If you're searching for opportunities to supplement your income — or you're in between jobs and need some work to tide you over — the tech field offers a number of possibilities. Erik Eckel runs down some of your options.
The economy's tough. Many technology professionals are facing furloughs, or even worse, layoffs. Fortunately, several avenues are available to help generate cash. Here are 10 ways IT pros can earn extra dollars.
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Hire yourself out on a project basis. While full-time jobs may not be plentiful, project work is common. Consulting groups frequently need technicians to deliver qualified service onsite at client locations.
Many small businesses are actually performing well. Headlines incessantly tout draconian layoffs at large enterprises employing tens of thousands of staff, numerous smaller businesses (from gyms to used car dealers to family-focused activity stores) continue marching along, with many experiencing sales increases.
These outlets continue to require computer, networking, and software support. Consulting groups frequently service these organizations' needs, but smaller IT shops often find it difficult to locate qualified, professional contractors to fulfill those services.
Contact these local IT consultancies if you're seeking extra income. Rare are the consultancies that don't appreciate adding qualified names to their Rolodex, and these projects often turn into full-time gigs.
2: National account work
Many national companies serve as subcontractors for large hardware vendors. These companies accept work from the manufacturer and then pass a portion of the payment to the local contractor who actually completes the project.
Consider signing up as an authorized agent for these national providers. While few consultants make a living fulfilling such national account work, resulting projects can help fill scheduling gaps.
911mycomputer, Gurus2Go, and OnForce are three examples of national service providers that send IT consultants small jobs and other projects. All such organizations need techs in the field to complete these projects.
Just be sure you're working with reputable vendors when you accept assignments. Most national service providers are solvent, but some have experienced trouble paying their subcontractors. Research national providers before signing a contract. If a Google search of a prospective organization reveals payment complaints, avoid establishing a relationship with that partner.
3: Database consulting
How often do you hear about businesses and nonprofits having to "do more with less"? A Google search of that string generates more than a million hits.
Organizations everywhere are trying to master client relationships and communications and squeeze every last bit of revenue from customer and contact lists. Databases, often customized to meet proprietary needs, frequently play a critical role in the process.
Yet many organizations don't have the budget necessary for maintaining their own database creation and administration skills. The knowledge/needs gap presents opportunities for database programmers and engineers who want to moonlight or provide these services on the side.
Layoffs across numerous industries are sending many back to school. As government agencies, nonprofits, and other organizations become increasingly dependent upon computers, networks, and systems, it's a safe bet technical skills will remain in demand. In fact, the 2009 Robert Half International Salary Guide predicts IT will be among the top three fields to yield promising careers in the next year.
Consequently, students will seek the training required to enter the industry. Many schools, training centers, and colleges will need qualified candidates with proven experience to lead technical classes. Since many classes meet after regular business hours, interested IT pros may be able to supplement their day jobs with a teaching role.
5: Software training and instruction
As an independent technology consultant, I've been surprised at the number of clients requesting one-on-one software training. Demand exists, particularly among small businesses, for basic training covering such programs as Act, Access, Word, Excel, photo editing applications, and QuickBooks, not to mention Windows.
IT professionals need not be all-knowing gurus to lead training sessions covering these programs. They simply need to be able to review application fundamentals, provide walk-through demonstrations of an application's features, and answer user questions.
6: The digital living space
Most technology professionals enjoy securing their own wireless networks, solving myriad Windows video codec issues, and memorizing the differences between HDMI, DVI, and VGA technologies. Most homeowners don't.
So as discretionary income trends toward family-focused or "nesting"-related investments, the need for technology professionals to assist in such projects is increasing. Families spending two or three thousand dollars on a new television, streaming media devices, and/or media center PCs will think nothing of paying another few hundred dollars to a technology professional to ensure the devices are properly equipped, connected, and configured.
I'm one of those "computer" consultants who has resisted providing clients with "phone services." However, I'm rethinking that strategy.
Why? For one thing, clients are increasingly inquiring about telephone support. And as VoIP gains steam, telecommunications are increasingly crossing over into the network administration arena. Even Dell is now selling phone systems on its Web site.
Considering that organizations of all sizes are flocking to VoIP technologies to reduce costs, there's ample opportunity for technology professionals to add telephone installation and support services to their skill set. Telecommunications services add an entire new niche to a technology professional's arsenal that can generate significant new revenue streams.
8: Financial software consulting
The word is getting out. Intuit, which markets the popular QuickBooks line of financial software, is weathering the economic downturn rather well. Demand for its products, from its point-of-sale software to its enterprise financial management platform, is growing.
Again, business owners everywhere are seeking to do more with less. That means most companies are working to obtain the utmost productivity and efficiency from the programs in which they invest.
Intuit's QuickBooks software provides many opportunities for business owners to do just that. And Intuit's ProAdvisor certification program presents IT pros with a well-structured program to not only obtain instruction and training but to tap into Intuit's considerable lead-generation capabilities.
9: Security/DVR integration
Just as telephones used to be differentiated from PCs, servers, and networks, so did security and alarm systems used to be viewed as wholly separate from IT. But that, too, is changing.
Many security systems consist of digital video recorders (DVR). Essentially, these devices are nothing more than Windows XP systems with a special video card installed. Cables run from cameras mounted in various locations to that video card, and the captured images or video is then stored on the system's massive hard disks. Included software tools make it possible to even access the security footage using a Web interface.
As companies further seek to cut costs, reduce shrinkage, eliminate burglaries, and otherwise secure their operations, security system sales are likely to grow. Adding these services to one's repertoire offers yet another potent opportunity for generating extra cash. Best of all, most of the technologies involved (desktop systems, Ethernet interfaces, and hard disk data storage) are right in line with the other skills technology professionals typically wield.
10: Online expert
IT consultants seeking additional clients can grow their reputations online. Fixya.com and CrossLoop.com are just two Web sites in a growing category that pay technology experts to either answer users' questions or provide opportunities to answer user questions and receive advertising space in return. While these projects aren't likely to generate significant income, combined with other initiatives, becoming an online expert can position a consultant as an expert and help drive new client calls.
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Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.