Computer Tutor The Buzz


Searching for a nerd-friendly career you can run from home? Computer tutors train individuals and corporate clients to use their software and hardware effectively.

"One of the most common computer fears that I help people overcome is they will mess up the computer or crash the computer," says Cynthia Hunter-Shupe, a Maryland-based computer tutor.

From high-powered executives to first-time home users, that infamous fear of erasing the entire hard drive runs rampant. "You have to have a lot of patience and be willing to hold their hand during each little step with a smile."

Hunter-Shupe was used to computerized hand-holding. "I started teaching people for free when I was in high school." Fourteen years later, Hunter-Shupe realized she had a successful part-time business idea.

"I started charging for my services or accepting a service trade agreement about two years ago." Like many computer trainers, Hunter-Shupe works at her training business part time.

Starting a successful business takes tons of preparation. Savvy entrepreneurs like Hunter-Shupe need to understand their competition, their target market and income projections.

During Hunter-Shupe's computer tutor research, one of her first research subjects was income -- how much could she get paid doing this, anyway? "Most residential clients do not have the money to pay $15 to $20 an hour, even when you show them that the instruction is cost-effective."

Narrowing down her target market, she realized the best clients for maximum profit were high-income families and business owners. "These people are more willing to part with their money because they're better able to afford it and have a better appreciation for one-on-one personalized tutoring."

With freebie flyers, store bulletin-board cards and lots of networking, Hunter-Shupe got the word out -- and prepared to knock 'em dead.

Unlike many businesses that require big bucks to open a storefront, computer tutors can start with some strong software skills, a lot of patience and some slick business cards.

In fact, you don't even need to own the latest and greatest computer system -- but you do need to know how to use it. "You can learn [new software] using local resources without having to purchase them," says Hunter-Shupe.

Your main expense? Transportation. "Most of my clients want me to work at their home with them on the computer. If you teach the person on your computer, often times simple little desktop changes can be very confusing."

The key to success is working hard, really hard -- without overworking.

"There are times I'm up all night finishing a proposal or a project," admits Deborah Poole, owner of Graph-X. Like Hunter-Shupe, Poole trains fledgling computer users part time; she also owns a graphic design business.

"I'm up at 5 a.m. or 6 a.m., get the kids off to school, check my e-mail and start work at 8 a.m. The rest of the day could be training, telephone support, graphic design and working with clients," recounts Poole.

Partnering graphics with computer training has been a profitable combination. "Because I also do graphic design, I find myself not competing with others. I seem to do a lot, but it keeps me busy at all times, which brings in money at all times," says Poole.

Ready to plunge into your new career? Don't quit your day job just yet. "Find your own niche. Don't expect your business to be successful overnight. Plan, plan, plan for the worst-case scenario," advises Poole.

Business owners always face an up-and-down cash flow. One month you could be rolling in dough -- and the next you're diving for change under the couch cushions.

"It's a fact that it can take up to five years before a business is truly profitable. In my fourth year now, I'm steady on my feet," says Poole.

So grab yourself some software and learn to love your monitor. Your new profitable business opportunity is as close as your keyboard.

Links

Computer Channel
Get the scoop on various computer issues

Microsoft Training and Certification
All you need to know about getting certified as a trainer

PC World
An online magazine for computer professionals