From the February 1998 issue of Startups

Q: I'm a computer science major at the University of California in Irvine considering going into the computer-consulting business upon graduation. I plan to market my services to small-business owners and middle-class to upper-class family households. Can you recommend some books on computer consulting and perhaps some contacts?

Luong Dang
Irvine, California

A: Provided by Debbi L. Handler, owner of Data Access Solutions in Sausalito, California, and president-elect for the Independent Computer Consultants Association in St. Louis.

Starting a computer-consulting practice can be scary, but it can also be extremely gratifying. To keep a steady cash flow, you'll need to maintain several clients simultaneously.

For more in-depth advice on starting a computer-consulting business, refer to these books: How to Make It Big as a Consultant, by William A. Cohen (American Management Association International, $17.95, 800-262-9699) and How to Be a Successful Computer Consultant, by Alan R. Simon (McGraw-Hill, $21.95, 800-262-4729).

For help running the business side of your consulting firm, attend your local Independent Computer Consultants Association (ICCA) chapter meeting. The ICCA, a national trade association open to anyone in the computer-consulting industry, offers networking opportunities and education through monthly chapter meetings and an annual national conference.

ICCA members get a host of benefits, including a national newsletter; standard contracts; a personal Web page; health, disability, business, and errors and omissions insurance policies; as well as numerous business-related service discounts.

For membership information or to find a chapter near you, contact the ICCA at (800) 774-ICCA, write to 11131 S. Towne Sq., Ste. F, St. Louis, MO 63123, or visit its Web site at http://www.icca.org

Watch Your Step

Problem:

Too often, small-business owners fail to recognize a crisis in the making. As a result, they are caught off balance and totally unprepared to deal with the situation.

Solution:

Before a crisis occurs, take the time to look at your business and explore its areas of greatest vulnerability. These are where future crises are likely to occur. If you know what your weak points are, you can take some very specific steps to prevent crises from occurring--or to minimize the effects if they do occur. Failure is determined by what you allow to happen; success is determined by what you make happen.

Take the time to "audit" your company's weaknesses. To ensure objectivity and candor, you may wish to hire an outside firm to handle this audit for you.

Be sure each of the following activities is studied for its vulnerability to rapid, unexpected change, regardless of the cause:

  • Cash position
  • Personnel problems
  • Management succession
  • Public perception
  • Adverse international events
  • Sudden shifts in the market
  • Governmental regulation or deregulation
  • Product failure

Next, assign priorities to your resources. Rank them according to (a) probability--which ones are most likely to occur, (b) severity--which ones would most seriously affect your operation, and (c) cost--how much it might cost to prevent a crisis in each category.

Know precisely how much you can afford to expend on a crisis in terms of manpower, money, prestige, market position and so on. Candidly assess your ability to handle a crisis, should one occur:

  • Do you have an early-warning mechanism to detect an emerging crisis at the earliest possible moment?
  • Can you marshal your resources, when necessary, to cope with adversity?
  • Is the design of your organization open and flexible?
  • Are you prepared to benefit from a crisis once it has passed?
  • Do you have a desire to improve and grow?
  • Does change occur easily in your company?
  • Are you capable of accepting and implementing new ways of doing things?

Excerpted with permission from Roger Fritz's The Small Business Troubleshooter (Career Press, $15.99, 800-CAREER-1).

Contact Sources

Data Access Solutions, (415) 331-9993, 76702.613@compuserve.com