C-Forward stays hot by avoiding dot-com niche

Tech consultant concentrates on educating client companies
Judi Ketteler
Courier Contributor

At the same time so many other Tri-State technology companies and dot-coms were losing momentum, Fort Thomas-based C-Forward continued to grow.

Since starting his company three years ago, C-Forward President Brent Cooper has grown the business from a one-man show to a staff of seven full-time employees, quadrupling his sales in that time.

Cooper, 33, likes to say he was lucky to be in the right place at the right time, but it`s clearly more than luck that has led his small technology consulting firm`s success.

Cooper attributes the company`s growth to the way C-Forward relates to the customer.

“I`m not a typical technology person,” he said. “And I surround myself with people who aren`t, either.”

He points to a popular “Saturday Night Live” skit about a mean, patronizing technology help-desk employee as an example of how people often view information technology professionals. C-Forward, he said, strives to be the opposite.

Cooper said he learned early on that when you are helping a company find a solution to a technology problem, it`s much better to educate and inform the company about the various options rather than to instruct and tell them what to do.

“Often, consulting firms really need to make money on the initial sale and installation. C-Forward doesn`t do that. We want to build a relationship with our customer,” Cooper said.

Cooper`s path to entrepreneurship actually began when he worked at a help desk as a temp after graduating from the University of Kentucky. The IT manager there encouraged him to make a career of it, and after working for a friend`s consulting firm, Cooper launched his own.

He received several technology certifications from companies like Novell and Citrix and became a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer. Cooper believes employee training and retention are cornerstones to building a strong business. Since beginning C-Forward, Cooper has spent more than $40,000 in employee training, with most employees having several certifications.

Once Cooper signs on a client with C-Forward, he sends the same technicians each time.

“Seeing the same people over and over again keeps the consistency,” he said, which is why it`s important to hold on to good employees.

Ninety-five percent of C-Forward`s business has been word of mouth, Cooper said. The company started with just two clients, and the list has now grown to around 80.

Cooper believes C-Forward was able to avoid the dot-com crunch when many tech-based companies started losing — rather than gaining — momentum because his clients come from a wide range of industries.

“C-Forward is not a dot-com. We do provide computer solutions, but more than that, we try to provide business solutions,” he said.

From the beginning, Cooper has targeted small businesses, since they are more likely to outsource technology needs.

Clients such as Kingsgate Transportation, Fath Properties, The Madison E-Zone and Esarey, Kirsch & Esarey have allowed C-Forward to expand their business.

The company has also focused on doing work for nonprofit companies in the area at reduced rates, such as the Children`s Home of Northern Kentucky and Tender Mercies.

Nicole Christian, vice president of business development for the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, has been studying high-growth companies in Northern Kentucky.

She said companies that have sustained growth this year, despite a sluggish economy, have employed four strategies: networking, aggressive marketing, developing areas of specialty and adding staff. C-Forward, she said, shares all those characteristics.

“C-Forward has focused their services, which has probably helped them to grow during this time. And they`ve been able to identify companies that are still investing in technology,” Christian said.

Cooper plans to add additional full-time employees in 2003 as well. He`s excited about the new technology initiatives in Northern Kentucky and the New Economy focus.

“We`re positioning ourselves to be able to take advantage of the growth in the area,” he said.