I have run my own computer services business since the age of 16. It has been an experience that included many tough lessons.
Back in 1999, my dad refused to let me get a job. So what did I do? I started my own business. At the time, I saw a demand for Web shell hosting. I thought I could do it better than the local companies and so began my first venture.
Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way:
Lesson 1: Strike a deal to get ahead. Being young, I couldn’t get a merchant account or a high speed Internet connection in my house. I had to get my dad to do much of the paper work. I made a deal with him that I would first save enough money to cover three months of costs and in addition, I promised to close the business if I didn’t make enough profit after two months. He agreed and the company went live in August 1999.
Lesson 2: One customer can make or break a business. The shell hosting business was short-lived. But during that time I had a customer request Web hosting services. It was a similar service but unlike shell hosting,
Web hosting involves charging customers a fee in order for them to house their website on a computer server. Little did I know, but this small change would completely transform my company. That’s because more and more customers came asking for Web hosting, each with different needs.
No longer was my company just doing Web hosting, but instead we charged for related features such as email, customer mailing lists, control panels, client databases, and scripting languages, which became a must-have on any hosting plan. My business started with one customer and turned into 50 client accounts the following year, then 250 two years later. I now have 290 accounts and two full-time employees.
Lesson 3: Automation saves time and money. Initially, I was overwhelmed just handling 50 accounts. I recognized that I had to have a system that would let me handle many customers with little effort. Luckily, I took programming classes in high school.
I developed a Web interface for my customers to manage many of their account features. I also developed an automated billing system. With the touch of a button I can run all of the customer credit cards each month. With today’s technologies, one person can perform tasks that used to take several more people to do.
These past five years were not an easy ride. There were many troubled times when I thought my company was through. But you have to deal with trouble as it comes. For anyone who wants to start a business, I can only say be prepared for hard work and sacrifice. Entrepreneurship is not glamorous.
I’ve met people who went into business for the glamour. They imagine themselves driving a Mercedes, and having a nice business lunch everyday. That vision is far from reality. You have to make a lot of sacrifices in the beginning to fulfill your dream.
However, there are advantages to owning your own business. The biggest advantage for me owning a business is that I set my own work schedule.
That flexibility allows me to attend college full-time. I think being an entrepreneur has also made me a better student. So if you’re willing to put in the time and effort, then starting your own business may be the best thing you ever do.
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