Friday, March 13, 2015

Higher Ed Tech Decisions: 5 Career Questions with AV Consultant Mike Tomei of Tomei AV Consulting

The editor of Higher Ed Tech Decisions interviewed me in March about my background, my services, and how I started my own consulting business.  She also recorded the full conversation and posted it online.

Here's some excerpts from the interview:

March 12, 2015 
written by:  Jessica Kennedy 
1)  What is your background in the realm of AV?
MT:  My interest in the audio visual world started over 20 years ago. I was a high school student and I signed up to be on the sound crew for my high school’s musical and I figured it was a good way to add something to my resume for college applications. I really had an interest in it and it pretty much stuck from there.
Most of my professional AV career I’ve spent working in various support and design roles at Harvard University, Ithaca College, and Walt Disney World as a freelance AV technician. Most of my AV career has been in higher ed, which is why I put such a strong emphasis on my AV management consulting service that I have. For professional development I’ve earned both the InfoComm CTS-D and CTS-I Certifications, so I’ve done a lot of AV design work and also installation work in the field.

2)  What kinds of projects do you specialize in higher ed?
MT:  The services I provide I separate into two separate categories. I provide what can be considered typical AV consultant services, which would be system design and installation project management services….I also work with academic AV support departments to develop AV strategic plan for the organization and then also look at their peers and do some benchmarking as far as what other institutions are doing or installing with AV in the classroom or on campus.
From a structural standpoint, I analyze their existing AV support staff, the organizational structure that they have, I train existing staff to get them up to speed and embrace a more modern approach to academic AV design and support and I also participate in the hiring of new staff for those departments to beef up their staff.
After the department’s strategy and structure are in place, I look at their management and operations.  That would typically include developing comprehensive system design standards documents for the campus. I would refine the project management process for equipment installations. I can assist with space planning on campus from an audio-visual standpoint. A lot of people don’t have technology life cycle replacement programs set up, so I work with them to develop those for the AV equipment installed in classrooms. A lot of AV departments just don’t have strong end user training documentation, so I work with them to write and develop that.

3)  What is the background of your new business, Tomei AV Consulting? Why did you start it?
MT:  I’ve always had an interest in doing my own business. I guess I just have that entrepreneurial spirit and finally decided that it was time to give it a try. I really enjoyed my job at Ithaca College and decided it was time to try my own thing. I saw a need in the market. A lot of [consultants] will come from New York City or Boston or pretty far away, and that’s tough with clients when [schools] need their consultant onsite to take a look at something that the contractor or electrician is installing and their consultant is many hours away, or a different a state. So there’s that need, and the need for AV management consulting.

4)  What is the most challenging part of your job?
MT: The most challenging part of starting the business so far has been the marketing. I’m a one-man shop – I do everything. Working on the end user side, I never really had to think about marketing working in higher ed, but now I have to do everything. I’ve been spending a lot of time networking and sending out marketing material.

5)  What is the most rewarding part of being an AV consultant?
MT:  So far, the response I’ve been getting from people. When I started the business I had done a good deal of research talking to other consultants, and other people in higher ed institutions that I developed relationships with. I had a pretty good idea there was a need for this sort of thing in Central New York. But you never really know until you do it, and my biggest fear was I was going to send out all this marketing material and just not hear a peep from anybody but that hasn’t been the case at all. Everyone has been really responsive and supportive of the idea. It was a really great feeling when I started getting those phone calls and emails coming back. I got over the hurdle of getting my first client and it’s been snowballing from there. It is a really good feeling when business starts picking up like that.

6)  What advice do you have for other AV specialists looking to start their own business?
MT:  I think it’s extremely rewarding, but you have to have the guts to do it. When I talked to my wife, she said she could never, ever do something like this. She needs that structure of working for somebody else, where I have that entrepreneurial spirit. So you need to make sure you have that entrepreneurial spirit where you have the guts to do it, and the patience of sending out the marketing materials and network and work these relationships knowing that business will come your direction. It’s just going to take a lot of work. People aren’t going to call you up and hand you money. You really need to prove why you’re going to be beneficial to them. That’s been the biggest part.

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