This is our last article in this series. If you've been thinking of getting out of the 9 to 5 rut, I hope this series has given you useful information to help you make your decision. Or, if you've been having a hard time finding a rewarding conventional job, maybe a new path in consulting is just what you need?
No, this is not the life for everyone. I know that a lot of people wouldn't even consider a job on the fly as consulting can be. It can be a hard life, but it can also be rewarding. The demands of working long hours can be hard to handle. But then again, the freedoms of being able to plan your own schedule can be extremely liberating. And once you get on a roll, it can be quite enjoyable.
As a follow-up, below are the links to each of the other articles in this series, in case you missed any.
Consulting—Beyond the Bunny Slippers: Tools & Techniques
Consulting—Beyond the Bunny Slippers: Hits & Misses
Consulting—Beyond the Bunny Slippers: Good Customer/Bad Customer
Consulting—Beyond the Bunny Slippers: A Love/Hate Relationship
Consulting—Beyond the Bunny Slippers: How We Got Hooked
If you are a consultant yourself, I'm sure you saw something of yourself in these articles. We hope you enjoyed them and enjoyed seeing that you're not alone.<smile>
In this, our final article, we've asked our consulting team to give you a final wrap-up by passing along some words of advice. Maybe something they weren't asked before? Maybe something they found valuable in their career. Maybe just a few words of experience to help you in your future.
And remember...if you find yourself in a sticky situation, where you're trying to tackle a project or have an idea that you don't know how to turn into a reality...and you wish you could get some help from a seasoned and proven professional...contact our consultants here or click the Consultants link along the above, TechTrax menu.
The results will not only save you time and money, but hiring an experienced consultant will save you time and money, too. No need to train them, because they're already experts in their field. No need to waste time asking questions or searching for answers all over the Internet—these are the experts who provide those answers to others!
Save yourself the headaches...start at the top! Hire a consultant!
Rob Bovey ...
For my last installment, I'd like to offer three miscellaneous tips, each of which I consider crucial to a good consulting business.
1) Always document the scope of a project before you start working on it. Be sure the client receives and agrees to the scope document. The level of detail required varies with the size of the project. In my experience, small projects typically require more detail than large projects. Just be sure all the major features you agreed to create, as part of your bid, are included. Clients will habitually add new features and requirements to a project as it progresses. The purpose of the scope document is to make it clear to everyone what your original bid included. A well-written scope document that the client has agreed to places you on firm ground when you need to tell them you intend to charge extra for features that were not included in the original scope of the project.
2) Never devote all of your time to a single client. Spread your risk across at least two projects at all times (and be very up front with your clients about what you're doing). I have two friends whose businesses were ruined because they took very lucrative full-time, on-site contracts lasting more than a year. When those contracts ended their names were out of circulation and all their former prospects had found other consultants.
2) Never ever stop learning unless you want to wake up one day and find your skills obsolete. Set aside at least one hour every day to spend learning new skills. Even with a 5 day week and two week's vacation per year, that one hour a day will add up to 250 hours a year of studying. You can learn a whole lot of new things in 250 hours.
Chris Hanscom ...
After reading the question/answers from the consultants through
this series you may be thinking that becoming a consultant is a lot of work,
a change in work habits, longer hours, and sometimes less money. Well
But there is no better feeling than working for yourself and I
say you have to take a chance to see if you can make it. There is no right
time to try it, and you will always be able to find an excuse not to break
away from a steady job, but sometimes you have to take that chance and enjoy
the rewards of working for yourself and you too can go to work in your bunny
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Alex Dybenko ...
If you are thinking of becoming a consultant—consider the following:
- Do you have fun doing programming?
- Do you like to plan your own time?
- Do you like to do creative work?
- Do you like helping other people?
- Do you like learning new things?
If these items applies to you - you can definitely try to become a consultant,
and you will most likely be successful.
If you need a consultant for Microsoft Access, Visual Basic
and ASP/ASP.NET, experienced working with wide range of international
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Sue Jenkins ...
Being a consultant is not for everyone due to irregular paychecks and odd
hours, but if you like to take charge, make decisions, and pride yourself on
the quality of your work, it's the better way to live your life while you do
what you love for a living.
I truly enjoy meeting new people and learning
about my clients' industries as I build their websites, create their logos,
and otherwise help them get their work out there and visable to the world.
My clients often are happier to have worked with me than with a large
corporation and the friendly business relationship we develop is one that is
more casual and friendly, which usually translates into mutual referrals and
increased business on both our parts.
So, if you need a new logo, website,
or website redesign—and no job is too big or too small—visit my website
to see samples of my work, and please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Arvin Meyer ...
There are 2 last things that I would advise for any one wanting to start out
as a consultant. While neither is necessary, they will greatly enhance your
chances for success.
