This is a Frederick Review interview with Nathan Kerr, owner of PMCertDC. PMCertDC is technical training course business that offers high-energy and interactive local and online training based on award-winning course curriculum that will enable you to leave training confident that you will pass your examination on the first attempt.
Please introduce yourself and tell me a bit about your business.
My name is Nathan Kerr, and I am a project management professional. I do own PMCertDC, it is a veteran owned and women co-owned business. It is 100% local here in Frederick. I got my start because I did 22 years in the army and towards the end of my career the army paid for me to get my certification after graduate school in project management. The project management professional or PMP certification is the gold standard in the industry. So, I took a course myself, two courses actually, and sat through the examination and thank god I passed on the first time. Because it is a very very tough examination.
What was it that made you want to start PMCertDC?
Well, when I had my project management professional certification, I noticed that a lot of people were contacting me. Most of my competition, if not all of it, is either internationally owned or nationally owned so they don’t have their own instructors in the areas. So my competitors actually hire me out to teach their courses. So when I went through my own course and then I started teaching their course I noticed that the way they did the curriculum just wasn’t conducive to really learning project management and being able to pass the exam. So I said there has got to be a better way and I kind of went in on my own since I was already being hired out by my competitors. I said hey I’ll start my own school, and I still get hired out by my competitors, but now I have my own school that is 100% locally owned and we have very responsive customer service. I also am able to keep my prices lower than the competition as well because I’m not having to hire an instructor, I do all of my own instruction.
You mentioned that the curriculum of some of your competitors wasn’t really conducive to success. Could you pinpoint why or how?
Yeah, the curriculum that they use is done in what I think is a very lazy fashion. Basically our bible for project management is the guide to the project management body of knowledge for what we call PMBOK. The way they teach their curriculum is by chapter order. However, that is not the logical way that a project flows. So if you put your curriculum in a way that a traditional project flows then you jump all over that PMBOK and thats why I teach it in that manner. That’s why my students have such a high success rate on the exams.
So doing the PMBOK chapter by chapter is good in theory but maybe harder in practice?
Well it’s harder to develop curriculum that is out of chapter order. I do believe that they haven’t taken any money and time to pay for their curriculum to be developed in the logical order. It is easier to go chapter by chapter, and grab bullet points by the PMBOK as you go.
You being local probably helps your ability to put more time and care in to your content because you’re helping people closer to you and it is much more personable?
Right, and I live or die on customer reviews, whereas international companies can have low reviews in one area of a country and maybe try to get their reviews up in another country and it all averages out. But the difference for us is A) that we are lower price than most of the competitors, B) if somebody doesn’t feel ready to sit for the very tough exam they can retake my course free of charge, cause I’m always having courses in the local area. and C) I offer almost all of my courses on the weekends so that busy working adults don’t have to take time off work to take the course, whereas my competition couldn’t really do that. This is because they are flying in instructors or what have you, they would have to pay for two sets of plane tickets to do just weekends.
If you could go back in time, what’s the one piece of advice you’d give yourself?
Never be overly optimistic about what the market is and how quickly you’ll be known in the market. Search engine optimization is key, make sure that before you go live that you start building your presence on the internet to where you start locally ranking. Advertising even with google adwords or facebook postings can be very expensive. Definitely get a presence on the internet in your local area first and make sure that you know what you’re doing to get optimized for the local area.
What’s your favorite thing about being a business owner?
My joy is that this is mine. So the success or the failure actually literally depends on me instead of just going in and punching a clock. That and I am a people person so I really like teaching new students. My classes run 4 days, and every week I have new students. It’s just a really awesome way to meet new people around the area.
What’s the toughest thing you face being a business owner and how do you handle it?
The toughest is again, you know, getting your name out there and getting a foothold in a competitive market. That is definitely the toughest part of owning your own business. Also, you’re not accustomed to living without a steady paycheck. One month you could do $20,000 in revenue and then another month you might make $500. So you have to be able to really know how to save on the good months to cover yourself. Until your business grows you really be able to be financially astute.
What’s the number one way you currently bring in new customers?
