When Adversity Meets Grit, Sometimes a Business Is Born

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By All Things Writing, LLC

Mike Howard (photo provided by TelNet)

Michael D. Howard, president of TelNet, says, “My wife jokes often that starting TelNet was my mid-life crisis. But, honestly, it was a way for us to survive financially after I lost my job.”

He’s not joking.

Howard began his career in the telecommunications industry during his service with the U.S. Air Force. He was accepted into college to become an architect. “But at the crisp age of seventeen, I knew everything and thought going into the Air Force would fast-track my life,” he said.

After four years, he left the Air Force and was recruited by a government contractor working at the National Security Agency (NSA). There, Howard obtained a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) clearance and worked for eight years. He then left the government and started working in the private business sector.

Then disaster struck: the dot-com industry imploded. Howard said, “I was released from my duties on a Saturday in March 2001. I was going into the office with my then three-year-old son, like I did many Saturdays, to catch up on some paperwork.”

“During this same period of time, my wife had left her job after the birth of our second child, and this left us with no income. I decided that weekend that I was starting my business because I was fed up with other people controlling and determining my destiny.”

So, by the Monday evening after, Howard had his business name created, license paperwork filed and business phone number picked–the number ending with the year his wife and he got married, “as a reminder of what is important,” he said. “My wife thought I was crazy,” he recalled, “which was absolutely correct, by the way.”

A Leap of Faith That Creates Results
But Howard had always wanted to start a business. And while this was not the ideal way to begin, he felt a door was opening up for him. Howard took a leap of faith and launched TelNet of Virginia, Inc., which provides technology solutions to businesses, government contractors, medical offices, educational institutions and state and county governments.

Things went well, as the company and Howard’s family grew. Howard learned many lessons, but a truly important one was that “even with no money, no plan and no contacts, success still can be achieved with the desire and grit to grasp it, regardless of shortcomings.”

But when the economy tanked in 2008, Howard was once again thrown into a tailspin. “We had a tough time,” he said. “We had high overhead, and many businesses were tightening the strings on unnecessary purchases and upgrades to technology, which is our life-blood.

“When the economy crashed, we had just moved to a much larger office. At that time, I was at a peak for the number of employees I had ever employed at one time. I was losing about $100,000 a month, and I was so insistent that it was just going to be temporary and we would pull out of it. I never wanted to
lay off anyone like I was laid off from my previous employer, so I waited, and waited…nine months.”

It was a long time—maybe too long. Ultimately, Howard spoke to many business owners and followed what they were doing— making cuts where needed, penny pinching while still serving clients. But even so, his sales team was the first to get cut. “Not because they were bad people,” he said. “By no means—they were awesome. It was simply mathematical. It was because they were not producing, not achieving their quota, which was quite modest.”

The Statement That Changed His Business Approach
During that time, Howard hired a consultant to help guide him. “In the six months he worked with us, my consultant shared the one nugget that changed everything for me. He said, ‘Mike, it’s clear you have a solid company, good skills, and a value proposition, but you lack the ability to focus the majority of your
time speaking only to those who already want to hire you.’ [It cost me] thousands of dollars to get that one statement.”

But that statement changed how Howard approached acquiring new business. Previously, he had done what many salespeople do, including, as he describes it, “going to countless networking events with the same people always attending, calling blindly to every business that had a phone number, asking for referrals, etc. But when I started learning how to generate leads from the internet and also utilizing video, I was able to bring all the business I wanted right to my front door on demand.”

That’s when TelNet turned the corner financially. Fast forward to today: TelNet is still serving businesses in the region and growing again. Though it’s a small business, Howard’s company has hired more than 100 employees and successfully served about 2,000 businesses. The company has won state, school district, local government and Fortune® 500 contracts, as it continues to serve smaller businesses, too.

Employing People + Delivering Value = What Matters
Howard’s current challenges? “Finding qualified employees,” he said. “I am fortunate to have a very strong and knowledgeable team now, but this is an area that must always be monitored and evaluated.”

Howard also has the same challenges other businesses have: managing processes well, dealing with D.C. traffic, maintaining cash flow, growing the business, keeping abreast of technology and meeting and exceeding customer expectations.

Howard is proud that in spite of all the challenges, TelNet was named to the INC 5000. “Who would have thought that was possible?” he asked.

“We continue to beat out much larger, well-known companies on a regular basis, and it isn’t because we are the most incredible company around. It is simply because of trust. People see that we have continued to deliver for some of the most demanding of clients.”

Without great employees and the community offering opportunities and a willingness to trust, Howard said, the story would have had a very different ending: “I was statistically very lucky to have had the opportunity to serve so many businesses and provide employment to so many people over what has now been seventeen years.”

For businesses just starting out, Howard offers some advice: “My wife and I moved from Annapolis and were only here in Manassas for nine months before I started my business. So I hardly had relationships,
contacts or familiarity with anyone. But what I found and continue to witness today is that if you are authentic and truly have a desire to deliver value to others, they will notice and embrace your business. I don’t mean make a sale. I mean help the business solve its problem.”

Howard believes that being a business owner is not a sprint—it’s a marathon, and with it come many challenges and barriers. But being able to serve others in the way that only a business can is the most
fulfilling and rewarding endeavor anyone can experience, according to him: “I would never trade it in…other than to start more businesses.”

Serving private, government and nonprofit sectors, All Things Writing (services@allthingswritingllc.com) is a content development and content marketing company on a mission to help clients shine online and in print.

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