to get you started - my F.I.L now charges quite a bit of money for consulting on this type of thing...
posted by cebailey at 1:09 PM on May 8, 2006


Have you tried BNI?. There are a few such business clubs but this is likely to have the strongest presence in the UK. Members meet early in the morning and trade referrals. It's all very cheesy but it works rather well and best of all, helps with networking and is a powerful confidence boost. Go as an observer and see if it's for you.
posted by grahamwell at 1:49 PM on May 8, 2006


Online you might check out ecademy as well.
posted by grahamwell at 1:51 PM on May 8, 2006


I am based in the UK, towards the south.

Thinking a bit more about it and what I am looking for.. It is not really the idea of drumming up business, though you lot have given me some great ideas.

What concerns me more I suppose, is that I like to think that I give value for money and that if I cannot supply time to assist people or companies, then I feel that I am cheating them in some way.... If I was to perform a full time role as an IT contractor, then my ability of time to assist these companies will be very limited.

The BNI looks good. Will follow that one up.
posted by Ostrich at 3:50 PM on May 8, 2006


I'm in a very similar situation myself. I provide support to several mid-size companies, some tech (but hardware, or applications tech, not software authoring tech) companies. It ranges from "My wireless won't connect" to "We need this web app re-written". This may get a little long...

Then there was a small startup company that I was hosting a web site for. The company's front man asked me to help one of his guys with a CGI program he couldn't get working. It quickly became apparent that the guy doing the CGI was both lazy and incompetent. I checked the site a month later and saw he had done nothing beyond what I'd helped him with. Long story short, the startup contracted some work out to me.

As time goes on, my hours for the startup have skyrocketed to the point where it interferes with my other customers. The start-up front man has now offered to take on another employee who will ostensibly work for him, but who I can borrow any time one of my customers calls me so that I am not distracted from his work.

The way I see this going is that with this new resource, I will be able to take on more work, and eventually take this new guy full time and grow even more.

With the time scales you mention, I don't see that you have any choice but to take on another contract. But, summer is coming up, and you presumably still have some other customers in the support business, so now is a perfect time to take on a student. Find a bright kid who can do the support, and farm him out to your clients during the summer. By the end of the summer, you may well have more customers by virtue of the student having enough time to handle more than you currently can. Plus, you'll be charging a higher rate than you pay him, so you can start to build a little savings money for when you need to jump out of contracting and back into self-employment. By hiring a student (student == cheap) you can still keep the "value for money" angle you spoke of.

Lastly, try to get a contract with at least some measure of flexi-time that will allow you to service as many other clients as possible.

Sorry for the length. Hope it helps.
posted by leakymem at 1:51 AM on May 9, 2006


Ostrich -

To be honest, you're better sticking with the contracting.

Given your ridiculous figure of "£25.00 per hour constantly in order to survive" (This equates to a wage of £45,000, or $90,000 a year), and a seeming unwillingness to charge home owners a proper amount, you're never going to make a living doing this for anything other than mid-to-large sized companies.

Even if they don't already have someone doing what you want to do, then they're unlikely to hire a one man band as anything other than a contractor. (Unless you have some uniquely buyable skills)

In short...
- Get a grip on reality.
- Keep Contracting.
posted by seanyboy at 6:00 AM on May 10, 2006


Seanyboy,

Why would you see the figure of £25 /hour ridiculous? I am only quoting the minimum I require to keep to paying my bills and making sure that food is on the table.

As for charging home users for my time, I don't mind doing that, but I feel guilty for the jo that works all day, comes home to a beat up pc, then pays me for my time to put it right.


Sorry, but your response just sounds a bit bitter...
posted by Ostrich at 6:29 AM on May 11, 2006


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