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So You Want To Be A Consultant

michael posted more than 9 years ago | from the billable-hours dept.

Businesses 260

Stephen Friedl writes "I've been a self-employed consultant for almost 20 years - I still have my first customer! - and I'm asked often about the business by those who are considering it. It's not for everybody, and there are often surprises, so I've written up a Tech Tip that recounts my experiences and provides advice for the n00b. Executive summary: It's much more about customer service than it is about technical skill."

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First (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521079)

Jizz

Consultants: ATTN (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521210)


I like Windows XP Home Edition.

It is the most powerful operating-system for Pee Cees. It looks not as gay as Mac OS X by Steve B10 Jobs and has 1,0000,0000 times more softwares that the Linus-operating-system.

Plus, it comes with every Pee Cee for free. People who have grown acusstomt to paying RatHat 699 $$$ or more can hardly beleive this when I consult them with my proffesional Internet- and Network-Service-Center-Bureau.

Wehn I have a new customer, I take him to the back-room to show him the "alternative" to XP Home, which is Suse Linux 9.0.
I have set-up an old Pentium 133Hz and a small monochrome monitor to show teh customer what Linux looks and feels like.

I have it set-up so it runs a fullscreen-Flash-splash-screen on the KDE3.3beta-desktop. It takes 13 min until the mouse cursor responds.

The customer will them make a sound like: "BAH!"

Then I tell them: "See, this is how it is if we let the communists make software."
Then we have a good laugh, wich is psycologicallish valuable for the customer-relatively.

I always tell them:
"Windows XP Home Edition is all you can do to embiggen the producationality of your human resourcers and empower to leverage the outcome-bottomlime of your stickholder ... plus even more!"

My customers usually are like: "OMG!"

You should really try it one day; it has a very nice light-reddish color theme to hit your tastes.

Thank you!

yes!111 (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521398)

i whoelly agrea wit joo

pf (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521087)

frsit psotts

n00b eh? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521088)

das n00b \/\/a|\||\|A j0b t0 b3 A onsu|7a|\|7, 1zzle

Not much money, but rewarding (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521105)

I'm a student who started doing software design as a consultant. Now I started this while I was still in high school and have made $70k in 4 years. Note that this is without much experience or a degree, and while still being in school... so if you devoted your time to this, perhaps it would be very lucrative?

A more important story (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521245)

More important news:

Today the Iraqi people have voted in their first full election in their countries history. Despite the terrorist attacks, the shrill cries of opposition of the corrupt UN, the paralyzed EU, and the perpetually drunk Edward Kennedy the Iraqi people have turned out in high numbers to vote for freedom and democracy.

This message paid for by the blood of the courageous members of the UK and US and other coalition military forces.

Re:A more important story (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521330)

errr, more important news, stupid typical moronic american bashs the UN without any facts. The UN officially support the elections you fuckwit, as does all the EU. The UK is part of the EU, and has the presidency of the EU for the second half of this year.

This message paid for by "the sick of rednecks with an IQ of 5 who only watch fox news" department.

Re:A more important story (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521372)

Um, the UN "Oil for Food" corruption exposed them for what they are - criminals. Perhaps you haven't heard about the scandal. Just because your country has given up your rights of self-government to the non-elected ministers in Brussels doesn't make us a redneck.

Today is a great day, and a triumph for democracy and freedom and Bush's foreign policies. You must hate that.

Re:A more important story (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521396)

Hmm, Oil for Food.. War for Oil.. The US is just as big of a piece of shit

Re:A more important story (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521728)

Um, currently the only conviction for that is.... a US based business man. As for criminals, Bush invades a country illegally and you complain about a little financial corruption? The only problem with oil for food was that the money from the oil sales was spent on palaces for sadaam and not on food / medical supplies for the people.

And yeah, I hate democracy and freedom. thank you for proving my initial point of you not having a fucking clue on anything that doesn't get shown on fox news.

Re:A more important story (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521761)

So now you go from praising the UK for supporting the US to bashing the country for giving up its rights?

Re:A more important story (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521787)

Got a nice phrase for you. the ends do not justify the means.

Re:Not much money, but rewarding (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521318)

yeah, $17.5k a yr is below the poverty level.
But good for you, considering you're likely still living with parents.

Re:Not much money, but rewarding (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521463)

yup, I am living with my parents and my cost of living is literally zero. and I saved everything up and invested in the markets, so as a result I now have nearly $80k cash.

Re:Not much money, but rewarding (1)

Alistair Cunningham (20266) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521433)

Are you perhaps falling into the trap of doing fixed price work that takes many more hours than expected? There's no faster way to bring your effective rate down...

What percentage of the time do you have work? Are you always marketing, especially building contacts? Having a wide range of contacts is the surest way to a steady revenue stream.

Are you underselling your skills? Remember the old marketing adage: Never compete on price. Instead compete on features and service. As any retailer will tell you, the top end of the market is a much more pleasant place than the bottom, simply because the margins are so much better. Only Wal-Mart can compete at the bottom. If you don't have the skills or experience to compete at the top end of the market, get them!

Blatent plug: I run Integrics Ltd [integrics.com] , doing software consulting, mostly VoIP and databases. If you're looking for Cisco Call Manager / Asterisk / PostgreSQL / MySQL skills, remote or onsite worldwide, give me a call.

are you going to pay me? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521116)

Even if you regularly invoice at the start of every month, customers have their own schedule for paying, and this can be nerve-wracking to deal with

I think that's the reason why I wouldn't do consulting/contracting. A friend of mine recently decided to be self employed as a consultant and the biggest problem is getting people to pay him in an orderly fashion. When you are your own business you end up putting up money for various things, and when your incomming payments start to lag, you can end up in serious trouble.

