Wednesday, August 26, 2009

All Your Questions Answered (Well, 2 Big Ones)

So when people ask me what I do for a living, I have a really hard time answering that question. If I tell them I own a "computer company" they'll immediately start asking my advice on how to fix some strange thing going on with some strange relative's computer. If I tell them I own a "franchise", they for some reason assume it's McDonald's or something.

The best I can do is explain that my job is helping technology entrepreneurs be successful, which is really what Computer Troubleshooters does. Every day most of my day is spent supporting the 480+ Computer Troubleshooters locations around the world, and the rest of my time is spent working with people who are interested in joining the CT team.

That latter group always has certain questions, as you might expect. After all no one just decides to spend $20k buying a franchise license and jumping into the self-employed lifestyle without doing some research. And that's a good thing, becuase the folks who really dig into the details and do their due diligence almost always decide that Computer Troubleshooters is right for them.
So if you fall into that category, if you're considering starting your own IT solutions business or if maybe you're already in an IT solutions business and you're considering joining a franchise, I want to help you out by answering your two biggest questions:

#1: How Much Money Can I Make?
Yep, this is a popular question. Understandably. But it's also a really hard question to answer, for two reasons. First - I don't know you. Your income in any business venture is fundamentally based on you. If you sit home watching daytime TV your income is likely to be less than that of someone who uses that same time to reach out to potential and past clients, for example. More importantly, the FTC regulates franchising in the US and I can't answer that question unless I can back it up with some good statistics, which is hard for me to do because we aren't a royalty-based franchise and I just don't get good data from a lot of our locations. I can tell you that most of our franchisees came from high-paying IT jobs, and the fact that we're ranked higher than any other technology franchise by Franchise Business Review (based on franchisee satisfaction) should mean something. But I can't give you specifics - nor should you believe me if I do. Franchisors who do provide income guidance are often basing it only on their top performing locations, so it may or may not be indicative of what you'll make.

Now 5 years ago it was pretty easy to guesstimate your income. Almost everything we did was billable by the hour, so if you estimate how many hours your techs are likely to bill on average, and multiply it by your expected bill rate... presto, you've got your estimated revenue. But our business model today is increasingly complex (for good reason), with multiple revenue streams. You'll make money from hourly billing (break-fix) sure, but also from supporting customers on BEST service plans (our version of Managed Services), from commissions on Cloud hosted solutions, from VoIP installations, hardware/software sales, and more.

To help you plan your income I created the attached spreadsheet here. I still can't tell you what you can earn, but you can use this spreadsheet to better estimate how much revenue you expect from the various income streams. Use this, and talk with existing IT solutions businesses (if you're in the CT due diligence process now ask your sales coordinator to send an introductory note to all the CT franchisees in your country so they'll make time to talk with you) to see if they think your figures are reasonable.

#2: Why Should I Join Computer Troubleshooters Instead of Doing It On My Own? (Or Instead of Joining Geeks On Call, Fast-Teks, or CMIT, or Friendly Mobile?)
Also a popular and important question. I asked the same thing before I joined CT back in 1999. Even though we're one of the least expensive franchises on the market, $19,500 (the list price for a franchise territory in the USA) is a lot of money. What exactly do you get for all that, and would you be better off spending $25k on another franchise or better yet save your money and do it all yourself?

You might suspect I'm a little biased on this one, but I do honestly believe you get more for your money by purchasing a Computer Troubleshooters franchise than through any other alternative. And to show you what I mean, I took the time to document each and every benefit you get from Computer Troubleshooters, in nine categories, and put them all in THIS spreadsheet. And I left room where you can enter your estimated costs for any alternative business method - another franchise or the "DIY" option. And even though I entered what *I* think is reasonable as the value for each benefit, I encourage you to go through, think about each one, and change it to what you think is fair. As you can see, you get a LOT for your money in Computer Troubleshooters - especially over the five-year span in the spreadsheet (we look even better over longer periods, but 5 years seemed like a good basis for comparison).

Note that I also left you some blank room on each page where you can add things you think we're missing and that someone else may offer - but let me know if you do, because it may just be that we forgot to list something.

So, how much money can you make as a Computer Troubleshooter? Use the revenue spreadsheet, talk with existing (and former) CT's, and find the real answers for your personal situation. Why join CT instead of doing it yourself, or joining another franchise? Use the comparison spreadsheet to judge for yourself.

Today's economy depends on successful small businesses,and successful small businesses depend on technology. We've worked hard to make Computer Troubleshooters the BEST solution for small business IT support, and we're growing all the time. If you're looking for a franchise opportunity in a growing industry, do the research and check us out.


Being a Mac Guy: The 1-year Review

So about a year ago I ordered a Mac. I've always been a PC guy, from my first 8088-based machine in collge up through the HP notebook I carried around last year. And as a "techie" I think there's still a certain expectation that you're supposed to be a PC guy - after all don't techies enjoy showing off all the obscure Windows commands that other folks complain about? (And, in fairness, I did teach a friend how to Alt-Tab for the first time yesterday, and it was a huge benefit for him).

But I'd heard good things about Mac and wanted to "play with" it, so I bought a used Macbook Pro on Ebay and started playing. A month later it had become my primary work machine, and a few weeks later I was blogging about my experiences as a new convert to the cult of Mac. Still, some of my PC friends were telling me things like "Yeah, yeah, you like it now because it's new and shiny, talk to me 6 months from now and you'll be back to a PC."

Well, it's been a year, and my regular computer HAS in fact changed again - to a brand new MacBook Pro (15", 2.66 GHz Core 2 Duo, 4GB RAM). I think at this point it's official - I'm a Mac guy. I still use VMWare Fusion every day to run my Microsoft Outlook (can't wait for the Mac version of Outlook due next year).

Why the switch? The main reason is that I'm a really busy guy, and using the MacBook Pro saves me at least 15 to 30 minutes every day. On my old Windows notebooks they would always take too long to "wake up" when I move from home to the office, or when I'm trying to get some quick work done in an airport or on a plane. Plus I'd get that frustrating "pause-for-no-apparent-reason" at least a few times a day, interrupting my workflow and just generally bugging the heck out of me. The Mac wakes up in seconds, and mostly very reliably (sometimes Outlook running in the virtual environment can't find the Exchange Server when it wakes up, but I've found an easy workaround). When I'm done I just close the lid and it sleeps - no waiting indefinitely while Windows tries to suspend it's programs. I reboot once a week or so, and in over a year of use I've had maybe 3 system "freezes" that required a shutdown & restart to correct. On my Windows machine that seemed like a daily occurance!

Now not all is perfect in the world of Mac. Apple software in particular has some wonderful features which are often missing from their Microsoft counterparts, like the ability to record a slideshow (Powerpoint) presentation with narration. But some of those features don't work (the audio narration invariably gets out of sync with the slides very quickly), and others only work if you are using only Apple software (like Apple's iMovie only being able to import pictures from iPhoto - which makes it almost unusable for me). Say what you will about Microsoft's Powerpoint and Movie Maker, but at least the features they do have actually work and don't require you to use other Microsoft products!

Still, the pros outweigh the cons, and I find I'm MUCH more productive now on my Mac. Looking at Apple's sales figures I'm obviously not the only one who thinks so, and in fact here at Computer Troubleshooters we've started doing some limited tech training on Mac Support as well (starting with a workshop last February where two Mac-certified trainers showed us the ins and outs of the Mac OS).

So for all my techie friends who still haven't tried the Mac, I'd say this: Try the koolaid, it's better than you might think!