IT veteran converted 25 years of experience into trusting relationships with clients

Dallas Stewart of CMIT Solutions of Bellevue

Dallas Stewart

Dallas Stewart worked for a series of software companies before he went into business for himself through CMIT Solutions. His talent for building relationships has led to long-term, trust-based client interaction. One client was so grateful for his services, he wouldn’t let Dallas leave his office until he had bought Dallas a vacation to Hawaii.

How long have you been a CMIT Solutions franchise partner?
It’s been about three years now.

What’s your background in technology?
Very early on, in college, I was a business administration major. I wanted to own my own business. As part of that, I had to take a data processing class, and as soon as I did, I flipped career paths and became a computer science major. I worked for several companies doing IT work and managing IT teams, but it was for big mainframes. I went to work for three different software companies, and in the last couple of companies, I worked my way up through the ranks. By basically doing management, having project management roles and leading development teams, I ultimately found that one of my strong suits was being able to sit and listen to what clients’ pain points were, then coming up with a solution. It’s not my technology background, it’s the ability to sit and listen to a client, hear that there’s pain and keep asking about the pain so we can get it out in the open. Then we can go off and craft a solution to address it. Many times, I’ll tell them, “I’m trying to make a decision based on what I’d do in your shoes.” I’m not here to make the fast buck. If I service you, I’m going to service you well for a long time. The relationship is what I’m after.

Why were you looking at a franchise?
I was one of the happy few that were forced into looking for the next career opportunity. I had worked as a CTO for a software company for six years, and during the downturn found myself out of work. During that time, I looked around for four or five months and realized there weren’t a lot of jobs to be had. As I got to networking, I ran into other people, and that’s when I came into contact with some folks who said, “There is an opportunity for you to get into business for yourself.” So I kind of look at it as, “I’ve been in a 25-year training program to own my own business.” It afforded me an opportunity to be my own boss, but it started with me having to be pushed out of the nest and forced to fly in order to look at that opportunity.

How did you decide on CMIT Solutions?
It was twofold. Number one, I have 30-plus years in IT, so it was a natural fit for me, although I’d never done any work managing networks. I always had people who worked for me do that kind of thing. But the thing that did it for me was meeting the people in Austin and getting the feeling of family. They really cared about the businesses that were out in the field. That was the thing that sealed it for me, this was a business that I could get into and be successful in.

The family feeling, I think, came from the moment you walked in the door.  Everybody came around and met you as you walked in the door. And when it got to lunchtime, everyone sat down and had lunch, and it was a typical thing that would go on at your own family’s dinner table: people sniding at each other, making fun of each other, not in a mean way but in a very jovial way. It just gave a family-type atmosphere. During the time that I was there, though, I witnessed several calls that would come in from franchise partners, and people would immediately drop what they were doing and deal with it. It wasn’t a “get back to them some other time” thing. They dropped what they were doing. If they had to leave the lunch, that was fine. If they had to leave a meeting, they went and took care of the problem. So that to me went miles in saying that if I had a problem, these guys were going to be there to support me.

What do you like most about the CMIT Solutions franchise opportunity?
The biggest thing for me is that I have a structure I can build my business around. I think the strongest thing about the franchise is that it’s not a locked, tight structure. In other words, when I go to a client, I can do what I think is best for that client. I’m not locked into having a cookie-cutter solution. I’m given the freedom to address my customers’ needs, and I can do them at a very quick pace. I’m not held up waiting for some process approval that goes through some other part of the organization.

What has been the most surprising thing about owning a CMIT Solutions franchise?
I think the most surprising thing to me is not the amount of time that’s involved with it but the friendships that develop, to the point where clients are calling me for just about everything you could think of! (Laughs.) I’m looked at as a trusted advisor very quickly. They trust us so much, they pretty much hand over the keys to the whole business. But then you start finding out about their lives, and they just open it up to you. What I’ve found — and this is something I never expected going into the business — is that I’ve developed a lot of close friendships with my clients. I have a client who basically says, “I have some work for you to do at my house. The door is open, nobody’s there, just go ahead and walk in and send me the bill when you’re done. We trust you.” In today’s world, having a trust level from one person to another you didn’t even know six months ago is kind of amazing … and having a very open and honest discussion with a client, where you’re just two human beings who are business owners sitting across the table, it ends up endearing yourself to that client very quickly.

What keeps you active in your free time? What kind of life has CMIT Solutions franchise ownership allowed you to live?
When it comes to free time, you have to grab it when you can. You almost have to force yourself, because running the business … there’s just lots of things that need to be done. But now I do not have to go to anybody else now for approval to travel to see my family. If I want to do something, I schedule that time to do it, and I have the freedom to say, “I’m going to be here. I’m going to be there.” I have technicians who can cover me while I’m out; having the technology available allows me to be just about anywhere in the world and still be connected to the business. I’m celebrating my 50th on this big ball, and I’m planning on going to Ireland in late August or early September, and that’s something where I’m just going to call up the airline and go and do it, as a celebration to myself for hitting 50 years. I love to golf. I just took five days and went to Alabama with some golf buddies. My clients actually invite me into their golf leagues.

What kind of person makes a good CMIT Solutions franchise partner?
For me, it’s somebody who’s willing to extend out that hand and shake the hand of somebody they didn’t know five minutes ago. To me, that’s really what it takes, to be open enough to want to find out about someone’s business — and not to go in thinking, “I want to sell this person something,” but simply say, “I want to know more about what you’re doing.” You just need to have that ability to talk to people and surround yourself with a group of folks who do know the IT side. You don’t need to know the IT yourself.

Why would you recommend a CMIT Solutions franchise to someone thinking about opening a small business?
There are a lot of small business owners out there who have a need in the area of IT. There’s a lot of pent-up business there because the other managed service providers are not giving them high-quality service.  If you can go into this as an owner saying, “I want to deliver the best quality service and over-serve our customers, I’m not going to nickel-and-dime them on everything,” then there’s a lot of pent-up demand for that kind of thing. I have 20 competitors that do what I do, and any of my clients could tell you they could raise their hands and say, “I need IT help,” and they would have 15 people respond to them. But my clients end up referencing us to everyone else because they know they don’t get charged for every single phone call they make. We offer a flat-rate, monthly service they can put in their monthly budget, and they’re going to get high-quality service as a result. We’re actually going to take a partnership role with them. We’re not going to try to sell them things they don’t need, and we’re going to help them plan for what they really do need.

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