This column marks my 100th submission to TechRepublic. In the almost two years since my first post here, I’ve learned a lot more than I ever dreamed I could know about consulting from the comments left here by you, our readers. So to celebrate our 100th conversation, I’m highlighting some of your most enlightening comments on my first 99 posts.

1. meryllogue‘s comment about So you want to be a consultant?: GREAT first post!

Nice article! And the replies have been good as well. I was going to add one, but it got covered already (note your free hours). In response to “never asked for a referral”… I NEVER hire a consultant without at least 3 referrals. AND… I always ask that one of them be a negative referral! I want to hear good and the bad, and I want to talk to them about the bad to see how they handled it, their perspective on it, etc. It gives me insight into how things might go if (when) the going gets tough. And it lets them off the hook of trying to look like Superman.

2. apotheon‘s comment about Getting beyond the ‘bull’ perception: consultants who consult

That was an interesting cautionary tale. There’s just one problem with the substance of the joke:

 

Often enough, many corporate shops could really benefit from the advice of a consultant who does nothing but consults. Of course, such a person would be able to do more as a vice president, most likely. The problem is that without an MBA and at least fifteen years of management experience – or a father-son relationship with the owner – it’s highly unlikely such a person would get a VP job.

Well all know how well nepotism and an MBA qualify someone to make good decisions, I trust.

All in all, however, you make some excellent points about the way “consultants” actually work in the real world, and how they should go about getting their jobs done.

 

Sadly (or, in my case, gladly) I don’t have any “evil consultant” stories to tell. I guess I’ve lucked into getting to avoid that sort of problem so far. The closest I’ve gotten to an “evil consultant” is being the next guy they hired – so I never really saw what work the previous guy did (or didn’t do) in any kind of useful context.

3. Locrian_Lyric‘s comment about The consulting misnomer: You wouldn’t pay an architect to hammer in a few loose floorboards

Why the heck do companies pay consultants to do grunt-level implementation?

4. dglovin‘s comment about Six reasons why you might work for free: I do it all the time.

Freinds, family, to gain a new client. Sometimes a freebie for the bigwigs at the companies I contract with. Sometimes for struggling businesses to help them get back on their feet.

It’s a Karma thing. Pay it forward.

5. gbentley‘s comment about Should consultants blog?: Professional

It all comes down to acting in a professional way in your blog just as we w(sh)ould in person, in email, …

 

Reminds me of a rule of thumb re. emails.

 

“Assume you’ll have to explain your comments in a court of law and to your mother.”

6. Tell It Like I See It‘s comment about Handing off your project (without killing it): Grooming

In cases when you can think ahead a while (as much as a year out, depending on the system), begin grooming a particular person to take the job.

 

Start by bringing them on board as a “junior partner” and have them handle some of the relatively routine updates — such as changing text on a screen or web page. You still handle the major stuff. This begins getting them acclimated to the coding style you used.

Over time, give this “junior partner” more and more responsibility for more advanced changes. At some point (when you feel they are ready), start bringing them into various meetings with the users, such as for requirements gathering.

About the same time you begin taking them to requirements meetings (and other meetings as well), begin asking their opinion on design issues. At first, you’ll have to point out a lot of issues they hadn’t thought of (and you should point these out) and ask for a revised idea. Possibly even hint to them about an idea you had — but do your best to let them figure it out themselves.

Once they begin figuring out a design that you agree would work well, let them implement it in the system. Just as with the coding, let them start out relatively small and build from there. You still handle the large stuff initially; but over time the “junior partner” takes over more and more of the design work as well.

You may be surprised once in a while. Sometimes the “junior partner” might actually come up with a solution even better than yours. If it gets to the point that this happens regularly, it is time for you to step aside and let the “junior partner” to take over the mantle of master.

Hopefully the newly mantled master also learned some grooming tips from your bringing them up so they can begin the grooming process with their own successor.

It is not always possible to do this for a variety of reasons. However, when it is possible, this can be a tremendously effective way to pass on the torch.

 

The approaches you mention are like insurance, for when this grooming process can’t be used or doesn’t work. They can also help with the grooming process, perhaps streamlining something that would otherwise take a year down to a quarter or so (IF you get a really good “junior partner”) so they can still be valuable. But they can’t truly replace the grooming method.

7. ITLifecycler‘s comment about Employee vs. contractor: Rules of Engagement

Response to the question, “What differences in these two forms of engagement make one more appropriate than the other for a given role?

 

Quick Response: Whether or not a programmer is engaged by a business as a contractor or employee is independent of whether or not a consultant is engaged by a business as a contractor or an employee. An engagement is based solely on the terms and conditions agreed upon between the services provider and the purchaser. The differences that make the most difference are the rules of engagement (express, implied) which may also include role.

Service Provider Roles: Programmer, Consultant

Type of Engagement: Employee, Contractor

 

Rules of Engagement: Negotiations will address who assumes the risks associated with an engagement, who will be accountable for the results (if specified), and a host of other variables.

