10 Years of DoctorDave Computer Repair –10 thoughts and lessons

10yearstodayTen years ago on August 17th, 2003 I told my previous employer I could not accept a pay cut and put into action a plan that was over 10 years in the making, to start my own business.
I always wanted to go out on my own but I was afraid. I was afraid of not knowing enough, not saving enough money in advance, and most importantly not having a job!

Working for myself meant I had no stability. If I failed it was my fault. Nobody to blame but myself. That’s scary but when I was told by my employer that the economy was tight and I’d have to work for less I realized the time was now. My job wasn’t stable and I was going to lose money so two risks suddenly weren’t a factor. I’ve been thinking about the past 10 years and gathered some of my thoughts. As Prince would say, forgive me if I go astray.

1) If you are thinking of running your own business just do it!

You can always make excuses but once you’ve got a plan in place, accept it’s not perfect. Don’t just run out and decide to start a business, but once you’ve engaged in a few years of solid planning and saving money, more time won’t make it better. You’ll second guess yourself and always come up with reasons, but the longer you wait, the harder it will become.

Eisenhower said it best “In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable.” Get your plans together but accept that it won’t go according to plan. The fact you planned put you ahead of the game, but like in battle, you can only plan your side. You don’t know how others will react and once they do, your plan is truly useless.

Every move I made was well thought out, planned and discussed. I can’t remember a time when I had a knee jerk immediate reaction to a situation. I always thought it through. Sometimes it went well, sometimes it didn’t but my initial engagement was always planned.

2) Listen to everyone’s advice and feel free to ignore it

Starting out I was given a huge list of advice on how to do things. “You’ve got to have service contracts”, “You need to upsell”, “You need employees”, “You need a storefront”. Some of it I took some of it I didn’t but I only did things that felt right and were compatible with me (pardon the pun). I didn’t do things out of fear or the fact that someone smarter than me knew better. I listened to every piece of advice I was given and then I filtered it through my own logic and comfort level. Could I have made much more money in the short term? Yes, but in the long haul I wouldn’t feel right about it and at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about.

3) Do what you do best

Computer repair companies that don’t just fix PCs, they build them as well as build websites and do Search Engine Optimization (SEO) as well as computer training as well as servers as well as wiring as well as mobile phones as well as…well the list goes on and they do none of them really well.

We turn down callers daily because while I think I can do the work, I don’t think I can do it well and if I can’t do it well then why should you hire me? It just makes sense to me. Myself and my team (more on that later) are some of the best at what we do: computer repair on laptops and desktops in a small office, home office ,and residential environment in Lawrence, Topeka and Kansas City. Do we know lots of other things? sure. Are we reasonably good at some of them? Some of them. Are we good enough to be paid experts? NO! Going back to #2, I was told I was a fool to turn away business. Take for example mobile phone repair. We don’t fix broken iPhones. Is there lots of money in that? Sure. Are we experts at it? No. That’s leads to the next lesson.

4) Refer or delegate the rest

Why should we do iPhones when lots of other companies focus on them and do a better job? We’ve got a great relationship with iCafe in Lawrence and Mission:Repair in Olathe. We refer medium size businesses (five computers or more) to BestMacs and the list goes on. It’s important to get a list of people you trust with and can refer business to (and they can refer back to you).

For those tasks you don’t do well but are critical to the business, find someone who is the best at what they do. Can I do some legal or accounting work for my business? Sure. Are they critical to my business? Absolutely. Am I the best at it? Heck no. I work with people who I consider some of the best and have them on my professional team.

5) Hire the best

I’m so insanely picky about hiring and the simple fact is that if I want to provide the best service to people I have to work with the best. Simple logic. It requires lots of work, lots of research, and lots of time but it’s worth it in the end. Our clients appreciate it and I appreciate it. I’m amazed at the horror stories I hear at other tech companies. Sex offenders doing service calls, ex-cons stealing customer data and so on. Background checks are cheap and we do one for every new team member.

6) Have people work with you, not for you

Did you notice I said work “with” not work “for”? I don’t view the people I work with at DoctorDave as working “for” me. We work for the client after all. Taking a team-based approach means respecting their opinions and value and realizing you can’t know it all. I love it when a member of my team points out a mistake I made because I learn from it. When they make mistakes, I’m fine with it so long as it’s chalked up to learning.

7) Treat your team like you’d want them to treat your clients

Basic logic again. If we work for the client and I want the client to be treated well, I need to treat my team well. One of those ignored pieces of advice I got in #2 was “Pay your technicians as little as possible to maximize your revenue”. That works if you want them to minimize the service they deliver. I prefer “Pay your technicians as much as possible to maximize client satisfaction.” At the end of the day more satisfied customers grows the business long term even if short term profits are less.

8) Watch your competitors but don’t react

When I look at all the computer companies that have come and gone in the past 10 years it boggles my mind. Most notably was the company I helped start — Geeks on Wheels, but I count at least a dozen others that were in heavy competition against me by leaving bad reviews, soliciting our clients, and bad mouthing me. You name it. These frustrated and annoyed me and at some point really scared me. However I stayed the course and did what I thought was right. Sometimes the competition helped me improve myself and branch out into new areas and take a few risks (always calculated, see #1) but I may have delayed action, such as joining the Apple Consultants Network, if it weren’t for their prompting.

Could I have used some of their negative tactics to soften the blow of the competition such as “stealing” business from them? Sure. But that wouldn’t have kept me in business 10 years. Doing what I thought was right has kept me in business.

9) Be yourself and don’t be someone you aren’t

Back to all that advice in #1, I was told ways to dress, groups to join and people I needed to become friends with. It was exhausting. Occasionally I tried some ideas and I liked them, but most of the time I found it wasn’t “me”. Could I act and be someone else and get more business? Yup. Did I want to change or hide who I am in any respect? No. We don’t work on Saturdays. Some know that’s because I’m Jewish and I don’t hide that fact. It’s just who I am and I like going to services or doing other things on Saturdays. We get lots of calls on Saturdays, but I’m not a person that works on Saturdays.

Being yourself doesn’t mean stagnating either. There are times I’ve done things I don’t feel comfortable with but they are still authentic to who I am. LIttle known fact I’m deathly afraid of going up to strangers. If they come up to me and try to chat I’m fine, but nothing scares me more than initiating a chat. Though groups like Social Media Club, I’ve overcome that. I’m actually a social person, so that’s not really being inauthentic but it’s clearly outside of my comfort zone. People appreciate when I chat with them and since I truly enjoy people, it makes me more myself.

10) Say thank you and be grateful

That’s what it really comes down to ultimately. I don’t deserve anyone’s business. I have to earn it and when given it, it’s a gift that should be properly thanked. When I first sent hand-addressed holiday cards I was told I was crazy. It takes about 20-30 hours to write them all out but I believe clients should be thanked for the business in a meaningful way.

When opportunities come up in the community we take part in them as a way of giving back to Lawrence. Sometimes this is volunteering to do computer support at an organization, sponsoring events, giving away gift certificates, or whatever we can do as a group to help make where we live just a little bit better.

Therefore I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank anyone who is reading this for making this a great first 10 years. Thanks for trusting us with your technology leads. Thanks for trusting the team I’ve assembled. Thanks for your referrals and word of mouth. Thank you for allowing us to help make Lawrence, Topeka and KC just a bit better—one computer at a time.

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