IT Employment

Why should clients hire you?

With an increase of people in the job market, there's more competition for independent contractor gigs. Get tips on how to make prospective clients know that hiring you will help their bottom line.

 When I first began programming back in the late '70s, the demand for people who could code was so high that if you knew how to spell GOTO you could find a job. We've gone through a lot of cycles since then. In the current phase, hiring of full-time developers has fallen off dramatically, which could be good news for independent contractors. We're easy to hire and easier to fire than traditional employees. Also, we typically don't enjoy employee benefits or get paid for time spent on social networks or World of Warcraft.

However, as more regular employees lose their jobs without many prospects for new ones, the pool of available contractors may expand as well. Now the advantages of hiring an independent don't necessarily work to your personal advantage -- especially if former employees are available at a lower rate. How do you make the case that prospects should hire you instead?

Money, money, money

Do you try to represent yourself as the Rolls Royce option? The best consultant that money can buy? The L'Oreal of consultants -- because they're worth it? I don't think so. Prestige comes at a price that fewer companies are willing to pay for these days. In this economy, it comes down to the bottom line: What is your net effect on profitability (short- and long-term), and how does that compare to their other options?

How can you save them money? How can you make them money? Answer these questions convincingly, and the engagement is as good as yours. Here are a few ways to do that:

  • Expertise. You know what you're doing, you won't have to be trained, and you've already made the mistakes that others would encounter. So even though you may charge more per hour, you aren't going to need nearly as many hours. Besides that, your implementation will be more maintainable than something cobbled together by a first-time, saving them money for years to come. So if you have experience in the specific technologies involved, talk that up.
  • Results. All the knowledge and experience in the world doesn't stack up to being able to get the job done. Offer examples of past clients whom you were able to help. Be ready to go into the details (as far as you're allowed under any non-disclosure) to show how your contributions made a difference to their bottom line that far exceeded what you cost them, or what most anyone else could have done.
  • Personality. "Hey, I thought we were talking about money," I hear you cry. We are; if you're a condescending jerk, you'll bring the whole team's productivity to a grinding halt. Show that you're not only friendly and self-deprecating but also that you're willing to learn from others and give them credit where due, and that you know a thing or two about team-building. A good team player brings out the best in everyone else to get things done -- and thus make money.
  • Soft sell. The worst thing you can do is to reek of desperation. If you're really as good as you say you are, you've got plenty of opportunities, and you're shopping your clients as much as they're shopping you. I prefer the soft sell: "Here's what I've got to offer -- if it works for both of us, great!" If you sell too hard, they'll be more likely to doubt some of your claims. Go light on adjectives and adverbs; say what you've done, not how gloriously you did it. Let them know you're all about business.

If you can confidently demonstrate that you will save or make more money than any of their other options, then the objection "we can't afford you right now" goes out the window. Instead, prospective clients can't afford not to hire you.

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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...

39 comments
dinotech
dinotech

Let's say I'm a software developer or consultant. Why would someone hire me? Because I can save money and make money with my solutions. Period. I remember SAP R3 installations that went south and were reported in Information Week. At a cost of millions of dollars (sometimes billions), the companies had to scratch the project due to some configuration issue. That's an expensive, incomplete project. We tried to re-host our student data for the community colleges in Washington. Again, a large project that ended being terminated. It was also expensive. I'm sure Chip has similar stories. But that is why we need guys like Chip. A company woud hire Chip because he understands that "pain point" of knowing what can or cannot be done in the current state of the organization. Hardware is irrelevant now - I saw an i7 920 system with 6GB RAM and a 500GB HDD for $899. Servers are probably a little more expensive, but virtualization and storage have given network admins and database admins a bit of breathing room. So now we can concentrate on processes. Transactions are the life blood of ANY company, especially online. A good software consultant would look at an industry and be able to tell how much it cost for the current process. The hard part is selling how much it would save the company if they had X software or developed Y application. I'm sure most of the time you can write scripts (Python, Perl, Ruby, Power Shell) to help out a current installed package, but sometimes a full rewrite is needed. Marty's example about Joe the flight school student is a good foundation for how a consultant would think of the process. Today, there is compliance and security issues to deal with, so it would take a bit of work. A good consultant would be able to vision this solution and write out the story (just as Marty did). A company would hire Marty if he can prove to them that he could deliver within the time frame and budget. A value add here would be to deliver a solution, but also provide an upgrade path with a detailed savings plan showing how much they could save when they add Funtionality X, Y, and Z (T, U, V was done under time and budget). To me this scenario sells itself.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

