by Rob Kay
Until recently there wasn’t a hotter business sector in Hawaii than solar. It was so lucrative that mainland companies were setting up shop in the Aloha State to get in on the action. Keith Cronin, originally from New York, had been running a successful solar and energy services outfit in Hawaii since 1999 when his firm was acquired by a mainland company in 2007.
The local solar industry was taking off, and he could have jumped back into the fray but decided against it. “The stage was crowded and margins were down,” Cronin said. He didn’t have a crystal ball, but he did know that at some point the solar boom would slow down, and he didn’t want to be left in the dust.
He decided instead to listen to his intuition and opted to start consulting. Instead of putting panels on roofs, he would help companies that wanted to get into the solar business set up shop. There was no shortage of business. Newly formed companies often didn’t have the background when it came to sales, business training or recruiting workers, so they needed coaching.
In 2008 the economic meltdown provided Cronin with even more clientele. People were out of work, solar was still hot and the barriers to entry were low. All you needed was a pickup truck and you were in business. This presented opportunities as well as challenges in this nascent new business.
Cronin didn’t want to depend entirely on local business, so he decided to hedge his bets. He already was getting calls from mainland solar companies, but also decided to market his programs internationally.
He took the plunge and started teaching courses online in 2009. It turned out to be a prescient move.
In 2013-2014, with the local solar business environment imploding, his training and education products are offered to students as far away as Japan, Norway and Costa Rica. These include subjects such as sales and marketing, and even a solar executive M.B.A. priced at $2,000 per course. He has more than 200 alumni and anywhere from 18 to 40 people in his program at any one time.
Cronin said that other local entrepreneurs who would like to replicate his “offshore” consulting and training model can and should do so.
He reckons that if you have an expertise and want to teach skills online, there’s never been a better time to do so. “People are always looking for experts with experience, and are willing to invest money in you,” he said. With technology such as Skype and Google Hangout (which he prefers), you can conduct “webinars” or do one-on-one instruction. There’s no need to fly people from the mainland when you can conduct a virtual seminar.
What’s more, it doesn’t have to be expensive to set up your business. Off-the-shelf programs such as WordPress can be used to create websites and membership areas that will provide the applications you need to put a professional face on your business and to manage the content you will you use for training.
He suggests that would-be consultants who are not akamai in technology hire their own consultants to put the online technology together while they concentrate on content.
He believes the current trend favors people who know how to transfer knowledge online. “Just a few weeks ago,” he said, “LinkedIn purchased Lynda.com, an online training company, for $1.5 billion.” The movement toward distance learning is inexorable. People all need professional development in our fast-paced world.
There’s no reason, he suggests, why local people with salable expertise can’t jump onto the bandwagon.
Rob Kay has written about technology and life sciences for over 20 years. His columns have appeared in Pacific Business News, the Honolulu Star Bulletin and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.