Ann Arbor Business to Business
Small Business and the Internet

A Small Business Gets Real

December 2004

By Mike Gould

"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."
          …Hunter S. Thompson

And sometimes the going gets downright depressing in the world of a very small business such as mine. I am currently a full-time computer support person for a Certain Large Local University (CLLU), but starting in January, I will be a half-time employee of said enterprise. Yup, after 16 years service, profound financial bunglings at the school where I work have resulted in my semi-layoff. Having passed through the stages of screaming rage, denial, heavy drinking, and acceptance, I am now ready for Plan A: expand my own business.

Bringing Moonlighting to the Light of Day
Like a lot of people, I have my own little biz after my day job. I design, code, and maintain websites, and I go to people's houses and take care of their Mac computers and home networks. This is called moonlighting, and it is not to be confused with moonshining (although that's starting to look like good idea about now). Working for the CLLU has many benefits, but extravagant pay isn't one them - hence the need for monetary supplementation. (And I certainly can't survive on the $87K I get for writing these little articles every month, what with prices in Ann Arbor and all…)

Up to now my biz has been modest: a few hours here and there after work, a few weekends spent cranking out webwork. My business has grown to a comfortable level by word of mouth, with no advertising other than day sponsorships on WEMU.

But this is going to have to change, if I want to avoid chapter 11 in a couple of months. The deal is going to be this: mornings, I work at the CLLU; afternoons, I work the web and do my home consulting thing.

So now I have to get my act together and take it on the road. The following is the saga of one man's struggle to elbow his way onto the crowded dance floor we call the marketplace, dance the Macarena of commerce, and avoid living under a bridge.

Ad Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc (It Pays to Advertise - Cito the Pedantic)
Resignedly taking credit card in hand, I bought ads in Business to Business (of course - always a good idea - call Jan, she'll take care of you - 734-769-0939), The Ann Arbor Observer, and Current magazines.

Why the selection above? It all has to do with my Theory of Niche Satisfaction: identify your market, make them aware of your services, satisfy their every computer-related desire, pick up the check. My thinking: I have 2 businesses - web-related services and Macintosh support. Which one do I want to concentrate my promotion on?

Lessee here: Ann Arbor is awash in webworkers of every stripe, ranging from the marginally-competent working for peanuts in FrontPage, to the awesomely-experienced large organizations servicing the needs of corporate enterprises for big bucks. Do I want to stage-dive into this mosh pit, awesomely gifted in weblore as I may be?

On the other hand, a search of local advertising for Mac-only support yields: nada - zilch - bupkis. Hmm - sounds like an untapped market to me. My theory is that a large portion of those above-mentioned web designers are waltzing with Photoshop and Illustrator on Macs, and they are all in desperate need of my dance lessons and bunion plaster. Not to mention the vast horde of just plain folks tap-dancing on keyboards connected to iMacs. And small businesses, fed up with tripping over Windows viruses and stumbling into gaping security holes, who have switched to Macs. And - you get the picture.

Getting back to my theory of advertising, I chose Business to Business because it talks to the small businesses I would like to serve, some of whom run Macs. I hit the Observer because I believe the iMac crowd reads that, and I went with Current because it is art- and culture-oriented, and a significant portion of my current clientele consists of artists and craftspeople.

Everybody Dance
Next strategy: join a group of people and take care of them. So I joined a local group of professional graphics folks, intending to schmooze them severely at gatherings, and advertise in their publication and on their website. No, I'm not going to tell you which group this is - I gotta keep some of this confidential to avoid giving away my complete business plan to somebody else out there who may be contemplating a similar move. A word to potential competitors: forget it - nobody uses Macs. You'll lose your shirt. Stick with web work.

First Steps
My next order of business is business. Get a DBA registered - check. Get a cell phone so clients can reach me easily - check. Get my graphics together - working on it. I need to re-design my logo, letterhead, invoices, flier, etc.; everything I hand to clients and potential clients needs to be professional-looking, easy to follow and inspire confidence.

And finally, what I really need to do first: re-design my own website so that potential clients can read my story: what I do, where you can go look at some of it, how much it costs, policies and procedures, ringing endorsements from satisfied users, and most importantly, pictures of me in action (holding a mouse, aiming a digital camera, wrestling code to the ground, etc.). My own site is pretty pitiful right now, due to me spending all my time on other people's sites.

So that's Plan A, come January. If it works out, see you on the dance floor. If it doesn't, that bridge over the Huron at US 23 doesn't look too bad…

Mike Gould is a mouse wrangler for a CLLU, runs MondoDyne Web Works, is a member of Factotem.com, and welcomes comments addressed to mgould@mondodyne.com. And he promises much less blatant self-aggrandizement next month. Honest.

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