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Ask Chip your IT consulting questions

Have questions about starting an IT consultancy or how to handle an ethical dilemma with a client? Send your IT consulting questions to Chip Camden, and he might answer them in a TechRepublic post.

If you've been hanging around this little corner of TechRepublic for a while, you've probably noticed that I get a lot of topic ideas from our readers. To recognize that valuable input, and to elicit more of it, we're making answering your questions a regular feature of this blog. Here are some ground rules.

Submission guidelines

  • You can ask me anything you like, but if you want me to use it for one of these articles it needs to relate to IT consulting.
  • Please indicate that your message is about this feature. You can do that by placing "Ask Chip" in the subject of your email. That will also get it past my spam filter and into a mail folder designated for this purpose.
  • You can either send me an email to sterling at camdensoftware dot com, or use the "Contact" link by my picture at the end of one of my articles (like this one).

Expectations

I will determine whether to use your question in an article based on how applicable I perceive it to be to this audience. I may choose to respond to only part of your question, or I may use aspects of the same question for multiple articles. I might even wander into a related subject. If I don't feel that I've addressed all of your query publicly, then common courtesy dictates that I will respond to the remainder privately. That also goes for questions that I decide not to use at all.

How quickly I respond will depend on a number of unpredictable factors, so don't hold your breath. However, if you're in an urgent or time-sensitive situation, please say so and I'll do my best to respond more quickly. I'll have to charge you double, though.

Okay, what do you want to talk about?

Some of the best information in this blog has come from reader questions, as well as from the discussion with readers following each article. I'm looking forward to more enlightening conversations. Hopefully, we can all help each other navigate the wild world of IT consulting.

About

Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant b...

16 comments
cimmycimmy
cimmycimmy

I signed a 6 month contract starting from date x/y/2013. I am supposed to work remotely. I made myself available via im and phone starting from date x. However the client was not ready to assign me to anything. I had to wait 2 days to get system access and meet with the team I would be working with. Now the client claims I should not bill them for that down time. Technically, I could not do anything for them but I had already committed my time to this project and could not work on anything else. How should I handle this?

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

How are warranty's handled when reselling equipment? Is it possible to have stock on hand, but when sold still pass on the full manufacturer warranty to the client? If selling from a web site are there any providers that will give the framework for calculating shipping costs and/or taxes? What are some good companies to work with when reselling?

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

No, that's actually a serious question. One of my biggest productivity problems has always centered around lunch. It got much easier after I got married, as my wife always makes sure that something healthy is available at an appropriate time. Otherwise, I'm more tempted to stay too focused on a project, and eat way too late and not as healthy as I should.

SecurityFrst
SecurityFrst

What are your recommendations, when a client has not paid? They were still expecting me to do work, but has not paid. I have explained to them, that I can no longer support them, and I have sent them demand of payment invoices, but nothing, what's next?

sysdev
sysdev

I have been a consultant since 1976. Primarily in the mainframe world, but occasionally on smaller platforms. I know that the ads for new consulting positions have almost complerely moved to the Internet. I have seen very few (almost none) mainframe related consulting positions. It looks like the mainframe may not be dead, but consulting in that world does appear to be dead or dying rapidly.

DavidTheConsultant
DavidTheConsultant

Oh, and Professional Liability Insurance! (As someone who works in process control, automation, data acquisition and scientific computing- - it's hard to get and keep!)

DavidTheConsultant
DavidTheConsultant

Hi Chip, as a longtime independent consultant myself (with the scars to prove it!) I think folks just starting their own consultancies would benefit from hearing your answers and take on: 1. Pricing--and how to hold to it! 2. What to do when a project drags on, but the cashflow does not. 3. Options an indie has when they get burned out. 4. What to do when you discover you're in over your head. 5. Outsourcing parts of your work. 6. How to maintain profitability. 7. Alternate and derivative revenue streams (talks, papers, e-Books, seminars and workshops, classes, etc.) 8. Launching (and/or Growing) your consultancy (beyond hand-waving platitudes.) 9. Dealing with obnoxious customers when you're hip-deep in a long-time project (that a lot of people are depending on, and too ethical or guilt-ridden to just walk out.) How's that for a start? I've had to deal with all of these over the past 11 years.

sysdev
sysdev

As a consultant, you are billing for your time, not for the work you produce. Negotiations up to the point of project start are not billable, but ANY time spent by you once you are working for the client (including any orientation) is billable. It is your time and they have to pay for it.

sysdev
sysdev

When the client does not pay your invoice on time and does not even pay after repeated reminders, it is time for you to get your attorney involved. It may take as little as an email to the client from your attorney. I had one client who still did not pay and that took my attorney contacting their attorney. When my attorney told their attorney that they had not paid, their attorney told them to pay or they would be sued by me and did not have a legal leg to stand on. That got their attention.

sysdev
sysdev

Have a lawyer call them. That usaually works, but if it doesn't, have the lawyer talk to their lawyer. That will almost always work as they do do not have a legal leg to stand on. If it does not work, sue them.

sysdev
sysdev

At this point, the only thing that is going to work is a letter or a call from an attorney, and if that does not work, have the attorney ask to talk to their attorney. That should work as their attorney will likely tell them to pay as they have no legal right to not pay. If that doesn't work, sue them. Unless you did something wrong yourself, you will win that suit.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...then small claims court. Have only had to resort to this twice, but have always won. I think it's pretty ballsy that someone that refuses to pay still expects you to show up. But they probably only do so because they believe that you're soft enough to actually consider it. I've had this happen a few times. It's really a sign of disrespect, and if there's one thing that I've learned about successful consulting, it's that it only really works well when there is mutual respect. Of course, when you go there it may seem as though you are burning bridges. But when a client refuses to pay, the reality is that they're the ones who've set the fire. You're just acknowledging it.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

This situation only results from a failure to set expectations appropriately. Learn from it. I would be tempted to not bill for the time, but make it very clear to your client that you have every right to do so and in the future you will -- that you are only making an exception for them because you had not clearly stated your policy. On the other hand, if you DID clearly state your policy, then bill away and stand your ground.

Susantci
Susantci

I have has a client for over 15 years. They never keep their account current. Recently they have started to short pay some bills without even discussing the reason for it with me. Right now they owe about $4000. I wrote them an email explaining my concerns and lack of communication on both our parts. They are a big client of mine. I would like some advice on how to handle this. Thanks

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

Perhaps that would start a constructive conversation, which clearly isn't happening now. If you don't step up, it's just going to get worse. I've had clients who've played this game; they are generally probing to see who will complain first. Those that do complain get paid; those who don't won't. Ethics aside, you can't fault the tactic for short-term effectiveness. Either way, it's not a good sign. Unless you're willing to live with this level of disrespect, (and lack of money) you need to prepare to lose this client.