Up until very recently I’ve led a double life, so to say. A double life that has spanned just over two and a half years already. No, I wasn’t a secret agent or anything intriguing (relatively speaking, of course; I genuinely love what I do.) If that were the case, computer repair probably wouldn’t be one of my greatest professional passions. However, I did finally make a life decision that I have yet to regret: I quit my day job working technology support & training for a local high school and took my computer repair & tech consulting company FireLogic full time.
I’ve kept my primary day job on the sly here on Technibble for many reasons. Unless you took attention to the finest details of my writing, you probably would have never caught on that my various pieces here were based on a part-time computer business. To me, my side company had become a full time venture as soon as I realized that I had to bring on daytime help to cover customers I couldn’t handle due to my day job. The 14+ hour days just became too much. Wake, work at job 1, handle the side company, and do it all over again the day after – no matter how exhausting the routine became. FireLogic quickly grew from an experiment into a pet project, all the way to a semi-full time venture and now into my primary source of income. It wasn’t easy by any means, but if you’ve read this article thus far, you’re probably loaded with motivation to make the same necessary steps in your own life.
I know many technicians on Technibble are in similar shoes. The forums are drenched with threads about the fear of quitting a stable job to be your own boss. I previously wrote a thorough piece on how to manage precisely that very conundrum of running a computer business on nights and weekends. But seeing that I finally bit my worries to the wayside and took the plunge, I can write with certainty that making the transition from a stable 9-5 job to your own computer repair company is not as untenable of a goal as it may seem. With the proper planning and preparation, especially in terms of customer relationship building, you too can bid farewell to the day job.
Below are my insights in how I did it, looking back at my progression toward a self-sustaining computer repair business over a two plus year timespan. There’s no single formula out there for figuring out the “when” and “if” you are ready to make such a life change. My own experience is filled with many unknowns, much guessing, some good planning, and a lot of experimentation. But I will say that it was 100% worth it.
Honesty Builds the Best Customer Base
One of the common things I read about in the Technibble forums is how prospective full-time business goers are unsure about how to build their customer base. Not only how to do so, but who to target when starting out. I’ve seen suggestions about every marketing gimmick in the book, but one overlooked aspect of the entire equation is a fairly concrete matter known as honesty. Would you rather have a customer list of hundreds of clients that do work with you only a single time? Or do you believe that having only 50 people who use your services consistently is a better long term bet?
It’s not difficult to see that consistency is better then “one-hit-wonders” as I call them. The way to build a solid customer base for yourself is to merely run an honest operation that promotes word of mouth referrals above all. Make people keep coming back, and bringing others in, because they want to do business with you and not because they’re forced to. People have such low opinions about their cable and cell phone providers for this very reason. They don’t necessarily do business with them because they choose to; they’re roped into long term agreements that promote sub-par service over a given period of time. Don’t let your business function in this manner.
I’ve previously written about my usage of the powerful word of mouth engine known as volunteer work, but there are many ways to garner a strong referral network with customers who value your honesty. Good customers usually provide even better referrals, and when you become known as a trusted source for computer repair needs, this will work wonders for your budding business in the long run. BE that competitive alternative to the big box stores, but DON’T sacrifice your morals or business ethics in the process. Customers see through the lines, and my company FireLogic has been growing rapidly on word-of-mouth from these very core ideals since day one.
Don’t Set Arbitrary Dates For Making The Plunge
I almost made this mistake a few times in the lead up to truly being ready to quit my day job. As a goal-driven being, I like to place timelines on the objectives that I value most in life. I tackled my college education in this manner along with the numerous certifications I’ve garnered over the last few years. Date driven goals keep motivation high and the entrepreneurial juices flowing. But when it comes to something as drastic as changing jobs, arbitrary dates are NOT the solution.
Instead, focus on a mixture of qualitative and quantitative items when deciding on your transition period. One of the key factors in proving to myself that I was ready for this change was a simple business report known as the Profit and Loss Statement. My accounting product of choice (Zoho Books) allows me to easily check on these crucial numbers at any time with one click. Quickbooks and Freshbooks and similar suites offer similar tools. I’ve followed my “bottom line” net profit for about the past year, checking in on how much the company was improving on a month-to-month basis. It wasn’t a clear path upward, but on the average, I was eventually bringing in as much or more than my day job on a monthly basis.
