To start a business or not to start a business, that is… not the question. The real question is do you want to learn the hard way or the right way? — David Galica
Over the span of 15 years, Armor Techs has evolved into the diverse I.T., Marketing, and Engineering service company it is now. Located in downtown DeKalb, Armor has grown into the company you see today but not without going through a number of hurdles.
It all started with a small idea of building an electronic hobbyist store in downtown DeKalb, simply because there just wasn’t anything available in the area to scratch the tech itch. It was decided early that Armor would also have an online presence, so we built a website and a server to host it locally. Following the launch of our own site, we began building and hosting other local businesses’ websites and started collocating clients’ servers in our shop. Before we knew it, Armor had become a web design and development company, as well as an electronic repair shop. We did all those things in the first year without thinking about scaling the infrastructure, modeling a budget, or implementing a marketing plan. At this point, we also didn’t have a well-defined service set. Here is where the first lesson comes into play.
Lesson 1 in Time: Time is not renewable and can be lost due to lack of understanding of your place. In short, you probably should not run a business if you do not know the trade you are in. Take some time learning your trade before you decide to run your own business (we recommend 10+ years). Don’t listen to people that tell you to run your own, because without the proper knowledge of business, the trade, product, or service, starting your own business can and will end up a failure. Being informed and well-versed is the key to success.
Next, we went ahead and built our skill sets up in order to do all of the services we provide. This kept the company moving forward, but it didn’t happen overnight. It ended up being a slow-starting process, and we came into the market later than our competitors at the time. The combination of starting slow and coming into the market later than our competitors created various internal issues. Also, there was a large lack of skilled labor in the area, meaning we ended up needing to train a lot of inexperienced employees. When we finally managed to train someone adequately, they typically ended up trying to steal what they had learned, and then tried to start their own company or quickly finding a position at a different company. This happened for years and caused several issues along the way. The second lesson in time falls here.
Lesson 2 in Time: Starting a business is one of, if not the biggest, time commitments you can make in your life, so you should make sure it’s the correct decision. I would not recommend starting a business to anyone, but if you decide to do so, there are a few things you should keep in mind:
- You are the last to get paid.
- You will probably end up working double or triple time until the business is established.
- There is no honest get rich quick scheme (it just takes time).
- You will need to know how to do your trade and work to be the best at it.
- There will always be unknown variables that you cannot control, and those variables will end up controlling you.
The way Armor grew (and the way that most small businesses grow) is by trading time for payment. If there is not enough money coming in, as the owner of a business, you must subsidize your time to continue working on the jobs to ensure you make your bottom line. Employee stability is another thing that can be very surprising and volatile. By year three, we had a couple stable employees; some of whom made it the whole three years, but most of them only made it one or two years. Owning a shop in a college town didn’t help the employee longevity (or lack thereof) problem, as most of the good, well-trained employees ended up graduating and moving away. Also, at the three-year mark, Armor’s services became solidified. We offered computer repair, web design, graphic design, and web hosting, coupled with a retail storefront. As technology continued to advance, we started to repair cell phones, game consoles, and basically anything that could be plugged in or had some sort of board inside of it. Which leads us to the third lesson of time travel.
Lesson 3 in Time: Time is fleeting, blink and you might miss your opportunity. That opportunity was just a drop in the bucket, and there will be more. Always strive to capture the opportunities that are presented to you, but don’t let missing out on one affect you. Opportunities present themselves all of the time, and there is never a shortage of opportunities to work on when no one else does. Just remember to stop, breathe, and work on yourself too.
About six years in, we outgrew out our little shop, changed some staff, moved into the current facility, and unfortunately continued to witness more of the same issues with work ethic. At this time, we also serviced a number of businesses and walk-in traffic. Providing I.T. for other companies also brought issues in other businesses to light. To expand into bigger markets and service more people, we established a shop in Rochelle and Geneva. We then decided to take the idea of marketing and turn it into a business consulting office. This allowed Armor to take the problems seen in other businesses and try to steer those businesses onto the right track.
10+ years in, and we have a few shops, more services, more work, and we are doing well. Despite the workforce issues, we continue to groom employees closer to building a career and not just a job. At this point, I have my 10 years in the trade and have learned everything as needed for the industry. By this time, I have also earned a Master’s Degree in Engineering and Physics, I’m married, and I have children that drive me to work harder and succeed. After 10+ years in business, every day is one of work, work, and more work—sometimes for 12 to 15 hours a day. Sometimes it feels like we never stop moving, and we continue to try to get faster, which brings us to lesson 4 of time travel.
Lesson 4 in Time: Time will slow down the faster you go (Theory of Relativity) and this can cause massive system failures. Pay attention to your numbers because they don’t lie. Lucky number year 13, I had 7 people try to start their own shop while working for me. They had less than one year in the trade, destroyed my business, and labeled me the bad guy. The theory of relativity is based on speed and relative position of your viewpoint to the object that is moving by you. Your timelines are a little different, and you might think you’re getting ahead, but you are just watching people pass you by faster as your timeline moves slower.
So, while people are watching others make money in ways they do not understand, you can also set a bar for the economy to over-bill, under-perform, under-develop, and lower the skill set. It is simply not stable. So now we slow down, focus on skill, develop careers, design the workflow, design the marketing, implement the plans, improve the structure, and systematize our day-to-day efforts.
This entire process of starting, growing, and managing Armor has been a learning experience (with some fun along the way). At this point, our service set has expanded to better funnel to our core services. We are doing video marketing, 3D printing, drone work, and custom servers & computers. We are also sharpening our older trades with processes, custom software, and new tools of the trade.
Lesson 5 in Time: Meeting your goals is key to finding time to do other things. At this point 15 years later, we have fixed over 30,000 devices, programmed hundreds of websites, built business networks up, and continue to build our staff up to realign the value of our service. We have focused on infrastructure, our
Another year goes by and more delays occur. We experienced a 10-day DDOS attack on our main server. The location that our server was in was unsuitable and caused major disruption in our clients’ websites. We moved our server into our office and ultimately split things up into other hosting competitors. It was another setback; however, we learned many new skills in security and penetration testing. Inevitably, business still had to continue, and many people were upset. We ended up rebuilding and moving forward with time.
The Last Lesson in Time: Time stops for no one. Optimize your time and know that there is always more coming, but there’s also a finite limit. Never wait to do the job since business also moves forward and never stops.
After reaching the 15th anniversary, what is now Armor Techs runs a set of specialized skills that create an I.T. Department that is very unique. We teach and provide value, we develop and help the success of careers, and we promote growth for people and businesses. We have developed our own software platform for our service, we have built a large data backup system and are able to move all work in-house, and we continue to move forward to become the choice in our trades (and not just a choice).
Everyone at Armor Techs would like to thank each and every one of our visitors, our clients, and our staff for helping us to achieve 15 years of business. We hope to continue to thrive and move forward for the foreseeable future, and we couldn’t have done any of it without the dedication and loyalty of our clients. Here’s to 15 more!