Project Management

What to do when a small client wants a full-time employee

Not every small business client is going to be happy with a part-time IT consultant. Some will want a full-time employee and that's usually not going to be in their best interest. Help them make the right decision.

 Drat...one of your small clients wants to hire a full-time IT guru and let you go. It's bad news, but be ethical and advise your client appropriately, even if it hurts.

The most important thing for your client to consider is value, and you can help. A small business rarely needs a dedicated IT employee. There's just not enough work to keep a full-time person busy. You already know that, but perhaps you're spending too much time with this particular client. If that's the case, it should be cheaper for your client to update equipment than hire a full-time employee to put out little fires. Help the client spend that IT salary in a more productive way. This solution is great because you both win.

If that doesn't work, ask the client if he or she would be happy running a corner hotdog stand, because that's how most IT professionals will feel working for a small company. In fact, your client might have a hard time finding someone at all. IT folks, in general, like a challenge -- that's why they're in IT in the first place. Plus, they need to stay current with changing technology, and the small business isn't going to offer that opportunity. Spell it out for your client. A small report that compares the salary and training costs of one full-time IT professional to your consulting fee might do the trick.

In the end, if you can't convince this small business client that a dedicated IT employee isn't the best way to go, just go with the flow. Offer your services to find and train the right employee. Be helpful and professional during the transition. Don't burn bridges if you can help it. It's likely that the new employee will need your help from time to time. It's more likely that the client will call you in six months or so because the IT guru's moved on.

About

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

16 comments
DarinR
DarinR

Good info guys thanks for all... now what if the customer wants me to become the fulltime employee....and they are almost willing to make it worth while financially. So many Pros and Cons to choose from

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

to 'wage slave'. Some good points, some bad. The main reasons I did it, was that I wasn't being paid enough to keep myself upto date and the UK government's policy on taxing people in that position. I simply wasn't comfortable with all the extra work required to run my own business, though I daresay US regulatory interfernce isn't as much of a burden as that in the UK. :p One of the things that swung it for me was pension, holidays and sickness. Again the rules are different. For those who aren't aware, as a consultant with a limited company, I was legislatively schizophrenic. As the director I had to decide what benefits I could afford to give me as an employee, and of course the income and expenses, got taxed differently dependant on which hat I was wearing when I disbursed them and when I recieved them. Hopefully you don't have that sort of crap to deal with. All things being equal on the salary front, it's how confident you are of replacing the business, should you be replaced by another warm body, versus how stable the employment is. Please note I wasn't foolish enough to say secure. Another consideration might be room for expansion of the role, either managerially or technologically. Best Of luck either way, you could end up being 'wrong' for reasons completely out of your control, so work on those parts where you can have some impact.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...and simply need on-site support. It's a tough transition because the level of work is still less than full-time. What I frequently see happen is a "hybrid" employee; one who is skilled in IT and some other area, such as accounting. I've worked many clients through this kind of transition. If your client is a growing concern and is successful (and hopefully you were somewhat responsible for that success) then it's only a matter of time until this happens. It doesn't serve you to drag your feet on the transition. I've found that it serves better to make sure it goes as smoothly as possible. Remember, as your client grows, so does your "network" of people who get exposed to your reputation. Whenever I've lost a client to this, I've almost always managed to pick up another one simply because of the good will of the people I've worked with who remember how helpful I had been during the process.

ssharkins
ssharkins

Knowing when to step aside is also a part of consulting -- you are absolutely right.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

for both the employer and potential employee. Were I retired on a fixed income, I would consider this type of employment. It sounds ideal for somebody with a need for additional money, but as you point out, the employer must be careful during the hiring and training process. Both employer and employee gain. The employer gains an experienced worker who is willing to work for what the employer can afford. The employee gains the additional income and a reason to stay active.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