8. dean.owen‘s comment about What to do when you get in over your head: Eat your crow early

when it’s young and tender – don’t wait until it’s old and tough. Good advice I recieved from a veteran project manager years ago. It applies to any ‘gotcha’ in a project.

9. jmgarvin‘s comment about 19 things to worry about when traveling on business: 19 is too true

Everybody thinks you were on vacation while in [insert crappy location here].

 

Let me add 20: When do I stop working? When I’m on the road, I find it is easy for me to put in 12-15 hour days without thinking about it. Why? I have no family or anyone to go home to, so I work my ass off. That leads to burn out and you start to get a little upset with your job.

10. BobR‘s comment about Is independent consulting on the rise?: Not everyone is cut out to be independent

I agree with the theory that ?self-employment increases during economic down-turns, because of the constriction of available opportunities for wage-earning employment?. In my observation, most independents do take a salaried position when they have the opportunity. If there are more independents right now here in northeast Ohio, it is because we are still dealing with a somewhat depressed economy.

 

Most people do not seem to think the benefits of being independent outweigh the disadvantages. I do, but seem to be in the minority. I became an independent consultant when I was laid off in the year 2000. Most of my clients do try to hire me, but I plan on remaining independent the rest of my life if at all possible.

I had been employed by a consulting firm and found out the hard way that the ?security? benefit of being an employee does not exist. Many people would pale at the thought of paying $1400/month for health insurance out of their pocket, but to me it is just a number in the formula in determining how much I need to charge per hour.

 

The big thing for me is, I feel like I have control of my life! As an independent, as long as I get the job done, am onsite when needed, etc, nobody cares what time I start, what time I leave, how many hours a week I work, or how many vacation days I take. Scheduling my life around HR policy (8 hour days, 40 hour weeks, certain number of vacation days per year, etc) to me would be a choker-chain!

11. alphawiz‘s comment about Handling office politics from the outside: RE: Handling office politics from the outside

Rule #6: Send it to Scott Adams. It’s probably excellent Dilbert fodder.

12. dgh2007‘s comment about Seven reasons to turn down business: RE: Seven reasons to turn down business

You forgot the obvious (read: simple) 8th (or should that be 1st) reason:

 

If it does not feel right, DON’T!

13. Igor Royzis‘s comment about Five steps to enlightened expectations for managing your workload: I feel really upset when I can’t deliver as promised

I tend to estimate project duration based on my 17 years of software development experience, but sometimes I run into problems, especially if I hire subcontractors to help me. I feel really bad when I can’t deliver as promised. Your suggestion of not giving clients a time estimate would be great but it ususally doesn’t work – clients want to know when you can deliver the project. As a matter of fact, some of them even tell you what the deadline is – take it or leave it (sometimes it’s too good to leave).

 

The way I handle multiple projects is by allocating blocks of hours to each project during the day. I never switch to another project when running a 3 minute build or restarting the app server.

 

I also send my clients detailed status reports every week, including what I expect to complete the following week. This keeps them abreast of the progress and decreases the number of unpleasant surprises.

14. julie.dixon‘s comment about Six secrets to productivity and getting tasks completed: The “escalation” method

Not only am I a geek, but I’m also a writer.

 

My SO and I have developed the “escalation” method to deal with interruptions while working/writing.

If either of us is concentrating and the other e-mails/calls/interrupts we just state “escalation” and the other backs off immediately.

 

It works really well, and since we devised the method together neither of us takes the “rejection” personally and no feelings are hurt.

15. brian.mills‘ comment about Are you working only for the money?: The Money

It would take a heck of a lot more than any employer is willing to pay in order for me to take the job from hell. Money is nice to have, but I’d rather be poor and happy than rich and miserable.

 

If money wasn’t an issue I’d still work in IT, but it definitely wouldn’t be on a full-time basis. I’d probably get a part-time gig pulling cable and setting up networks, because I really enjoy that aspect of IT. I like building things, and seeing a project transition from an idea to a functioning system. Then I’d take all that free time between projects and spend it with my family, as well as work on improving my guitar playing and photography skills.

 

I know it’s mostly wishful thinking, but my wife and I want to be in a position where one of us can work from home by the time we start having children, so that we can spend time with them instead of shipping them off to day-care every day.

16. Locrian_Lyric‘s comment about What’s more important to become an IT consultant: education or experience?: The difference between knowledge and wisdom

Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit.

 

Wisdom is not using it in a fruit salad.

17. Locrian_Lyric‘s comment about What’s more important to become an IT consultant: education or experience?: Too often, management’s view of consultants is…

…akin to hiring nine women to have a baby in one month.

 

consultants/contractors are often called in once the situation is near FUBAR.