I am phenomenal, 20 minutes in your office and I will convince you that you depserately need me. After that I can't play hardball all I like, you will want me and will offer me more and more money until you get me. It's a lot like Star Wars: "You don't need to see my identifcation." of course the proof is in the putting, but I can always find a way to prove that an employer can't live without me, even when he wonders why I am on TR all day. ;)

jorgeevic
jorgeevic

Good article. A must read for independant contractors... Nobody is looking for Rolls Royces these days....

reisen55
reisen55

My consulting business has failed entirely and I have watched information tech be decimated by outsourcing jobs to Bangalore. The field is death these days.

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

This is something that every consultant needs to be considering day in and day out. In marketing terms it's called your Unique Selling Proposition (USP). Without a USP, you have nothing to sell. 'Course it helps if there is someone out there to buy! Glen Ford, PMP http://www.TrainingNOW.ca

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

That used to be a good enough answer, but these days you have to bring something more to the table than just the fact that you can do the job. What do you bring?

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... that you don't really need the business. If I didn't already have enough work to keep me busy, I'd probably be more aggressive in supporting my good points. But it often seems to me that the confidence that the soft sell communicates makes the prospect want me even more. Of course, it's difficult to subject that to any kind of scientific study. It could just be the old Feast or Famine Phenom combined with a touch of Murphy's Law that brings more business whenever I don't need it.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Yes, we always have to keep the clients' priorities in mind, and for most businesses that means what can you do for their bottom line -- especially now.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Sounds like their USP (see Glen's comment above) is resonating better with your prospects. If you want to stay in, you'll have to demonstrate better value in a way that prospects will believe. Just saying so isn't enough, even if it's true.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

The ideal is to have a high U that's in high demand, but of course that situation never lasts too long.

santeewelding
santeewelding

So have I. The long lines; the clamoring for salvation; the waving of money in their hands -- it ain't happening. And it ain't the business plan, either, which Chip otherwise puts well.

dinotech
dinotech

If you want to discuss differentiating from the competition, just look at the attempt to purchase Sun by IBM and Oracle. IBM wasn't willing to go the extra mile, and Oracle was. Now, Oracle has the much needed server market to go along with their database products. And Oracle's channel strategy is among the best. Their partner base is huge. It might take a few months to a year to realize if this merger was worth the effort, but the point here is that Oracle, among other companies are positioning themselves to be ready to sell what the customer needs. In any business, our customer needs to be certain that we can deliver our products and services as promised. If you can't deliver, you can always sub-contract. Chip, group, thoughts on this option? Dino

IT.Consultant
IT.Consultant

I have been asking myself the same question: Why would a client hire me over the thousands of other software developers, some of whom are more experienced and talented than me. But, then I remember what I have done over the past few years to distinguish myself from the crowd: 1) I have decided to specialize in healthcare, thereby gaining rare domain knowledge that others can't quickly obtain. One of my wisest decisions lately as the industry is proving to be less affected by the recession. 2) If there's one thing that this recession is making clear is that employers / clients find pure programmers increasingly less attractive. In a deep pool of competition, it pays to rise above the tide and make a big splash. So, my mindset is slowly changning from a software developer or even IT consultant to technical problem-solver or at least a trusted provider of healthcare solutions. Instead of allowing a technology or methodology to limit my thinking, I'm trying to envision what a solution should look like first and then determine the right tool for the job. It's a gradual and subtle shift, but it will put me in a much better position when the market rebounds. Eventually, I won't have to answer "Why not me?" because even my prospective clients won't bother asking it. We'll all know the reason why.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

