Starting your business as a cybersecurity consultant is an important decision to make when you consider that your income will be based on how much effort you put into your client’s business. Gone will be the days when no matter how much effort you were putting into your job, you still received the same paycheck.
Having a business puts you in another dimension of your professional life. When you work for someone else, they take care of everything business related, so that you can focus on doing your job. You have no clue how to pay business expenses or getting the permits to operate the business and having these permits up to date and renewed on time, deal with legal issues, pay corporate taxes, etc…
When you have your own business, your life perspective changes dramatically. It forces you to develop a mentality which guides you to do things differently. It makes you look into things for what they are and you get what you produced.
Having a business is not about putting just a couple of ads to “promote” your business and clients will come running to you because you think they’ll need you. You can be an expert at whatever job you were doing or have whatever level of expertise in cybersecurity, but these skills don’t necessarily translate into business success.
Knowing and understanding how to build and run your business is very important, so dedicate your time and life in knowing it inside out and outside in.
The first thing to do
First, you need to change your mentality of what is competition. Starting a business is not a race of who gets first or who wins.
In school, you were taught to “compete” against those who got the better GPA and SAT to secure an entry into college and the same process repeats in your undergraduate studies and when looking to be accepted into a graduate school. You took your exams in private because you were told you shouldn’t share what you know so that this way you have an edge over your “competition”.
You applied the same principles while looking for a job. You need to look out for the “competition” and prepare better than the “other guy/girl”. You get your degree, look for a job and after you get this job, beware of the “competition” when looking for a promotion in your job.
This creates a habit known as being in a defensive mode. The world against me or me against the world. I have to protect myself. This is really traumatizing and cumbersome, don’t you think?
Forget about what you were told in school, or college or in your job.
In business, the word “competition” is a synonym of an asset.
I wouldn’t be talking about this if I haven’t had my own businesses. Everything I’m saying here comes from my own experiences.
Where to start?
I suggest you start by looking for a mentor. This mentor should be someone who already has their own business with a similar model to what you want to have. Ask them to have you even for free if you have to. The whole point of you being there is to understand how to work and operate a business, not just how to work cybersecurity.
I did this several times for every business I wanted to create, not just cybersecurity. I always had a mentor who I invited to lunch when he or she had the availability to eat with me. This is what I call an informal interview.
You start picking his or her brain for advice and ideas on how to start a business, where to look for customer referrals, who they can recommend to manage your accounting, etc. It is worth the time.
Be honest from the very beginning and they won’t hold back on helping you. The business owners that I had the opportunity to work with were willing to teach me anything I wanted to learn. In our case, it applies even more because in a field as young as cybersecurity, a different niche is created every day.
The reason why I’m suggesting you have initial exposure to someone else’s business is that this way you can see for yourself if this is really for you. Knowing if you want to have a business is like knowing if you are in love. Only you can answer this question.
If you feel full of passion, waking up every day thinking of it, sometimes forgetting when to eat, eager to learn more about the subject and doing your due diligence of research, feeling a pit in your stomach, nervous and anxious about the idea…
… then the answer is Yes, you are ready to have your business.
Having a business is not for everyone. It requires a state of mind that not many can understand nor are genetically engineered by nature to have it.
Preparing Yourself to Get Mentored
If you decided to start the journey to becoming a business owner, then you need to understand some things. First, don’t waste time. This is applicable to your time and mostly your mentor’s time as well. Have a plan for what you want to learn and for when you want to complete the learning process. Of course, you won’t have a clue about what is it that you’ll be learning in detail, so your plan has to be in an outlined format.
The point is to have something to guide you through your learning process. It is very easy to get lost in the everyday operations if you don’t have a guide. Consult with your mentor. They know how to help you with preparing this plan. That’s why your mentor is there.
For example, when I was working on the different businesses from my different mentors, I did it for free. This way they didn’t have to worry about me regarding business expenses. I also got my own Liability insurance. This way if something happened to me, the business owner (my mentor) is not liable, I am. Trust me, this is one of the first things they will appreciate you get.