18. rob_o‘s comment about Six ways IT consultants can build their reputation: Emphasise recent success

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…

19. blieffring‘s comment about Can you identify your shortcomings as an IT consultant?: Kryptonite II

Superman’s personal job description:

 

I fly everywhere and resolve the impossible, except in the presence of Kryptonite. My stories generate large sales of special editions.

 

Management preformance review:

 

Hard to find. Not always in compliance with working hours, overtime requirements and travel policies. Medical conditions limit expected performance. Monitoring possible personal relationship with co-worker. His actions directly strain the limits of our scheduling and infrastructure.

20. Ed Woychowsky‘s comment about Why long-term IT consulting engagements may be preferable: Five ways to tell that it’s time to move on…

1. You find yourself forgetting that you’re a consultant.

 

2. You run-out of fresh ideas.

3. The assignment isn’t fun anymore.

4. You’re not pushing your skills to the limit

 

5. The check bounces.

21. PMP’sicle‘s comment about Four issues to consider before becoming a remote IT consultant: #5 Unreasonable Work Loads

Some clients will expect you to work an unreasonable number of hours in the day. Or they’ll expect you to be available 24×7 (“Sleep? You don’ need no stinkin’ sleep!”). Because they are not keeping you company they don’t clue in that the hours are unreasonable. This is especially true for clients located in other time zones. It also seems to be most true for clients who insist on a per-diem rate. And of course, they expect 12 hours of output in 8 hours because they haven’t realized how much time is being spent.

22. Justin James‘s comment about Do IT consultants have a right to reuse software?: It really is tricky

Let’s say that I do Web sites, and on my very first job, I do a nice design. For the next job, I take the HTML, change the image names to fit the new customer, change the colors in the CSS document to fit the new customer, and change the words. In other words, the HTML document remains nearly untouched in terms of the tags and their structure, but some of the tags’ attributes change and nearly 100% of the content inside of tags changes. What’s the “breaking point” that makes it sufficiently changed?

 

My experience has been that most customers are pretty flexible with this. As long as you strip out any business-specific logic, or any other “secret sauce” in the code, they are usually pretty happy. It has also been my experience that the customers who insist or beleive that the “secret sauce” is the entire application because they thought of it (after all, the idea of making an icon cornflower blue instead of periwinkle is so important to a project) are usually the pain-in-the-neck customers anyways; it’s an indicator of a particular attitude that rubs me wrong.

 

That being said, a contract can say whatever it says on the topic, and if both sides sign it than both sides need to adhere to it. If the customer insists on no reuse and you want to reuse the code, don’t sign the contract.

 

Also note that this *can* potentially cut both ways. What if the code contains things (maybe an innovative technique or concepts that you would like to productize in some way), and the customer does something like release it as open source? I would imagine that a really good contract would account for these kinds of scenarios too, although they typically say something like “customers owns all code and can do whatever they want with it.”

23. The Chief Nerd‘s comment about Billing IT consulting clients for travel time: RE: Billing IT consulting clients for travel time

I can’t think of a single client that is less than 15-30 minutes away. Remote access has definately helped and we are doing that more and more, thankfully. Clients also have us do it more because it improves response time greatly and cuts their cost. When we do have to bill for travel time, we also take the “first hour” approach. The first hour has a slightly higher rate than all other hours and I don’t get many complaints. When I get asked, we explain that it is necessary to cover travel time and we normally get a sympthetic nod of approval. The high cost of gas has helped with the sympathy aspect.

24. BobR‘s comment about Big trouble for little white IT consulting lies: Under-Sell and Over-Deliver works for me.

Call me chicken, but my biggest professional fear is failing to perform at something that the client expects me to be able to do. I will never misrepresent my actual experience. When asked if I have experience with something that I do not, I try to be very frank and say something like, “I have never done this, but I have worked on similar applications, and I believe that I can do this.” (I will only say that if I really believe that I can do it. Sometimes I just say no.) I also like to discuss who in their organization I can use as a resource and how much of their time I might need. Sometimes I get the work, sometimes not. But all cards are on the table, and I look forward to going to work each day.

25. herlizness‘s comment about Onsite IT consulting: Do you charge by the hour or per day?: Ordinary Economics

No business can afford NOT to pass along all costs of doing business; I can’t even imagine why a client should think they don’t have to pay for my time spent AND my time lost.

 

Working onsite is *very* inefficient for me and most other people, so it has to be paid for … and that includes my daily travel time. I know … some clients want to think that “that’s just a commute” … no, it’s typically two hours lost out of my day … not to mention the gasoline, the additional time and expense of “looking office-acceptable,” the phone calls I can’t field and so on. They have to pay for this the same way we all have to pay for all kinds of goofy overhead that’s built into the products and services we buy … when your friends in sales tell you about the $1000 dinner they hosted or attended, do you think their customers are not paying for that?

All this said, I think it’s best to build overhead into base pricing; I’m not about to deliver an invoice with line items for all the overhead .. it’s a hassle and they’d go nuts if they saw it.

