Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




Guide to being an independent Consultant

I've never been an *independent* consultant, though I worked for an engineering coultancy as telecom engineer.

This looked pretty useful. Lots of folks ask about this here, so I thought this might be of interest.

http://it-proletariat.com/HowToBeAnIC.html

Mr.Analogy (ISV owner)
Sunday, August 15, 2004

OK.  Thanks for posting.  It looks interesting.  It is a small set of slides, so he doesn't go in to much detail, but at least the author has been doing consulting himself for several years.  There are a lot of books on being a consultant, but most of a general nature, not focused on SWE.

Right now I am working towards being an independent consultant.  I have gotten to the point of being a 1099 contractor.  That is not really so independent.  The biggest problem I have is that I still think of it as a second choice.  I'd rather get a job at a great to work for small software development company where I could do the technical work and let someone else worry about sales.  The "great to work for" part of the description eliminates any company I know about.

On the BC radio this morning there was a short piece about more people starting up consultancies due to the tight labor market.  Maybe this is a good time to do it.

mackinac
Sunday, August 15, 2004

I'll answer that last response:

>> On the BC radio this morning there was a short piece about more people starting up consultancies due to the tight labor market.  Maybe this is a good time to do it.

This is a terrible time to start a consultancy just for that reason. EVERYONE, including those who are unqualified and are marking time until their next full time job, are trying to "be consultants". It's the final option for anyone who can't find work.

One data point is that every store or public place I go into (here in Ohio) with a bulletin board for public postings has at least one or two tear off sheets from some guy offering to fix viruses and other PC problems. Rates are dog crap too, $25/hr being asked. I think everyone in the world has seen the "Technical Self-Employment Is A Fat Paycheck Waiting to Be Pocketed" article (http://homepage.mac.com/monickels/techjob.html).

With people around with no business skills living in their parent's basements charging 1/4 commercial rates like idiots, what is the upside, exactly? The first thing a consultant has to do now is to distinguish himself from the "ground clutter".

Bored Bystander
Sunday, August 15, 2004

That it-proletariat site also had this encouraging article:

http://www.it-proletariat.com/HowImSucceeding-Anonymous.html

mackinac
Sunday, August 15, 2004

"With people around with no business skills living in their parent's basements charging 1/4 commercial rates like idiots, what is the upside, exactly? The first thing a consultant has to do now is to distinguish himself from the "ground clutter".

That IS troubling.  And I hear a lot of guys bemoaning that fact.  But I've decided to try to educate my clients (and potential clients) rather than watch a glut of substandard work flood the market (apologies to Joel for the spammyness):

http://www.christopherhawkins.com/08-14-2004.htm

True, the competent developers will eventually get called in to clean up the mess that the incompetents made, but the net effect is bad for everyone, clients and providers alike. 

The initial burn that results from using an incompetent developer will leave clients disinclined to engage in future contract programming projects, even if the rescuer does a marvelous job.  Budgets will be broken.  And frankly, most competent developers don't find the tak of repairing a severely borked project very appealing.  Nobody likes to have to make a silk purse from a sow's ear.

I think there is plenty of opportunity out there, even now.  But the avenues by which a competent developer can capture and monetize those opportunities have changed radically and almost silently.

www.ChristopherHawkins.com
Sunday, August 15, 2004

Christopher, you are right. Your blog article is great. And that's exactly my thinking too.

Here is my observation of most prospects' take of your five excellent bullet points.

"1) Demand Experience." - My experience with this point is mixed. Clients almost never comprehend directly related experience. Many seem to believe that I am making up company names, projects and products. (sigh) The more technical clients will disparage past experience as not being THEIR anointed special cases. The less tech clients will not really understand the relevancy of what I am showing them.

"2) Demand References." - That "web queen bee" company owner stated an often heard objection to this - she maintains that the candidate will pull the cream of the crop.

"3) Demand Value." - unfortunately I have used your excellent argument, and it gets turned around as: "you, BB have a vested interest in describing your offering as high value, so we will continue to shop only on price since our needs are small and we need to save money" IE: often you can't convince the decision maker that value is more than just price.

