Help me decide what business to get into
October 30, 2012 6:24 PM   Subscribe

Help me decide what business to get into? I have some ideas to choose from.


I’ve decided that the 9-5 has sucked enough of my soul (12 years worth), and that I’m going to go into business for myself. I’m a sort of generalist/technologist with a lot of different skills and interests, so I’m having trouble deciding what my focus should be. Help me decide what business to busy myself with.

Phone/Remote Desktop Support, for businesses and individuals
I’m really excellent at diagnosing problems over the phone/remote desktop and finding quick solutions to computer problems with the knowledge I already have and/or my excellent Google-fu. This business appeals to me because I could sign businesses to contracts to get a bit of a stable cash flow going and could also charge an arm and a leg for anyone to just call in for computer help. A natural extension of this business would be to provide onsite training to businesses for various things, such as how they could use Google for Business tools to streamline e-mail, scheduling, document sharing etc... I also have a potential partner who is a real people person. I am more of an engineer and am more successful talking to detail/technically oriented people. My ‘bedside manner’ is also quite good for non-technical individuals but Mr. Potential Partner truly sparkles when he meets new people. This idea relies on my partner to do a lot of word-of-mouth marketing, going to entrepreneur events and shmoozing, etc. I do remote desktop/phone support in my current job, and get a very positive response when I help people do something or figure something out.

Video Games Dealer
I’m a long-time lover of games, collector of vintage consoles and games, and a veteran at small electronics repair/modification. My second idea is simply to buy and sell games and hardware en masse. I could acquire broken consoles and game collections off eBay and other sources (game collector forums, craigslist, eBay etc) and make a profit by cleaning up, repairing, combining old broken hardware into new working hardware etc... basically just buy low, sell high... I know that there is a market for pre-modified vintage consoles (a modded sega saturn can go for twice as much as an unmodded one, for instance) and of course for mod chips/devices. This idea appeals to me because it’s a field I’m passionate about, I get to work with my hands as well as my brain, and heck, I’d get to play and handle a lot of old games :) What worries me about this one is there is a lot of competition out there (how to stand out?) and also how I may make myself a target for litigation by either selling or installing mod chips. Oh, and I can do other non-backup-playing mods as well. Things like adding built-in AV outputs.

Computer Dealer/Repair
Can potentially be rolled into the Support business or operated as a business in its own right. Basically the same idea as the video game console business. Buy, sell, combine, repair, build custom machines as well as onsite installation/configuration. Also a lot of competition in this space, but people tend to ooh and aah when I sit down and fix their computers, so I think I could be competitive and develop loyal customers.

Contract Programmer
I’m a long-time web programmer, with experience in PHP/MySQL, JavaScript, Java,
perl... in my current job one of my roles is to create and maintain web apps for internal company use. I can turn out clean, well documented code, usually pretty fast. My user interfaces aren’t beautiful but they’re easy to understand and straightforward to use. Another idea I had was to go on those contract jobs websites and just do as many jobs as I could, as well as marketing myself out as a coder/custom app designer. I haven’t done a lot of actual application programming but I believe I could learn the ropes of any language/IDE/libraries and develop good custom solutions for businesses. I am also a long-time FileMaker developer (5 years of experience with versions 8-12) and in my current job am responsible for extending and maintaining a fully custom CRM implemented in FileMaker

Custom Website Designer
Top-to-bottom website solutions, design, implementation, finding the right registrar/hosting. I could farm out the more design-y work to some designers I know, and do all the back-end stuff myself.

Feel free to make suggestions outside the options provided. Looking to hear experiences of people still early in their own business ventures too... thanks!
posted by signsofrain to Work & Money (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Video Games Dealer

I know people who run video game shops. You'll be put out of business by either GameStop or Steam before you can get off the ground trying to sell the basics. The market for vintage, mods and othersuch things isn't nearly as high as it was in its hey-day. I live in NYC and I can count the amount of independent shops that do this successfully on one hand, and I know for a fact most of them aren't rolling in it. I can't think of a business plan for this sort of thing that would leave the lights on unless you're either entering a brand-new market, or everyone else genuinely sucks.
posted by griphus at 6:33 PM on October 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I vote for computer support and repair because there are a ton of small businesses that need such services and there is no one company that has strong mindshare in that market, so every small player (like you would presumably be) has a similar chance of getting their foot in the door. The problem with contract programming and website design is it's really a global market and you are competing against highly skilled people in Eastern Europe and India, among other places, who are able to offer their services at much lower rates.
posted by Dansaman at 7:59 PM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you like and are skilled at helping non-technical people, have you considered a subscription model which could also be gifted? Around here (resort community with many retirees and few computer repair people, all obnoxious), there are so many older people who would pay to be able to call someone patient and compassionate with all of their little questions. Instead they call their offspring and worry about bothering them or looking foolish. The questions are usually easy-peasy because none of them do mch that's complicated Your service would make a great annual Chistmas gift! You could offer different packages that included x in-person visits per year plus y (or unlimited) phone calls. You could also control clients computers remotely.
posted by carmicha at 8:33 PM on October 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'd cross Video Games Dealer off that list.
You could work on all the others at the same time. Get started doing all of them, and see which one takes off. They're all related, probably more than would be obvious. People who are looking for PC repair might need a website and so on...
posted by Blake at 6:06 AM on October 31, 2012

None of the ideas you've outlined will provide you with the wage and benefits you'll earn working for 'the man'.

Oh, and if you think 9-5 is soul sucking, how about 12 hour days, 7 days a week as a business owner? Talk about soul sucking. What if something happens to you? You get sick, you don't get paid. If something goes wrong, it's all on you.

I would strengthen my bag of tricks and specialize in something, then hire myself out on contracts.

For example, I'm a Administrator. I'm very happy working for a company, but if I wanted to, I could do temp or contract work.

The good thing about doing long-term contracts is that they provide a steady stream of income, and if you absolutely hate the job, you can bail, or at the very least, you know when it ends.

If you think you want to do computer repair, get a part-time gig with the Geek Squad and do that for a while, before quiting your 9-5. At least you can test drive the job.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:46 AM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Based on the responses so far, I've crossed the video game thing off my list (pretty obvious it was a non-starter, really) and am leaning heavily in the "do it all with the primary business being phone/remote desktop support" direction. I love the gift cards idea, and I was already thinking about a subscription model so it all works... and when you're regularly talking to people about and helping them with computers, their other needs come up and it's trivial to say "I can do that too!" website design, short term programming contracts, service/sales, phone unlocking... the whole suite of "I'm too lazy to Google and try it myself" services. I think I can also actively market my FileMaker design skills... this is a niche market with some established competition but I think I can do what the bigger companies can't... hack together small solutions in short timeframes for small businesses and not charge thousands of dollars. (Okay maybe only a couple of thousand instead of 5... cheaper though)

I think I've gotten the info I need from the answers, thanks everybody! But please, if you have any other ideas, insights, comments... go for it! This is great stuff!
posted by signsofrain at 8:34 AM on October 31, 2012

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