 

Bottom line: everything costs and ALL expenses incurred on behalf of a client have to be compensated.

26. stan‘s comment about Onsite IT consulting: Do you charge by the hour or per day?: A different method.

I charge by how much I don’t want to do it. And I think $250 an hour is quite reasonable

27. Michael Kassner‘s comment about IT consulting: The importance of naive creativity: No such thing

It’s an old cliche, but IMO, there isn’t such a thing as a “stupid question”. I don’t even like the phrase.

 

In my old age, I’m not afraid to ask what many perceive as stupid questions. As a consultant, I’d rather get burned by asking a stupid question, than being burned by not totally understanding every detail.

As for others asking what may be considered stupid questions, I don’t approach the questions that way at all. I’ve always cherished those kinds of questions as they get me thinking “outside the box”. 5 of my 7 patents started that way.

I took special notice of your point about more knowledge getting in the way. I firmly believe that and it’s why I take as many creativity workshops I can. Just to break the influence of “too much knowledge”.

My ultimate hero is Mr. Einstein and he must have a zillion quotes about this exact thing. Here are a few:

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

“The only real valuable thing is intuition.”

“A person starts to live when he can live outside himself.”

“The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.”

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”

 

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” (Sign hanging in Einstein’s office at Princeton)

28. steve.weber.ctr‘s comment about IT consulting: The importance of naive creativity: Stupid questions are always easier to fix than stupid mistakes

so give me stupid questions anytime

29. boxfiddler‘s comment about IT consulting: The importance of naive creativity: Imagination…

not only is it underrated, it appears that fewer and fewer are cultivating imagination. Watching my students with their unwillingness to explore the software they are learning leads me to believe that somewhere in the earlier stages of life and education we are failing them in the ‘imaginative zone’.

 

I may be wrong about that, I hope so.

30. apotheon‘s comment about Offshore developers: Focus on comprehension rather than speed: the commodity

Treating coders as commodities, rather than talent and resource, is what creates the problem of hiring bad domestic coders that compare unfavorably to offshore coders (because the major difference is price) in the first place. If accountants weren’t the ultimate arbiter of developer value — if programmers were treated as internal value generators rather than judging them by the standards of cost accounting — the emphasis in hiring would shift, and good developers would be (rightly) valued more.

 

Treating programmers as commodities (and IT in general as overhead costs) just guarantees that the quality of the code is ultimately treated as nothing more important to business policy than the weather.

 

. . . and, predictably, something that is in fact entirely under the control of the business decision-makers ends up being left to the vagaries of chance, with a definite bias toward poor quality that can materially damage the company’s bottom line.

31. techrepublic‘s comment about An Adventure in IT consulting: Committing the Truth

I call what you mention “Committing the Truth”. Often, when you do this you become the pariah and are labeled “not a team player”. As a consultant, I don’t have to worry about that. Honesty is, in the long run, the best policy after all.

 

Oh, and I loved your “Adventure” references. You’re really showing your age! I will now disappear in a puff of greasy black smoke! 😀

32. TripleII‘s comment about How to respond if a client asks you to lie: Reply to story, oops: Is that a client you want?

#1, thats just sales speak. If anyone in the meeting takes every wonderful thing a salesman says as the truth, well, they are only 2 weeks out of school.

 

#2, and especially, #3, it shows the character of the company you are working with, do you want them as part of your sphere. Yes, you may lose revenue, but you can never, ever, get respect back. They may call you every name in the book, but I guarantee that even if they hate you now, they do respect you.

33. boxfiddler‘s comment about Should IT consultants pay for their stupid mistakes?: Owning up to mistakes is the best way to go…

Biggies, in particular, eat at you until you do. Best just to own up, eat it if you have to, and move on. A side-benefit of that is that it adds to your reputation for integrity. No matter how silly some clients and end users can be, they are happier, thus more likely to stick with, someone who can admit to mistakes. We all make them, and most us feel a bit better about being seen in our own foolishness when we know that others have their moments, too.

 

I would rather have a tech, mechanic, lawn guy who admitted his mistake over one who tried to hide it from me. Trust is key.

34. Locrian_Lyric‘s comment about Should IT consultants pay for their stupid mistakes?: My take on it.

The client hired *you*

 

That means they get *you*.

Here’s what I mean.

Let’s say the situation was this:

You were working on a project and created your own sandbox environment on your local drive, including copies of data files for some real case testing.

Your employer erases his copy of those important files, and only has backups from one week ago.

You drop them in and save the day, saving the employer at least a week’s worth of backtracking and scraping around.

Would they accept a bill for half of what it would have cost them to recover the information themselves?

Your clients did not hire a robot, they hired a human being.

 

If you can recover the time lost and still deliver the project on time and under budget, you have done the job that was required of you.

35. pwoodctfl‘s comment about 10 personality traits of a highly effective independent consultant: Another need – Support System

Most independent contractors fail because of a lack of a support system when something does not follow the plan. This impacts not only their clients, but their outside relationships as well.

