Social Enterprise

Six ways IT consultants can build their reputation

Are you noticing that new clients aren't jamming your phone lines? If you want to drum up business, here are six strategies that can give your IT consulting career a leg up.

You may be one of the best IT consultants in town, but if no one knows about you, it's impossible to ever be successful. So how exactly do you build a reputation?

The obvious (and most simplistic) answer is to do good work. You should also: be honest and responsible; solve actual problems instead of imagined ones; look out for your client's best interests; and complete each job. Every time you follow these basic tenets of being a good IT consultant, your reputation improves.

As the Billie Holiday song "God Bless The Child" goes, them that's got shall get -- but what if you're one of them that's not? Here are six strategies that can give your IT consulting career a leg up.

#1: Word of mouth

Most of my clients learned about me by word of mouth; this is the oldest and, in my opinion, the most effective channel. Think about all the people who know about your abilities: former employers, former coworkers, classmates from college, and current and former clients. Ask some of them if they'll give you a recommendation, or if they know anyone who is looking for an IT consultant. (Do not cold call or spam people you don't know, or send uninvited copies of your resume without a recommendation from someone the client already knows. It's a waste of time.)

#2: Specialize

A number of readers of the TechRepublic IT Consultant blog consider themselves "jacks-of-all-trades," but the continuation of that saying holds a lot of truth: "master of none." You may cultivate a reputation for being the go-to guy or gal to fix any problem that comes up, but you can only take that role so far. To really drive up your demand, become an expert in one specific area. You should select a topic/field that you're passionate about because you need to immerse yourself in it day and night. Ideally, you want to know practically everything you can about the topic and be able to contribute your innovations, while maintaining a good general knowledge of all related fields.

#3: Web site

You must have an Internet presence -- you're in IT for crying out loud. When potential clients search online to find authoritative help, you want them to be able to find you. Web sites that are updated frequently (such as blogs) tend to get a better search engine ranking. Blogs are great for another reason: You can establish a level of authority on a specific topic by researching and frequently writing about it. If people who are considered authorities in your field start linking to you, this enhances your authority.

#4: Conversation

Read blogs and forums that discuss your specialty (and related topics) and comment frequently. Link to them from your blog, and make sure you pingback or trackback so that your thoughts get included in the conversation. The more you think about and discuss your specialty with others in the field, you'll build a better reputation -- and rightly so, because you will have learned a lot in the process.

#5: Free samples

If you really want to convince people of your worth, post examples of your work on your Web site. This doesn't apply very well to networking or security consultants, but it really works for software. If people learn something from your site, and they use it, like it, and marvel at the simple elegance of its design, they'll probably want to hire you for related projects in the future.

#6: Insider

The ultimate level of reputation you can achieve is to be the person who helped create the technology the client wants to use. While this may disqualify some potential clients because they can't afford your price, it's a nice problem to have. Believe me, there will be plenty of other clients who can't get enough of you. Insider status used to be extremely difficult to achieve in packaged software -- it still is for proprietary software, where you basically have to be an employee or a long-term contractor to gain that experience. If you get involved in an open-source project, you can easily become an insider on one of the products that drive development these days. Pick your product well, though, because you'll be spending a lot of time working with it.

How do you build your reputation?

These methods have worked well for me, but I bet there are many more strategies for building your reputation than those I listed. What tips would you add to my list?

Tips on improving your reputation

If you already have a reputation, but it could use some sprucing up, check out these must-read TechRepublic resources.

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...

22 comments
slatimer76
slatimer76

I am building my company brand by determining what the market is looking for, and giving it to them. To do this, I am mostly using word of mouth at this point. I go to network functions and promote myself there, and then do quality work and follow up with my customers. I have had others speak up for me and my company at several chamber of commerce functions and these testimonials are helping. I have a website as well that is being redone with a copywriter helping write the material with a focus on SEO, so when people look for a consultant, they should find me. My company is 16 months old, and my reputation is slowly getting out as a reliable person you can ask questions of, and find answers. I answer questions on Microsoft technet forum as well, and give reliable answers, and have seen several been marked as a correct answer by moderators. This seems to be the best, and lowest cost way to promote oneself and build a reputation. I also use social media to be a resource for others who are not in IT. If you look at the company facebook page (www.facebook.com/appconllc) it is filled with links to other websites and can be a great resource for a person to find information on IT all in one area. Videos on the website are also a great way to build your reputation, the more your a resource online, the more people will come to you for help.

