2 min read

A Canadian IT channel success story

Mike Vanelst reflects back on 25 years as an IT consultant and trusted advisor

Mike Vanelst’s career with what would later become DistinctData Inc. began 25 years ago when he worked independently. After more business started coming in, he started DistinctData. Since then, he has grown the company so much so that it deals with roughly 22 organizations on a monthly basis, in addition to another 15 to 20 other clients either on a annual or bi-annual basis.

With an in-depth knowledge of Microsoft and 11 certifications and designations from the vendor, Vanelst said his North York, Ont.-based IT consultancy offers everything from network design, to implementation and maintenance and support. DistinctData also specializes in the communications arena as it relates to networking, he said.

With clients around the Greater Toronto Area and Vanelst the only full-time employee working at the company, Vanelst said if a project requires more than one person to work there, he hires a team of up to 12 contractors to help him.

“All of our work is done on a contract basis,” Vanelst said. “There’s no single project that I’m not involved in. My entire business has thrived because I always give the best service I can from the first minute to the last minute. At DistinctData, we specialize in law firms but are not limited to them. We also do private sector work and are involved with non-profit organizations. The size of the clients I work with has been anywhere from a five to 1600 user environment.”

With several partnerships with vendors which include Microsoft (Nasdaq:MSFT) and Dell (Nasdaq: DELL), where it’s a Registered Partner and VMware (NYSE: VMW), where it’s a Professional Partner, not only does DistinctData support the products, but it also sells hardware, in Dell’s case.

In 2011, Vanelst said he plans on growing his business thru virtualization and messaging and collaboration offerings.

“The trend now is virtualization and moving from a solid power hungry environment to a virtual one,” he said. “That’s about 30 per cent of our business. The other 30 per cent comes from messaging and collaboration and doing things like integrating hand held devices and e-mails.”

Vanelst prides himself on the fact that since day one of starting DistinctData, he hasn’t lost a single client. He also said what makes his business unique is that he doesn’t charge for travel time and he rounds down instead of up.

“I haven’t put my rate up in eight years,” he said. “I have one rate for the corporate environment and a reduced rate for non-profits.”

As for advice to others who hope to build successful IT practices, Vanelst said, “One of the rules I follow is that it’s okay to make money from people, but don’t rip them off. Remember every client is completely different than the next one. Sit down with your clients and see what they have, have them make a wish list and make recommendations, but remember that they’re the boss and don’t push them.”

Follow Maxine Cheung on Twitter: @MaxineCheungCDN.