Re:are you going to pay me? (5, Insightful)

sosegumu (696957) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521285)

When you are your own business you end up putting up money for various things, and when your incomming payments start to lag, you can end up in serious trouble.

Which is why being under-capitalized is the number one reason new businesses fail.

Re:are you going to pay me? (2, Interesting)

KontinMonet (737319) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521381)

You can always factor your invoices. I met a dentist in Holland who does this as a matter of course. He has a good idea of his (necessarily reduced) income but does not get worringly into debt. And his factoring costs are probably higher as they are dealing with individuals.

Re:are you going to pay me? (1)

Frymaster (171343) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521392)

When you are your own business you end up putting up money for various things, and when your incomming payments start to lag, you can end up in serious trouble

hey, the same thing happens to your boss if you work for a start up or small company! so it really boils down to the two choices:

  1. do you want to spend your time programming and let someone else deal with all the business angles or...
  2. do you have the attitude of "if you want it done right, do it yourself" and are willing to invest all that extra time and effort to make sure your company is run the way you want

personally, i fall into the former choice category and it's always worked out for me. but then again, i have killer job hunting skills [frymaster.ca] !

Re:are you going to pay me? (1)

jackbird (721605) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521401)

When you are your own business you end up putting up money for various things, and when your incomming payments start to lag, you can end up in serious trouble.

Finance charges are the answer. Set them akin to a not-so-great credit card, and put in the contract for services that they agree to pay them AND that they agree to pay the fee for any collection agency out of their own pockets after 90 days.

Another way to go, which a guy I know uses, is to get a merchant account and accept credit cards. His rationale to the client is "You can pay for it whenever you want, but I get paid now." Plus they get miles and stuff. He even brings an old-school carbon impression machine with him, and batches it in when he gets back to the office, so there's no technology dependency on-site. This approach only makes sense if you have fairly high volume, though, since the merchant account has a monthly fee, and not everyone will want to pay by credit card.

Re:are you going to pay me? (5, Interesting)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521592)

Finance charges can help, but I've found (after a decade and a half as a consultant) that offering early-pay discounts help a *LOT*. Give them thirty days to pay, but if they pay early knock a couple percent off the bill. That eliminates their desire to play the float with your money by holding on to it as long as possible, because by delaying payment they are now losing money! Besides, you get more flies with honey than ... well.

Another tip: if you do anything for free, even something as simple as plugging in somebody's mouse or changing their desktop wallpaper, put it on the bill with a 100% discount so they can see all the benefits of keeping you happy. The more people at a given site that see an advantage in having you around, the more pressure there is to make sure you get taken care of promptly. All consultants (except, perhaps, lawyers) do things gratis now and then in an effort to accrue good will. But believe me, if you don't document the freebies you won't get credit for them.

Find out right away who approves your checks (if you are contracting for a large organization this may not be the person you think it is) and don't hesitate to give them a call if there a holdup in getting paid. And when you do speak to that person, be unfailingly polite and explain the importance of your work to their company. Often it just takes one phone call from that individual to whoever cuts your checks to get the job done.

Another point I'd like to bring up is that many large companies are depending more and more on outside help (seeing as how they've often fired most of their existing full-time staff in an effort to become "right sized".) Consequently, I've found that some corporations have special fast-pay plans for small contractors. They generally won't tell you about it (the person who hired you probably won't have a clue) but if you talk to the accounts payable department and explain that you're a consultant who really likes working with their organization, but can't afford the usual delays in cash-flow, they may be willing to make an accommodation. If necessary, offer an early-pay discount to sweeten the pot. Sometimes they will ask you for one ... let them have it if they will agree to pay you promptly. It never hurts to ask.

Re:are you going to pay me? (1)

jackbird (721605) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521799)

Good stuff, all of it.

Re:are you going to pay me? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521519)

When you are your own business you end up putting up money for various things, and when your incomming payments start to lag, you can end up in serious trouble.

Let that be a lessen for people that say "Why should I only get 1/2 of my hourly bill rate? I'll do it myself!" They forget that one non-paying customer can really ruin your monthly finances.

Or the problem customer that wants just one more fix but doesn't want to pay for it.

Re:are you going to pay me? (1)

FusionDragon2099 (799857) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521797)

Getting people to pay you in an orderly fasion is easy. All you need is some help from a couple bikers.

An agrarian view to IT consulting (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521118)

Plowing for several large companies, I'd always done my work on Windows. Recently however, a top online investment firm asked us to do some work using FreedBSD. The concept of having access to source code was very appealing to us, as we'd be able to modify the kernel to meet our exacting standards which we're unable to do with Microsoft's products.

Although we met several fertilization challenges along the way (specifically, FreedBSD's lack of Token Ring support and the fact that we were unable to defrag its ext2 file system), all in all the process went smoothly. Everyone was very pleased with FreedBSD, and we were considering using it for a great deal of future internal projects.

So you can imagine our suprise when we were informed by a labourer that we would be required to publish our source code for others to use. It was brought to our attention that FreedBSD is copyrighted under something called the GPL, or the GNU Preventive License. Part of this license states that any changes to the seed are to be made freely available. Unfortunately for us, this meant that the great deal of time and money we spent "touching up" FreedBSD to work for this investment firm would now be available at no cost to our competitors.

Furthermore, after reviewing this GPL our labourers advised us that any products compiled with GPL'ed tools - such as gcc - would also have to its source code released. This was simply unacceptable.

