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Growing up in Chicago, G. William James did everything he could to make a few bucks. Whether that meant delivering newspapers, working as a DJ, or washing cars, his ventures were always entrepreneurial in nature. In fact, he put off starting college until he was 21 just so he could fatten up his bank account a bit.
After graduating from the University of Illinois at Chicago’s business program, James, 46, spent time working as a retail and management trainer showing sales staff how to sell and demonstrate technology products. It was there that James would realize his best business idea yet: teaching the masses how to maximize their investments in personal digital assistants.
A self-taught PDA guru, James combined self-study with knowledge gleaned from companies like palmOne and MarketSource L.L.C. He founded Atlanta-based Handheld Computer Solutions L.L.C. in 1999 with approximately $2,000, which he used to purchase a few PDAs, peripherals, and accessories.
“What I lacked in a technology background,” says James, “I made up for by aligning myself with companies that make and support the devices, studying the manuals, learning the nuances of the PDAs, and doing my homework.”
With James as its sole employee, Handheld Computer Solutions specializes in professional training on handheld devices that use the Palm operating system. James spends about 35% of his time on the road, delivering training to mobile professionals, realtors, and small to mid-sized business owners.
Thanks to an existing relationship with palmOne, James got his first customer fairly quickly. When GE Securities needed a knowledgeable trainer to help end users maximize their PDA investment, the PDA manufacturer pointed GE in James’ direction. For such training, James charges $600 to $1,400 per day, depending on the number of people he’s working with and the scope of the training.
In 2005, James expects similar referrals to help double company sales to $132,000, compared to $66,000 in 2004. He also plans to expand into the healthcare market by helping doctors and other medical professionals maximize their PDA investments and focus on the latest entrant into the handheld market: the smartphone, which is a mobile phone and a PDA in one device.
Ben Henwood, operations manager for MarketSource’s palmOne program, has worked with James for four years. Henwood says the fact that the trainer can not only address large groups but also customize training for small groups and individuals sets him apart in the industry.
“It also doesn’t hurt that James has a true passion for what he does. He works hard to learn the technology himself so that he can impart that knowledge effectively to others,” says Henwood, whose Alpharetta, Georgia-based firm specializes in sales, marketing, and technology solutions.
To entrepreneurs who have a similar passion for technology training but who may not possess the applicable education or background, James says the keys to success are keeping an eye on “what’s coming next,” then learning to approach those opportunities with the end user in mind.