Don't you wish starting an IT business came with a set of instructions? While it can be exhilarating to strike out on your own, it's also easy to make mistakes that seem obvious in hindsight.
To help you avoid some of the common pitfalls of starting a new IT business, we asked
cofounder and managing partner at full-scale digital advertising agency
(@MyHelixHouse), to share some of her experiences. Check out how she got Helix House off the ground, what she learned, and what she would do differently if she could hit a "reset" button.
The transcript below has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What made you decide to cofound a business at 22?
To be honest, I actually always kind of bounced around from business to business before that. I knew I wanted to have a business, I just wasn't sure what it was, so I tried a little bit of everything until I found, well, basically the Internet.
What do you enjoy the most about what you do?
It's amazing to actually step in and be able to help grow a small business and watch them get leads. Often small businesses can create a great service, but they don't know how to actually promote it or how to get customers consistently in the door. And being able to walk into the company, create something like that for them, and help them grow their business is extremely rewarding. I haven't looked back since.
What were some of your biggest hurdles early on, and how did you overcome them?
One of the biggest hurdles was definitely being able to grow. We started from a home business, and opening the first office was absolutely a huge, huge hurdle. We had to go in and sign a three-year lease without the revenue, basically, to pay for that three-year lease, and we weren't sure whether or not we were going to be able to sustain it. So we signed the lease, moved into our first office, hired our first sales team, and knew that whatever happens – we have to make it work.
What were some of the early mistakes you made and what did you learn?
We didn’t seek out mentorship, and we didn't really get involved in local networking associations, especially some of the higher-end ones. As a small-business owner, you are always trying to cut costs, but that's one cost you don’t want to cut – networking and getting to know people. The higher-end networking associations can be a couple thousand dollars a year. But that might be the best investment you make in your business.
It's important to invest in networking groups, and just networking in general is important, just showing up to all of the events and meeting everyone, even your competitors. It's so important for you to meet everybody in your city, in your industry. I don't think you can do enough of it. But most people don't even come close to what the minimum should be.
Editor's note: If you want to step up your networking game, read our article "14 Questions that Will Make You a Networking Rock Star" for some pointers.
What things do you wish you'd done differently?
I think we stayed in one specialty a little bit longer then what we should have. When you're starting out, you get very good at a skill and you're doing it over and over and over again. But the industry changes, and you need to figure out at what point are you not doing enough or doing too much of the wrong things.
I think in small business, you get so ingrained in your service and what you're doing that you can miss the bigger picture. You have to be aware of your surroundings. Really continue to watch what your competitors are doing and which way the industry is going, and grow with it.
What tips do you have for someone who is ready to start their own IT business?
Get a good niche. Don’t try to do everything at once. IT is just so broad and everybody is trying to do everything, but if you pick a niche, you will be able to grow with it and be able to stand outside of your competitors initially.
One more piece of advice that I was actually just giving someone is don’t rely on traditional education to learn or keep up with the changes within IT industries. The trends and technology move so quickly that it’s hard for any traditional curriculum to keep up. Use resources easily available like YouTube, Udemy, and Lynda.com, and keep up with related blogs and forums to continue expanding your skills.
For more tips from other small IT business founders, check out the following articles:
About the Alona Rudnitsky
Alona Rudnitsky is cofounder and president of Helix House, an award-winning advertising agency based in Scottsdale, Arizona. Recognized in Arizona Business Leaders as one of the city's leading specialists, she regularly contributes to media and news outlets in an effort to help further educate the business community. When not working at her agency or one of the local nonprofits she’s currently involved with, Alona can be found hiking up and down Camelback Mountain, sometimes twice before dawn. She also loves Latin dance, traveling the world, and playing with her dorky dog Misha. Her vision and drive have helped make her one of Arizona's top business owners and an authority on digital advertising.