Computer training business finds successful niche Custom designing courses was key HOWARD COUNTY BUSINESS

September 23, 1993|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Staff Writer

When David S. Murphy left his 10-year career in the Air Force in 1988, he and his wife, Margaret, were excited about test flying their own businesses.

The couple launched two out of their Ellicott City home, a computer training service to match an area of expertise both had, and a family counseling practice that tapped David's background in the Air Force.

Within a year, the counseling practice was puttering along. But Damar, their computer training service, was flying on a success track.

The couple found local corporations and small businesses eager to get employees trained to use the latest software.

"The computer training business made money, but the counseling service didn't," recalls Mr. Murphy.

The couple ditched the counseling service and put Damar into high gear.

Today, the company boasts 12 full- and part-time employees and fancy digs at a mid-rise office in Columbia. Damar also has a diverse array of corporate clients in the Baltimore-Washington region.

They include the Rouse Co., the developer of Columbia, the City of Westminster, Maryland General Hospital, and Critical Care America/Medical Care America, a home health care provider.

Damar also offers classes to the general public and private tutoring.

Mr. Murphy estimates 50 percent of the company's business is corporate, while the rest serves small businesses and individuals.

Usually Mr. Murphy spends two full days a week out of Damar's Columbia office conducting training sessions at work sites. Corporate clients pay a $1,500 fee for a training session for 10 employees.

The company has been able to carve a successful niche in the computer training market by customizing classes to a company's specific needs, Mr. Murphy believes

Before actual training sessions are conducted, Mr. Murphy or another Damar employee have managers at the client company spell out a list of tasks they want their employees to be able to handle once trained.

This spring, Mr. Murphy diversified the business into a publishing venture, Training Express.

The company publishes manuals which show how to get the knack for using specific computer software programs.

The manuals were developed by Mr. Murphy and his staff, drawing from their computer training experience.

"For most personal computing programs, there are maybe 85 functions available. But we've found that there are really only 10 or 12 you really will ever use that much," says Mr. Murphy.

"What we do with the books is boil down the programs to those functions that are most commonly used and walk people through using the functions in a very clear, concise language."

RTC Anyone who has ever browsed through the computer manual section of a book store or library knows there are usually several titles available for most computer software programs. The books are often comprehensive guides to working the software.

Mr. Murphy, 33, says his series of user manuals differs from the mass publication trade guides.

"We filter out a lot of the stuff people don't really need to know to get the hang of using a program."

For example, in Mr. Murphy's guide to using WordPerfect 5.1, there are seven functions outlined for snapping a document into shape, from how to center text to how to boldface a word.

In "Using WordPerfect," a comprehensive guide to the widely used word-processing software, there are 20 functions outlined in the chapter on enhancing documents. They include how to boldface and italicize text, but also include such esoteric functions as displaying hidden codes.

"I like to think, these books, anyone can buy, take home and teach themselves how to use a computer program."

Training Express now has six manuals available, most of which are geared to the Windows and WordPerfect programs. They sell for $29.95.

So far the company has sold about 200 of the manuals, but Mr. Murphy estimates the market for the guides could hit sales of 10,000 monthly if he is able to get national book retailers, such as Waldenbooks, to carry them. He is attempting to interest several national retailers in the series.

He plans to release 20 titles covering the most commonly used software, from Windows NT to Quicken.

The manuals were originally written for use in Damar's training classes as a way to keep the fledgling business' overhead costs low.

"The first book I wrote was WordPerfect 5.1. I had gotten a client and I had a decision to make. I could either buy 10 of someone else's training manuals at $15 each for the class or write my own and save my money. I was basically broke so I decided to write my own."

Today, he's trying to market the guides to a wider market. He's found strong interest for the guides among the competition, that is, other computer training firms.

All of the guides are written by Mr. Murphy, who, by the way, holds no degree in the computer-related sciences.

In fact, the one time he tried attending a computer class at a community college years ago, he dropped out.

Mr. Murphy has a master's degree in liberal arts from the Johns Hopkins University. "I can write a guide in a day," he says. "Before I sit down to write it, I usually have it all in my head from start to finish.

"To me, showing people how to use computers is easy. I'm sort of a savant in that regard."

Like many entrepreneurs, Mr. Murphy is already itchy for a new challenge.

"I'd like to get the business to the point where I'm not needed here in the office everyday. What I'd really love to do is teach history or English."

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