How I (Finally) Quit My Day Job To Run My Computer Business

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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.



Derrick Wlodarz

About the Author

Derrick Wlodarz
More articles by me...
Derrick Wlodarz is an IT Specialist that owns Park Ridge, IL (USA) based technology consulting & service company FireLogic, with over 8+ years of IT experience in the private and public sectors. He holds numerous technical credentials from Microsoft, Google, and CompTIA and specializes in consulting customers on growing hot technologies such as Office 365, Google Apps, cloud hosted VoIP, among others. Derrick is an active member of CompTIA's Subject Matter Expert Technical Advisory Council that shapes the future of CompTIA exams across the world. You can reach him directly at derrick@wlodarz.net.

Comments (12)

  • Jesse says:

    Congrats! Just started my business this year and we just moved into our office. My partner and I are far from being ready to pay ourselves, but we feel that things are definitely moving in the right direction. I work another job part-time EARLY in the morning, 4a-9a, which gives me the rest of my day to work on the business, but I start to get burnt out in the afternoon.

    Looking to be able to hire a tech first before we worry about paying ourselves. We have a general idea that we’d like to hopefully be to that point or close to it at about a year into the business. We have quarterly goals set for revenue and amount of managed service clients we’d like to have onboard. We’re just getting ready to get into the managed services game and would like that to be the main source of our income, but starting out we’re basically taking what we can get.

    I long for the day that I can quit the other job and continue down the path of entrepreneurship!

  • Brandon says:

    Great article. Derrick, oddly enough, I am in the *exact* same boat as you were. I also do tech for a school. I am the I.T. Director for the entire district. As glamorous as that title may seem, don’t be fooled. I am the lone ranger computer guy for the entire school district. I AM the computer department managing multiple schools and every aspect of technology there in. I too have a side business that I would like to take full time. I don’t get paid real great for working for the school system. And considering the ridiculous work load I would love to get out one day. The amount of stress I deal with having to be the only computer guy for multiple schools, its really impossible to stay afloat with my work load and they won’t hire anyone else to help me out. Funny, they can’t keep a guy in this position. They have went through several tech directors in the past few years. Wonder why? But seriously, the amount of work I have to deal with, everything technology related: several hundred computers, laptops, couple hundred ipads, network infrastructure, projector, cameras, email, web pages,… everything that is electronic pretty much is all mine. Its just too much. So my dream is to get my business going full time. But Im just too scared to do so. I have a wife and 3 young children to take care of. And right now my wife is a full time stay at home mom. So I bring in the sole income. But it is my dream, and has been my dream since I was 16 (im 32 now) to have my own full time computer business. And with yours and the rest of the TechNibble writers and readers, and articles like this, maybe soon I can too take the plunge. Great story.

  • Lisa says:

    You have to take the jump at some point if it’s your passion. I only attempted to do FT when I was not working, otherwise I was very scared to go it alone. There is a lot of bills to pay if you have no money, so I appluad you and everyone who takes the dive in our pool! Good luck everyone and remember the forums have tons of information for you and a good amount of ears open to just talk.

  • Dan says:

    Great post…Especially the part about “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?”

    Big things to consider even if you don’t have health problems. Single or married can you really afford taking the chance not to have insurance? Should be a cost you factor in. Married? Kids? 401K? IRA?

    Really have to think long term and what you want.

  • Greg from Canada says:

    One of your best articles yet, Derrick! Very inspiring!!

    It will likely be what many members of this site look back to fondly and say that it was their springboard for going full-time as well. :-)

  • Chuck Romano says:

    Derrick, I just want to say congrats and that this is fantastic! There are so many underlying issues that people face when making this plunge, and “not easy” is a MAJOR under-statement.

  • Thanks for the excellent comments everyone. I’m curious to hear about others who have made the same plunge and their experiences. This is definitely a “trying” time in anyone’s life, but the pros far outweigh the cons!

    • Neal Shafto says:

      I lost my job to LACK OF CUSTOMERS IN RETAIL STORE at the end of April 2011
      I have gone through the necessary requirements to get a Small Business Support Program started, this helps me to get going and allows me to get $$$$ per week to get going and promote the business.
      Great article and good luck in the future.
      Neal

  • Heath says:

    Nice write up… I am on that vurge of 14hrs a day. Thankfully i have a tech that watches the phones while I work my Full time Job(2)

  • elcompudoctor says:

    I’ve been debating this for about 6 months now. I’m still too afraid to make the move. I just think that I’m way more of a tech than a business man so I don’t want my passion to cost me my future if I dont make the right decisions.

    Being a businessman is a whole different ball game, and one that I don’t think I’m ready for. Great write up sir. It definitely shines a new light on the subject ;)

  • K says:

    Hey Guys where do you purchase laptop screens from when a customer wants to do a screen replacement? Ebay? A vendor? Where?

    Thanks

  • Todd Hein says:

    Thank you for this article. I am a laborer in a factory, and also lead a double life, well sporadically. I have a reputation as someone who knows computers in the shop, and have gradually been making money fixing computers for people there, at a price of course. But through word of mouth I have been getting a little more work, not enough to remotely quit yet,but enough that I decided that I really like working on computers, and want to do this. I started my computer repair company on the side called Crystal Lake Computer Repair in the Twin Cities area. I am now starting the buildup of my company, and was very nervous, actually still am about the future, and if I can build this company doing a full time job, plus the other stuff that I have going on. This article gave me some hope that it can happen. Thank you.