Aly is another person I met through BookCrossing – back in 2004. She used to go to the London BookCrossing meetups but started coming to the Birmingham ones and we kept in touch after I moved up here. Aly and her husband, Paul, run Silicon Bullet, which offers IT support and accounts, payroll and customer relationship management software and training. Aly combines her work with raising a family and being active in the life of her village. She has embraced networking in an enthusiastic and successful way, and always seems to be whizzing around the south Midlands, meeting other businesswomen for coffee and chat and weaving together a great network of recommendations and referrals. Like my work, much of Aly and Paul’s is done remotely, although they also both get out and about visiting various offices around the country to provide support and training.
1. What’s your business called? When did you set it up?
My business is called Silicon Bullet Ltd and it was set up in 2000. We are an IT support company, providing solutions to small companies not big enough to have their own IT department. We are also a Sage Accounts, payroll and ACT accredited reseller and trainer.
2. What made you decide to set up your own business?
Initially Silicon Bullet was a partnership of three IT contractors who were concerned about IR35 legislation.
3. What made you decide to go into this particular business area?
Paul and I met doing IT degrees at Aston University, and had worked for an IT support company previously; Adecs, based in Coventry. I also had accounts experience and at Adecs undertook the full bookkeeping role including payroll, so we are able to cover the combined IT and accounts skills required to support small companies.
4. Had you run your own business before?
Paul and I had previously had our own company, APM Computer Solutions, where Paul was mainly an IT contractor with 1 or 2 smaller clients and I was the bookkeeper, so the accounts side of running a small business did not faze us.
5. How did you do it? Did you launch full-time, start off with a part-time or full-time job to keep you going … ?
While two of the IT specialists continued contracting, Paul dropped out of that role to build up an IT support business with small and medium sized businesses, so we were no longer reliant on IT contracts from major blue chip companies. Two of the contractors left quite quickly, deciding to risk going it alone, which left Paul and I as joint equal partners in the company. We had enough clients that we no longer needed the support of the other IT contractors and Silicon Bullet was able to move from strength to strength supporting our clients. This took about a year but meant we didn’t have to apply for finance but could still pay our bills.
6. What do you wish someone had told you before you started?
We have been very lucky, as we had the model of a successful small business in Adecs to follow, and in the 11 years we have been going have managed to keep business flowing in. One thing would be don’t waste your money advertising in Yellow Pages and similar companies; networking and going out to meet people is by far the best way to gain new clients, although print directories are rather an old idea now with all the internet sites available.
7. What would you go back and tell your newly entrepreneurial self?
Networking is the key, and word of mouth. So when you do a good job, make sure you get a quote or testimonial that can then be used for marketing and advertising.
8. What do you wish you’d done differently?
I wish I had the confidence to go out networking earlier to build our business.
9. What are you glad you did?
I am glad I have stuck to what I know and not diversified. I stick with the Sage suite of products as I use them in my own business and know them backwards. When I train novice bookkeepers in business I can speak from experience rather than diversifying my portfolio and being a jack of all trades and master of none.
10. What’s your top business tip?
Go networking if you can. It is the new buzz word but has worked wonders for my side of the business for Silicon Bullet, and I have found good friends and a support network too. There are many different types of groups, so try a few and see what works for you. For me Women in Business and the more informal morning coffee type groups work, but you could have breakfast, lunch and dinner at networking meetings if you so desired.
11. How has it gone since you started? Have you grown, diversified or stayed the same?
We dabbled with taking staff on a few years ago and it just did not go well. It was hard to find someone with the right skill level so we went back to being a husband and wife run business. A business of our size is not right for everyone, but we don’t pretend to be a larger company, and our customers speak with their loyalty and tend to stay with us for their IT support for the long haul.
12. Where do you see yourself and your business in a year’s time?
We would perhaps like to try a different tack with growing and take on an apprentice or year out student to grow our business, and that way we will get staff we can train to do things our way.
More information about Silicon Bullet is available here: www.siliconbullet.com and you can call Aly or Paul on 01604 420057. Aly adds: We are based in Northampton but as most IT support is done remotely these days we have clients all over the country. I cover a wide area with my training as we are based close to the M1 in Northamptonshire. We also use remote control software so are able to diagnose and fix PCs as well as train remotely also.