Project Management

Auxiliary sources of income for IT consultants

If you want to supplement your IT consulting income, read these suggestions for diversifying your revenue stream.

For the first in our series of Ask Chip posts, I selected an item from a list of questions posed by TechRepublic member DavidTheConsultant. Among other things, David asked for advice on "Alternate and derivative revenue streams (talks, papers, e-Books, seminars and workshops, classes, etc.)" I think this is a fine subject, especially given the current state of the economy. We consultants need to be creative and smart about diversifying our revenue streams so we don't get left high and dry when times get tough. Let's discuss the items David named, as well as a few I'll add.

Teach classes and lead workshops

This is a great way to accomplish several objectives at once. Besides gaining additional revenue, you can educate existing users (hopefully making your job easier in the future) and/or attract new business. You'll need to decide in advance who your audience will be. Larger clients might prefer a private class in their offices, for which you might be able to charge more per head. But you could also offer a public workshop if you can identify a subject of general interest. Either way, you get to showcase your knowledge and helpfulness while charging people for that experience. If your intended audience is not restricted to your local area, you could try hosting the show on the web -- but that requires a technical expertise all its own, as well as the mercy of the demo-gods.

Say 'yes' to speaking engagements

If someone invites you to speak to a group or to serve on a panel of experts, that's like a much better version of hosting your own class or workshop. They generally pay better, you don't have to manage all of the logistics, and before you even start speaking most of your audience has already accepted your authority on the subject. Sadly, even if you don't know what you're talking about and totally blow it, this will still look good on your list of experience. But if you nail it, you'll start to build a reputation as a leader in your segment of the industry. Expect more opportunities in the future.

Be an expert witness

Besides providing your knowledge to those who use technology, you can also make money from helping those concerned with its legal aspects. I've served as an expert witness in two cases over the course of my career, and both were enriching experiences. Unlike working with accountants, lawyers generally don't mind spending their clients' money in order to achieve the best outcome. However, you do need to do your homework. Anything you fail to verify will get picked apart by the other side. You also need to have a tough skin, because the opposing counsel will probably try to disqualify you as a witness. It's all part of the game. It's a great way to build reputation, but it also requires a solid reputation just to get the gig.

Write about your niche

Another great way to build reputation in your niche is to write about it, although it's hard to say whether you can make any money at that. Most of what people read these days they get for free. If you're going to try to sell them a book, it had better be on a subject in which they're willing to invest, and for which they can't find easy answers from Google. You can also explore other revenue models. You could place ads on your blog, but don't expect to get rich on that unless you have an exceptional talent for drawing an audience. Writing for someone else (for instance, TechRepublic) can pay decently and provide the same kind of boost to your reputation that you get from speaking engagements. Of course, first you have to get them to hire you, and then you have to follow their rules and schedules for content. Consider yourself lucky if you get an editor who is easy to work with and actually improves your effectiveness, like Mary Weilage.

Offer products for sale

Even though our world is moving from a manufacturing to a service economy -- especially in software -- there are still opportunities to provide products for money. You might write a smartphone app that you or your clients would find useful, then sell it through a store to create a supplemental revenue stream. Or you could create a simple web service and find yourself branching off into a startup of your own. You might even try reselling third-party products that you find helpful. The key to all of these is to apply your knowledge of the problem to find the best solution and make it available. If a canned app doesn't fit, don't go there. In that case, you'll satisfy your clients better by providing a custom solution, and make more money at it.

Add more niches

If your area of concentration doesn't provide enough revenue, you might consider adding another one. Be careful, though. You don't want to dilute your expertise too much. You'll also need to invest some time to learn the new area, and you probably won't be able to charge as much until you can honestly call yourself an expert. Take this step cautiously and thoughtfully, and don't add more than one new focus at a time.

What did I miss?

How else do you supplement your consulting income? Let me know in the discussion.

Thanks, DavidTheConsultant, for posing this excellent question.

Ask Chip: If you have an IT consulting question, email it to me or use the "Contact" link by my picture at the end of one of my articles, and I'll do my best to answer it. (Read guidelines about submitting questions.)

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
aphesissolutions
aphesissolutions

Excellent article. Hats off chip. I think the take-away here is to showcase your knowledge in every avenue possible. I have a concept I apply which is the flower and the bee model. Be the flower that stands out the most and all the bees come to you.