You do have good points sometimes, you just haven't made a pointy hat to fit them yet. ;) Seriously though, this is somethign i really know quite well and that 'attitude' is imperative, I play it too, but 99.999% of teh time people will screw it up. It's not somethign you just do, it's an 'air' and 'feeling' you must master. It's part of my job too, i can lean right into a client for thei rbusiness but it appears i couldn't care less but would sincerely like to work with them (which I do really). The difference is the customer/employer FEELS you are sincere and wants to work with them but are not desperate for their business/job offer, merely looking to earn it. Honestly, it cannot be taught, it is somethign you develop over time. So to offer it as a TIP, would be detrimental in most cases, I wouldn't want peers here to be mislead by the premise and lose an opportunity by not having a full understanding of how far to push that envelope.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Recruiters often suggest a similar confidence. I've seen more than a few people not get the job due to it though. When I ran a job club, I had people come to me that had been working with recruiters and told to be sure of themselves in that they shouldn't look desperate. Desperate perhaps, but you have to look like you NEED and are genuinely interested in the job or else is shows lack of incentive and will.

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

A little trick I've been seeing alot in my IM research lately is to turn around the sales process. Basically, you do a hard open, then say something to the effect of "Because I put so much effort into helping my clients, I'm only accepting x number of new clients at this time". Then do a standard sales from there (hard or soft as you wish). But just before the close repeat the limitation and the reason for it. The point is that the prospect then starts thinking about qualifying themselves (as in wants to) in order to sell you on taking them as a customer. I don't know if this would work for us but ... (note that I haven't tried this myself yet -- and I'm most likely to try it on my IM biz rather than my PM consulting). 'Course it only works if there's a prospect to listen to it! Glen Ford, PMP http://www.trainingnow.ca

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

C H E A P !!! As with most USPs whether it's true or not is a matter for personal judgment. As is whether that USP is the right one or not (i.e. compare price and value). Unfortunately, in today's climate that may be the strongest U.S.P. around. Glen Ford http://www.trainingnow.ca

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

But actually in recent months my demand seems to be going up -- I think it's because many clients want to make sure they don't blow money on doing things the wrong way, and they don't want to hire full-timers. But I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop as the contracting market gets more saturated -- especially if we don't see a significant economic recovery soon. Thanks for the kind words.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... but it often gets to be more of a headache than it's worth. Perhaps I didn't take enough for myself off the top to compensate for that.