 

If you are a “confederacy of one” and rely on no one and no one relies on you, you need to get a backup plan. Illnesses, accidents, delays in a project, or other personal emergencies can make you look ridiculous in front of your client without a solid support system that allows you to weather the unexpected. You need to find a group of professional associates who can step in and finish the job without disadvantaging your client if you are to maintain credibility with them. Otherwise, when it all falls apart in your life….and it will from time to time….you are going to lose clients.

 

You also have to set expectations and get agreement with the significant personal relationships in your life. Nothing will create more stress that diverts your mental energies from the job at hand than chronically disappointing people who are important to you. Make sure they know when they can count on you and when they will have to cope on their own. It beats trying to work those issues out on the fly. Make sure that they know that having a client is not like having an employer. Clients do not have to understand.

36. Igor Royzis‘s comment about 10 personality traits of a highly effective independent consultant: RE: 10 personality traits of a highly effective independent consultant

How about being a good listener, ask the right questions and knowing when it’s time to suggest possible solutions. Some consultants don’t listen enough to ask the right questions and they jump into a proposal stage.

37. PMP’sicle‘s comment about Six questions to ask yourself before expanding your IT consultancy: You’ve barely hit the beignnings ….

There are a lot of questions involved … bluntly put you really need to do a strategic analysis including the potential issues.

 

Without giving away the farm (TrainingNOW teaches this stuff). Some of the other questions you need to answer are ….

Are you comfortable selling including cold calling? Remember that as a company you will need to keep more than one person busy which means you need to be out there drumming up business rather than letting it come to you. Unless you’ve got Expert Marketing down pat! In which case you will be fully occupied doing that. This level of selling is different than the occasional sales call we make as independents.

Is your market open to dealing with the little guy? Some markets only deal with the big boys. And they only deal with individuals. On the other side, other markets may open to you … do you know what they are?

 

Are you comfortable with accounting information? As a one man shop you can handle the books yourself and only pay attention to the key indicators (e.g. money in the bank). As a bigger organization you need to be able to understand things like cost per chargeable hour, fully loaded cost per hour etc.. You accountant will tell you what he understands you to be asking for but remember that they operate under different rules than you and monitor their costs differently. If you don’t explain what you want correctly you’ll get a correct answer … just not the one you need.

 

Are you prepared to give up the technical stuff? If you’re selling, managing and administering other people you’re not going to have time to keep up your technical skills.

Do you have project, operational and strategic management skills? Three different attitudes and three different skills sets … as a business builder you need them all until you’re large enough to hire those skills (as overhead).

Are you knowledgeable about risk management? Can you develop the risk profile of your alternatives. There are increased risks and decreased risks involved.

 

I could go on but I’m going to stop now.

38. herlizness‘s comment about Four strategies for dealing with vendors who don’t talk to consultants: maybe …

in some cases that might be ok … but look, how crazy is this kind of stuff going to get? I either have authority to do work or I don’t; now I have to pretend to be an employee when I am not an employee? Personally, if I were the one who’d hired the vendor I’d tell them to work with my designees or be gone. When I give someone authority to do work on behalf of me or my company, in legal effect, they ARE me or my company.

 

There comes a point where people have really do have to start behaving like adults. If there is a legitimate problem working with someone, the vendor needs to address it promptly and forthrightly.

 

I’m just baffled by this stuff; when I’m wearing my lawyer’s hat, I have no such problems … acting on behalf of a client, if I notice someone for a deposition or send a demand letter, I’ve yet to have someone fail to respond or to even think about questioning my authority to act on behalf of that client. Why should it be any different for a consultant?

39. arstringfellow‘s comment about Insurance for independent IT consultants: Policies to consider: Professional Associations

The best solution I have found to the health insurance issue is to join a professional association that offers access to group healthcare benefits related to your industry, or to work with an employer-of-record, such as MBO Partners, http://www.mbopartners.com , which also handles invoicing and offers networking opportunities, so there are other benefits to doing that sort of thing as well. Plus, since they are an employer-of-record and give you a single W-2 at the end of the year, I believe that it alleviates the necessity of carrying some other types of insurance required for business owners.

40. mikifinaz1‘s comment about Harassed for attempting to transition from employee to consultant: Too much information…

He failed his first test for a consultant.

41. Marty R. Milette‘s comment about Harassed for attempting to transition from employee to consultant: A blog that would raise a big ruckus…

If you want to pick a topic that would be ‘active’ — do one on whether or not organizations like:

 

http://www.hireamericansfirst.org

http://www.programmersguild.org

http://www.washtech.org

have any place in today’s IT industry.

 

Better wear your flame-proof undies — that would be a HOT one…

42. medfordmel‘s comment about Harassed for attempting to transition from employee to consultant: The real follow-through

Your posts point out a lack of loyalty in employees.

