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.

Computer consulting firm touts its client relationsips

By Jenny Calison
Enquirer Contributor

COVINGTON – Although C-Forward prides itself on its technological sophistication, its operating credo is simple: Do what`s best for the customer.

Following that philosophy has enabled the young company to sustain healthy growth and high retention of customers.

The computer network consulting firm touts its record of continuing relationships with 99 percent of its customers and expanding its customer base almost exclusively through referrals.

When the firm was established in 1999, it had two clients; it now has about 100.

“Everything we`ve done has been long-term image, long-term investment,” founder Brent M. Cooper said.

Simply put, C-Forward helps small businesses use everyday computer software effectively. It serves as a network administrator for companies that don`t need a fulltime IT professional. It can enable different kinds of computers to work together on a network or remote location. And it can provide voice and data cabling, antispam and antivirus software, and wireless technology.

Cooper said this year has been exciting for the firm. It moved its offices from Fort Thomas to downtown Covington to help revitalize the city`s core and to be near the Madison E-Zone and other high-tech companies locating nearby.

The numbers look good. After first-year revenues of $180,000, C-Forward doubled its sales. With annual growth in subsequent years of 15 to 20 percent, the company is on track to reach sales of almost $1 million this year.

And within the last three months, C-Forward has garnered three different honors. This summer, it was one of two service category winners of the Northern Kentucky Chamber`s Small Business Success Awards (the other winner was Systems InSight, profiled Sept. 7). In September, C-Forward was named one of the chamber`s “Emerging 30” small businesses, based on its size and growth. And at about the same time, the Better Business Bureau said the company was one of 14 Tristate finalists for its Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics. The winner will be announced Oct. 23.

Being honored for consistent growth and other good numbers is great, sales manager Brant Puckett said, but the company prizes the BBB`s appraisal of its business practices.

“Our entire organization has worked hard to follow ethical guidelines in such a competitive market, and it is so nice to be recognized for our efforts,” he said. “We like to think that we`re not sitting across the table from our clients, we`re sitting next to them.”

The company hit some potholes in the early part of its journey. When Cooper launched C-Forward, he was its only employee. He invested about $10,000 in training the first person he hired, only to have the technician leave soon afterward. A software program he`d seen as a strong element of his consulting portfolio was discontinued. The company`s first vehicle was badly damaged in an accident, and the technician driving it was laid up for two weeks.

But there were some early successes as well.

“The first week I got a call from someone I`d never heard of,” Cooper said. “His company became a client and is still a client.”

That first hire was replaced by Scott Johnson, who is now technical support manager. As C-Forward`s workload has increased, so has its work force. In addition to Cooper and Puckett, the company now employs six people.

Puckett said Cooper`s ability to maintain a consistent staff has been important in keeping the company`s customer base.

“We`re in it for the long-term relationship,” he said. “If you have the same technician coming out time after time, it helps both the employee and the customer. The more you know the customer, the more you can do a better job of serving them.”

To keep his staff, Cooper has invested heavily in training and benefits. He has also established a collegial management style and invited employees` input on critical decisions. One such occasion was when the cost of C-Forward`s health-care plan increased 26 percent and Cooper decided to explore alternatives.

“Brent took three quotes from three different insurance companies, and we got to vote on which one we would like to select,” Puckett said. “We didn`t pick the cheapest one.”

When Cooper contemplated moving the operation to Covington, he asked his staff for their thoughts on the matter. The plans took into account several employee concerns. Because the payroll tax in Covington is twice what it is in Fort Thomas, Cooper adjusted each person`s salary so take-home pay wasn`t affected.

“It`s good business,” he said. “I believe that if we treat employees better than they expect, they`ll stay with us. If we can keep this core group of people, we`ll be a successful company.”

Creating people networks

Although it works with computer networks, the networks that C-Forward finds most valuable are those it forges with people.

The company is active in the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, the Mason-Landen-Kings Chamber of Commerce and the Better Business Bureau. It also works closely with the Children`s Home of Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati social services agency Tender Mercies.

