What It's About
Two friends discover the profit in nonprofits.
Words of Wisdom
So how do you sell tech support to nonprofits with AOL email addresses? You get personal. Joel networked at conferences and events and would meet absolutely anyone for coffee to seed relationships and spread the word about their new hustle.
On the last day of 2017, and the last day their business was called Backpack Tactics before the switch to Brave North Technology, Joel got a call from a dad looking to buy his daughter a backpack for her trip to Europe. Joel delivered on their customer service commitment, directing the pleased father to a few recommended backpacks for the purpose, a fitting milestone as they closed out the Backpack Tactics chapter.
Notes from Chris
Joel Barker has worked for and around a variety of nonprofits and witnessed their struggles firsthand. Often lacking a budget for in-house IT support, Joel recognized the bewildered expression of an Executive Director trying to set-up a network printer as a win-win opportunity. He now works as the Chief Strategy Officer for the largest children's mental health provider in Minnesota. But that’s not all he does. A few years ago, Joel set out to help tech-skittish nonprofits harness technology, by creating an on-demand tech support service that cared. There are plenty of tech support services and freelancers available on the market, but Joel recognized that most contractors and IT firms weren’t catering to the unique needs of underfunded and tech-intimidated charities. On-demand IT support was expensive and difficult to access if you didn’t speak the language. Joel reached out to a long-time friend, Brian Roemon, and together they launched this side business to replace IT headaches with an affordable, friendly alternative. Brian and Joel’s friendship dates back to college. Brian had the IT expertise, and Joel could focus on the growth, marketing, strategy, and business operations. The two spent months talking, brainstorming, and debating possible names for this new business. Eventually, they had the “let’s-just-call-it-something conversation”, and settled on Backpack Tactics [despite not selling backpacks]. Down the road, they uncovered that their website traffic wasn’t as significant as it appeared, with thousands of hits from apparent backpackers and frequent manufacturing proposals from China. After years of disappointed hikers, Joel and Brian hired a marketing consultant and officially changed their name to Brave North Technology. The original startup cost was only $1,500. The partners used the money to set up their website, register as a business with the state, and print marketing materials such as business cards. They quickly doubled the initial investment, with their first check for $3,000! Years later, Brave North Technology now grosses around $350,000 each year for $90,000 in profits—almost entirely through word-of-mouth referrals from happy customers. Thanks to Joel’s commitment to the grassroots organizations serving the community, he couldn’t help lending them a hand in other areas, such as fundraising and social media management. These projects were directly in Joel’s wheelhouse, but outside of the scope of technology support. Thus, Brave North recently gave birth to Joel’s second side hustle, Great River Strategies. With a full-time job, an already busy side business, and a new side hustle on top of that, Joel enjoys the challenge and variety in his work. He’s even begun to pursue real estate and angel investing, applying what he’s learned to help other businesses grow. Beyond getting paid to tackle projects that spark his interest, Joel admits the greatest benefit this IT hustle has brought his family is freedom from debt. It’s allowed them to be more generous with their money, donate more, and travel more frequently. Brave North promises to deliver even more in the future, as the two continue to bravely expand their special blend of caring tech support to new mission-driven markets.
MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE:
- Brave North Technology: Learn more about Joel and his tech offerings over on his website!
- “Graphic Design for Dogs” Earns $84,000: A graphic designer and pet lover unleashes a side hustle that earns $84,000 a year. Dog-ear this episode!
- Charter Bus Employee Creates PR Service for Bloggers: How a digital marketer created something for himself, then decided to try selling it other people who had the same needs. He now makes more than $2,500 a month from this side project
- Baker Starts Agency to Raise Dough for Dream Home: She spent years dreaming of building her own property in California. To turn the dream into a reality, she started a side hustle by applying the skills she’d gained in operating a bakery
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