Surgeforward
Surgeforward

I have build a number of businesses on word of mouth, this is the easiest way to build a strong cash healthy business.

MavMin2
MavMin2

Word of mouth is one of the best ways to build a reputation, but it has its downside. In the eighteen years I have been at this job I havehad people come to me for items not in my technical expertise or things that are managerial thinking I am much further up in the organization than I am. Why? Well, unlike the common stereotype for IT folks I am personable or approachable. I am not the guru on the hill. I'm the Doc assigned to cure your ill. I'm usually right when I tell them something because I am not afraid to say I don't know and won't just give an answer to appear I know what I don't know. I will pass them to the person who has the skill or authority to get what they want done. I will also tell them when I think they will nt get exactly what they want but will offer them plausible alternatives or a way to incrementally achieve their goal. I routinely share information via email that educates the users on protocol, policies or products that will enhance their efficiency in their current position and possibly help them to advance into an IT career or just advance in their current one. That makes me very popular but sometimes way too popular. Also, those who are still old school bow to me the guru types get miffed that I would share "our secrets" with the minions. I once received a call from a site out of state because they heard that I was an expert on a system that really I had heard of but never worked with in any way. There are days I wish I could change my name because I get too popular but I prefer the excessive popularity over the complaints that I hear about co-workers and IT people in general. Maybe that is why so many hoard knowledge and remain aloof requiring a clearance to gain a hearing and demand their token ring be kissed. ;-)

amittal
amittal

Being as transparent as possible--setting clients up so they know what to expect, explaining things honestly and openly, etc--can go a long way in building credibility and trust, which in turn go a long way in building up your reputation as an IT consultant. I actually have had the opportunity to work with IT workers for several years and have found that being able to objectively prove to clients that one is trustworthy can be a difficult task, particularly for new clients. In part in response to those observations, I started Crederity, a web service currently in pre-release mode, to help IT consultants and others to better establish trust. Check out http://www.crederity.com if you have a moment, you may find it helpful.

reisen55
reisen55

Word of mouth: your clients have to be willing to do that, mine love me but they never spread the word. Better is to ask your client about meetings, trade type, that they may attend on a regular basis so that you can speak DIRECTLY to new clients on this referral basis. Now you've got to have good presentation skills to do that (I have a past career in sales and marketing, which helps) but this is far more effective. Local Crisis - make your own word of mouth. A local electrical company cut through a 1,500 cable trunk line in a medical pavillion - I support one doctor there, a big practice, out of maybe 6 other smaller ones so I took this crisis as a chance for positive cold-calling with card and working the pavillion to keep new of the internet and phone outage as I discovered it to all the local professionals. This was a super way to meet people. Followup this week. Blown Accounts: I've lost a few through bad events and things, recognize these failings and make sure never to repeat them. Do not cross-connect with tech support firms (running cable) that use cheap stuff. Also front office staff can be enormously powerful influencers. Never make them mad. Newsletters; send them out, if you write one and send out 50 and get 2 pieces of interest, it's good. Trust me, these things work. And with Vista we have a TON OF STUFF to write about. (Write with technical ease and a bit of humor too). Seminars: Local library, and sometimes they pay money too. Bring cards. Networking Nights; many local organizations exist precisely for small business networking. More cards needed. Oh, www.vistaprint.com for business cards. My 5 cents.

madani
madani

this was allaws the it problem, and this artical has saw it all. As an IT person we have to advertise your work from time to time.

tuomo
tuomo

Good advices if you are selling yourself but I would be very careful as hiring you. The problem today is, and has been a while, any credentials have to be taken with a grade of salt. Now, word of the mouth is still the best but difficult for new in this field. Specialize - I would disagree a little - consulting work often covers more than what you think, only if you can get a very specific contract you can get away with that. Web site definitely - if you have strong opinions and know the field, otherwise may not be a good idea. Conversation is always good - just don't get upset if the other end is not on the same level, you are the consultant after all - why else they would contact / comment? Free samples, be careful today, if it isn't open source or protected by some other license - your old employers / contacts can come after you - the sad situation today. Insider is always good, assuming they like you (heh!)