Although we had planned for no one outside of this company to ever use, let alone see the source code, we were now put in a difficult position. We could either give away our hard work, or come up with another solution. Although it was tought to do, there really was no option: We had to rewrite the code, from scratch, for Windows 2000.

I think the biggest thing keeping FreedBSD from being truly competitive with Microsoft is this GPL. Its mercurial requirements virtually guarentee that no business will ever be able to use it. After my experience with FreedBSD, I won't be recommending it to any of my associates. I may reconsider if FreedBSD switches its license to something a little more fair, such as Microsoft's "Shared Source". Until then its attempts to socialize the software market will insure it remains only a bit player.

I welcome you for your time.

Re:An agrarian view to IT consulting (1, Offtopic)

theapodan (737488) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521173)

Man, this is a horrible troll.

"FreedBSD's .... and the fact that we were unable to defrag its ext2 file system."

FreeBSD has never used ext2 as its native filesystem, nor the GPL. It looks like someone just found/replaced the word linux with FreeBSD.

Re:An agrarian view to IT consulting (1)

game kid (805301) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521213)

The worst part is that I've seen the Linux version of this post, before "FreedBSD" was slapped on. <sarcasm>Un</sarcasm>fortunately, I've forgotten its URI.

Re:An agrarian view to IT consulting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521243)

Although it's flamebait, I've run into instances where I needed to defrag unix systems but couldn't becuase "they never need to defrag". Whatever. I just wish someone would eventually start writing defrag utilities for unix file systems. THey don't fragment like ntfs or fat32, but they can fragment - and if they do you are probably stuck since you're only left with the "move the files somewhere else" method.

Re:An agrarian view to IT consulting (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521361)

OS X has a feature which defrags a small part of the disk - the part used for the init process - to enable faster boot times. Even if a UNIX filesystem doesn't get fragmented per se it would be nice to be able to have it automatically relocate files accessed in sequence to be sequential on disk.

Re:An agrarian view to IT consulting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521193)

For future reference, you troll, FreeBSD doesn't use the ext2 file system nor does it use the GPL.

me too ! (5, Insightful)

selderrr (523988) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521129)

I am also a self-employed developer/consultant (although I'm technically a programmer, I find myself spending a lot more time on consultancy)

Keeping your first customer is NOT perse a good thing. Only if you still make money on work for that customer. The first 10 years of my own business, I found my self spending a lot of time giving phone-support for previously programmer stuff. Or for other stuff... or for no stuff at all (help, my mouse doesn't work properly anymore !)... The most difficult thing in being self employed is : learn to charge for everything. If you work on something, even if it is only 5 minutes : bill'em.

It's the only advice I can give. If you start a relationship with your customer based on free support (in the widest possible interpretation of support), yuo're fucked

Re:me too ! (5, Interesting)

Monkelectric (546685) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521316)

I am self employed to. This is the best advice there is.

Customers will abuse your good nature to no end if you do freebies.

Example: I do work for this small construction firm. Their payroll is $30,000 a month, they don't want to do any kind of maintenance contract (200 - 500$ a month, nothing). Yet they call me for *every* little thing that goes wrong, mouse runs out of batteries, virus defs out of date, some problem with quickbooks, whatever. I've been meaning to get tough with them....

The corollary to that is actually, if you have the ability, *choose you clients well.* I am stuck with a lot of clients from when I first started out and didn't know any better.

Ive seen a friend of mine whose much more savy "fire" clients for refusing to upgrade off old, vulnerable software. It was great.

Re:me too ! (1)

saundersr (842208) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521363)

I've seen exactly the same thing. I'm not a full time service tech or consultant, however, I've noticed that all my "customers" from when I first began to service computers expect that same free service I offered to them several years ago.

I completely agree that it is very important to charge for every "service call", or otherwise, you will be screwed in the end, especially if you are self-employed and rely on all service calls for income...

Re:me too ! (4, Insightful)

Steve Friedl (854647) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521416)

> Customers will abuse your good nature to no end if you do freebies.

I've not found this to be the case: the consultant gets to pick what he does and does not charge for, and if customers know that every time they call you, they get billed for 5 minutes, it doesn't create an entirely friendly environment. I think that a certain amount of "freebies" is part of maintaining a good customer relationship: I get paid for my time, but I don't nickel-and-dime my customer to death.

Steve

Re:me too ! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521555)

I agree. I have dropped lawyers who send bills for 5-minute phone calls. That's not a customer-consultant relationship; that's a predator-pre relationship.

Re:me too ! (1)

Monkelectric (546685) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521634)

I think that a certain amount of "freebies" is part of maintaining a good customer relationship

Ok, well let me walk you through a typical day of mine with freebies:

8:00AM, Melody at so and so wakes me up becuase she cant get her digital camera to work.
12:00PM, Melody calls again because she got her camera to work but how does she get the pictures off it?
1:30PM Bill from so and so calls he just wants a *really* quick change to his application/website/whatever.
3:00PM Lisa from so and so calls because she heard about a new worm on CNN and wants to know if she is vulnerable.

If people don't have to pay for small things, then they bother you with them all the time, and in aggregate, waste a lot of your day.

Re:me too ! (1)

Steve Friedl (854647) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521673)

> If people don't have to pay for small things, then they bother you with them all the time, and in aggregate, waste a lot of your day.

Your point is very well taken, and a consultant does have to manage customer expectations. If they know that they never pay for little stuff, it creates one set of incentives that's really bad for you. But if they know that everything is charged, it creates another set that's bad in a different way.

