Cashing in on change Featured

9:45am EDT July 22, 2002

When Damon Hacker launched his “Help in a Flash” card, he knew his Westlake-based IT firm had a great product on its hands.

The only problem was finding a way to let small business owners know it existed. The card promised affordable, pre-paid technical support, but Hacker discovered that marketing it through traditional channels was a logistical nightmare.

“In order to get the small- and mid-sized companies, we weren’t going to be able to pick up the phone and make a whole bunch of cold calls,” says Hacker, president and CEO of F1. “There’s just too many of them. So what we really focused on was developing a marketing and distribution channel.”

Changes in the accounting profession, in which CPAs are reinventing themselves as one-stop business advisers, seemed fertile ground for a marketing push. Instead of peddling the cards directly to small business owners, F1 pitched the product to the CPAs very often anointed a small company’s computer guru when problems arise.

“In most small businesses, the first place owners turn to find an IT person is their accountant,” explains Hacker. “What ends up happening is a lot of CPAs take that burden on even though it’s not necessarily what they do. But because they are advising (their clients), they feel a necessity to do it.”

Hacker says his goal was for accountants to either refer their clients to F1’s product or simply buy it themselves and serve as an all-knowing computer consultant the next time one hit a computer glitch and picked up the phone in search of advice.

If there was ever any doubt about how accountants would react to the card, all worries were extinguished earlier this year when Hacker exhibited the product at the Ohio Society of Certified Public Accountants conference. He ran a promotion in which attendees were asked to throw a dollar in a goldfish bowl for a “Help In a Flash” card that provided one technical support call to F1. By the end of the two-day event, the fish bowl was brimming with singles and Hacker had a long list of sales leads.

Now Hacker is working with the OHCPA on a deal to provide members with a price break on the product in exchange for the opportunity to reach an even wider audience.

“Never in the two days we were there did one person say they didn’t have a buck or didn’t want to take part,” says Hacker. “I had people more worried that they didn’t have a business card to give me.”

How to reach: F1, www.f1-4help.com

Jim Vickers (jvickers@sbnnet.com) is associate editor at SBN.