Computers and computer programs are among the most wonderful tools available--as long as you know how to use them. If you don't, you quickly learn the true meaning of frustration. And let's face it: Most programs--despite what the blurb on the back of the box may say--are not cuddly. Which leaves lots of would-be computer users, especially businesspeople, floundering instead of working successfully. But if you're intimately familiar with one or more software packages, then you can transform the virtually flummoxed into virtual wizards (or at least computer-savvy souls) with a computer-training business. This is a hot field--according to the International Data Corporation, the worldwide market for technical computer training is nearing the $28 billion mark, with an annual average of $8,200 spent for information systems staff training and $3,000 per person spent on general staff training. You can specialize in the software program or programs you know best; in a field you're familiar with like law or medicine; or, if you've got a broad base of software smarts, you can be a computer G.P., training clients in a wide variety of programs and packages. And you can work one-on-one with individual clients--from tots to seniors--or train a roomful of employees at a time for corporations. The advantages to this business are that you're out and about, working with lots of different people; helping folks overcome computer-phobia is always rewarding; and because you have to keep up with ever-changing technology and software updates, you've got the best excuse in the world for buying new computer goodies on a regular basis. You should know inside and out at least one software package, commonly used by the mass computer market or by a particular industry. But it's not enough to be a software egghead--you'll also need the ability to communicate your knowledge to others. Other must-haves are the patience to help clients conquer computer-phobia and the communication skills to transfer your enthusiasm and techniques to your pupils.
Your clients can be private individuals or corporate types who want to make their employees computer-literate. To get the business from private parties, establish relationships with computer retailers and ask them to refer customers to you. (Be sure to leave a stack of business cards for them to hand out.) Place ads in local newspapers and the Yellow Pages. Solicit companies and corporations through direct-mail campaigns and network at professional, civic and trade organizations. Place ads in industry journals and other publications. Another excellent technique is to get certified or licensed from software manufacturers or vendors who will then refer customers to you. (Sometimes there's a fee involved for getting certified.)
You'll need your own computer and up-to-date versions of the software you'll teach, along with a good word-processing or desktop-publishing program, and--naturally--an inkjet or laser printer, so you can spin out training materials. To go with this, you'll want a desktop projector and a laser pointer so a classroom of clients can see what you're doing.