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[school-discuss] Consulting opportunities in OSS / free ?

Hi all,

I've been having a perennial discussion with the betterhalf, and that is: How to turn OSS & free systems into a working, thriving business.

Business plan one: Small school boiler plate drop-ins.

My first inclination was to direct-market to small schools, offering to drop-in working boilerplate systems, replete with all the goodies... a mix of dual-boot Win/Lin boxen w/ a Karoshi core (online classroom, content filter). Maybe w/ LTSP as an option. Well, my wife hates this idea. She thinks there'll be so much T&E prone to high overhead (or nickle&diming) that'll be hard to work with smaller schools w/ small budget constraints. I counter her objections with the idea that my loss-leader (lower net) would be the boiler-plate install (server core+10 seats, additional seats pro-rated), and the gravy would come from reviewing existing systems, doing license inventory/conformance consulting, scrubbing viruses, setting up printers, migrating user profiles & fixing/installing the underlying network (I'd outsource the wire-pulling). She's right that too many low-net schools could easily drive me out of business. 

Business plan two: Large schools / small school districts.

Same as above, but my question is how to market to larger schools with either entrenched IT mgm't and/or other political barriers to entry. That, and running a business to work with larger institutions without having my lunch eaten for a different set of reasons. Suffice it to say, I'm not seriously entertaining this plan, since the other-half hates it even more.

Business plan three: Write a "How-To" Book

Write the step-by-step School Networking for Dummies book. Maybe 2 or 3 books, detailing installation/deployment, operations & maybe (not) curricula. Use the book to market the actual boiler-plate CD's & DVD training videos. Have a related website that helps drive the book. The wife likes this idea. She thinks web advertising/click-thru's could gen alot of income (I suspect however that goldrush sucks tin).

Business plan four: Consulting & training.

Walk into schools & write recommendations. Not just glossy paper stock with groovy graphics or "Powerpoint" dog & pony shows, sell manuals & DVD training along with the consulting & onsite training. The CD of free stuff are free, but the boiler-plate disks aren't. Maybe partner w/ a body-shop service (subcontract all of it... ;-), training the installers & the end-users, per site... but... Power users in education: Do they exist? FWIW, I haven't met (m)any.

I'm curious what everyone thinks and what your experiences have been.... To me, schools represent a neglected market that could offer a modest or decent income stream while doing good things, offering a competitive edge b/c of the cost savings, ameliorating the license worries, etc.

But I worry that the market might be weak, not because of lack of need, but because of institutional or budgetary obstacles. WRT to Business Plan #1, can a good chap get his foot in the door, or is free/OSS the kind of change that is limited to internal mgm't reform efforts, consultants need not apply?

Best regards,


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