1. Do not start your consulting business (or any business for that matter)
with inadequate capital. If you don't have at least 6 months' (and
preferably a year's) capital, you will find it tough to turn down jobs with
inadequate pay, or improper fit for your skill set. I had to turn one down,
and refund a large deposit, just last week. The partners could not agree on
the scope of the project and there's no way I was going to get caught in the
middle of that.
2. Stick with what you know. If you want to increase your chance for success
on a project, and need additional knowledge, share it with someone you trust
who can add to your knowledge. Diffusing your skills gives your client less
than what he's paying for.
My skills are databases. More particularly, Access and SQL-Server databases
written for business and government. I meld those skills with other Office
products, but generally find experts in those products to enhance the
automation. So far I've written databases which have used automation to work
with Outlook, Excel, Word, PowerPoint, and MapPoint. I work almost as much
with other developers as I do with clients. Life is good.
Susan Daffron ...
After being a consultant for more than 10 years now, I can safely say that the most important thing is to always do what you say you're going to do when you say you're going to do it. If you just take that one concept to heart, and really live it, your customers will appreciate you and you will continue to have work.
There's an old Woody Allen quote that says that "90% of life is just showing up." After years of watching many consultants come and go, I can tell you that it's easy to remain competitive when so many consultants can't even muster for that 90%.
You can be the most technically skilled, creative, artistic, wonderful consultant that ever lived, but if you don't answer e-mails, return phone calls, or show up for meetings, soon you will have no customers. They will find a less talented, but more conscientious person to do their work.
If you need the security of a regular paycheck or spend a lot of time thinking up excuses at work, consulting isn't for you. But if you have an independent streak and like having control of your life and how you live it, consulting is a great way to make a living. I know that in my case, I'm unfit to be a cubicle dweller ever again.
The strangest aspect of my career as a consultant is this: Clients have always hired me for what I know and what I can do, yet I’ve learned more from my clients than they’ve ever learned from me and in some respects they’ve done more for me than I’ve done for them.
Sure, I’ve always focused on adding value to my clients’ operations, but in return my clients have focused on adding value to my life. Because of this, the most important advice I can offer to someone who is entering (or contemplating) a career in consulting is this: Choose your clients carefully. Work with people you like. Work with people you respect. Work with people you trust. If you do this, and if you commit yourself unconditionally to meeting their needs, they will reward you in ways that you can’t imagine.
I’ll never be able to repay my clients for all they’ve done for me, but perhaps I can at least acknowledge some of their contributions. I would like to thank Nick Anastasi for showing me that a helpful attitude is the most important asset anyone can have; Rollo Carter for showing me that opportunity is always within reach; Tim O’Brien for showing me that business is a game; Gene Lawler for showing me that objectives should always be the driving force behind strategies (not the other way around); Bill Prentiss for showing me how to capture an audience and hold onto it with nothing more than the written word; Ed Slezewski for teaching me how to listen; Larry Reddin for showing me that patience and persistence are the keys to every significant achievement; Jim La Luzerne for showing me that there’s always room to grow and that growth is always worth the effort; Lee Ester for raising my standards for all written communications; David Wright for demonstrating that whimsy can lead to the solution of many business problems; Mark Franz for showing me that the answer is often as close as 16 hours and one keystroke away. And those are just the ones who pop right to mind!
Dian Chapman ...
I totally agree with Rob Bovey that one of the most important issues that a consultant must do is to layout a plan for the project. Whether it's a full-blown project plan, a project scope or just an outline of what you will do for the client...you need to make sure you and the client agree on all aspects of the project development process.
Furthermore, you need to include a Change Order into the process. Make sure the client understands that, although you now have a straight-forward plan for the project, you will be open to make changes along the way. Sometimes, after discussion about the plan and how it should be done, clients either realize there may be better ways to go about it or they'll be so impressed with your work that they want more features. You shouldn't limit that capability by strictly sticking to the original plan. However, to avoid project creep you need a mechanism for handling these changes. So whenever a client requests a change that will take more time and money to implement, make sure you document that request in a Change Order document and have them sign off on that change and any new costs before that change is implemented.
That said, I do also offer a format that allows a business or individual to hire me for my expertise where they pay for my skills on a hourly basis to get help when they need it. This allows me to cover all the needs of my clients. If you decide you can also work this way, just make sure the client knows up front how the process will work...whichever process they choose.
Another piece of advice I want to make sure you consider is...take a break! Whether it is planned vacation time...a rule to not work on the weekends...or regular time during the day when you just don't work...take some time for yourself. This may sound like a no-brainer, but sometimes you can get so involved with what you need to do that you forget to take time for yourself. This is something *I* have to keep reminding myself to do!
Finally, remember the old saying that "if you work at what you enjoy, you'll never work a day in your life." Figure out what you enjoy doing and then figure out how to work that into a career.
Dian Chapman offers expert solutions for document automation needs, including Microsoft Word and web database connectivity solutions. See these links for details and ideas: http://www.mousetrax.com/consulting and http://www.mousetrax.com/Consulting_Solutions.html.