Marty R. Milette
Marty R. Milette

I'm a bit wary about specialization, because it can lead to becoming 'pigeonholed' into specific roles and/or industries. For example, I'm now looking to finalize my third contract with the NHS (National Health Service) in the UK -- I haven't got any particular interest in health care, but whenever the recruiters keyword NHS and SharePoint, I pop up at the top of the list. Hot market, but I don't necessarily want to get too locked-in to it. On of my own 'pet' projects is to do stuff related to aviation. However, these clients are typically NOT computer-oriented or technical. If you're talking about the 'mom and pop' flying school, they also don't have a lot of money -- so to get a contract means demonstrating clear and immediate results that will save them time and/or money. I wanted to tackle an interesting project on how to provide flying schools with a 'fully integrated' portal-based system that would do this. Conventional thinking would produce a feature list something like this: - Financial Account Management - Credit Card Processing - Interface with Popular Accounting Systems - Training Management - Interface with External Systems - Resource Scheduling However, to the average person who has been involved in a mom and pop flight school for 20 or 30 years -- such a list is meaningless. It doesn't spell out how it will HELP them in their daily work. Instead, I decided to write a 'day in the life of' story for people involved in the organization. Non-technical, friendly and up-beat -- leaving it to the client to see the difference between how they do things 'now' vs. how they 'could' be doing things... It started out like this... "Joe (the flight training student) gets up ? it is early and he?s anxious to progress with his training! He logs into the portal at 08:00, and receives several notification messages to which he must respond. The first message is about the balance of his account ? it is approaching the warning level. No problem, he clicks a button and the predetermined amount is automatically debited from his credit card. Five seconds later, the message goes away. The accounts manager is delighted! She arrives to work to find the list of transactions generated since yesterday -- ready to import into the accounting system. No overdue accounts today! The next message reminds Joe that he needs to book and complete his Stalls and Spins flight lesson with an instructor. The system 'knows' that he has already completed the theoretical readings and practice quiz for this lesson ? so all that remains now is to make the booking with an instructor. Joe sees from the weather application in the corner of the portal screen that both the national forecast and the flying club's weather station report perfect VFR flying conditions -- projected to remain so, and that there is only a light crosswind. Super! Joe decides he?d like to get that lesson out of the way ASAP, so he requests a booking first at the first available spot. The system produces a list of possible options of aircraft, instructor and time. Joe selects aircraft N92180 at 12:00 with instructor Fred Fine. Fred is immediately sent an email message to which he must respond before the booking is finalized, but as far as Joe is concerned, he?ll plan to be to the airport by 11:00 to complete all the paperwork and the to file the flight plan that the system has generated for him. Fred was already on the way to the airport when the booking request came in, but after 10 minutes without a response, the system followed it up with an SMS message to his phone. No problem! Just hit Reply to send the confirmation. Minutes later, Joe also receives an SMS text to his phone confirming the booking..." ----------------------- Did it work? Hell yes! Here is the response back from the client: "This would be a DREAM system...wow...can this really be done? Bringing it all together is brilliant, but I get dizzy just trying to think of all the details..." Sometimes we have to put ourselves into the shoes of the client to really find out what their pain is and figure out ways to cure it...

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

"Instead of allowing a technology or methodology to limit my thinking, I'm trying to envision what a solution should look like first and then determine the right tool for the job." We're expected to not only be able to provide a solution, but to advise on the best one to use. You can't do that well if your mind is already made up ahead of time.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Some of us work hard at it and consider it our vocation. Many others treat it as a scam or a way to find a real job. The latter give the former a bad name.

Marty R. Milette
Marty R. Milette

...in Canada since I was last there. As a consultant, I was in before just about anyone else, left after pretty much everyone, worked after-hours at home, and on weekends. This was BEFORE taking care of the 'business' aspects of running the business. I had to study on my own time, pay for my own certifications and training, a day off meant losing a billable day -- the same as being sick. No such thing as paid vacations Quite often caught in political battles between 'employees', yet treated as a second-class person because of not being one. Yep, things must have changed where you are and consultants have it so good...

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Unemployed salesmen. Real big bee in my bonnet with that lot. When I lived in Port Hardy a few years back and was doing a lot of private work, with one F/T on-call contract, I got introduced as a consultant a few times. Drove me nuts and was due for immediate correction. Don't call me a consultant, I work for a living!

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

There's not much in our business that's easy or automatic. My first tip for would-be consultants is: don't follow consulting tips. You have to take them all with a grain of salt, and adapt them to your own situation and personality.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

I interview potential employers, believe me I am picky. It's also a matter of proof and assertion too though, not just willful disinterest. I make the company want me, bad, then I can play my game. This isn't something I deal with when I look for work, its a daily oractice in my field. You are referring to a passive sales technique, which only works once you have already laid down teh ground work and already won the customer/employer over. Seriously, a guy with a flippant or overly confident, mock disinterested attitude in an interview with me would only walk in the door once, they'd have to run out so it didn't hit them in the arse. If you haven't done your job to begin with, you have no cards to barter with and sitting back with your arms crossed will just see you left behind.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Sorry but I've been in sales of all sorts for nearly 30 years, I have yet to hear of a hard open. What you you describe as a hard open? >Introduction >Qualification >Presentation >Trial close >Rebuttal (draw out and overcome objections) >Trial close >Close Where would a hard open fit? And what benefit does it offer you as a sales rep?

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I only have so much time available, and I can't afford to waste it on bad jobs. But so far, I haven't tried letting my prospects know that -- could work out well. Thanks!

