Many IT pros dream of being their own boss, but running your own IT business isn't for the faint of heart. TechRepublic contributor Marsha Glick has worked long and hard to build a successful IT business. In this featured member profile, she’ll share her insight and know-how to give you a glimpse of what it takes to own your own company.
TechRepublic: Tell me about your community-based business. What services do you offer? Who are your clients?
Glick: My business, Cybergators, offers Web design, technical writing, customer training, hardware/software support, and networking for both businesses and individuals. My customers come from the area in and around Gainesville, FL (home of the University of Florida's Fightin' Gators, hence the name Cybergators). My youngest client has been a six-year-old, and my oldest, so far, has been 86, but university students and retired adults make up the bulk of my business, with a few businesses and physicians thrown in for good measure. I like having this eclectic mix of customers. It keeps me on my toes, and I have made a lot of friends this way, meeting some really nice people.
TechRepublic: For how long have you run your own business?
Glick: Going on five years.
TechRepublic: How did you get started running your own business?
Glick: Frankly, because when I got my degree in computers, no one wanted to hire a woman in her 40s. As one manager in his 20s said to me, "I know you're qualified, but why would I want to hire someone the same age as my mom?" Yes, I could have sued him, but I quickly realized that the attitude was the same everywhere, especially in a university town where they could hire someone fresh out of college for very little money but would have to offer me much more. Even though I had years of experience, I was both a woman and old. So I decided to start my own business. I was already helping everyone for free. I just started charging for it.
TechRepublic: Was it difficult getting clients at first?
Glick: Yes. I advertised in the newspaper, handed out business cards, etc., but I have found that the best advertisement of all is a satisfied customer. Although I get about half my customers from the yellow pages, the other half is through customer referrals.
Marsha is also a TechRepublic contributor
Here are links to a few of Marsha Glick's recent articles:
- "Learn to troubleshoot power supply problems"
- "Boost your career and business by speaking at conferences"
- "Sun's StarOffice packs a punch"
- "Plan smart for exhibiting at an IT trade show"
TechRepublic: How do you manage your time between your various clients?
Glick: I have certain mornings established for training and off-site support, and certain afternoons for Web design, with the hardware work scheduled in and around, including in the evenings, which makes it easier for the students. I pretty much do my own thing. If I need to, I let the answering machine get the call. I always call back promptly and have never lost a customer to the answering machine.
My husband, who is co-owner, has a regular full-time job during the week and works some evenings and weekends doing networking and repairs for several businesses. Most are happy to wait until he is free. We have very few big emergencies, but we deal with them as they happen.
TechRepublic: Because you provide a variety of services, how do you stay current with so much subject matter?
Glick: I am a visual person, but I refuse to buy all the current software. Since I have lots of friends in the industry, we share articles, go to each other's houses to look at new software we have purchased, and go to sites that offer free training, like Beginners.co.uk, and utilize their training packets.
I also download 30-day trials. I explain to my customers that I may not always have the answer, but I will try to find it for them ASAP. No one can remember every function in Excel, all the special little perks in WordPerfect, or Word's every detail, but I can use Help to find out. I also purchase industry tutorials. I was a trainer for a while at a large institution, and we had to write our own training packages, so I quickly learned how to get around in the various software packages.
TechRepublic: Do you find it difficult to separate your personal life with your business life? Do you think this is more difficult for those who run their own business?
Glick: My fourteen-year-old daughter moans constantly to her friends about Mom and Dad always doing something on the computers, but she also has the "coolest" computer in her class and is the envy of all her friends. We include her in the business; she is our "receptionist." Trouble is, she is so good at talking customers through minor computer problems that they keep trying to hire her away from us!
When you run your own business your time is not your own. You might be working on an article or a Web design at midnight. You don't get paid for sick days or holidays, and customers don't seem to recognize that you don't necessarily want to receive a call at 11 P.M. about the beer they just spilled in their laptop.
TechRepublic: What are your favorite and least favorite aspects of working for yourself?
Glick: Favorite: making my own decisions, not having to listen to some boss, who really shouldn't even be in his or her job, telling me to do something that he or she hasn’t got a clue about. Least favorite: suffering the consequences of making a poor decision.
TechRepublic: What advice would you give to other IT pros wanting to start their own business?
Glick: It's a feast-or-famine business. You will not have customers pounding your door down; you have to go out and invite them in. Always be honest with your customers, and remember that, when working for yourself, it takes years to build up an income. If you are in a partnership, one of you should work for someone else that pays health insurance and a steady paycheck, because steady is not what your paycheck will be.
Also, during the year, computer business seems to reach a high in January and a low in June, so plan your vacation for the low times. Get all your licenses, keep up with your taxes, and always be honest to your customers. Your business will grow, you will stay out of trouble, but your parents will still ask you, "When are you going to get a REAL job?" I still think that it is all worth it and I love it!
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Bill Detwiler has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop support specialist in the social research and energy industries. He has bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Louisville, where he has also lectured on computer crime and crime prevention.