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Moving toward working for End Users?

Do any of you do independent work with end users? Have you been successful in moving out of the geek world and into the "light"? Have you been successful in finding work consistently with a variety of businesses that aren't "technology" businesses but which need computer things done in order to support their businesses?

Here's my situation. I am a programmer and I have always prided myself on the knowledge and quality work. But it's always seemed to be "easier" in a way to find another straight coding job, working for people who have the job all laid out, than to try to go completely independent and to work with clients who don't necessarily know anything about what they need.

Lately, with the staff reductions in IT all over the place, I don't feel terribly secure being painted as a coding specialist. I'd be much more comfortable finding smaller clients who need "non exotic" things done and finding enough of those clients to keep a good income flowing.

Another thing that's daunting is the ego level of "consultants". The ones that have any work coming in act like you can kiss their ass and they aren't very forthcoming about what it took to get their name out there.

I've tried to work with end user clients before. What usually happens is that being a techie, I present options and choices, and they generally run and hide and never get back to me or talk about their needs. This pattern has repeated several times. It's almost like having this knowledge is a barrier to being able to make contact with people that need things done.


Wanna be consultant
Friday, May 2, 2003

You have to listen and understand their business first.  In truth they don't want to know anything technical which isn't essential, you telling them things is not what they want to hear.

They want reassurance that they won't get shafted, end up with something they don't understand and don't use that cost money they can't replace.

You have to be flexible enough to understand that you are the novice in their business and they are the expert. 

And you have to like people, be able to communicate with them, face to face, eye to eye.  You have to sell yourself without it being obvious and hard.

You have to be yourself.

Simon Lucy
Friday, May 2, 2003

While I presume some of this was "tongue in cheek",  I agree with Simon.  The ability to bridge that communication takes you from coded to programmer to consultant. 

If you feel: "What usually happens is that being a techie, I present options and choices, and they generally run and hide and never get back to me or talk about their needs. This pattern has repeated several times. "

You have some serious work ahead of you.  So serious I could not suggest you strike out on your own.  Instead, work on correcting these issues.  Be the person that people go to when they need to know something.  Because you know it?  While that may be a perk, the real qualities people are looking for are:
  - The ability to find out.  Most people have do not expect you to know everything, set yourself out from the other 80% by not saying "I don't know", but "Let me find out and get back to you."  [Corollary:  Do not forget someone's request.  You do not want to be known as the black hole of answers.]
- The ability to articulate the answer for the audience. Simon was on with the observation that they want to know what and how it will impact the business.  That it is "cool" or "leading edge" or "what everyone is doing" is irrelevant to the business.

Mike Gamerland
Friday, May 2, 2003

Work on your "warm and fuzzies" skills. Working with endusers is more sales than technical. Actually, the technical side is so elementary you might not even like it.

Tom Vu
Friday, May 2, 2003

Actually, you might be better teaming up with someone. Managing the relationship with customers can be a full time job, and it's difficult for someone to develop stuff at the same time. It's just about specialisation of activity.

And, yes, winning new business is notoriously hard.

You might be better off packaging something into a "product" that you then fit into people's business. People are more comfortable buying something than paying for "development," even if they end up working out the same.

Just keep thinking.

Friday, May 2, 2003

My experience has been different.  When I've actually got to work with a real user, who had the time and inclination to work through a design with me, and who also had some authority, I've been in extreme happinessville.  For me the more common and problematic scenario has the developer taking his instructions from a manager or consulting company sales guy go between who doesn't understand the user's work in detail.

OTOH if you're talking about tracking down potential clients - and getting them to talk to you in detail about custom software - when they don't know you from Adam - then that's a tricky bit of communication.

As to showing up with product in hand: Unless you have a great deal of experience in your prospective client's business, the chance of you managing to write something by yourself that fits their needs (and looks right to them at a glance) are probably pretty slim.

John Aitken
Friday, May 2, 2003

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