IT.Consultant
IT.Consultant

Normally, my references are able to confirm them, if I ever get to the offer stage. In an interview, I'm usually able to go into enough detail when asked about my past work and knowledge of current technologies used (not so much as to violate confidentiality) that I prove that I know my stuff. I don't just simply repeat meaningless facts; I accompany them with reasoning behind my approach, decisions, tradeoffs, etc. As far back as ten years ago, I remember my manager telling me that he hired because he had thought was methodical and hard-working. My manager's manager who hired me a year ago for a year-long contract echoed the same sentiments because of a detailed report, which was my first assignment. Finally, word is getting around that I have a reputation for being quality-oriented. I'm not the cheapest or the fastest, but my work does show a high level of thought and care.

IT.Consultant
IT.Consultant

The clients I deal with want someone to know enough about the technologies they use to solve their business problems. They care less whether you could recite every detail by heart or not. In fact, whenever I come across clients that simply want a coding monkey, not a technical problem-solver, I suggest that they find someone else. The two things that set me apart are: 1) My problem-solving ability - I can get to the root of most technical problems quickly and create solutions that can reasonably satisfy tradeoffs. 2) My devotion to quality - I believe in crafting solutions that will still work over time, and that can be understood and defended long after I have left. I usually catch details others miss and care about being remembered for the right reasons.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Keeping the equation simple and easy to understand. Make it a valid comparison of apples to apples as much as possible.

Marty R. Milette
Marty R. Milette

I've walked into a lot of positions where the clients have already been burned by cheap -- and are willing to pay more for good quality work. The best defense against off-shore developers is the fact that you CAN walk into the office and show samples of your work. I keep a 'portfolio' of the 'best' representative sample of each type document I've created and make a big production out of showing it to the client. Quite often, the people I'm competing against have either created crappy documentation, or none at all -- so this REALLY gets their attention. Additionally, while the documents aren't going to be 'identical' for each client, they sure make a great starting point -- so every time I get a new client and produce similar documentation -- they get better in quality and much faster to produce. Also something that has great value -- when you can walk in and not only PROVE that you can do the job at a high level of quality, but also prove that you can do it FASTER than anyone else.

Second and Goal
Second and Goal

... and you get what you pay for. I've seen many companies learn that lesson the hard way, and try to encourage others to learn from those mistakes. I worked for one company that almost went under because they burned through over $1m in less than 6 months at $17/hour, and got no usable code in return. I'm not going to pretend that I've got the most experience, or the deepest breadth of language/technology knowledge. I've certainly got a strong level of experience and technical ability, but I'm not afraid to admit that there are more experienced people out there, and people that might have a better in-depth knowledge of the technology than me. What I bring to the table is an ability to understand a business quickly, and the ability to analyze a problem and propose and implement an EFFECTIVE solution to it. To me, that's one of the most important words in this industry - it's much more important to write EFFECTIVE code, than it is to write "elegant", "slick", or "sexy" code.

dinotech
dinotech

What about a 60/40 rule? I'm always a firm believer of giving the majority of the contract to those who do the most work. If I get the contract and I send out Chip to work the contract, i would be happy to get 40k to put back in my business, while giving Chip 60k. I don't want to make money on one client, but several satistified clients that will be looking to do business with my company. Plus, I can be sure that Chip will be willing to work the next contract. If your thinking that isn't enough money to run a business, my philosophy is to service one customer well, and you'll gain more customers. My Mother's accounting practice never needed advertisement. By word of mouth she was able to sustain a healthy practice.

IT.Consultant
IT.Consultant

how insightful it is --- especially to people like me who aren't necessarily good salespeople unless they're selling something they passionately believe in. Your example just hits the hammer on the nail! If used properly, the specialization strategy can help in the long-term. You can use premium pay you get for being specialist to retrain yourself or repurpose your skills in similar areas. By extension, clients from other industries may approach you because your experience may give them a glimpse of where they want to be and feel that you can help them get there. I think that if you don't just specialize in "specialization" and pair it with something else such as a dedication to excellence or winning personality, then it can be very profitable.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... now you just have to deliver the goods within their budget and timeframe.