You can get a quote from an insurance company. Just make sure to ask your mentor for how much the coverage should be.
Besides, you’ll have to get this insurance anyway after you form your business. No company will allow you to work on their premises without it.
Preparing Yourself and Your Business
Knowing your market is important in order to know how much demand your business will have. How much demand there is will depend on where you want to practice your business. The bigger the city the better the opportunities for getting customers, depending on your services.
Knowing what are the market’s necessities in terms of the cybersecurity services you want to offer is something very important if you want your business to succeed. Don’t start a business before knowing the demand side of the market. This is the side you have to focus on in order to see the business opportunities and how you and your business will satisfy what the market needs.
Also, don’t quit your job. I did everything I’m telling you here while working full-time jobs. I did these activities during the afternoon and weekends. Sometimes, I took time off as vacation days when I had to work on big projects from my mentor’s business, which provided me with the hands-on experience I needed.
If you are going solo into the business or with a partner, then you all need to prepare yourself and get the required training certifications according to the areas of specializations that you want to practice. This will give you more weight in terms of business credentials as professionals.
One thing I recommend to save time and receive the training at an affordable price is by getting your training online. I recommend you use Pluralsight. They allow you to train on your own schedule! Also, they offer most of the training, if not all, and they prepare you to take the certification exam.
Also, prepare a portfolio of projects and implementations you have done. If all the projects you have done so far were part of your full-time job, then use it. Just because it was a company’s project doesn’t mean that you didn’t participate and gain experience from them.
Prepare a website for your portfolio platform. It’s easy to work with as your preferred repository of portfolio information because anyone can access this information online.
You can use LinkedIn, but use it as a summary of your professional career. I highly recommend you build your own website with a WordPress Theme for a portfolio and customize it to your heart’s content. This website can later be your company’s website.
I recommend you use a2hosting to host your website. They have a shared hosting package starting at a very low monthly fee. I use the “LITE” Package. This option is great when starting a business or any new project as you only require one domain. It includes an optimized WordPress server and you can also choose your preferred domain name. You can scale your website package later based on the traffic it receives.
I use “X Theme” for the WordPress Theme. It allows you to create a portfolio based on your services. Just don’t delete the portfolio demo pages that you’ll notice on the “Pages” section. Use this as your template and take it from there.
By building your own website and using it to present your portfolio will provide several benefits. It represents the first impression of what your business is about. It will also reflect an image of professionalism and creates an image of a company that can be trusted as a partner that your customers are looking for.
Also, starting a business creates a very tight startup budget and just by doing what I said about building your own website will save you some dough. Outsourcing a service is a good option only if it makes capital sense. In my experience, developing a website is something you can do at the very beginning and work it on your own until your business takes off.
I tried outsourcing my websites development at first, but it made no capital sense. Later, when my business grew, then it was more cost effective to hire someone else because I scaled my business.
Accounting and Legal
Disclaimer: I’m in no way offering legal or financial advice here. I’m just providing you with examples of what I did when I started my own businesses. Always seek advice from a lawyer and accountant before you do anything I mention in my post.
I always surround myself with people who know what they are doing. From the very beginning of your business startup, you should have a lawyer and an accountant. They can assist you with things that will come up from the very beginning.
Trust me, you’ll need them.
One of the first things you should discuss with both, your accountant and your lawyer is your business structure. To have an idea of what type of business you are going to structure, you should discuss with them what is your vision for the company you want to start.
Everything starts with a vision. How you envision your company to be will determine how far you want to take it. You achieve this by giving it a framework which will tell you what it will become.
For example, are you the only employee? Are you starting the business with a partner? Do you plan to make it scalable by integrating more people in the future? The answers to these questions will be based on the services you want to offer.
The purpose of having this conversation with both your accountant and your lawyer is to determine if you will do business as a DBA, or an LLC, or a C or S structure. Each structure fits a different purpose depending on the questions I just gave you above and each structure provides different Pros and Cons in terms of liability (Legal) and taxes (accounting).