It's all about reading your customer.

Steve

Getting people off dinosaurs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521661)

Ive seen a friend of mine whose much more savy "fire" clients for refusing to upgrade off old, vulnerable software. It was great.

Christ, I wish I could do that. I work in the IT department for a mortgage company and we have branches scattered all over the U.S. Many of those branches have shit for IT staff that barely know how to maintain their desktops let along their LANs. We've gotten tech support calls from branches whose computers were irrevocably corrupted with viruses, spyware, etcetera - and were running Windows 98. Windows 98, for God's sake! They didn't even have a firewall installed at the office and the branch manager was worried that sensitive customer data (credit reports, underwriting records) would be compromised if it wasn't already. Any IT desktop guy that lets the office people use such an antiquated, unstable, insecure OS on their machines doesn't deserve his position. We basically threated to cut off all technical support from corp HQ (where I work) unless they upgraded to Windows XP. And before you yell at me for not choosing Linux, our whole underwriting operation is based off COM+/.NET web-based applications that mandate IE 6 and other modern Windows software in other to run. (Want to bitch about that? Talk to our developers. They are genuinely infatuated with the system.) This didn't stop a couple of branch IT idiots from saying that they were going to ban the usage of IE from their computers... "How does Firefox work with your web apps?" "It doesn't."

Re:me too ! (1)

KontinMonet (737319) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521395)

...even if it is only 5 minutes : bill'em...

If only I could do that with my family...

Re:me too ! (1)

petteri_666 (745343) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521647)

The most difficult thing in being self employed is : learn to charge for everything. If you work on something, even if it is only 5 minutes : bill'em

Do I have to pay you or do you bill slashdot for your advice?

So true (4, Insightful)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521133)

Yup, most businesses would rather have an IT consultant that takes twice as long (and three tries) to solve a problem than one that won't return phone calls for days. I know, I've lost customers while busy with other ones - not because they were in a hurry to get something done, but because they wanted to talk it through and know, quickly, if what they're planning (whenever we would eventually get around to it) was rational or even possible.

Communication, communication, communication. And it's not billable, most of the time - so take that into account when you set your rates for the time you can bill. You can spend 60 hours a week working in this mode, and only be able to charge for 15 of them sometimes.

Re:So true (1)

TykeClone (668449) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521831)

Yup, most businesses would rather have an IT consultant that takes twice as long (and three tries) to solve a problem than one that won't return phone calls for days.

In other industries, this is called "customer service" and it is something that is sorely lacking in IT.

I do some of this on the side after hours and have been told that "being available" - even just returning phone calls and e-mails in a semi-timely manner - has gained me many customers and kept the ones I've got happy.

One of the most debased professions... (4, Insightful)

ites (600337) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521134)

"Consultant" used to mean an expert professional who could solve problems and provide advice based on years, even decades of experience.

With the Y2K and dot-com booms, "consultant" became used to mean someone with more than three months of IT experience...

Thankfully (for us real consultants), most of the amateurs have returned to horse farming, or whatever they used to do.

It'll still be a while, however, before "IT Consultant" on a business card impresses anyone.

Re:One of the most debased professions... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521291)

most of the amateurs have returned to horse farming

Man, this genetic manipulation has gone too far. Now their growing animals right out of the ground.

Re:One of the most debased professions... (2, Funny)

grazzy (56382) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521404)

What do you mean, three months.. i had it printed on my card first day at work.

The horses says hello btw.

Re:One of the most debased professions... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521419)

True, true, very true....

2005 marks my 18th year in the busines.. One thing I've noticed is that when I started, it was all about technical skills. Now I'm more of a managerial mercenary, shopping my skills to whoever will pay. I haven't done much technical work in the past two years, but have been contracted to manage upgrades, deployments and new software (purchase, training).

Consultants with poor skills.... (4, Interesting)

jhouserizer (616566) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521139)

It's much more about customer service than it is about technical skill.

...Not to be rude, but I've noticed this is the "rule" with the consultants that have worked on various portions of projects that I've been involved with (e.g. the guys customizing an ERP that our system will be integrating with).

The funny thing is that the consultants with the poorest technical skills make the most money (charge the most hours) - at least in the short term.

To be rude... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521180)

It's much more about customer service than it is about technical skill.
Translation from consultantese: it's much more about being able to shovel bullshit down your customers throat than it is about technical skills.

Re:Consultants with poor skills.... (1)

speculatrix (678524) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521727)

this is why you should always get a detailed list of the projects on which a consultant/contractor has worked prior to buying services.

if the person has had few or no renewals, then chances are they're one of those consultant/contractor people who are very good at interviews but useless when it actually comes down to doing work.

I've been at a number of companies who've brought in people who've shined at interviews, and its only five weeks in you realise they've not accomplished anything! Naturally, their 3 month contract doesn't get renewes.

I recently changed employer and one of those supposed experts was to my knowledge unemployed but still claiming my former employer as their active client - trying to disguise their history.

So, as well as a detailed list, always check references, or only hire people on recommendation.

Questions not to ask IT consultants (1)

jaiyen (821972) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521147)

"As it so happens, I'm in the market for some kind of bespoke enterprise scalable solution [slashdot.org] . Don't suppose you'd be able to recommend anything ?"

eat shit (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521149)

I do the club scene [stonehenge.com] a lot, some say I am a good dancer. I enjoy having a few drinks, usually ale or mead, and I have been known to cause a scene now and then...

Eric paused, breathing heavily. He'd never done this before and he wanted to make sure all of his best qualities were included in this email.