How happy your client will be with your 'replacement' will be dependant on the quality (not qualifications) of the person they hire, and the level of documentation about the system. Actually constructing the documentation is a very good training opportunity. I've done one man shop, and there are times when the ability to 'ask an expert' would have saved me (and my employer) a geat deal of time. On those rare occasions where I could have, the cost tended to be a bit heavy, and the more theoretically simple the task, the heavier it was. Sell a lump scheduled time, unscheduled time, descrease the time you guarantee to be available while raising cost. Above all 'keep your hand in' so you can go back in and offer your services without having (quite reasonably) to charge what appears to be a great deal for your services, should things not work out one way or another. Sell yourself as insurance.... Don't forget if they have their own guy, they can be a resource for you as well, so you can concentrate on high value (personally rewarding) work as opposed to dibbly-dobbly stuff, like back ups etc.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

this IT person will be a novice. What happens if they excel and don't need your input. Again, this is all about trying to retain a client. Surely there is documentation allready around seeing as the consulktand done such a good job, no? Nor not - retaining the client once again. dibbly-dobbly? - I would not call the system backups (and as a result the testing of them) dibbly-dobbly for fear of a disaster. Just sell holiday & sickness cover....

ssharkins
ssharkins

Retention is part of any business. If the new guy does a good job and never needs your help, that's part of business too. Knowing what a client needs is part of consulting. Knowing how to advise a client, even when your advice isn't what the client's looking for, is also part of the job. It's about far more than retaining a client at all cost -- it's about rendering your best service. My idea of consulting isn't saying, "Yes whatever you like," and then walking way with my tail between my legs.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

System admin, programmer, DBA and web master, system support for $18k, you ain't getting an expert. :D Unless the consultant is prohibitively expensive, or the tasks are going to expand beyond their availability. The whole point of consulatnt (as in day to day stuff), is they should be cheaper than an employee. Should be documentation, couldn't agree more. Who owns it though, was it a deliverable, was it paid for? System backups is a very important task, but once set up, it should not be a complex one. That's simple self defence on the admin's part. Keeping it current, changing the content and schedule, they can get complex. Getting paid for the 'tape swapping' part is OK, but it's not particularly rewarding. Well not to me, anyway. Course all system admins are loons.... :p I did it for six years, not sorry about past tense at all. All I was saying was , if they have some newbie who can take care of it when everything is going right, a consulant can come in when it goes wrong and charge. If it goes wrong rarely, you get to charge more. If it never goes wrong you get a good rep. Depends on where your market is really. I'd want to be selling added value, not the 'basics'

mjd420nova
mjd420nova

A different approach would be to offer contract services to train a "newbie" in thier systems and way of doing things. This would help to eliminate any hard feelings and make them feel comfortable to having you step in when and if things get out of hand.

ssharkins
ssharkins

I did mention finding and training the new employee if you can't talk the client out of it. Give the client the cons, as you know them, and then help them implement whatever they decide, and that includes training the new guy.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

Talk about cake & eating! This is purely about trying to retain a client and nothing else. No matter how you dress it up! Edit - Typo

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

is in this case to stop is closing. Classic client retention language. It is afterall not part of 'the job' but part of 'your job'.

ssharkins
ssharkins

You say that like it's a bad thing -- what in the world is wrong with trying to keep a client, if doing so is truly in the client's best interest. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that -- it's part of the job. I do take exception with "...trying to retain a client and nothing else..." No, that isn't true. I clearly state that if the client goes ahead with the process, there are ways to keep your foot in the door and to continue the relationship. Why would you object to that?

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

If they do find somebody who is willing to work full-time on non-challenging work for not much pay, then the person they do get may be relatively unqualified.

ssharkins
ssharkins

I agree -- you are absolutely right. That doesn't mean they can't learn, but if you're depending on just one person, you really need someone who can lead. A one-person shop's not the place for on-the-job training. Yes, you are absolutely right. I can see an experienced person taking such a position, even with a decrease in pay, temporarily -- thinking they need a break -- but I can't see them staying.

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