Another thing you want to do when starting your business is to protect it with an insurance. You should never buy and own a house or a car without insurance, nevertheless your business.
Always know how to protect your assets. There are different types of insurance according to what you want to protect, each one with a different premium.
There is insurance for accidents while on the job no matter if you are in your offices or off-site working at your customer’s site. Insurance for property and equipment. Insurance for business income. Insurance for your income. Insurance for inventory, if you sell physical products. You need to meet with an insurance agent to discuss what insurances apply to your business.
Another purpose of meeting with your lawyer, accountant, and insurance agent is to have an idea of how much initial capital you need to start your business. After having this information, then you sit with your accountant to put together this information on a spreadsheet.
This will be your number to meet to at least cover the initial expenses. Again, your expenses could vary depending on your business model, but mostly covers every single meeting with your team and actions to take from incorporating the business, getting the permits, paying for your certifications, getting the insurances, etc…
Also, I recommend you have a buffer of money to cover the initial period where you won’t be generating a net profit. You might be generating income, but not necessarily a profit.
There are many business opportunities for any business, especially in cybersecurity. You just need to look for what’s missing.
For example, when I was with my second mentor in an IT networking company (way before cybersecurity even existed), part of their business was to sell a custom-made database which was targeted for managing sales for small business owners. I observed that my mentor’s company only wanted to deal with large companies for the hardware and networking business and only dealt with the small business owners for the software business.
I also observed that there were several small business owners with the need of having a better hardware to run the database software that my mentor was selling to them. Common sense dictated to me that there is no software to run if there is no hardware to run it and this was important for these business owners.
I spoke to each business owner and they were willing to upgrade their hardware as long as the system worked faster, for which I saw a business opportunity for myself.
I came up with the idea that I should sell these business owners a better hardware to run my mentor’s inventory system and pocket some profit, but there was a catch… I had to let the mentor know.
Moments like this are the one that will put you to the test and see how good of a deal maker are you.
Remember that I wasn’t an employee here and this meant that I could come up with whatever idea I wanted to structure a deal. This is why I recommend you work for free as I did. It will give you flexibilities such as this one.
I presented the problem to my mentor from the perspective that without good hardware, their small business clients won’t be able to run the database system for much longer.
I let him know, as a gesture of respect, if it was OK with him for me to take care of the hardware side of the small business owners while he kept focussing on his other businesses. He smiled and replied that he was happy for me to take care of it. He said that he wanted to focus on the big clients, not the small business owners.
This allowed me to go back and structure a business deal with all of my mentor’s small business owners clients which included a hardware upgrade, a customer support package for hardware issues for a year and renewable every year, and because I learned how to install my mentor’s inventory database, I said that I included this as part of the deal.
This is an example of observing and searching for what’s missing in a market. Working with a mentor gives you a level of exposure into the market which shows you things only you can see by being there working in someone else’s company, side by side, not as an employee.
The above example represents only one of my many business experiences and this also applies if you want to have a cybersecurity business as well.
Like any repetitive process, starting a business gets better and more intuitive. Observe that I didn’t say easier because it isn’t, but it becomes manageable.
This is something that you have to love and have a passion for it if you want to succeed. I’m talking about crossing the line into the obsessive side.
Anyone who advises you against these feelings, then they never had a business before or had it easy by receiving just a secure paycheck. You need to have a certain level of natural genetic disbalance in your brain’s chemistry to do what I did and this applies to all business owners and entrepreneurs as well.
There is no such thing as a successful entrepreneur with a well-balanced life. It’s a myth. It’s like talking about the Greek gods or any mythical creature… IT JUST DOESN’T EXIST.
If you want your own business and succeed at it, then now you know when you feel weird, or think or hear that you fit into one of those psychological/psychiatric scales of life imbalance or OCD / ADD / etc… that these means that you have the genetic tools to succeed in life and the more criticism you get, the stronger the signal that you are on the right path to success.
Hey, if this was easy then everyone and there brothers and sisters would be doing it.
Good luck in your endeavors!
by Edgar Vera, MS Cybersecurity