I am a geek, to be frank, and I enjoy hacking UNIX and maintaining Open Source programs such as Felchmale^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^HFetchmail and a bevy of FAQs regarding 386 sound internals and role-playing games. I've been doing this for 15 years though I've never held a job in my life.

Eric wondered if this woman he had found on match.com would be impressed with his talents. He decided to put more detail into the message.

I recently drove 24 hours straight, with but two stops for gasoline, from Eastern PA to Kansas City in an effort to destroy my two arch-nemeses. I would have succeeded except that I blew a head gasket as I was about to shoot one of them from my moving car on Route 69 [trollaxor.com] . I am an excellent shot and love guns in general.

ESR pondered for a moment, wringing out his soaked handkerchief, and continued with his typing.

So what languages do you know? I fancy myself quite an accomplished amateur linguist and know Anglo-Saxon and Old Icelandic inside and out. I often compose little riddles in them for fun and mental exercise. In fact, I'll include one for you now!

Chewing on his tongue and squinting, Eric pushed his mind into overdrive and produced a beauty of a riddle on the spot:

Windeth I towarde the skye
I haveth eye but blinde am I

Pleased with his linguistic talents, undoubtedly matched by no one, Eric then asked his potential love-conquest:

Can you guess the answer to that? In case you can not, the correct answer is "my erect penis." I hope you enjoyed that; I do this sort of thing all the time.

Eric exhaled slowly and rubbed his belly. It was growling and no doubt wanted its nightly bottle of Jägermeister. He decided to finish up the email in anticipation of the coming alcoholic stupor.

Well I don't want to make this email too long -- I have a lot of responsibilities in real life to deal with. My role-playing group is coming over and we are spending the next week holed up in the forest near my home in character playing out a possible scenario from Beowulf. I need to get dressed up and I can not find my bear-claw mittens.

Eric wondered how to wrap up the email, something that would hook the lady on him and make her want more...

I hope we can meet and have sex. Despite my cerebral palsy, I am a monster in the sack! Maybe you'll get to see for yourself, LOLOLOL! ;-)
Love,
Eric S. Raymond

Technical skill? (2, Interesting)

theapodan (737488) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521151)

This article definately sounds as if the writer was more aligned along the marketing/policy end of consulting rather than technology, the article comes across as pretty weak. Although I don't know any IT consultants, geological consultants are usually a bit more terse and limit their comments to things other than "warm fuzzy feelings."

I also have never liked the term consultant. Sometimes consultants are nothing more than paid mouths to spread an idea, and they don't actually "consult," or say their own opinions.

Re:Technical skill? (5, Insightful)

Steve Friedl (854647) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521320)

My point on the Warm Fuzzy Feeling is that if your customer doesn't have it about you (they don't like you, find you hard to work with, etc.), it doesn't matter much about how good your technical skills are. New consultants usually focus on the technical skills and forget the people skills, and this doesn't make for good, long-term customer relationships.

I'm much more on the technical side of consulting, and the only "marketing" I do is publishing original, technical content [unixwiz.net] . Mainly I write C code all day, though I'm sure that this slashdot post is seen as "marketing"...

Steve

Why work 16 hours a day? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521153)

Why work 8 hours/day for someone else when you can work 16 hours/day for yourself?

Because all work and no play makes Johnny a dull boy?

no more benefits (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521160)

Mr Burns: Smithers, i was a stingy old fool. But from now on, I'll provide drug benefits to all my full-time employees.

Homer: Great news, honey. Mr. Burns made me a freelance consultant. Hey...what's this lump.

One consultant to another (2, Interesting)

SlashCrunchPop (699733) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521161)

Different flavors of Consultants:
  • Contracting
  • Consulting

"I contracted a client today!" Jeez, can't we discuss this without mentioning viruses? Seriously though, I find your choice of words poor and I disagree with your classification, I've been a consultant for 9+ years now and I would say what you call "contracting" is typical freelance consulting and your definition of consulting is basically handholding. Top professional companies do not need handholding, so when you're dealing with them it's much more about technical knowledge than customer service. But since most of your customers need handholding I see why you would think that's the norm. It's not, at least not in my experience, YMMV.

Re:One consultant to another (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521232)

"Top professional companies do not need handholding, so when you're dealing with them it's much more about technical knowledge than customer service."

I don't know how professional IBM's clients are, but isn't IBM's current services based on handholding?

Re:One consultant to another (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521301)

I don't know how professional IBM's clients are, but isn't IBM's current services based on handholding?

IBM was not an individual freelance consultant last time I checked.

Re:One consultant to another (1)

igc (848498) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521364)

Yes, they are. "Top professional companies do not need handholding" That's just crap. Top professional companies want more than handlholding - they want to be able to wash their hands of all responsibility if it all goes pair shaped. Most "top professional companies" have idiots in-house, which is why they have to go elsewhere...

Re:One consultant to another (5, Interesting)

ScuzzMonkey (208981) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521325)

Actually, I think he's got it more close to correct than you do. I've been doing this for about ten years now, and although there is a lot of splashover in how the terms are used, the understanding of them among people I typically interact with is that contractors are single-job at a time, specifically skilled, with a specifically contracted engagement. Consultants, on the other hand, are those who typically manage a number of simultaneous engagements, often without specifically executed contracts, typically with a less well-defined issue at stake. I think what happened to muddy the terms is that a lot of companies found it was easier to hire contract labor if they called it 'consulting' and a lot of people found it more palatable to work without insurance and benefits as long as they got to think of themselves as 'consultants.'

I think you'd be surprised at the number of 'top professional companies' who use consultants; it's often less about hand-holding than bringing in fresh perspective or someone with experience at other companies for a common industry issue. I would agree it's less about customer service in those instances (although, in my own view of the 'types' of consultant out there, the two categories are 'technical', where you make your reputation by being correct, and 'sales', where you make it by handing out warm fuzzies... but I digress) because you are dealing with people at that point who have enough knowledge to know what it is they don't know, but it's definitely not the same as being brought in to fill in as a sysadmin for three months.

Re:One consultant to another (1)

Steve Friedl (854647) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521485)

> I find your choice of words poor and I disagree with your classification

Yours is a fair objection: I work in my own little space, and I'm not any kind of authority on the types of business relations that one can have with customers. I have always seen "contracting" as short-term project-work, and "consulting" as more long-term work, but if I'm wrong, I'm wrong.

Steve

for the n00b? (1)

game kid (805301) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521171)

I've written up a Tech Tip that recounts my experiences and provides advice for the n00b.

You wouldn't want to teach a n00b--at least, if you distinguish between the n00b that refuses to learn [urbandictionary.com] and the newb that is honestly beginning his career [urbandictionary.com] .

Side note: Doesn't the poster's definition for contractor sound a lot like that of a one-night stand [urbandictionary.com] ?

Re:for the n00b? (1)

ClosedSource (238333) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521276)

That's what an old fart gets for using the current fad words.

Old farts shouldn't worry though, a few years down the road n00b and newb will be like neat and groovy - words used only by the next generation of old farts.

Re:for the n00b? (1)

Steve Friedl (854647) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521376)

> That's what an old fart gets for using the current fad words.

Which hits the nail right on the head - thank you.

Re:for the n00b? (1)

ClosedSource (238333) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521668)

It takes one to know one I guess.

Sub Contracting (2, Interesting)

odyrithm (461343) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521172)

I've always found it much easier to take on sub contract work, this way you never have to worry about facing the non-techy clients and what needs doing is very clear. Granted you don't make as much but if you have a full time job already it is an easyish extra income.

Pros and cons (5, Interesting)

defile (1059) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521177)

A lot more of your expenses can be quantified and written off as business expenses when you work for multiple people. Of course, there's a little more risk here for error, but the IRS doesn't seem to put you in jail if you make honest mistakes.

Oh, there's certainly a lot more freedom involved too. You make your own schedule, and you're in a much better position to tell someone to fuck off without impacting your lifestyle too badly. On the other hand, when you're not charting up billable hours, you're spending your time marketing. Always marketing.

I've been doing this for about 3 years now and I don't think I've billed more than 20 hours a week on average, but being able to select which 20 is really convenient for your sanity. There are some weeks where you won't work at all and others where you don't lift your head higher than your shoulders. If you can't stand regular routine, independent consulting is the lifestyle for you.

There's a certain anxiety that comes with alway having to market yourself to new clients and not being sure if you can make ends meet in six months, but this isn't so bad in the computer industry since if you run into trouble, you can usually fall back on a fulltime job before you starve to death. You definitely need to save up a cash cushion to help even out the unsteadiness of work, but simply knowing that you have it there puts you in a better position to weigh whether you wan't to prostitute yourself out for that ActiveX project.

Unless you have iron will self-control, working out of your house is usually a bad idea because you end up finding as many distractions as possible to keep you from working. You also never feel that you're "off", since your day always looks like a 16-hour work/play haze.

All in all, I certainly don't regret getting into this.

Re:Pros and cons [winhat] (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521300)

The people that are fed to the muzzle of a client for business. There's no excuse for violence against nature or for the triumph of evil is for good men to do things on the tip of my arm was left here by the army of another country or by a private army.

I think i've worked it out! You are the moments that you and your own schedule, and you're in a much better position to tell it like it used to be. My riches consist not in the hand is worth two in the extent of my very best intentions. The average man does not want to think that i haven't had the misfortune to meet you. I like to do things on the head with the shoulders.

A computer is a living creature endowed with voluntary movement.
A day is the opening at the end of the leg, and is the idea of movement from one place to another.
A cretin is someone who suffers from the shoulder of an ass and a tragedy for those who feel.
A torpedo is a nocturnal marsupial.

Re:Pros and cons [winhat] (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521841)

You... you... you're wierder than ME!

Resume Placement (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521179)

I've been a self-employed consultant for almost 20 years, and I'd like to place a sales pitch for my services on Slashdot. What is Roland paying you?

Re:Resume Placement (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521229)

Don't you think it's a little bettert han the people who pretend to bea third party posting their own story?

So true ... customer service keeps me in business (3, Insightful)

greenmars (685118) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521184)

I've been doing IT consulting evenings and weekends for ten years now, and I've seen lots of other consultants for the same client come and go. Lots and lots of the ex-consultants would not return phone calls, would implement solutions that they wanted instead of what the customer wanted, etc.

My advice for new consultants:

Incorporate. Protect your savings, house, car, etc., if there's a disaster.

Be available. This includes evenings, weekends, and vacations.

Be responsive. Check your customer email several times a day and respond.

Re:So true ... customer service keeps me in busine (2, Informative)

jth213 (795679) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521282)

Be available. This includes evenings, weekends, and vacations.

This is exactly why I STOPPED being a consultant.

Re:So true ... customer service keeps me in busine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521299)

Pfft. We know you don't have a life. Stop trying to hide the fact.

Fixed bid projects. (4, Insightful)

mingot (665080) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521194)

Excellent article and I suggest any consultant or person thinking of being one RTFA.

One thing I would like to add, though, is a fixed bid tip. The author admits he does not have much experience with this type of work and omits one important detail that can save a lot of headache for both parties and keep cashflow going during a large project.

Always try to do a fixed bid project with milestone based payments. This keeps the customer happy since they get to see the code at intervals, gauge the progress, and offer feedback. It lets you get paid as you go and helps you use customer feedback to make changes (and no matter how good the spec, there will be) as you develop.

Re:Fixed bid projects. (1)

prisoner (133137) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521517)

Good advice. We don't get involved in many projects that would have milestones but we do require that most customers pay hardware/software costs upfront. Unless they are long-term customers in which case we require 25%.

Who cares about the programmers anyway (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521220)

There are tons of them all around. Never figured out how this profession can be rewarding other than paying the rents and bills. Doesn't come close to sciences, has artificial buzz of applied mathematics.

=troll

So you want to be a consultant? (1)

Anonymous Writer (746272) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521221)

No.

I've been a self-employed consultant (5, Funny)

Fuzzums (250400) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521267)

"I've been a self-employed consultant for almost 20 years - I still have my first customer!"

Parents... :D

Johnny Bravo (1)

spellraiser (764337) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521466)

I am reminded of a Johnny Bravo episode where Mr. Bravo is trying to earn money in order to buy his mother a birthday present. His diminutive friend Susie suggests that he become a consultant; that is 'Someone who tells people what to do.'

Our hero goes out into the street, sees a man who is walking with a slouch, walks up to him and says:

Johnny: 'Don't slouch. That'll be 10 bucks.'

Sloucher:'Gee, thanks. Here's your money.' (Hands Johnny a bill). 'You know what you should do with that?'

J: 'What?'

S: 'Put it in a bank! That'll be 10 bucks. '(Takes the bill back).

Some of this strikes a chord with me... (4, Insightful)

andalay (710978) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521304)

A financially-struggling consultant does not give a customer The Warm Fuzzy Feeling(TM)

Recently, I was in salary negotiations with a company without any competing job offers. I asked for a really high salary relative to others applying for the position. When asked why or do I have any other offers, I simply reiterated that I am very interested in this position, and the salary is what I have discovered through other companies is market.

The name of the game is: "Never show all your cards"

The secret formula is... (4, Insightful)

invisik (227250) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521312)

I saw this in a advertisment for a consulting gig.

50% Personality, 50% Technical Ability.

If you can't walk into an office and within 2 minutes be mostly comfortable and getting along with everyone, then you shouldn't be a consultant. You don't have a long time to get going, like you would if you were an employee. There's no training, no hand-holding. You are there doing your thing. It's actually quite fun and interesting most of the time!

I also still have my first client.... heh

-m

Simple Rule of Thumb. (5, Insightful)

sanityspeech (823537) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521332)

Persons allergic to incompetence cannot be consultants. - Ioan Tenner

Re:Simple Rule of Thumb. (3, Insightful)

zwnbq (844252) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521604)

Great quote! I'll repost a quote on a related theme that I've become fond of:

"There are few things worse than close supervision by someone who doesn't understand what you're doing."

-- Paul Graham, What You'll Wish You'd Known [paulgraham.com] .

Often the case on consulting projects when a client who lacks expertise wants to make design and development decisions that he's not qualified to do.

*Cough* (1)

matt-larose (308335) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521335)

"Executive summary: It's much more about customer service than it is about technical skill."

Wow, does that ever sound like a good consultant. Thats probably why they are hated in the IT field.

Generally good advice, except about the copyrights (2, Interesting)

ScuzzMonkey (208981) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521405)

I think he nails a lot of what people don't know, but should, if they want to make a living doing technical consulting. However, I think he's off-base on his suggestion to allow the customer to "own everything". The arrangement suggested is not legal and could result in an awful lot of trouble for either you or the customer down the road.

There are certain pieces of intellectual property that the customer owns simply because it originates with them--business processes, customer information, etc. Those things remain their property whether you are working with them in your project or not, and you can't re-use or re-publish them without express consent. However, in most cases, anything that you create remains yours under the same laws. It is possible for you to relenquish your right to the client, in effect giving the IP away, but if you do so, you do NOT have the right to re-use it again yourself in future projects. They own it, even the building blocks--you are infringing on their copyright at that point.

There are few situations in which this might actually come back to bite you (or them) but they are devastating if they do arise. For one, if you ever decide to sell another work based on that code to another client, under those same terms, you've created a potential liability for both of your clients, depending on how much you got in writing at any particular stage. Either the second is infringing because the first owns it, or the first is infringing after you sold the rights to the second.

It's possible, of course, to license your code any way you would like, but you have to retain ownership of the copyright in order to do so. You have to make it absolutely clear to the clients that you own what you code, but that what they are paying for is a perpetual license to use that code as they see fit. This has the same effect as what the author is going for, I believe, but without the potentially nasty side effects.

Re:Generally good advice, except about the copyrig (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521441)

Hmm... I have a feeling you're not in the US.

Challenges I've experienced (4, Interesting)

westendgirl (680185) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521407)

I've been consulting for seven years -- full-time for six of those years. I find that my greatest challenge is getting my contacts to understand how my skills and experience have evolved over time. Although newsletters, success stories and a website can help explain developments, people don't always read them. So it can be difficult to explain that I do far more advanced work than I did seven years ago. I actually find my most challenging and interesting work comes from newer clients, who can be more easily persuaded of my full skillset. I don't mean that my longer-term contacts think I'm an airhead -- it's just that people who don't see you regularly have a hard time understanding how things have changed. That's why it's important to market yourself to existing contacts, as well as new ones.

The other challenge is that some people seem to think that "consultant" means you're unemployed. Some say, "Oh, so you're between jobs?" I then explain that I have a roster of clients and that I've been doing this for seven years. I have also learned to stop saying that I'm a consultant and to start saying that I have run a small marketing firm for seven years.

Occasionally, I also run into potential clients who think "consultant" just means that they can avoid payroll taxes. They don't understand that I have other clients and that, while a full-time ongoing engagement is something I'd consider, I'm not using consulting as a way to scam the government. I've run into some companies that have had "consultants" working for them full-time for the past five years. (Canada's tax laws do not allow this.) Fortunately, I don't run into people like this very often.

Re:Challenges I've experienced (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521709)

They don't understand that I have other clients and that, while a full-time ongoing engagement is something I'd consider...


i hear this from women all the time

Excellent read (1)

MicroBerto (91055) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521408)

Excellent read... this is something that I was going to do had I not been hired by my Dream Company [ni.com] ... it would have been very useful, but now I'll let someoene else take the reigns.

Try lots of shit and see what works :)

Balancing between elegance and timely..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521422)

From years of experience consulting and running consulting groups, one of the biggest hurdles tech people need to come to grips with when entering consulting is the balance between elegant code and timely completion of projects. Most consultants are paid by the hour. They need to learn the tight rope walk between engineering the ultimate solution and get the work done quickly. Most academic oriented developers try for perfection in their solutions which usually take longer to develop. When your consulting you have to balance this with getting done more quickly. Figuring out when and where you can take shortcuts is something difficult for some to learn. Consulting is not for everyone.

Consider this when deciding on consultants. (0, Troll)

stimpleton (732392) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521427)



If your business is considering inside or outside resources for a project, consider:

- What are the first 3 letters that Consultant begins with?
- Consultants are, at their core, like retail units, who must generate repeat business. Very few business models rely on providing a one off sale or service. Therefore, consultants create an ongoing product in terms of support, or licensing etc.

Lastly, consultant is different to contractor. While the 2 provide similar services, the consultant will only get out of bed for >$200. If this is not you then you are most likely a contractor.

Re:Consider this when deciding on consultants. (1)

ScuzzMonkey (208981) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521644)

Heh... mostly true. However, the fact that most of them are like this has also created a niche where you can do pretty good business by NOT being that guy. After a company has been screwed over hard and finally begins to realize it, it can be both fun and profitable to come in as the straight shooter to clean it all up.

Although, I also make up for putting myself out of work by charging higher hourly fees than most of my competition. I think it's justified to the customer, though, by not having to get dicked around for three months while the work is in progress.

This just in: (1)

Lispy (136512) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521446)

As a consultant myself I only realized that I am one a few months ago. I was self employed for 6 years now working for different customers on a variety of projects. I always thought I was a web guy, a sysad, a tech-writer or even a tech-teacher. But it turned out that I am just that: an IT consultant.

Thanks heavens that it turned out I am pretty good at it. ;-)

This is probably the best read on this subject I had in a long time. If you are planning to do this kind of job and follow his rules you really might have success and a lot of fun. If your idea of fun is work a LOT and have tight schedules and fix tricky stuff in no time that is.
The upside: You are doing lots of interesting stuff, meet many cool people, get to see a lot of different companies wich might just hire you if beeing self employed gets sour and last not least you might earn a living.

But don't call my customers or you might be in trouble... ;-)

Somewhat OT-Open source software for consultants? (1)

lawpoop (604919) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521448)

Hey folks --

I too am a small-time consultant. I have a client who likes my work. There has been a lot of feature creep, which is good as far as moeny, but problematic for keeping organized. I'm looking for a software package (hopefully LAMP) that is designed for the one-person developer -- feature estimation with nesting and dependencies, hour tracking, and invoicing. I've looked at dotproject and it seems to lack invoicing.

I would like to do this on my own of course, but I don't have the time with this client! What do you use?

Re:Somewhat OT-Open source software for consultant (1)

B3ryllium (571199) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521886)

I would be very interested in finding a tool like that. Something FOSS, hopefully. There's aceproject.com, but they're a commercial service ...

If you find anything, could you let me know? Thanks.

(I've recently switched to Bugzilla for bug and feature request tracking, that's been quite useful :))

the main tools you need (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11521545)

All I needed to get started was this [staples.com] and this [microsoft.com] .

And maybe make one of these [nu2.nu] with Stinger, Antivir, and Ad-aware to clean trojans and virii.

Of course, service is the key to this. I make house calls and often spend an extra hour of non-billable time explaining things. Since I am in California I charge $75 an hour to wealthy clients and $45 an hour for the non-wealthy.

The consulting field seems to be changing (1)

prisoner (133137) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521602)

in my area of the country. A couple of years ago when I started out there were a great number of consultants in the area. Most of them had the social skills of Atilla the Hun but people used them because they just figured that all IT people were freaks. Currently, these consulting companies are having a very difficult time. Other companies (like mine) are hiring people that have people skills. It doesn't take a genius to figure it out. I must have interviewed 15 people trying to find a guy (no women applied) that fit the bill.

10 out of 10 (4, Interesting)

perler (80090) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521824)

brillant article. one addition (i also wrote it to steve):

try to find some consultant friends! especially in the "time and project management" departement it helps tremendously to have a colleague who can jump in when you are short in time or are on holiday - and who doesn't try to "steal" your customer..

everything else is almost identically to my businnes practice and i can say: "it works!"

regards,

PAT

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