As one of the most trusted names in Chicago when it comes to IT, Charlie McMannis has found a wealth of success and a positive outlook on life. Hailing from the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, McMannis grew up with a love for technology that has continued to blossom in as he matured. Now, the owner of his own business, he continues to work daily in a field he loves.
Following an academic career that took him to Michigan State and Loyola University Chicago, Charlie McMannis became a sought-after IT consultant and landed gigs with 13 different companies on the Forbes 500 list, over a career spanning more than 30 years. In 2012, McMannis started McMannis Consulting Ltd, a full-service IT consulting firm based out of Highland Park. They operate primarily out of the Chicago area but have accounts across the midwest.
McMannis lives in Highland Park with his wife, Nancy, and their two teenage daughters. McMannis is also a lifelong Cubs fan, and was there in Cleveland to witness the ‘Lovable Losers’ end their 108-year World Series drought in 2016.
How did you get started in this business? What inspired you to start this business?
After getting a degree in finance, I noticed I really enjoyed computer science, so I went back to school and earned a master’s degree from Loyola University in Chicago. From there, I began working in Information Technologies and worked at some of the best companies in the industry, learning the ins and outs of IT. I acquired new skills, had multiple mentors and even took some individuals under my wing. However, it got to a point where I wanted to start my own business, so I left where I was working and did it.
How do you make money?
As an IT consultant, we work with companies to satisfy all of their IT needs. We’re a full-service consulting firm and cover all grounds—from customizing solutions, training employees, implementing new, automated programs and fixing existing systems.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
Because I had worked in the industry for 25-plus years, it wasn’t hard to cultivate a client list. Within a few months, we became profitable after paying off some office space and other start-up fees. The key for us was not overspending at the outset because I wanted to make sure we could sustain our business.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
Yes, I can honestly say that the first year was a doubt-filled year. Even though I was confident I could run my own business, manage employees and provide high-quality consulting, I still doubted it would work. Part of me thought our initial success was too good to be true and that the work would slow down eventually. Fortunately, it didn’t slow down, and that doubt began to slowly fade. Today, I don’t have much doubt, but I learned along the way that you must trust yourself and the people you work with if you want to be successful. Failure isn’t failure when you learn from it. And every time we failed, we learned and grew.
How did you get your first customer?
When I was leaving my last company, a client asked me where I was going. When I said I was starting my own business, they broke their contract that day and followed me. I was grateful they came and that my old company wasn’t upset. I didn’t intend to poach any business, but I think this client saw the value in the work I provided and that’s how word got around.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
Lead generation through list building and email marketing. So many companies need our services—these include companies that aren’t sure what they need and companies actively searching. We market ourselves through email, provide a newsletter with free tips and e-books. Then, from there, businesses reach out and want to schedule consultations and this generates a majority of our business in certain areas. We also network, attend conferences and other live events. Nothing beats face-to-face interactions with people who are interested in what you do.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
The toughest decision I had to make was whether to expand the business or not. In the end, we expanded, hired four new employees and moved into a larger workspace. At the time, I was hesitant because I knew this meant new expenses. But I knew it would also allow us to tackle more projects, land more clients and bring in new ideas. It was a tough decision, but ultimately it was the right one.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
The people around me make me successful. My coworkers, employees, friends and families push me to be the best I can be. Being the boss requires you to handle a lot of logistical things, so I rely on the people I hire to come up with the big ideas often. They make me look good and I’m proud of that.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
Signing a contract with a new client. It sounds cliché but it reminds me that they picked us because we provide the best quality work available. The satisfaction not only comes from landing the client from a revenue standpoint, but also working with new, innovative companies doing great work in their respective fields. We consider ourselves the best because we work with the best.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
We obviously want to grow and continue being innovators in the industry, but I’m looking forward to discovering new trends and movements that we can adapt and dominate. I’m also excited for the new forms of automation—like artificial intelligence—to continue to take the industry into a new direction.
What business books have inspired you?
How To Win Friends And Influence People By Dale Carnegie, which is a book everyone should read no matter what field they are in. Start With Why by Simon Sinek. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. Reading is extremely important to me because, since graduating college, I’ve never stopped learning. And reading about successful people drives and motivates me even more.
What is a recent purchase you have made that’s helped with your business?
A coffee machine employees were discussing. It seems crazy, right? But I heard employees mentioning a new coffee machine that had just come out and makes an array of latte and coffee drinks, and I wanted them to have it because they would be happy. You need to reward employees for their hard work and starting with small things that make work more enjoyable is important. New technology is important, but the small things go further.