 

It took me a long time to get over my loyalty to my employers. I think it was somewhere around the 4th time I was laid off. That’s when I learned that I had to look out for myself and my family, because it is obviously not my employer’s responsibility. That’s also when I went out on my own.

Employment in most states is at-will. They can (and do) terminate your employment at any time for any reason, or without reason, for that matter. Just on a whim – or more likely shareholders’ whims – they can send you packing and leave you and your family worrying about from where your next meal might come.

You refer to both employees and customers as assets, just as valuable as any other to a company, and I applaud that. That’s the way it should be. As with any asset, however, there is a value.

Perhaps rather than restricting trade by non-competes, it might be a better idea to place a value on the investment in your employee, with a contract calling for the pro-rated repayment of training expenses paid by the employer on behalf of the employee – the employer’s only true investment in the employee as an asset.

 

I’ve seen posts in here claiming the “investment” in the employee’s pay and benefits. That’s not an investment in an asset. That’s the ongoing expense of having those services performed. If your compensation and benefits package are COMPETITIVE, this is a non-issue. It is a function of the marketplace. For any employee, you will have to pay them for their services. For any employee, you will have to provide benefits, both to comply with labor law and to compete in the marketplace with other employers. The value of this package generally determines the quality of the employee, unless there’s a problem in your hiring process.

Training is an asset, however, and all costs associated with training should be recoverable on a pro-rated basis. Your employment agreement could provide for that, instead of restricting the employee’s ability to work. For each training, the employee could sign an agreement indicating value, and a vesting schedule. It helps the employee to see the actual value of the training, as well. Then, they do feel vested, and understand the exact cost should they choose to move on prior to being fully vested in their training.

 

If your company provides training in-house for a position, chances are that you have hired someone inexperienced, to receive services at a cost below market value. In this situation, your training is an asset to the employee, which could be repaid on a pro-rated basis by contract. Keep in mind the money your company saved by hiring someone that needed training, however.

No company should never become dependent upon any single employee, either. To protect themselves, there should be cross-training, and clear, thorough documentation is absolutely essential. This should be a requirement of any employee or consultant. This also has value, and should be compensated, and included as a deliverable on any project.

If you treat your employees, vendors, and customers fairly, and enter into reasonable agreements to protect your assets, you generally don’t need to take extra steps to restrict trade. If you find that you do need to take these steps, you may not be doing business ethically yourself in some respect, and these extra steps become necessary to protect that.

 

These are truly the practices that require a little more work, but they pay off. Stealing is easy, but so are non-competes. This is the real follow-through.

43. agonzalez‘s comment about Harassed for attempting to transition from employee to consultant: RE: Harassed for attempting to transition from employee to consultant

Wow, a valuable lesson indeed. Im in the other side of this situation (Im the boss or at least they call me that), I have 8 people working with me and we do a lot of outsourcing for software development but we dont have the policy to retain people or take people from other firms. What we do is add a clause in the contract: If any of the two companies like an employee and want to hire all that is needed to do is ask, we know that the professional development and personal growth comes first and we have no right to take the opportunity away, especially if they cant grow up more in the company. Taking good experiences from doing that: we have excellent personal (developers and tech support) and find out that previous workers are improving in their life (professionally and personal).

44. JohnMcGrew‘s comment about Harassed for attempting to transition from employee to consultant: That story is kinda funny, actually

If the employer considered Mac_IT_Guy so valuable and vital to the enterprise, they obviously didn’t make him feel that way. I’m always amused when people who don’t treat people well are surprised and upset when their most valuable people jump ship. (do note that the non-valuable people rarely jump ship)

 

I’m glad it’s worked out now, but am curious if he ever sought a legal opinion regarding the possibly actionable damage caused by the former employer. Since he was at-will and there was no contract to break, the former employer had no right to do what he did.

45. Tony Hopkinson‘s comment about Do IT consultants need legal protection from competition?: Gave it to them ?

Did you say gave ?

 

Businesses do not grow and create jobs.

They grow and create demand for labour, the difference is subtle, but easily recognised, as the first thing a business does when growth stops through one factor or another, is to reduce jobs in order to keep growing profit.

You talk as though a business is a person, he does this, he does that.

No it doesn’t. The people who own it, run it, or work in it may do those things.

The the deliberate misconception that a business entity is somehow equivalent to an individual, was created legislatively for one reason alone. So human rights could not automatically supercede a powerful elite’s little earner.

Now take a wild guess at who payed for that piece of legislation.

 

No I don’t have the right to steal your (the business) stuff. You (the business) don’t have the right to go around stamping “mine” on everything not nailed down either.

46. dragosb‘s comment about Do certifications help IT consultants attract business?: In my opinion certification is like fashion

And yes, we have to agree that if you are ?fashionable?, you have success.

 

On the other hand, think at one of most wanted certification: driving licence. Yes, you need it to drive, but when you have it, is this means that you are an expert in the area? (Think only at the number of people killed on the roads!) And also, when you become an expert, after 10-15 years driving without incidents, I?m not sure that will be able to pass the driving examination without problems.

