Do You Really Want to be an IT Consultant:
The Pros and Cons of Being Your Own Boss
At some point in every technical career, we come to a place where we start to visualize the glamourus world of independent IT contracting and consulting. We all know somebody who’s an IT consultant and as corporatations continue to downsize, our bosses fail to provide ideal working conditions and job security is no longer a given in any industry, more and more professionals are starting their own businesses as IT consultants or using agencies to find them independent projects.
While the concept always sounds ideal, however, being an independent contractor or IT consultant is a tough business and anyone considering it has to do their research. Half the battle is knowing what to expect and being prepared when it arrives. While your technical expertise may be unmatched, the ability to function as an independent contractor or consultant requires a myriad of other skills that many technology professionals don’t consider before striking out on their own.
Consquently, it’s not too long before they’re once more searching the classified ads. Hopefully, the tips identified in this article will help you understand the world of independent contracting and consulting and give you a foundation upon which to base your decision.
What is a consultant?
It’s important, first of all, that you truly understand what being a IT consultant or independent contracting really involves. The term consultant has been used interchangeably recently; however, a true consultant is an expert in a specific field who markets him/herself dirctly to their clients. If you’re using an agency, you’re really doing independent contracting rather than consulting. Keeping this definition in mind, it’s a little easier to understand the types of skills necessary to be a successful "consultant." As an independent contractor, for example, you simply attach yourself to hiring agency that offers you projects and then pays you for your work.
The company is the one that maintains the relationship with the actual client and does the necessary advertsing and marketing necessary to obtain and maintain the relationship. If you’re independently contracting out your work, you don’t really have to worry too much about anything other than completing the project to specifications and keeping track of your income for tax purposes.
I need to know how to do what?
As a true IT consultant, however, you are truly in charge of your own destiny. You will need to be able to finance your venture, market your services, sell your clients and complete the project. You’ll need to be outgoing and assertive as well as able to promote yourself and your services. Since most technical professionals don’t normally fit this personality type, you need to be confident that you will be comfortable in your new roles.
You also have to be extremely well organized and self motivated. Prior to setting up your consulting business, it’s also important that you’ve done the research to identify a need for your service and a potential market.
You also need to make sure that you have the financial wherewithall to sustain a few lean months. Most consultants don’t quit their jobs and start a consulting business overnight. And most definitely can’t survive for weeks without a paycheck. It’s important to have a nest egg to sustain you or another steady stream of income. As with most business ventures, somebody out there is already doing it and doing it successfully.
There is absolutely no reason to recreate the wheel in this case. Identify some of the leading IT consultants in your industry that are running successful businesses and do what they’re doing. Many people are eager to share information and in many cases, there are a variety of books, tuturials, and/or classes available to help you learn the ins and outs of the business. An excellent resource is the Independent Computer Consultants Association. We strongly suggest joining this organization and attending their meetings and seminars whenever possible.
As a consultant, it’s important to know that the challenges and struggles you’re facing are the same ones plaguing the others in your type of business. It’s also important to belong to respected associations. Although a potential client may not have heard of you, an association membership gives you a little more credibility. For more information on ICCA visit their website at http://www.icca.org.
Common mistakes to avoid
Although starting your own business as an IT consultant is going to involve a lot of trial and error, there are a few common mistakes that you can avoid making. First of all, the most important thing in your new business will be your clients. You’ve got to have some. The easiest way to start to build your consulting business is word of mouth. Tell everyone you know what you’re doing and ask them for referrals. Now, here’s the first mistake. You don’t want just somebody’s name that a friend thinks might have a need for your service.
You need warm introductions from one friend to another. Until you’ve built your own credibility, you’re going to have to take advantage of someone else’s. If you can get your friends or business associates to introduce you to their friends and associates, you’ve got a much better chance of getting a sale. Join your local chamber of commerce, find a networking or lead group and attend the meetings!
If you’ve never sold anything before, it’s a smart idea to read a few sales strategy books or even attend a sales seminar. Once your business is established, you’ll be able to work off of referrals from satisfied clients, however, in the beginning, you’ve got to be able to sell your services as an IT consultant. A common mistake that new consultants make is in assuming that their resumes will sell their services for them, that’s simply not true.
Don’t ever stop marketing and advertising your business. IT Consultants very often get busy and neglect the marketing aspect of their businesses during these times. Unfortunately, if you’re not actively promoting your business every day, it will slow down and eventually come to a grinding halt. The easiest way to market your business is to do it systematically. Make it a part of your daily routine.
Once you’ve identified a potential client, don’t assume a bid or proposal will do your work for you. When hiring an IT consultant, most companies are looking for individual attention. Stay connected, keep it personal and follow up!