Every three months, C-Forward sponsors a free seminar designed to help users of small-business computer software or other technology. Topics include remote access, wireless technology, servers and e-mail.

Nov. 12, the company plans to host an open house in its new quarters at 5 W. Fifth St.

Information: (859) 442-7877 or Web site.

Computer firm moves

C-Forward Inc., a computer network consulting firm, has moved its offices from Ft. Thomas to Covington, where it has moved into the building at 5 W. Fifth St. The company, which has six employees, had outgrown its other office, said spokesman Brant Puckett. C-Forward became interested in relocating to Covington after becoming involved with the Madison E-Zone, a high-tech initiative launched by the city. Brent Cooper is the company`s president and CEO.

Conference, Web helping computers stay secure

By Gwen Davis
Enquirer contributor

Computers are a security risk. Many computer owners and network administrators do not take computer security seriously. Security is seen as an inconvenience, too much trouble to enact and too costly. However, when the computer is down or files are missing or information has been compromised, security becomes important.

Last week I attended Comdex in Chicago. Comdex is a convention that puts computer professionals in touch with the latest technology and training in the industry.

Comdex has three shows per year. The next are in Atlanta in September and Las Vegas in November.

In Chicago, the emphasis was on network and Internet security and wireless connections. Protection of vital information has become more important since the threat of terrorist attacks has become more real.

Hackers make it their mission to get into networks just to see how far they can get. Some are malicious; others just hack for fun. It is the computer owner or administrator`s job to protect their systems from such attacks.

Computer systems are vulnerable in the following ways:

  • Misconfigured systems.
  • Flawed software.
  • Password sharing.
  • Identity spoofing.
  • Unauthorized file transfers.
  • Internet/firewall/Web site misconfiguration — meaning open ports.

These are just a few ways that open doors for malicious attacks.

“Many computer owners do not keep on top of software updates,” says Brent Cooper of C-Forward Inc., a networking solutions company in Newport. “Security holes are found all the time in existing software.

“Software companies publish updates to block the holes, but people don`t install them at all or right away.

“Also, viruses are the biggest issue with productivity. They can shut down an entire company in a matter of minutes,”

Small businesses — just like larger businesses — are vulnerable.

Since smaller businesses are accessing the Internet with Web-based businesses, it opens them up to attack. Also, small businesses feel they do not need to have increased security because of the closeness of their colleagues. Don`t forget after you leave the office, anyone can access your files especially if passwords are non-existent.

Here are a few things to check:

  • It is important to test internally and externally.
  • Make sure virus protection is installed.
  • Don`t use blank passwords or ones that are easy to guess.
  • Do not install unnecessary applications.
  • Identify Internet connections and do not remain online when you have finished surfing or retrieving e-mail.
  • Do not run operating systems like Windows NT 4.0 Professional or Server nor Windows 2000 Professional or Server as the Administrator. This gives viruses and Trojan horses the leeway to take over the entire system.
  • Check the users in the organization and make sure they do not have unnecessary additional permissions.

Security is up to you and the organization. If you want to test your network with free software, try these sites:

Microsoft Exchange 2003: The Next Generation of Mail. A free seminar brough to you by C-Forward.

A free seminar brought to you by C-Forward, Inc.

Finding efficient ways to improve communication is essential for your organization to compete in today’s challenging business climate. Designed with improved communication in mind, Microsoft Exchange 2003 enables workers to access critical business communications whenever and wherever they need to while delivering greater security, availability and reliability. Exchange 2003 sets a benchmark for low total cost ownership (TCO) by helping you do more with less through improved management tools.

Our free seminar will answer your questions regarding Exchange 2003, including a product overview, projected costs, benefits, and issues surrounding installation and/or upgrade, as well as a “Q&A” session.

Date: Tuesday, February 3, 2004

Time: 8:00 a.m. until 11:00 a.m.

Location: The Madison E-Zone, just off 71/75 at 535 Madison Avenue, Suite 400, in downtown Covington, KY.

RSVP today by calling (859) 442-7877 or e-mailing seminar@cforward.com!