47. oldmikie‘s comment about Do certifications help IT consultants attract business?: RE: Do certifications help IT consultants attract business?

Sorry Chip is wrong. The problem most people have with certifications is that they assume if you are certified you are good. That is not the critical reason to certify. Certification is not a performance or marketing issue it is a data dictionary issue.

 

Certification in large, distributed, networked, web based (and what environment these days is not) projects or enterprises ensure that the perform teams are speaking the same language. When the team is reviewing specs from multiple vendors, current state analysis, or future state estimates you want to minimize the confusion as much as possible. Certification is the easiest, cheapest, and most standardized way to do this.

48. Tony Hopkinson‘s comment about Do certifications help IT consultants attract business?: Well in my own case

Its technologies that put me on the radar, not certs. Then they look at my experience (well sometimes, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve got a hit for a junior to intermediate role). Only people who don’t actually want me, ask for certs and degrees.

 

That’s development though.

If I was lucky enough to persuade my employers to resource me a junior or two.

Degree, would be mandatory (that’s policy for a junior anything), and cert(s) in relevant tech(s) (that’s my judgement not a HR muppet’s) given no experience would definitely swing me to interviewing.

Course if I then find out it was drivel…

 

Kitchen sink advertisements are prevalent in the UK too, I don’t worry about it though, they are from HR, and their judgement as to someone’s technical ability or potential in any thing except HR (if you are lucky), is well lacking…

49. apotheon‘s comment about Are you doing IT consulting work you enjoy?: #7 and #8

What questions (besides what I’ve already spelled out) do you typically ask yourself before signing on with a new client?

7. I prefer to work on projects that further some goal or purpose of mine that isn’t necessarily linked to my career or personal enjoyment, too. Probably the most obvious and important of these are:

A) doing something to make the Internet a safer, more secure place in general

B) providing any code I write under a [url=http://copyfree.org]copyfree[/url] license

8. I prefer working for clients whose attitudes are conducive to me helping them out to the best of my ability — because it’s my belief that the mark of a true professional is that (s)he works toward the day the work (s)he does today is no longer necessary. I’ll accept jobs where I can’t really help the client achieve greater autonomy, if need be, but given a choice between that job and another where the client is receptive to improving his or her own autonomy, I choose the latter.

I’m sure this seems counterintuitive to many consultants who always look for the return business, and believe the best way to get it is to do work that will ensure the client asks for more of the same later. My preference, though, is for a client to come to me with something new he or she wants done, because after having been liberated from a treadmill of having to solve the same problems over and over again he or she has the resources and time to do something to enhance the business even more.

In other words, I find the notion that a client is best handled by ensuring the client keeps coming to me to solve the same problem to be just as problematic as the broken windows fallacy: sure, breaking windows ensures that glazers and window-hangers have more business, thus promoting more economic activity (“stimulating the economy”), but if the windows weren’t broken the resources spent on replacing them might instead be used to add value, rather than just replace it, and still promote more economic activity in the process.

50. Locrian_Lyric‘s comment about When the right price for software is zero: Freebies *and* volunteer work.

1)Shore up a resume:

 

If my resume is weak in an area, or I haven’t used the skill in a while, I’ll give out a freebie or volunteer. That way I have something to point to for recent experience.

2)Making contacts/networking:

Another good use for freebies is to make contacts and build good will out there. While it may not bring in business for the short-run, good will can be cashed in later.

3)Teasers and “look what I can do” items:

 

If it’s quick, clever and limited in scope, it’s free. As you said Chip, it’s a great door opener for the BIG BUCKS.

51. apotheon‘s comment about When the right price for software is zero: one of my favorite tactics

Provide free (as in [url=http://copyfree.org]copyfree[/url]) software, then offer a paid service that enhances the value a client gets from that software. I’m always looking for opportunities to do that sort of thing.

52. daria‘s comment about Balancing client communication with the flow of productivity: RE: Balancing client communication with the flow of productivity

One of the things that might be equally impornat is making your work transparent for your clients. That is givving them insight into where you team stands at. There’s a number of tools that make this possible. For example, tools like Wrike make it possible to work with clients in a shared workspace.

53. Vitreketren‘s comment about How IT consultants can become mentors: RE: How IT consultants can become mentors

Even though I’ve been in the Army for some time (working as a Computer Tech) I’ve found many people to help mentor along the way. I’ve found that the advice that I give out along the way has helped my ‘customers’ fix many of the problems that they would have earlier called me, allowing me to work on further development projects or just get to other ‘customers’ problems quicker.

 

When I’ve worked with units in the Army I usually find one or two people in a unit that are more technically advanced and allow them to solve the problems within their own unit. It makes issues easier to deal with when I only need to talk to a few more knowledgeable people about the issue, rather than having to work with people that are clueless about their computers (an experence that I’m sure makes many people quiver in disgust).