FreelanceScribbler
FreelanceScribbler

Rather than bust your balls trying to generate more work, why not simply make the most of your expenses against the tax you pay? Just did a quick search for an expenses guide and there's loads of stuff you can claim for, from heating your own apartment (if it's your place of work) to all sorts of luxury items - provided you can demonstrate it's for work. I might invest...er..I mean 'claim' for that lovely new hifi system on my expenses as a source of "necessary entertainment" in my work place :)

royala
royala

How about creating digital recordings of LP's, cassettes, vcr's, etc. There's not much investment except for time, and we all know how to allow for that!

chip
chip

first, I agree 100% with John about just showing up - if you've got dead time, the best thing you can do is call on existing clients. Make up a special deal for the month - my personal favorites are buying some off-lease notebooks from a remarketing (we use Pat at www.sdiusa.net) and using that as a reason to call on "cold" customers. I.e. "Hey, we just got a few great deals on some laptops that came off a corporate lease and I was thinking about you guys so I wanted to see if you could use an extra machine right now? They're not new, but they're in good shape and just $355, and I only have three of them available.". That sort of thing. I also agree with Glen's comments about e-books, in fact with my new company we created an e-book that other IT consultants can just download & add their name & logo as co-author. It's available here: www.tripletech.biz/downloads/toptechtrends-coauthor.zip, feel free to help yourself. It's good on it's own, but it's also designed to help introduce customers to our new online training options through bigger-brains.com, so it works best if you're a bigger-brains reseller, but that's free and easy to sign up. Chip Computer Troubleshooters of Anderson: www.ct-anderson.com Bigger Brains: www.bigger-brains.com

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

Over the years, I've made a fair percentage of my income from ancillary activities of IT that aren't themselves IT. Very often, people you are working for are looking for other things that you show competence at, and would much rather hire someone they know reliable than someone they don't. Over the years, I've done project management (not related to IT), marketing, photography, video, bookkeeping, and countless other tasks.

reisen55
reisen55

When I was at Aon Group, I agreed to teach an A+ class at West Nyack Boces. I would spend a full day in the city, commute home, grab a KFC dinner (this was before my hospital visit) and then spend another 3 hours teaching computers and FAR from tiring, it was alot of fun. I would find a laserjet printer on the street, bring it into class and have the students tear it apart and put it back together again. Computers? Found on the street, bring it in and do forensics. I loved it. Seminars at the library were also a kick but you have to have good presentation skills. I found a free-flow method worked best, and would actively invite audience partiticpation whenever someone had a question. Paid a bit of money too.

BillHewlett
BillHewlett

Great article. Just a couple of problems: 1) There is no Theresa Andrews living in Lommel, Belgium and 2) Profit Boost Institute is a scam

sparent
sparent

I find being a volunteer a great way to build skills and experience in areas that you want to shore up.

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

I definitely agree with the idea of writing books and publishing courses. With the advent of publish on demand (Createspace/Lulu etc.) and ebooks (Kindle/Kobo/iBooks etc.) becoming an author is certainly a possibility. There is money to be made in this area, however, most IS/IT consultants will make more elsewhere. The trick is in using the book to drive new business. Send a copy of your book to prospective customers. Give it to newspapers and radio stations. It can turn you into a percieved expert and help build your business. (Be warned there are downsides to the strategy). Recording courses for web distribution or even as a physical product also work well. Sadly they actually can be sold for more than a book can. And the effort is roughly the same. (Recording a course is easier than most people think). Just don't jump into the business without learning it first. Glen Ford However, you do need to remember that both these strategies are businesses and need to be treated as businesses. Even if they don't pay for themselves directly.

Scott Lowe
Scott Lowe

Mary is an awesome editor! Scott Lowe

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

She does all the detail-oriented work, while I just spout off and take all the credit.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

That's an interesting name, BTW. I've often wondered why "aphesis" hasn't become "phesis."

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I contacted the local College, though, and found that they only accept teachers with Master's Degrees. Their loss.

MaryWeilage
MaryWeilage

Scott, Thanks for the sweet comment. I miss working with you. You guys are making my day. Mary

MaryWeilage
MaryWeilage

Chip, You deserve all the credit. Thanks for the very kind note. Mary

matt.rodela
matt.rodela

I thought that same thing, but think outside of traditional colleges. Often trade school, technical colleges, and local community organizations will hire teachers with experience and no degree. I landed a pretty nice part-time Wordpress teaching gig at a local technical college and I only have an Associates degree.

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