Hiya folks – I am the author for the SMB Consulting Best Practices book and I love to hold virtual book readings!
(btw – my SBS 2008 book is now here too!)
Nationwide SMB consulting practices and franchises
Over the years I’ve maintained high hopes for Gateway’s store concept. The idea here was to make it the IT department for small businesses in nearly every community in the USA. I even saw it as the first attempt to create a nationwide SMB consulting practice.
At one point, Gateway had nearly 300 stores, each with an impressive interior, training room and repair shop. If that concept had taken fire, the idea was the SMB customer could have the same positive experience in any store. Quality control would be maintained, SMB technology deployment methodologies adhered to, and Gateway could enjoy lucrative service revenue to supplement earnings from product sales. Under ideal
circumstances, it would sell a server loaded with SBS and then have Gateway Network Solution Providers (NSPs) deliver the deployment consulting services. It looked great on paper but, as of this writing, has not worked as planned. At last check, Gateway was closing many of its stores and selling consumer electronic items (a far cry from traditional SMB consulting that focuses on service delivery, let me tell ya’). You will recall I discussed Gateway and its NSP program in Chapter 2 of this book.
Other efforts to create nationwide SMB consulting practices are emerging. And there are interesting variations on this idea of going national. Take a directory service called www.rentageek.com. Here, a customer could find a local SMB consultant who has registered with RentaGeek by searching “Region,” “Needs,” etc. But one of the best-known attempts to create a nationwide SMB consulting practice would have to be GeekSquad (www.geeksquad.com). This SMB tech-for-hire firm, which also serves home-based businesses, is full of characters. The consultants carry badges and play up the “special agent” theme. As of this writing, GeekSquad has operations in Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and San Francisco.
BEST PRACTICE: Robert Stephens, founder of GeekSquad, reports in a Kiplinger’s magazine article (December 2002, page 82) that training has been an especially strong source of revenue for his firm. Something to think about as you define your SMB consulting product mix.
There have been numerous SMB consulting franchising attempts. In central Florida, my friend was involved in the opening a franchise field office for Computer Doctors. Her experience didn’t work out, not because of the franchising concept, but rather because of an unsavory business partner. The same Kiplinger’s article from December 2002 found several other SMB consulting franchising attempts:
· Geeks On Call (www.geeksoncall.com) based out of Norwalk, Virginia, has operations in Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Texas, Virginia, and Washington DC. Geeks On Call intends to continue its nationwide expansion.
· Soft-Temps is a running full-page ads in PC Magazine in the spring of 2003 proclaiming you can make Soft-Temps your dream business by purchasing a franchise. An interesting twist on Soft-Temps, as compared to the other franchise models described above, is that Soft-Temps allows you to avoid doing the actual work. You could simply schedule appointments and assign the work to local service providers. Like many traditional franchises in the business community, Soft-Temps promises a turn-key business operation and demand generation. More information may be found at www.soft-temps.com
BEST PRACTICE: You might consider the franchise approach as a vehicle to enter the SMB consulting business. A couple valid points were raised in the last paragraph: turn-key operation, demand generation. These are value-added components and help you overcome the hurdles to starting and operating a thriving SMB consulting practice. However, franchises come at a cost, typically in the form of a sign-up fee and ongoing revenue-sharing with the corporate main office. Combine this with a healthy dose of buyer beware and you should entertain such franchising opportunities objectively and avoid getting duped right out of the gate.
Harry Brelsford, CEO at SMB Nation (www.smbnation.com)
MBA, MCSE, CNE, CLSE, CNP, MCP, MCT, SBSC (Microsoft Small Business Specialist)
PS – my Small Business Server 2008 (SBS 2008) book is now here!