h1t3ch
h1t3ch

Just like you... word of mouth is good, I also do a lot of community work that puts me out there also. For example, I'm holding and sponsoring a Lady's Summer Basketball Clinic in July. That in itself is a grand networking opportunity. So putting myself out in the community strengthens the "word of mouth"

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... from Mary Weilage, who has graciously added her services as editor for this blog. So if you start noticing better phrasing, precise subject-verb agreement, and more useful information in this blog, it's probably her fault. Thanks, Mary!

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Yeah, me too. In the early days I used to eat it up and take on jobs that I had no business doing. Learning when to say "no" to a prospect is just as important as building your client base.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... for the upcoming beta. Your site is a bit heavy, and contains a lot of verbiage that doesn't tell me much. Hopefully you'll clean up your message before the beta.

Marty R. Milette
Marty R. Milette

Having been actively consulting for over 15 years, I must add that volunteer work shouldn't be confused with 'networking'. If you want to help an organization, and have the time and resources to do it -- great -- just don't expect any business to necessarily follow. In fact, what often happens is that the organization may become dependent on you as a free source of labor, as has happened with a friend of mine. He justifies it as 'networking' but in actuality, he now spends so much time doing unpaid work that he can't even support himself. I've been through similar experiences myself -- by joining all the local 'boards of trade' and other professional associations -- only to find that just about everyone is there to look for work as well. As mentioned in the article, one of the best ways to build a reputation is to do a great job, and use the references and portfolio from that job to springboard to the next. You also can't build a reputation blathering about pie-in-the-sky dream projects you WANT to work on. Talk is cheap -- as Henry Ford put it, "You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do."

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

But you're right -- any positive reputation-building will eventually come back to you.

rob_o
rob_o

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from a successful project manager "You're only as good as your last project". He would meet a prospective client and if appropriate present them with a letter of recommendation from his most recent/current project. If they want to know about other past projects that's fine, it's all in the resume. But he sells the most recent project. The reverse is also true - stuff up your last project and word gets around...

MavMin2
MavMin2

Being able to say no is a wonderful deal if you are able to do so, but with manpower shortages once you attain knowledge you are always the one they will come to. I have sent many emails saying that I am no longer in the old position, but at my place even when you change jobs you often do the old and the new for some period of time, if not forever. I suspect when I retire I will get phone calls or emails for some time after. It is just a way of life. ;-)

amittal
amittal

Hi Chip, great to hear from you and thanks a lot for your interest. I'll be in touch. Re: the so-so web site, I completely agree. :( Lots of improvements to come as we ramp up towards beta launch.

Marty R. Milette
Marty R. Milette

As a contractor to government in the UK, contracts are often for a month or two only -- but if you get the job done and get along well with the customer -- frequent renewals are a positive result. My last one-month contracted was extended three times -- and would have continued to be extended for a full year had I not wanted to take a couple of months off. The current contract has already been extended once and will also be extended probably to the end of the project maybe 6 or 7 months from now. Going along with that, it helps to have a string of successful projects in the same vertical or with the same branch or government department.

MavMin2
MavMin2

'Round here we see to have more people somewhat remotely working than working remotely.

MavMin2
MavMin2

I don't have such luxuries. Doing that 'round heah is a sure way of not only changing your reputation but also your location from work to welfare. Besides, if I don't answer the phone they will bombard my email or shashay right into my cube. I can't even run let alone hide. You are obviously a King in your organization whereas I am just a peon and most people do. ;-)

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... and both my voicemail and my email client provide a very handy feature called "delete". If you don't want or need the business, don't give it any attention. Eventually it will go away. That might sound rude, but you can be polite the first few times. After that, it becomes "what part of NO didn't you understand?"

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

My contracts often get extended for years. There's no better reputation boost than being able to point to those kinds of long-term relationships.