That’s one of the main factors to keep in focus when making this decision. Is my company bringing in enough money AFTER all expenses are paid to sustain (or beat) my necessary income level? If this trend stays consistent for at least a half year (preferably longer) then you can safely assume that the numbers don’t lie. But be mindful to take other factors into consideration as well. Are you gaining, and retaining, new customers? Is your average income per job staying consistent or rising steadily? Are you pulling in crucial new business customers (read: consistent recurring and loyal work)?
Current numbers alone don’t tell the whole picture. There are a lot of life factors that don’t fit into a math equation or profit statement. Do you have hefty health problems that are being covered by the lofty insurance your day job affords? Are you getting married or having kids soon that will bring your monthly expenses up substantially? Do you plan on going back to school shortly – or similarly, will you be finishing school and having student debt hitting your doorstep every month? These are items which won’t show on your current expenses but need to be considered. And don’t discount the emotional factor. Your gut feeling STILL has a place in making big decisions. For me, the numbers all added up for many months but my gut feeling didn’t let me make the plunge until recently. Follow instinct; it’s there for a reason.
Consider the Bigger Picture Over the Short Term Successes
When I reference the so-called bigger picture, I’m talking about the overarching position of your company as a viable business if you were to quit your full time job today. Would you consider the customer base that you currently have enough to keep you busy to make ends meet? Keep in mind my valuation earlier of solid business customers and what they mean for long term recurring revenue. If you’ve primarily been garnering residential customers that don’t utilize your services more than twice a year, you’ve got reconsider your prospects for keeping a fully functioning business afloat every month. If you don’t have the marketing or word of mouth prowess to have a steady flow of new residential clients, then step back and re-evaluate where your customer base needs to be at before you can afford to take a pink slip.
Aside from what type of customers you are relying on also comes into question the type of work you are taking on. While traditional computer repair is still my company’s bread and butter, we are steadily branching out into more fruitful new ventures. I’ve previously penned about our growing position as one of the leading Google Apps specialists in the Park Ridge, IL (USA) area. Specifically, my Google Apps Trainer and Deployment Specialist certifications have been one of the greatest investments of time and energy in terms of ROI. We are landing training and support projects for Google Apps work at a rate of 3-4 large proposals a month. These are the kinds of new trends you have to be open to in order to survive in the new age of computer repair. If all you want to do is sit at a workbench and flip machines day in and day out, making a business out of it full time may be something to really think over deeply.
Modern day techs are looked at moreso as full circle IT consultants, especially the ones that are thriving. Looking into new avenues of education and reaching beyond the safe scope of traditional computer repair are necessities for setting up the framework of a successful go-to business in your local area.
Making the Jump is a Gradual Process – Don’t Force It
Too many techs in the Technibble forums are so full of fear because they pin their foreseeable futures in the computer repair business on hasty calculations and simple-minded projections. They so badly want to take their businesses full time that they overlook all of the necessary bases I mentioned above and start forcing themselves into a corner. “I either make the switch next month, or I don’t do it at all.” This kind of act first, think second mentality is not the way to approach the self employment plunge because too many times, emotion becomes a leading factor above all else. When time becomes the biggest constraint in your decision making process, irrational thinking takes over and blurs the realities of making effective self change.
There is no simpler way to say it, but the “time” to make the move will come when it does and you will know. You’ll be able to run the numbers and feel confident that your gut is leading you into the unknown with the proper intentions. Let the customer base grow, hire daytime help if you need to, and use your lunch breaks to handle customer calls – whatever it takes to build the most solid company you can before you let go of the tried and true.
After a while I let my own path go forward in cruise control. FireLogic was steadily building a great customer list, and we were bringing in so much word of mouth that I finally knew the 14+ hr days were a clear sign that something had to change (not the other way around.) I didn’t hunt for the work after I left my day job. It came to me gradually, and I parted ways with my double lifestyle when the time was truly right.
That time for me was June 29, 2012 and I have yet to look back. Running my own technology business is very gratifying, and most techs on this site can likely agree that if the inner motivation is there, the money will come naturally. The above formula has worked well for me, and I’m sure others in my former shoes can take some pointers to apply to their own situations. Making a full time computer business work is all about taking calculated risks with the right quantitative and qualitative measures in check.
The computer repair field is not dead by any means. While we need to be creative in the way we approach the industry going forward, in no way is it the entrepreneurial fad of geeks from yesteryear. Its been working for my company, and taking the self employment plunge is one of the biggest votes of confidence I could ever give the industry at large.
Have your own dilemma of figuring out when the time is right to make the jump? Post your thoughts in the comments section below and let’s hear what you have to say.