My two main ways are through search engines and referrals. I get a lot of referrals because people actually enjoy the class.
Well that’s good that people enjoy the class!
You’d be surprised because it is a very technical subject and it is very boring material. So you have to have a dynamic speaker or a dynamic personality that is teaching the class, otherwise everybody would literally fall asleep in their chairs.
I guess being self-aware about the nature of the material definitely helps your cause then?
It is a bootcamp! It’s four days so we are cramming in a lot of information in four days time. So, that it’s like drinking from a water hose. You have to have a great curriculum and great instructors that will help deliver that curriculum in a way that people are going to retain it. At least give them the foundational base knowledge so that when they study for the next 3-5 weeks and sit for that exam they are very confident going in to that exam.
What sets your business apart from your competitors?
There are a couple things, one I am local so I live or die with customer service. One of the chief complaints I get, and I teach for about 4 or 5 of my competitors on a regular basis and the number one complaint I get is, “once we pay the money you can never get a hold of them. heck, we don’t even know if the class is really going to go on or not.” That in my opinion is a horrible way to feel after you dumped $1000-2000 on a course and then you never hear from them again.
So that is what sets us a part, it is customer service. Day or night, whether they are on my website, whether they text me or call me, I am very responsive. If I get a phone call and I can’t take the phone call, I will call them back within 10 or 20 minutes and make sure that they have peace of mind that they are investing their money, their hard earned money, in to a company that is going to deliver for them. So that is what sets me a part. I am local, I am live, I don’t try to do gimmicks like recorded classes and make people think that they are going to pass the exam off watching pre-recorded videos.
All of my stuff is live and local. Plus all of my classes are all taught online while I’m teaching regular students in class. So that is actually done simultaneously, and that is a big difference because they can interact with both online students and in class students directly. That tacit knowledge that you get from that is just as important as the explicit knowledge that is being conveyed.
So you have a livestream hooked up during your courses?
Yes, correct. In the class they are just another student. Instead of sitting in front of me they are sitting virtually on a computer.
How do you decide who is going to be sitting in class and who is doing it online?
They get to choose. The reason why is because if you’re in say northern Michigan and you need a class, obviously traveling out to the DC metro area would be a problem for them. The only classes that I do not livestream is the agile certificated practitioner for agile project managers. We are just starting to teach the PMI-ACP class for agile certified project managers and that is not done online yet
How has technology played a role in your business, you talked about live streaming, is there any else?
You know communications, all of these things, are part of what people learn in my project management class. You have to leverage technology to your benefit. My wife being a millennial, she is 10 years younger than me, has really been able to leverage technology in order to get our name out there. Whether it is through facebook, instagram, twitter, and the whole nine yards, she is involved with all of that. There is also me creating our website by myself, and being able to optimize it for local community. That all takes a lot of tech savviness. I will admit I do have a graduate degree in IT leadership, but that is more managing IT instead of actually doing IT. So I knew a lot about it, I just had to really learn how to do all of it.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to others thinking about becoming entrepreneur?
Treat your first 100 days as a project to get started. In other words, initiate it, and meticulously plan out the project itself including listing who your stakeholders are, communications manager plan, and so on. Then execute it, monitor it, control your plan, adjust as necessary and at the end of the 100 days hopefully you can close it out with a success. Don’t go in to it expecting to make a lot of money in the beginning because it does cost a lot of money to start a business. Especially if you have office space like I do, they cost money. They treat it just like renting an apartment or a house. You need first months rent, you need the deposit, you are going to enter in to leases. You have to get internet in your business, you have to get technology up and running. There is just a lot that goes in to it.
Then secondly, do what I did and leverage friends and family to assist you. Do not try to do it yourself, if you’re actually starting a legitimate business that is meant to be a livelihood, not just a side business, make sure that you leverage family and friends to assist you with some of the grunt work. Because you can not do it yourself, you will be up all night.
This has been great, is there anything else you would like to add?
Yes, go check out our kickass PMP blog at PMCertDC.com. I tell people I get away with calling it kickass because it is all one word. Also, go and check us out on our social media pages on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
For more information on Nathan Kerr and PMCertDC, please see the information below: