many times have you heard someone say "I wish I could start my own business
and be my own boss!" Heck, how many times have you thought about
how great it would be to work from home? And in this day and age, when home
offices are so common—with sophisticated telecommuting capabilities available
to the fairly average geek—the reality
of working from home is becoming an option for more and more people.
Sure, the idea of shuffling over to your computer in the ol' bunny slippers
and punching in on the clock sounds like a dream job, right? But remember
the old adage—if it sounds to good to be true...
Okay, the truth is that I do occasionally work in my bunny slippers
(and they do look like real rabbits, a fact that makes my dogs crazy
to no end!) But also realize that there are many days when I don't even have
time to get out of those bunny slippers! Sitting in that desk chair,
pounding on that keyboard for 18 hrs straight is a very average day in my
case. In fact, working away for 24+ hours straight is also not uncommon for
Granted, most of my consulting work is as a web or Word automation developer
and folks who write code aren't your average consultant. We seem to have
a tendancy of zoning in on code and not realizing that a day or two
has zipped by! But
the point here is that if you have ideas about getting into business for
yourself, particularly in a technology field, plan on kissing that N-O-R-M-A-L
9-5 work day goodbye.
Normal is rarely part of a consultant's vocabulary. However, for
some people, that fact in itself isn't a bad thing. Some people
thrive on the unusual life. An unpredictable day can be quite rewarding to
someone who tires of the normal 9-5. And if you're one of these people—as
strange as we can be—maybe the consulting life can be a rewarding life for
you, too. But it can also make you crazy, cause you to burn out and send
you screaming back to a nice normal 9-5 job if you don't have what
People often say to me "I wish I could be a consultant like you." HA...little
do they know just how much work it can actually entail! Over the next several
months, I'll be presenting this series of consulting articles. With luck,
it'll provide those of you who might be considering a consulting lifestyle
with a little taste of what you can expect. Yes, it can be a lot of work.
But as another old adage goes...when you're doing what you love, it doesn't
seem like work.
And because a career as a consultant
is so widely varied, I'm enlisting the help of several friends who
are also consultants. This will spare you from having to only take
my perspective as your sole point of view. You'll get to meet several
other consultants and hear what they have to say, their opinions, on various
subjects. In this series, I'll be putting forth
some questions to our group of consultants. Their answers should help to
give you a more complete vision of what it might take if you're thinking
of giving up your sanity to follow this type of lifestyle.
And now for a little disclaimer. As professionals with strong opinions, we're
more than willing to share those opinions and experiences with you. However,
we may not always be anxious to step up and tell you all about the time we
totally screwed up! But we want you to get the truth and nothing but the
truth. So please excuse the occasional bag we will be sticking over our heads.
I'm not saying anyone here has anything to hide. But in an effort to help
get the real dirt, I will be blanketing some questions without names. This
will just help to ensure that our participants feel completely free to give
their honest opinions without ruffling any feathers.
With that said, relax, kick back, toss on your own bunny slippers and allow
me to introduce you to some of my hard working friends.
A Personal Perspective from Dian Chapman....
Susan Daffron was once a Word MVP who retired from the program
when she got too busy with her own company to continue her involvement. I
met "Suz" back
around 1995 when we were both moving, screaming, from Ventura Publisher,
as our publishing application, to Word. We both, subsequently, became Microsoft
MVPs at that time. A very talented writer, editor, designer and technogeek,
I'm constantly asking Suz for her opinion, advice and thoughts about things
I'm working on. It's great to have a fellow expert, or my evil twin as she's
known, available to kick around ideas. And only in this day and age could
I claim that Suz is my best bud, who I talk with constantly...yet, she lives
on the other side of the US and I've only actually met
Suz lives with her hubby, James, in an incredibly beautiful log home that
they've built up themselves. They live with their four beautiful dogs on
many acres in the hills of Idaho. And my dream is to kick her out of her
home and take it over as my own!
Rob Bovey is also a long time friend and fellow MVP. Excel
users will recognize his name from many Excel books on the market. I remember
taking note of Rob for the first time while on a shuttle bus at my first
MVP summit at Microsoft...when he made a cute, ironic joke about the fact
that something was obviously wrong here...since Microsoft had given all the
Excel MVPs watches without numbers!
a dog lover, too, Rob and I have bonded over the years with stories about
our mutual love for the hair bags who share our respective lives. Even if
Rob can't always see the value I put in Word and I have trouble seeing the
value he gets from Excel, <smile> he's helped me understand a lot of
this technology over the years. Rob has been a consultant for more years
than I have been, so I also turn to him, as well as Suz, for advice on business
issues. An extremely talented Excel developer, who is often way to busy
with clients who are begging for his talents to get involved in much else...I'm
thrilled to have him join us now to share his thoughts.
Sue Jenkins is an artist. She's been using computers, probably,
for more years than most of us here...but she started young. Sue originally
wanted to become a photographer. Life evolved and she got into various types
of computer work. Now a days, just about anyone can consider themselves a
graphic artist, thanks to easy, creative software. But Sue was one of the
real things. She worked hard at her graphics, photo work and creative endeavours...but
got stuck working with other computer technologies that, although they paid
the bills, made her crazy and bored her to death. She finally got a taste
of her dream job by working for a fantastic company, doing all the cool
artsy things she enjoyed. However, as life often goes, that company made
a bad deal and went out of business. But as you'll learn in this series,
that's the type of thing that pushes a lot of people to dig down deep and
take up the challenge of working for themselves! Sue is one of those scrapy
folks, like many here, who took the bull by the horns to make her own way.
Susan Ramlet is a very talented and knowledgeable computer
geek. But she's also a mom...one of those mom's you wished you had when you
were a kid. She can sing you a lullaby with her classically trained voice...and
then make the greatest goofy faces that have you busting a gut. Susan
is one of those people who is totally comfortable in her own skin. And that
means you feel totally comfortable being around her. She's a thoroughly enjoyable
companion...whatever the circumstances. From dealing with serious technology
issues to trying not to get lost on a New York subway. I've utterly
enjoyed all the times I have had the pleasure of hanging out with Susan through
various MVP program events.
David Horowitz, like me, enjoys sticking his nose into all
types of technology. Terrible that I can't remember how it was that I first
met David, but it was somewhere in cyberspace. Our mutual technology interests
meant we frequented a lot of the same technogeek worlds on the web. And over
the years, he's helped me out by being able to take up some of the slack
when I get overloaded with consulting requests. Having many of the same skills
means we have a good understanding of each other's work. David is a former
Microsoft employee who now lives in NYC with his wife, Bonnie. And many of
you are familiar with him through his TechTrax articles and his assistance
in my Yahoo support groups.
Jon Peltier must be the most laid back scientist I've ever
met. Okay, I see scientists as those overly brainy geeks with numbers
floating around their heads 24x7. And I suppose on some levels Jon qualifies.
But as a fellow MVP, I see him more as a very intelligent and fun guy who
is still finding new challenges to figure out. Jon is a somewhat newbie into
the world of consulting. He's been doing side jobs here and there, but more
recently moved into this lifestyle on a regular basis. And those of you who
have read his fantastic Excel articles here in TechTrax can easily see how
he will surely make it big, because he's not only extremely smart...but can
present complex issues in a way that even we mere mortals can understand.
I think his perspective should provide us with a nice viewpoint
in this series.
Bill Coan is a bit of a mentor to me, although he's so humble
that he won't believe this fact. When I first met Bill at an MVP summit many
years ago, I saw him as a sweet, quiet guy. But I soon learned that he's
one of the few people on this planet that can make Microsoft Word not only
sing and dance, but do cartwheels at his will! He's an extremely talented
Word developer with clients beating down his door to get him to work on their
projects. Yet, he always has time to reply to my emails and pass me answers
and opinions to my perplexing development issues. And my visions of this
"quiet guy" were wonderfully dashed at this year's summit as he not
only gave a wonderful presentation on XML technology to masses of MVPs, but
his enthusiasm about his work literally had him jumping up and down to get
his point about XML across...an act that instantly endeared him to every MVP
in the room!
Arvin Meyer is a passionate and fun individual who I have
been acquainted with through the MVP program for many years. He's one of
the original database geeks, although before that passion rose up, he worked
in the family cabinet making business. Arvin and I have chatted over the
years about issues we can each relate to, including growing up in Chicago.
Whenever I have a database problem and post to the Access group begging for
help, Arvin is always there to jump up with a helpful reply.
Now, to be honest with you, although I've chatted with Chris Hanscom, Alex
Dybenko and Curt Christianson about
various MVP related issues through our private newsgroup, I don't know
them all that well on a personal level. But that's one reason why
I'm excited they've taken up my invitation to be a part of this series...along
with you, I look forward to learning more about each of them.
This being the first article in this series, these first two questions won't
really dish up the dirt, but will provide you with a little understanding
of the various ways people move into consulting and the types of work that
How did your life situation move along to allow you,
or cause you, to get into the consulting work you now do?
We formed our business with the express purpose of leaving the "big
the early '90s, we were doing the standard yuppie thing. We had good jobs
working as a tech writer and programmer for companies in Southern California
. The trouble was, we hated living there. The smog, concrete, freeways, and " California
lifestyle" (whatever that is) were not for us.
So we kept taking weekend trips to the mountains to visit the trees and restore
our sanity. On one of those trips to the trees in 1994, we realized that if
we ran our own business, we could live anywhere we wanted if we communicated
with our clients via modem. The idea that we could live anywhere was such a
freeing thought, we couldn't get it out of our heads. We read every business
book we could find and two months later, we formed Logical Expressions.
I quit my horrible job first and set out to run Logical Expressions full time
in January 1995. At that time, we offered technical writing, design and editing
services. In August, James quit his job and began doing contract programming
work. All of our clients were in Southern California , but we used e-mail,
fax, FedEx, and the occasional meetings to work with our clients.
Because our clients were used to not dealing with us face-to-face, we started
exploring various areas of the West with lots of trees and mountains. We found
Sandpoint , Idaho on one of those journeys and fell in love with the area.
We took our work with us when we moved to our log home on 40 acres of land
in June 1996. Our clients didn't mind, and we have never looked back.
When I started doing consulting work I was already working full time and did
it to earn extra income. Five years later, my full time job ended due to
a company closing, and I found myself suddenly on my own. Fortunately, with
marketing efforts and referrals coming in from former satisfied customers,
I am able to support my family with design consulting work.
The company I was working at went through a down sizing and my position,
as well as the entire department, was eliminated. I had spent a lot of
time at work learning about software development, management, and project
management. The more I learned about the business side of a business the
more I felt I could do it better and provide things to my clients that most
companies don't. When I was laid off I had some unemployment and felt this
was the chance I needed to give it a shot.
The first couple months I spent building the business - documentation, business
plan, expectations for the next year, and what makes me different than every
other software development company. When I felt confident in the business I
had developed on paper, I went out in search of clients.
It takes only one thing to have a business and that's a client, without
that you have nothing more than everyone else with an idea for a company.
The most important thing I learned about starting was that you need to
bring in the clients as quick as possible, while still having a company with
a good image.
I had very strong educational and professional training in software
development, having my first programming job during my senior year in
high school. During college at an Ivy League institution, I was selected
by Microsoft to do a summer internship and developed software college
for several other employers also. Upon college graduation, I took a
software development job, worked there for about 11 months, and found
out I didn't want to live a regular office lifestyle. Then I worked as
W2 hourly employee for another computer consultant who was a good old
friend of the family and a long-time professional mentor and previous
employer. I did that for about a year before he let me take one of his
accounts and run with it on my own. I had this one client for many years
and also did all the IT for my family's law firm.
At a certain point
lost both of these clients and landed in the real world! For the last
two years or so, I've really had to learn a lot more about selling, getting
clients, and maintaining customer relations, and it has not been easy.
The computers are the easy part. Being primarily a geek, although a rather
social one, I have very little business experience, even after working
for almost 20 years for money in the computer industry. Being a
hired programmer, or having one or two main clients, are very different
situations than really being a "consultant". I feel like it's only
recently that I've been acting as a consultant. Relationships seem to
the key to success. Developing a monthly revenue stream that can be
counted on is very challenging. It's difficult to maintain a lifestyle
and career with irregular timing of income. It would seem important to
get committed income every month, however, I'm currently involved in mostly
project-based work, so when it's done, it's done and the money stops.
I were willing to take a job placement at a large company through
an agency, this uncertainty could be avoided, but then I don't think I'd
be acting really as a consultant, it's more like an employee that's called
a consultant for tax purposes. I wouldn't be managing my own business in
that case. But how many companies know they need ongoing programming services?
Network administration seems attractive in that companies can clearly see
(sometimes anyway) the need to have ongoing network administration services
to perform regular tasks and upgrades. However, for a highly skilled technical
software developer, network administration is an underutilization of talent.
Well, now, my consulting work might be different from other folks here,
because I am an employee of a consulting organization. However, to answer
the question, I was recruited as a solution designer from a position as an
interactive producer, and prior to that was an internal consultant for a
legal publishing company. And prior to that...and prior to that...and prior
to that...<cue special
effects: the present starts swirling and fading, and a scene from the past
...the real beginning was my roots as a secretary. I was the first person
to have a computer (a 286!) in the office, so I had to not be afraid
to learn how to use it. The day it arrived, the math coprocessor had not
been installed, and I called IBM to complain. The technical support representative
you can do that yourself."
WHAT??? He talked me through it: sitting on the floor, opening up the back
of the computer, inserting the card, and closing the computer. It was intimidating,
but I did it!
<swirl back to the present> I have always had an affinity for technology--more
accurately, for the use of technology. I am primarily self-taught, so I find
it very natural and rewarding to help others learn how to make their lives
easier through the use of technology. Whether I do that at the enterprise level
for a Fortune 1000 company, or at the individual level helping my neighbor
install a dialup modem, it's all the same to me. It's great when you help someone "get
I quickly learned how much time you can save by using automation to do the
work for you. Why should I be slaving over a computer doing basic repetitive
work when the computer was there to do it for me? So I started to get
more and more involved in making the work easier for a lot of my colleagues
by showing them how much faster things could go if they allowed me to
take a little extra time at the start to develop a better system than
they'd originally conceived. The word quickly moved through the office
that I knew how to cut work time down by many hours and many other department
heads were asking me to help them out. I loved it. And I even started
picking up side jobs for many individuals.
But as luck would have it, the life I enjoyed was twisted by a lot of outside
forces, particularly 9/11, which put a lot of people out of work...including
me. With a tough job market, I realize I couldn't depend on others to
help me make my way in life and that I would have to pull up my own bootstraps
if I wanted to do the type of work I really enjoyed. So I put together
a plan and started marketing myself as a consultant. Word of mouth for
a job well done is a great thing and soon I was on my way with lots
of exciting and diverse projects coming my way.
Well, I can't say that any life situation caused me to get into consulting
work. I just like programming. Eventually, people started
asking me to do more and more work for them and I enjoyed the work. I
guess that's when I became a consultant.
During my career as an engineer/research scientist, I'd become increasingly
proficient in the use of Office programs, particularly Excel. I started
doing little side jobs to help my co-workers, and eventually I started freelancing
after hours. I enjoyed the work, because I was always learning new things,
and I was able to exercise my latent creativity. I dreamed of the day
when I could thumb my nose at the day job and become a full time developer.
That day came sooner than expected. After another dismal fiscal year, my employer
laid me off. Given a choice between writing another lame resume to go after
another unsatisfying job in a declining industry, and turning my evening programming
activities into full-time work, I decided it was time to go solo. I'm still
in the startup phase, but I'm covering the mortgage, attracting new clients,
and receiving repeat work from old clients.
In my opinion, there are three requirements that must be met in order to get
1. You must be able to solve a problem commonly experienced by businesses
or other organizations. If you aren't able to do this, then you have no way
to provide value in the marketplace.
2. You must be able to live with the uncertainty that's inherent in any small
business and which is particularly common to consulting businesses.
No matter how lucrative or long-lasting your current consulting assignment
may be, it will one day be completed and at that point you won't necessarily
know where you're going to find your next assignment.
3. You need to know how to find clients, win assignments, and negotiate
profitable fees. These activities are fundamental to conducting business
as a consultant.
After college and a five-year stint as a factory automation specialist, I
worked for 15 months at an advertising agency. During my time at the agency,
I learned how to write magazine articles and also how to place them with national
and international business publications. Knowing how to do this allowed me
to solve a problem experienced by almost all companies, namely, the problem
of how to build awareness of a company's products and services.
Working for an ad agency for fifteen months convinced me that the uncertainty
of consulting would be a lot less stressful for me than the stress of hanging
around an ad agency. (There's nothing wrong with ad agencies; I just didn't
feel at home working at one.)
When I quit the ad agency and established my consulting business, I had no
idea how to find clients, win assignments, or negotiate profitable fees.
Nor did I have any idea that doing these things would require hard work, finesse,
and a certain sophistication about the way business is conducted by major corporations.
As a result, my first six months as a consultant involved a tremendous amount
of study and trial and error in these areas.
The net result was that I made more money during those first six months than
I had made in the entire year prior to that. In the nearly 25 years since then,
consulting has continued to require hard work, finesse, and a certain sophistication,
and for me it has continued to be a better source of income and satisfaction
than working as an advertising writer or as a factory automation specialist.
Computer programming had always been a hobby for me. I initially never thought
of it as a career. In fact I made three completely different attempts at careers
prior to getting into the programming business. The last of these was working
as an MBA corporate financial analyst (a job I lovingly refer to as Excel galley
I was absolutely miserable in this job but I had access to lots of computers,
so I really ramped up my computer programming experience. Since I hated the
job I was supposed to be doing I would endear myself with my coworkers by writing
programs to automate all the boring, repetitive tasks they had to do. These
were almost exclusively Excel applications.
Even though I didn't know it at the time, looking back, this is where I really
learned how to be a consultant. I learned to identify a problem I could solve,
propose a solution to the client, build and implement that solution and then
support it moving forward.
Luckily for me, this was the early 90's and the dot com boom was just beginning
to take off. I participated heavily on the CompuServe Excel forum and I was
quite surprised when someone I met there offered me a job as an Excel programmer
for substantially more money than I was being paid as a financial analyst.
My only question was when do I start?
It was a typical small consulting firm, in this case consisting of the owner
and four other programmers. What I didn't know at the time was these companies
popped in and out of existence very frequently. Six months after I got there
the company imploded. But this was the dot com heyday. New companies were starting
even faster than old ones went down, so if you had any kind of programming
experience you could be working again in a couple of weeks. There was even
some advantage to this because I could usually wrangle a salary increase with
But what was good for me professionally was not good for client companies.
They valued continuity. And the way they got it was to form a relationship
primarily with the programmer, not the consulting company. So with each move
I made, I picked up a few additional clients who valued the continuity of having
the same person work on their projects over the long-term.
Eventually I reached the point where all of the work I was doing was for clients
who had followed me into the business where I was currently employed. At that
point, setting up my own consulting company was a no-brainer. It just meant
I got to keep all the money I billed instead of whatever some company owner
was willing to pay me. I've been doing it for just over five years now and
I'll never go back.
As I moved up the corporate ladder in the companies I worked for, I became
more involved with the computer driven business process. My degree was
Business Administration, with a major in Accounting, but I'd only worked
that field during the first year after college. The programs (first Excel,
and then Access) drove my interest to learn more. Eventually, I got pretty
good at the work I was doing and began writing databases for the companies
I worked for. These were picked up by yet other companies. At that point,
I felt that I wouldn't be taken seriously until I had more education and
I went back to college and also spent a significant amount
of money and time at technical schools. I attained certification and
job working for a Microsoft Solutions Provider. After a little over a
I began to take on some private clients. About 5 years ago, I moved to Florida,
got a new job with another Solutions Provider. Eventually, one of my clients
hired me full-time to develop programming for that company.
The story is actually a fairly simple one, well to me at least. I had actually
attended college working towards an English Lit degree. Computers were the
furthest thing from my mind, as far as a profession was concerned.
I had always had a computer, going back to the good old TI99-4A days but
it was always just a hobby. Well, when I got back from my college experience
I needed a job. Seeing as how they weren't handing out jobs as a writer
I took whatever I could find that paid the most. The job happened to
be for a large software duplication company. I worked on the line there
and of course things broke down a lot. I started to fix my own equipment
and troubleshoot the PC's myself since it's always quicker then waiting
for a tech. Eventually the people around me saw that I was pretty good
at it and asked me to fix theirs, too. This lead to me being promoted
up to the "MIS" department
(do they still call it that anywhere?). Once in that dept I found that
you get hit up a lot for questions people had about their home systems.
Why do for free what you can make a couple dollars from, right? So from
there I had some word-of-mouth spread and got a few calls to look at
some small offices. Same thing developed in my software side. I started
to do it to pay the bills, did some little "fun" stuff. Word got
around, put up a sight, hit the newsgroups, got the MVP and now I get
the occasional contract.
What types of work do you handle for clients?
I do a variety of work for my clients. My favorite ones already have a
program that they've started, but they've gotten mired in the details or
aren't able to coax the desired behavior out of Excel. Typically my project
comprised an add-in to help import, process, and export data, plus a variety
of workbook templates to display exported information. Many times the add-in
also includes procedures to insert the Excel output into PowerPoint or Word
files. This is pretty easy to automate, but people are usually very amazed
to see it in action.
Typically the things I do save my clients a great deal of time. Copying
and pasting dozens of charts from Excel into another app can take
hours. If you have a template for the target document, I can write
a routine that puts a series of charts into their proper locations within
the document, all at a simple button click. The add-ins I write may
have formulas to process data quickly, or even insert predefined formulas
where a user needs them.
Formatting is applied just as easily. When a document has been made
using an add-in, a macro can be written to update it whenever it
is reopened, or the document can be added to a list which are updated at
regular intervals. If any key parameters in the document reach predefined
targets, the file can be flagged for further investigation.
The basis of what I provide my clients is in my slogan "Adapting
to Technology". This means that I adapt to changes in technology to
bring my clients the best solution, using the latest technology, to solve
The company is divided into two sections: Application Development and
The Application Development side develops desktop applications using Microsoft
technologies to make company's more efficient. I find that I do alot of
specific, custom desktop applications written in VB or VB. NET . We have
done barcode applications, data syncing application, task managers, and
database front ends.
The Web Development side is two fold: we develop the online image for
a company and we develop online tools. We provide websites designed by
a graphic designer and using our Voss(tm) system to control the online
content. Our clients have the ability to update their content with ease
using the system we developed, and we are cheaper than most companies. The
technologies we develop around is ASP and ASP. NET with Access, SQL Server,
or mySQL database back ends. Everything we develop is object based
so we have lots of drop-in components already developed and tested for
future clients. This allows us to compete with the larger design
firms by offering a lower cost solution and a quicker turn around...
We work hard to stay ahead of the technology bubble to provide our clients
with the best solution for their needs.
Almost 100% of what I do is incorporate MS-Office development, especially
MS-Access, into the company business structure. A very small part is to
do some occasional web development. Basically, I incorporate Access databases
with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and with several accounting systems.
I specialize in high-tech software design, especially those for
specialized fields, such as medical, legal, technical or scientific.
started in C and C++, picked up VB along the way, and have recently
added Java and the .NET languages. I've developed ROM code for the
firmware inside custom machines, which is called embedded systems
development. I've written applications in J2ME (Java 2, Micro Edition)
for wireless devices that access the built-in cameras on camera-equipped
cell phones. I've created complex Word templates with complete VBA programs
. I do all forms of database development, including Microsoft SQL
Server and Microsoft Access. Databases can be accessed from a variety
user interfaces, including from Office applications, desktop
applications, and ASP pages. I've developed ActiveX and COM controls.
I've taken over a VoIP project from a development team that orphaned
Moving into the web-based world from the purely
desktop-based has been challenging. Security these days is such a large
issue also. Clients hire me to develop whatever computer systems they
need created. Recently, there has been stiff competition on pricing,
in equal parts to the economy and to the increase in the use of
off-shore development teams. Computer services have become more of a
commodity rather than a specialty professional service.
My specialty is web design, website redesign, logo design, and illustration,
though I have the skills to handle nearly any type of print or web design project
including software interface design, cd covers, brochures, and business collateral.
The software programs I use most are Dreamweaver, Photoshop, Illustrator, ImageReady,
and Streamline. Often times I provide guidance and support the client with
choosing quality web hosting and training for updating websites themselves
post-launch. Most of my clients are small and medium sized businesses in the
arts, education, finance, non-profit, and consulting. My favorite thing to
do is help new companies create their image and deliver their product online
by helping them to define their branding with logo design, business collateral,
printed materials, website, and software interface design.
As an employee of a consulting company, I am a solution designer for technology
solutions. I primarily focus on Web and mobile application design, from the
requirements gathering and business analysis to the user interface design specifications.
I focus more on the user experience than the technology, but I have experience
with Windows and Web technologies, Vocera, PocketPC and Blackberry devices.
I use a variety of facilitation skills and tools to gather and document the
user requirements, taking care to understand the customer's business processes,
in order to ensure the solution will work in their environment.
As a freelancer, I do everything from web site design and development, to
helping people pick out a computer at their neighborhood computer store. Of
course, I have some opportunities to consult with people on Microsoft Office
technologies because of my role as an MVP for Office Systems.
What I mostly like - is when clients tell me that he doing this kind of daily
work, but he would like somehow automate it. Then we discuss where we can
start, what to automate first, keeping in mind what we can do in future. When
first prototype is ready - we look at it with client, discussing what we will
do next, etc. Besides that we also support already done projects, sometimes
client's business rules get changed and we need to quickly adjust our software
to new rules.
Although our early clients were almost all
high-tech companies, over time, our business has moved away from the hard
core tech writing area into more general content creation, management, and
distribution for a wider range of businesses. Although we still do technical
writing and software programming, now it's centered around providing affordable
tools and services small businesses can use to leverage online or offline content
to increase their profitability.
Our services include content creation, content management, and content distribution.
We create written content such as articles, documentation, and marketing materials
for many clients throughout the United States . Our content management database
systems are in use by businesses such as publishers, real estate companies,
and online retailers. We offer print newsletter services, e-mail newsletters,
and content syndication services as well.
The whole focus of my work is to help users produce dramatically better
documents in dramatically less time. The people who hire me usually belong
to small work teams within very large organizations. Some examples follow:
* A team of scientists at a pharmaceutical company hired me to create
a Word addin that analyzes all of the pharmaceutical patents issued by
the U.S. Patent Office each month.
* A team of production workers at an automotive manufacturing plant needed
a Word addin to automatically convert Operator Instructions from
11" format to 11" X 17" format with text arranged on the
left and pictures on the right. As a bonus, this addin needs to convert
manually umbered items to an automatic numbering format.
* A team of medical technicians involved in a cardiology lawsuit hired
me to provide a Word addin that allows them to enter measurements of a
patient's heart and automatically analyze the measurements and generate
a report. This addin also automatically stores the patient data in an Access
database for additional statistical analysis.
* A team of lawyers needed to store a list of account numbers in Outlook
and then insert the appropriate account number into each legal document
produced in Word.
What did all of these cases have in common? In each case there was a team
of workers responsible for a series of complex documents that required
hours and hours of work on a daily or weekly or monthly basis. My
role was to provide a software tool based on Microsoft Office that reduced
their work to
a mouse click or to two or three mouse clicks.
When I started it was all hardware/network/OS related. The usual "personal
helpdesk" type of things. It was a lot of dealing with very old equipment
in small offices. This quickly lost it's flair, especially since these
are the same places that tend to have extremely tiny, or non-existant, budgets.
These days I mostly write backends for websites. Most of my work is still
for smaller businesses but it beats getting dirty swapping out CD-Rom
drives. I've done work for city governments, theaters, a pharmaceutical distribution
company, a small employee placement company and even a housing manufacturer.
Some have been typical client-server applications but most have been
web related development.
The technologies I work with are primarily Microsoft Office, Visual Basic
and SQL Server. As an independent consultant I also have to master a few ancillary
technologies like building help files, writing installation programs and web
site development, but there are third-party programs that make these tasks
The programs I create tend to leverage my background in business. Some typical
applications that I've written do sales forecasting, quoting, production scheduling,
financial analysis and budgeting. My clients come from a wide range of different
industry sectors, including real estate, construction, finance, telecommunications
and manufacturing, and they range in size from one-person shops to fortune
I'm one of those Jack-of-all-Trades types. There's so much about technology
that I enjoy, it's hard to find a single area on which to concentrate.
And with a wide variety of expertise, such as project management, publishing,
design, web data development, documentation, technical writing and training,
I have the luxury of being able to take on many different types of projects.
I love losing myself in code for days on end. But then the other side of
me ends up missing human contact and I long to get out of the house.
Thankfully, as a consultant, I can take on one project that keeps me
pounding on my computer and then while that client is reviewing the work,
I can slip away to another client to review new projects or provide some
training. It can be a challenge constantly switching gears, but I think
that's what keeps me sharp. I know it's what keeps me motivated
to stay on the cutting edge.
These days I mostly deal with automation projects. I evaluate the time wasting
techniques that so many clients use and, through the use of programming
code, such as VBA, ADO, and ASP, I mold them out a custom solution that
allows them to work more efficiently...by working the way they want to
work and not the way their computers force them to work. In many cases,
I end up showing them better ways to work than those they had envisioned.
Many clients end up coming to me after they've spend many hours
fighting with a particular problem. The light finally goes off and they
find themselves saying: "I'll
bet we could save a lot of time and money over all if we just paid an
expert to do this (or show us how to do this), rather than continue to
beat our heads against the wall!"
It's hard work and sometimes unpredictable,
but I love it!
If you want to increase the productivity of your business or solve a current
problem by enlisting the services of any of these consultants, you can find
their contact details below:
MouseTrax Computing Solutions is run by Dian and Greg Chapman.
Dian specializes in document and workflow productivity issues, as well
as technical writing and web development. Through the use of Microsoft
Word or ASP web pages, Dian uses VBA, VBS, ADO, ASP and SQL technologies
to provide automated solutions to typical business practice problems.
As a Word document specialist and Microsoft MVP, Dian can whip your
documents into shape and make them work for you. Dian has a wide
variety of skills, expertise and experience to help make you and your
business more productive and efficient. Check out her Solutions page
for just a few ideas!
Although Greg occasionally assists Dian with some development projects,
as he's also a very skilled developer, Greg is a systems engineer who
currently specializes in wireless technologies through his partnership
at Layer 1 Wireless. Who knew that customers would be willing to spend
more money at your establishment if you offered them wireless Hotspot capabilities
during their stay? Layer 1 Wireless did!
Dian and Greg can both be reached through MouseTrax.com.
And you can view a more detailed list of Dian's consulting offerings
or get a quote on your project through her Consulting page
Chapman is also a contributing technical writer and Editor-in-Chief of
Rob Bovey is a software developer specializing in Microsoft Office, Visual
Basic and SQL Server applications. He brings many years' experience creating
financial, accounting, and executive information systems for corporate users
to Application Professionals.
Prior to becoming a full-time software developer, Rob's experience included
positions as Quality Control Supervisor for Federal PaperBoard Company and
Financial Analyst for Union Camp Corporation. Rob's software development experience
includes positions as Programmer/Analyst for LEX Software Systems, Senior Consultant
for the Baarns Consulting Group, and Senior Systems Consultant for the Payne
Rob developed several add-ins shipped by Microsoft for Microsoft Excel.
He co-authored the Microsoft Excel 97 Developers Kit and the Excel 2002 VBA
Reference as well as making periodic contributions to the Visual Basic Programmer’s
Journal. Microsoft has awarded him the title of Most Valuable Professional
each year since 1995.
Rob earned his Bachelor of Science degree from The Rochester Institute of
Technology and his MBA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
He is a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) and a Microsoft Certified
Solution Developer (MCSD).
Rob can be reached through his company: Application
Curt Christianson is Owner & Lead Developer for DF-Software, www.darkfalz.com,
in data driven, dynamic websites since 2000.
Curt is currently completing
his second year as an Microsoft Most Valuable Profressional and is looking
forward to a third. He has written articles for technical websites,
as well as maintains a script library, which is available to the public,
free, from his website. The script library is full of web related "how-to" code
Business E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Personal E-Mail: CurtC@darkfalz.com
Bill Coan is a specialist in Office automation and business process improvement.
He is particularly knowledgeable about automating Microsoft Word, but
in the course of solving a typical client's problems, he routinely automates
multiple Office applications (usually Excel, Access, and/or Outlook,
as well as Word). His work and his thoughts on Microsoft Office and other
software technologies have been featured in TechTrax, eWeek, PC Magazine,
PC PRO, Information Week, Microsoft Developer Network, and nearly a score
of other print and electronic media outlets.
Bill's clients rely on him to simplify
complex tasks, automate repetitive tasks, eliminate training requirements,
enforce format and content standards, and boost quality and productivity
of their operations. He is the developer of the DataPrompter(r) addin
for Word for Windows and the MacSimplePrompter addin for Word for the
Macintosh. His website is http://www.wordsite.com and he can be reached
by email at email@example.com.
Coan is also a contributing technical writer for TechTrax Ezine.
Susan Daffron is the president of Logical
Expressions, Inc., a company that offers publishing and programming services.
She has been doing graphic design work since 1988 and is the author of more
than 60 articles that have appeared in national computer magazines. She also
has written more than 100 newspaper articles and is the author of How
to Use PowerPoint 2000 (Sams), as well as contributing author of Microsoft
Office Expert Solutions (Que).
She is the Editor and Publisher of Computor
Companion magazine and the Logical Tips E-zine. She also writes for Logical Expressions' other content
sites, Pet Tails, Newsletter
Help and Many
To learn more about Susan, check out the Consultants page.
Daffron is also contributing technical writer and cover artist for
Point Limited is acknowledged Russian developers of Business application
solutions and Programming support tools. We are focusing on Microsoft
Access, Visual Basic, .Net and Web development and consulting, including
latest Microsoft technologies and server products.
What makes us successful:
- Detailed analysis of the Customer's business strategy in order to develop
the optimum methods for modeling his business;
- Provision of individual services to every Customer;
- Development of new applications on the basis of standard technologies,
modules and components;
- Permanent care of quality and reliability of our products;
- Fast reaction to the Customer's requests;
- Technical support available on Customer demand
Contact Alex through: http://www.pointltd.com
Susan Ramlet's role as a user advocate has given her a broad set of capabilities
in the practical application of technology. She is at home designing custom
solutions, and is equally comfortable in an internal services capacity. Susan
is experienced in usability and accessibility, user interface design, functional
design, business analysis, information architecture, and desktop systems
deployment architecture. She is also a seasoned project manager, classroom
trainer and technical writer, and has applied all of these skills in a variety
of industries, including environmental and archaeological consulting, legal
publishing, performing arts, and financial services. Susan currently works
as a solution designer for BT Syntegra, the systems integration arm of British
Susan has been a Microsoft MVP since 1997 and is a member of the
Usability Professionals' Association. Outside of work and maintaining
her MVP designation, Susan is a professional classical vocalist who has
performed with a variety of theaters, operas and professional choruses.
She is graduate of Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, where she
earned her degree in Music and French.
Susan is available for web and desktop consulting; please refer to http://www.manitscoldhere.com/pro/susan.htm,
or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Sue Jenkins runs her own design studio in New York City. The studio specializes
in web design, logo and brand development, software interface design, and
illustration. Other services include graphic design for business cards, letterhead,
envelopes, brochures, postcards, CD covers, greeting cards, and custom illustrations.
Sue is a professional designer and web developer who meticulously designs
and executes her projects. An understanding of design concepts and real world
production experience drives her clean design aesthetic. Sue’s ability
to deliver ahead of deadlines and above client expectations makes her an
invaluable part of any design project.
As small business owner and freelance consultant since 1997, Sue is well-suited
for working with other sole-proprietors, entrepreneurs, non-profits and small
businesses. Past clients include artists, photographers, and writers, as
well as companies that specialize in finance, consulting, banking, education,
real estate, software development, baking, public works, fundraising, fashion
design, and architecture.
Please visit www.Luckychair.com for
further information or write email@example.com.
Jenkins is also a contributing writer for TechTrax Ezine.
A Microsoft Certified Professional and Microsoft MVP, Arvin Meyer writes
freelance technology articles, leads the Access Special Interest Group
of the Central Florida Computer Society, works as a consultant, and heads
the IT department for a major homebuilder in Orlando, Florida.
Arvin also maintains the Access MVP web site:
can contact Arvin through his web site: http://www.datastrat.com.
Jon Peltier is the owner and chief scientist of Peltier
Peltier Technical Services provides solutions
for Microsoft Excel, which enhance information presentations,
integrate with other members of Microsoft's Office suite, and save valuable
time through automation. There is an extensive set of tutorials
on the PeltierTech web site, dealing predominantly with Excel charts.
Jon has been named Microsoft Most Valuable Professional for Office Systems
- Excel each year since 2001. Jon can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peltier is also a contributing technical writer for TechTrax Ezine.
Chris Hanscom is a Microsoft MVP for Visual Basic and the owner/lead
developer for Veign (http://www.veign.com).
Veign focuses its efforts in two areas: Software Development of desktop
applications to provide its clients with tools to make life easier,
and Website development to provide its clients with a professional image
of their company while providing them the tools to keep the site
content fresh. Basically, Veign is all about making life easier for my clients
while adapting to changes in technology so my clients don't have
David Horowitz is the lead developer and co-founder, with his wife
Bonnie, of Soundside Inc., located on the beautiful Long Island Sound.
David was educated at the University of Pennsylvania, began his career at
Microsoft, and has been a freelance software developer since 1991,working
in C++, C#, VB.NET, Visual Basic, Office VBA, Java, J2ME, and both
Intel and Motorola assembler.
David is a database expert, working
mostly in Microsoft SQL Server and Access. He has developed web-based
applications using HTML, XML, ASP, ASP.NET, and ActiveX controls. He has
completed projects for embedded systems and wireless devices, including camera
phones, Palms, and Pocket PC's. His clients have been in many
different industries, ranging from pharmaceuticals, to scientific, manufacturing,
You can contact David at:
Horowitz is also a contributing technical writer
for TechTrax Ezine.