I want to grow a small business.
Currently I am an operations manager for an IT company. My full-time position and lack of startup capital likely means that the new venture needs to be bootstrap and part-time friendly, at least initially. Luckily two things I have going for me are schedule flexibility at my current job and a lot of knowledge and experience in a field which can lend itself to minimum startup capital – information technology.
Throughout the early years of my career (though admittedly I am still in the early years), I have worked and leisured as a web designer, software developer, graphic designer, computer technician, technical instructor, support representative, systems administrator and most recently operations manager. While reconsidering my current employment a few weeks ago, I began to reminisce about all of my previously held positions. The one conclusion that I could draw from all of it is that I am satisfied most when I can provide another person with the knowledge they need to overcome obstacles in their life. I’ve always had a strong empathetic element and helping people triumph over things that seem difficult to them really hits the spot for me. So that’s where my passion for this endeavor begins.
So this brings me to the core idea - I am brainstorming a business that offers computer training services. My target market is made up of individuals who are already in the workforce but want to expand their skills with a computer. Whether it is in general or with a specific technology or software package, my company can offer them personalized classes tailored to their needs and scheduled to fit into their busy or existing lives.
Competition in my area manly consists of three community colleges offering non-credit classes twice a year; spring and fall. Additionally I would be in competition with the slew of self-help material; published books, training CDs & DVDs, and various online resources. To date, I have not found any other businesses publicly offering computer training services in a 40 mile radius – it’s solely the community colleges. During the startup phase, I obviously need to capitalize on what a small entity can offer that the larger colleges cannot. The core values of the business focus around being very personable and accessible for its customers.
With my business, customers have a much greater range of flexibility when scheduling a class. Instead of being given a choice of two or three class times once a week, in the take-it or leave-it fashion, I can offer customers an entire range of days and hours. The scheduling works more on appointment instead of predefined choices. Some limited availability remains of course as I work around my full-time hours. I have the additional offering of weekend scheduling as well, something none of the colleges currently provide. Another benefit of the appointment approach for the customer is that under unexpected emergencies, the class can be rescheduled for another day and time or simply pushed back a week. In a community college environment, the classroom experience is lost if something comes up.
Supplementing the focus on flexibility, my business can also offer classes at a wide range of locations. My guess at this time, though largely unfounded, is that the majority of the customer base will prefer instructions to be taught in their own homes. This saves them transportation time and cost (very important these days and the colleges can easily be 30 minutes/miles away from any given customer). Other options are available for those who wish to keep their home private or may not possess a personal computer yet. There are numerous local libraries and community centers that I can talk to concerning the use of their resources. I have also begun considering the possibility of rearranging my in-home office into a small classroom as a final possibility.
So this is where I am going to stop for tonight. I have many ideas left to share; saving costs for customers by buying used books (their instructional material), building a community of past/current customers by opening a web site for them to communicate through, providing free continued instructional/consulting services via email after the completion of their class... There is much more I want to share and should get it posted tomorrow. I have also thought of some obstacles I’ll be looking at. The most notable I need to plan through still is how to ensure that the profit margins are high enough. The tuition rates for the community colleges are quite low as they are playing the numbers game and filling classrooms with 20 to 40 people at a time. With individual scheduling, the system has to be completely different to generate a profit.
I invite everyone to shoot holes through my current view of things as I am sure there are plenty of things I have not even considered.