Area man finds success in Internet-based business

WELLSBURG – From creating assembly manuals for assorted office furniture and illustrating the procedure involved in building an aircraft fuselage to creating websites, brochures and other promotional materials for various businesses, Michael Yolch does it all, with help from few friends, at his home on Pleasant Avenue.

Through his Internet-based business, Yolch Technical, the Avella native and colleagues in Pittsburgh and North Carolina, have provided graphic design-related services to a variety of industries.

With the help of the Internet and telephone, Yolch works closely with Chris Rucci of Raleigh, N.C., and Rick Henkel of Pittsburgh, who also work out of their homes.

A childhood friend of Yolch, Rucci is a former private jet pilot who operates his own design firm that’s his primary source of income.

“Facebook brought us back together,” he said, adding he recruited Rucci to serve as project manager for a three-month assignment that involved producing training manuals for hundreds of employees involved in assembling fuselage sections for aircraft built by Airbus France in North Carolina.

But Rucci’s specialty is creating websites, having designed more than 300.

Yolch met Henkel when the two were working for Agnew-Moyer-Smith Inc., a Pittsburgh design firm now known as ThoughtForm Inc., and it was their association that would later lead to Yolch establishing his home-based business.

A 1986 graduate of Avella High School, Yolch served as a jet mechanic in the Air Force, where he became interested in the detailed illustrations found in aircraft maintenance manuals.

Yolch said growing up, he’d always enjoyed drawing and taking toys and other things apart to see how they worked.

“I was always fascinated by mechanical things,” he recalled, adding an Erector set was among his favorite toys.

After serving the Air Force for four years, he decided to pursue his interest in technical drawing further through studies at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

From there he went to work for Informing Design of Pittsburgh, where he was involved in the planning, mapping and illustration of nearly 2,300 signs designed to help people find their way through the city; and Agnew-Moyer-Smith Inc. (ThoughtForm Inc.), where he worked as a technical illustrator and project manager.

Yolch said he learned much about design while working with Don Moyer, the firm’s co-founder.

After working there for seven years, he was let go as part of a downsizing measure he blames on economic conditions created by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

After that Yolch sold cars for a while in Robinson Township, Pa. He found he enjoyed the regular interaction with the public but the dealership suffered when a road construction project affected access to it, he said.

Then a friend asked Yolch to work for him at a small cabinet manufacturing company. It was a timely request, but after working there three months, he found it wasn’t for him, Yolch recalled.

Around that time Henkel offered him an extended freelance assignment, which ultimately led to him starting his home-based business.

Yolch said his time with the cabinet company did give him insight into the experience of production workers that serves him in creating assembly instructions for a variety of products and equipment, he said.

For example, one of his clients is Steelcase International of Grand Rapids, Mich., for which he has designed three-dimensional illustrations known as isometrics used to assemble assorted office furniture.

Yolch said the assembly instructions they produce often must be precise to ensure the quality of the end product and safety of the workers involved. That was especially true in the case of the Airbus contract, he said.

“The consequences of improper information at that level can simply be fatal. It’s that serious,” he said.

Asked about a typical day, Yolch said he works various hours between 10 a.m. to 2 a.m., but takes a break in the evening to spend time with his wife, who works at an area hospital.

“She loves that I work at home because I do all of the household chores,” he said.

Yolch said taking time from his computer often helps him to reflect on the work at hand.

“A great deal of our best thinking occurs while doing menial tasks,” he said.

But Yolch stressed the need to be focused and organized when working at home.

“If you’re not a good self-starter, this is not for you. You have to be very motivated,” he said.

Yolch said because he works at home, the cost of gasoline and road hazards created by inclement weather are much less a concern.

He said one of the best things about operating a business from home is the limited overhead. He had already paid for the computer and software he used when he started, and when that must be replaced, he can claim them as business expenses.

Yolch added not having costs associated with an office allows him to offer his services at competitive rates.

Yolch’s work doesn’t always keep him home, as he prefers to meet face to face with his clients initially, saying it’s vital in building a relationship of trust. Many are within a 50-mile radius of Pittsburgh but he has driven to Cleveland and other cities outside that region.

Such meetings also help him to get a fuller picture of a company’s goals when developing various promotional materials for it.

Yolch also has appeared at trade shows to get his company and its services out to potential clients. He added memberships in the Pittsburgh Technology Council, a group comprised of representatives of about 1,600 businesses in the Pittsburgh region; and Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators also offer opportunities for networking.

Yolch said working from home can be a great experience for the right person.

“Once you have the experience and education, all you need is a room with a great computer,” he said.