I’ve been using computers from a very young age as many in my generation have. Over the years I enjoyed finding out what made programs work and how computers were built up along with the actual use of them. I was around 14 or 15 when I started working on the hardware side of computers. Opening up my own system, tweaking things to see if I could get more performance out of it etc. Everything I’ve done in computing is self taught. In my experience, trial and error is much more valuable with computing than being told what to do. Over the last 10 years I’ve handled the hardware side of things from soldering tiny chips and capacitors on PCBs, up to building commercial grade servers. When it comes to software, I’ve touched base with just about everything from graphic design, video editing, photo manipulation, animation, system tweaks, diagnostics and gaming.
I left college at 16. The courses available for IT after that were not of interest to me. A lot of college and uni courses are for very specific fields (such as security), and many would not help with computer repair which is strongly based on experience.
I got a part-time job for an IT company in Sileby when I was 17, which I left to start my own venture at 18.
What is the business about?
For the first 5 or so years, the business has been solely based on web development. It took a long time to be making reasonable money in this, as I didn’t have much start-up money to throw into advertising or expanding my clientele. Growth for a home web development business is strongly reliant on word of mouth, so starting small was fairly normal. Throughout them 5 years, I could have expanded my work load much further than I did, but a lot of my time was spent on personal projects and other areas of interest. There are pro’s and con’s to growing a business slowly like this. If you need full-time wages quickly, a business loan and strong advertising is the only way you’ll get up off the ground in a month or so. By growing my business slowly, from a hobby, to part time and now to full-time, I’ve expanded the business without taking any loans out. This however is a slow process.
The opportunity came up almost 2 years ago to buy a property in Loughborough in which I could base my office and a repair shop, but after long communication issues I ended up not getting the property. This was a drain on time and money. We later found the property I’m in now on Derby Road. It took around 6 months and the majority of my savings to get the property to a stage where I could start trading and push my trade into a full-time business. Since opening the shop, the business’s turnover had grown to 400% of the previous year, and is still growing by the month.
The main obstacles when first starting the business was finding work. For anyone looking into graphic design – your market is huge, but competition is very aggressive. There’s plenty of work out there if you can pitch well and get your name out and about – but you’re in a market where search engine optimisation is key, and most of the large companies will stay on the top of Google results no matter what efforts you put in. The obstacles involved when opening the shop were completely different however.
Finding work for the shop was no problem at all. Even when working on the property to get it ready to open I had people waiting to bring machines in to me. The biggest obstacle was planning permission. This was a painfully slow process for the smallest of matters. Replacing broken glass in the shop windows took months and a lot of money just to get the go-ahead to fit new. For anyone looking to open a commercial premise; set dates as much as you can for your milestones and different stages of the work, but be prepared for tradesmen and planning to change these dates drastically.
Finding work in many fields means advertising. As much of it as you can. There’s plenty of free forms of advertising, some more effective than others – but the main thing is to have your name out there in every form you can.
Patience is also very important with new businesses. I’d generally advise to keep small until you’re able to expand naturally. Pushing to be the biggest and best of something within the first year either takes incredible skills or a great deal of money and advertising.
Company aim in 5 years
Within the next 5 years a lot could happen. The main plan of course is to have more work coming into the PC repair shop, and to have full-time staff working here too. I’d like to increase my components trading, and will eventually have units holding stock and trading online. The original plan for Storm was to be an online trading company only (hence the name) but as PC repair is something I do very well, it made sense to combine the two and help grow stock levels slowly with the income of the other sides of the business (again, meaning no loans and low risk). The shop will eventually be a source of computers and laptops, new and refurbished, as well as specialist stock for those interested in custom computers and enthusiast level gaming.
What do I spend my time on?
Naturally, a great deal of my time is spent on the business. I do a fair amount of trading online too, which means checking online retailers and marketplaces such as eBay around the clock. I’m also restoring this property to be my home, so a good chunk of my spare time goes into that and I’m hoping to be living here within the year. I am a nerd through and through though, so the majority of my free time is spent on custom computer systems, gaming, research and social media. I build a lot of small online programs and websites, and do a fair bit of digital design for fun. I spend a large amount of time reading the latest news in the IT world to keep up to date with the latest advances and techniques, and I also enjoy factual media such as documentaries and reading up random wikipedia entries etc.
Experience is very important, but the most important part of business is proof of quality. I’ve been doing development and repair work for a long time which adds credibility to my services, but the main factor in bringing in work for both development and PC repair is a strong portfolio and recommendations. If you can show good work and confidence in your product / service, you’ll get work over someone someone who has 10 years experience with nothing to show for it. If you’re looking to get into graphic design or web development, build a portfolio of examples (if no paying work is available). Build websites for your friends etc, so you can show what you’re capable of.
Working for yourself is a very rewarding thing to do, especially if what you do is what you enjoy, but it can be very hard work. Be prepared to have long days and sleepless nights.
The amount of effort you put into your work will reflect in profits. If you’re serious about your venture and plan ahead, there’s nothing that should stop you doing well in business.
Storm components: http://www.stormcomponents.co.uk/