I had this great idea: I figured smaller companies need the same integrative perspective and professional management a CIO provides large enterprises, but can’t afford a full-time CIO. So I created a solution — a low-cost IT management service.
187 marketing letters and a bunch of telephone calls resulted in precisely no interest. IT Catalysts still offers the service, but since 187 is a statistically valid sample, it’s no longer something we actively market.
Quite a few of you have asked about my experience starting IT Catalysts, so at the risk of overusing that most deadly of words — “I” — here are some early lessons learned.
Lesson #1: Selling is everything. Yes, everything. If you aren’t prepared to sell, don’t start your own business. I received a deluge of kind wishes and great advice when I announced my transition in this space, but no flood of requests for my services. If you start your own business, prospects won’t call you either. You gotta sell.
Lesson #2: Write the brochure first. You don’t have to produce it, just write it. It forces you to craft clear answers to important questions, like what you are selling, who you are selling to, and why that person should choose you instead of a competitor. You’re always selling to a person, not a company. Choose someone who will want what you’re selling and can make the decision to buy it.
Lesson #3: Write the brochure before the website. A brochure must be concise. The web gives you too much space. (Yes, I learned this the hard way.)
Lesson #4: Use your friendships, but don’t abuse them. Now that you know who you’re selling to, ask every friend you have to introduce you to anyone they know who fits the description. Don’t ask for more than an introduction, though, and don’t sell to a friend unless friendship means less to you than income.
Lesson #5: Make more friends. If you understand Lesson #3, Lesson #4 is self-explanatory.
Lesson #6: Be friendly. You can’t be brilliant until after they like you. If you’re brilliant before that, you’re just another annoying show-off who knows how to talk but not how to listen.
It’s a tough year to start a business. It’s also a tough year to find employment. The only benefit of employment is that you don’t have to sell as often. It isn’t security. As a wise friend put it, true security only comes from the lack of security.
I have plenty of that.