"4) Demand Communication Skills." - I've had the best luck with this aspect, but again, it's not something that many end users are willing to pay for because they may not even know when it is missing.

"5) Demand Availability." - with many clients - simple, it's a full time thing or nothing.

I think success in signing new business as a freelancer is mainly the meshing of personalities.  Just like full time hiring. If someone is cool to your personality, then they will use any ambiguity in their take of your objective merits to justify not using you and using the weaker candidate.

OVERALL though - in a more functional world - clients would do well to observe your points.

Bored Bystander
Sunday, August 15, 2004

I win a lot of clients on presentation alone.  My skillz are mad, but most potential clients don't even know what they are looking for.  I bring a strong personality, a strong presence, and a straight-shooting attitude to client meetings and it works very well. 

The consultant game is about 35% what you know and 65% how you make the client feel about you.   

muppet
Sunday, August 15, 2004

Finally, you posted something I can agree completely with. :-)

Bored Bystander
Sunday, August 15, 2004

Except it wasn't me.  Welcome to Crazy Land.  Apparently I'm such a powerful, envy-producing man, that I've inspired an entire franchise of people who wish they were me.

muppet
Sunday, August 15, 2004

>  from some guy offering to fix viruses and other PC problems. Rates are dog crap too, $25/hr being asked.

I think $25/hr to install and run a virus checker is a FABULOUS rate.  (Esp for a service that requires NO formal education or lisencing)    $25/hr for a service with Zero barrier to entry ...An amazing job for a high school kid.  Beats working at the car wash for $6/hr

Bella
Sunday, August 15, 2004

Bored, you are not the first person to get burned by doing free work for the client.

I did a lot of consulting, and got burned several times.

I call such situations "bad projects" or "bad clients".

Having experience and knowing how to handle situations and clients will decrease the rate of bad projects, but the rate will never be 0%, unfortunately.

Some signs that a project will be a "bad project":

- the project does not have enough specifications, or the requirements are not clear

- the client does not have IT knowledge, doesn't trust you, and insists on getting his way in many technical matters where you should decide

- the client requests lots of unpaid work

- the client doesn't appear to be willing to pay, negotiates your rate a lot, etc.

Taking a bad project is damaging for both you and the client. The client will not be pleased, and you will gain a bad reputation.

In the past, I have learned to handle some "bad project" and "bad client" cases.

However nowadays I use a simple algorithm:

1. If my intuition and experience even remotely tells me that a project or a client may be a bad one, I figure out what's bothering me about the project. I write a list of non-technical and technical issues. Then, I talk to the client and ask questions about the items on my list.

2. If the client can't remove my feeling that the the project may be a bad one, I simply refuse the project. When in doubt, I refuse the project.

You will tell me that in this economy, you can't refuse a project. Well, in my opinion, in this economy, you can't afford to take a "bad project" and have a significant risk of not getting paid, of damaging your reputation, of wasting your time and of working a lot for very little money.

When I started to apply this algorithm, my profitability as a consultant increased significantly.

Romanian developer
Sunday, August 15, 2004

I found this book in the municipal library:

From Serf to Surfer: Becoming a Network Consultant
ISBN:0782126618
Author: Matt Strebe
Publisher: SYBEX, INC

It's pretty good at describing the network support business, less applicable to ISVs, - but I think there are more similarities than differences between the two.

Strebe qualifies potential customers as Good, Bad and Ugly:

Good: straightshooters, pay regularly, follow procedures
Bad: ripoff merchants, nonpayers, pirates, rate shoppers
Ugly: Need miracles now and will pay upfront...

There's LOTS more.

trollop
Sunday, August 15, 2004

"Except it wasn't me.  Welcome to Crazy Land.  Apparently I'm such a powerful, envy-producing man, that I've inspired an entire franchise of people who wish they were me. "

Will the REAL muppet please stand up.

Hmm... a Muppet (ala The Muppet Show) was merely a puppet or a COVER for a puppeteer.

There's some amazing irony here. I ...just... can't... explain it... exactly.

Mr.Analogy (ISV owner)
Monday, August 16, 2004

Just add a :-} and it will be implicitly understood.

By me at least.

Simon Lucy
Monday, August 16, 2004

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home