SMBKitchen Archives: Alternative Business Model

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It’s been more than a year since this article was published to the SMBKItchen, so we’re now sharing it with the general public.


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If you attend conferences, read business books, listen to IT business guru’s you will be led to think that to run a successful IT business that you must follow a particular formula. That simply is just not true. There will be similarities but it’s your business, so the things that are important to you should be at the front and all of the other stuff should be de-emphasized. The trick to creating a business that serves your goals is to know what will make you happy and then build toward that end. Some, with an air of distain, will call this a lifestyle business. I will counter that all businesses are lifestyle businesses because if your business isn’t providing the lifestyle that you want, then you will (or should) change it so that it does or you will decide to do something else. No one will remain in a business that doesn’t provide the lifestyle that they desire. This paper will provide a short outline of how I created my business to serve my goals in the hope that it may inspire you do the same.

How I designed my business

My business was initially conceived to keep me from burning out. I was burnt out from a job when I started my business and I really wanted to get out of that situation but more importantly I didn’t want to ever get myself into a burnt out situation ever again. I had been on a career path that had me changing jobs abruptly and frequently with periods of unemployment in between for recovery from burn out. So I set about to create a business that would protect me from burn out.

First I needed to identify what caused me to burn out. The list included: excessive work travel, 8-5 work day and boredom. Second I needed to identify the things that l liked about my jobs. The list included: Empowering people to do more, seeing the smiling face of a person I just helped, solving a problem when others couldn’t, simplifying IT, working independently. I read the book, “Your Money or Your Life”. There are things that I don’t agree with in that book but the overarching theme is that you have to decide what you value more – Money or Life. I chose Life. It would give me more self-determination and having my own business would provide better job security. Many people don’t think about self-employment as providing job security but it really does. How many clients to you have? What are the odds that all of them will fire you at the same time? Highly unlikely. You will always have income and job security. 

Next I had to define the important things in my life that the business had to support. From a work perspective, I knew I wanted to help small businesses. I wanted to see their smiling faces when a solution was put into place that helped them solve a problem or grow their business. From a personal perspective: I wanted to have time to sail and to work when I wanted to work to maximize my productivity. 
I implemented all of the structure of a business. I made myself a salaried employee with healthcare and a retirement plan. This got me as far as having a one person business and after I established the rules for that business and put them into place, I felt boredom creeping in. I now knew something else about myself and that was that I had to keep things moving or else I was going to get bored and quit. So I decided it was time to hire. At this point I thought about what type of business I wanted to start with as a model. I decided that my idea of a law firm would be the best place to start as a model for my business. Law firms held a key point that made them attractive to me. There were multiple lawyers, each on equal footing in the eyes of the law. Sure each might have a specialty but each was a qualified lawyer in their own right and the business structure was designed around making them the best lawyer possible. This is what my business should do. It should help IT professionals be the best IT professionals they can be. I also knew something about myself that was very important. I knew that I didn’t want to manage people. This meant that I needed a very flat business structure. My business needed to be designed to support more IT professionals just like it had supported me. The one catch was that those IT Professionals had to value the same things that I valued.

The Plan Implemented

Harbor Computer Services is about people. It is about the people that own small businesses and what they need to be successful and it is about IT Professionals and what they need to be successful. It is a technology business that is all about people. 

We are a small company that has won many service awards, both locally in Michigan business communities, nationally and internationally with Microsoft and other organizations. The staff is small, independent and has a business structured around supporting them. We operate very lean without a PSA or central Office. Each person has 100% responsibility for their clients and they have each other to bounce ideas off of and escalation support when they need it. We work odd hours and normal hours too. Everyone is on salary and sets their schedule around the clients they support. We have Fridays off in the summer. We have benefits like, company provided health insurance, HSA, deductible contribution, retirement plan with corporate match, vacation and personal time. We train together some evenings as a group. We meet together to review client statuses. We chatter constantly via Lync and email. Everyone answers calls from their own client list, and handles everything from helpdesk to NOC, deployment, purchases and consultive meetings. Everyone is a professional and passionate about IT.

In business for 15 years now, one of my goals has been to keep my staff growing as professionals. As I mentioned we train together. We do this some evenings, usually during the summer from 4-9pm. We pick a technology and we run labs on it for several weeks. We’ve done Hyper-V, Remote Desktop Services, SBS Migration and currently we’re studying BYOD and Azure. We eat pizza and have fun. I also look for opportunities for my staff to work on things outside of the business. They participate in certification exam development, beta testing and attend conferences. For my part, I found a great love for helping my fellow professionals and so spend time on mailing lists and forums and started another business, Third Tier, all in

the hope of helping the profession grow and prosper. I also run a local usergroup. I recently read “Go-Giver” and realized that part of what I was doing with this business is contained in that book. Like “Your Money or Your Life” it didn’t lead me to change but it confirmed for me that my business was on the right track.


It’s not necessary for you to have an IT business that is just like everyone else’s IT business. There’s no one model that leads to success. Success is found in building a business that meets your needs and has your values. Use the tools that work for you and reject the rest, but never stop evaluating whether you are on still on the right track and whether or not the business still meets your needs. 


Not a Third Tier customer yet? Let me introduce:  We’re Third Tier. We provide advanced Third Tier support for IT Professionals and MicroStaffing for IT consulting firms. Come on over, create an account (no charge) and follow our social media locations.

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