I’m usually the only ‘IT’ guy in my unit so while I’ve got coworkers that work on many other electrical systems, I’m the only person fully qualified to come up with solutions. With this in mind, I’ve gotten good at mentoring my fellow coworkers to reduce my own workload.

 

I really enjoyed this article and think that many IT presonnel should read it, as I’ve found that in this feild we often lack the fortitude to share our knowledge, affraid that we may work our way out of a job. But if you’re in a situation where you’re fealing overworked and/or understaffed, you’ll realize sometimes its good to pass some of your knowledge down to your users.

54. IT.Consultant‘s comment about Search online for IT consulting mentors: The first person I added to my list of mentors …

once I moved into healthcare consulting was my former manager at my first client. That was over 2 years ago and to this day, we still keep in contact.

 

Like me, he began his career in healthcare as a consultant for many years before working as a government employee for 20 years. He retired just after my contract ended. He was not only a beacon of insight and guidance, but also a source of inspiration. To this day, he still speaks highly of and refers me whenever he can.

 

Since then I have found another mentors, though none could ever replace him. One thing I have found is that you really can’t have a surplus of mentors. Most mentors I have had specialize in a few areas and sometimes, you can take bits and pieces of what they share with you and make it your own. The best ones never force their opinions on you and are the ones from whom you learn just by being around them. But they also leave you something to weigh and consider so that you can make decisions for yourself.

55. apotheon‘s comment about Boost your IT consulting business with your friends’ help: in their best interests

Actually, it may well be in their best interests. If you have more business, you stay in business, which means they get to keep availing themselves of your expertise. People have a tendency to imagine everything’s a competition somehow, and act accordingly — which can be counterproductive for their interests, because often cooperation is more productive.
So . . . I wouldn’t say it necessarily isn’t in their interests to help a consultant they like get more business. I might, however, say that they think that’s the case, and will act accordingly.

It’s kind of a subtle difference, but an important difference nonetheless.

56. IT.Consultant‘s comment about Aligning an IT consultant’s abilities to the potential client base: Another example of the great “specialize vs. generialize” debate

After thinking about my own question at the end of my previous post, I believe that I can answer both our questions.

 

The key to broaden vs. deepen is to practice both, but in different ways. To me ” broaden” means “generalize across some dimension” while “deepen” means “specialize in some area”. So, using this approach, one could specialize in one area (e.g. software development) while generalizing across industries (e.g. healthcare, alternative energy, non-profit).

Or use the inverse approach. For example, I really like healthcare. Although I got my start in the field as a software developer, I could use my domain knowledge to enter other areas such as technical writing, business analysis and even project management.

Another friend of mine is a top-notch business analyst, but she has spent the last part of her career playing this role in various industries (e.g. healthcare, financial services, telecom).

 

Another option is to specialize in a technology (e.g .NET), but generalize by geography (e.g. San Diego) as many traveling IT contractors and even consultants from top-tier consulting firms do. Or if you love one city so much that you’ll do anything to stay there, then you can try the inverse.

Use “broadening” or “deepening” at the expense of the other presents many problems.

 

If you overbroaden, then you risk:

1) looking uncommitted because it seems like you don’t know what you like to do (even if you are good at everything)

2) losing opportunities because clients don’t understand your competitive advantage or feel that don’t understand their needs enough.

3) appearing money-hungry because people may assume that you’re just chasing after big technology “jackpot” or the fad of the day.

4) not being able to charge higher rates because you’re not perceived as an expert.

Someone who tries to be all things to everyone succeeds only in being nothing to anyone.

Overdeepening can create different, but equally dangerous problems because you risk:

 

1) appearing rigid and inflexible to prospective clients because you choose to stay in your comfort zone.

2) losing opportunities because you’re so focused on your area of expertise.

 

3) failing to miss the changes in the “big picture” changes in the macro-economy.

4) not being able to charge same higher rates as before after switching to another area.

The business world is survival of the fittest and very often the most flexible survive.

The best option is to strike a balance between broadening (generalizing) and deepening (specializing). That way, you don’t become irrelevant today or obsolete tomorrow.

 

Depending on the person, the balance may lean on one side more than the other, to varying degrees. But, the important point is that practicing both is a healthy long-term career strategy.

57. Marty R. Milette‘s comment about Aligning an IT consultant’s abilities to the potential client base: What Am I?

These days I call myself a MOSS Architect (SharePoint), but as has become painfully clear — this really means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.

 

Here is a good post on the topic: http://www.snipurl.com/moss-skills

At the higher-end of the billing range, clients expect you to be both broad and deep.

It seems like I need to re-invent myself on every new project. Sometimes doing pre-sales and more of a business analyist role, other times documentation, other time courseware development and training — and even a few times putting the pizza boxes into the racks and physically building the systems I designed.

I have yet to meet ANYONE who can honestly claim they are an expert in everything — there is just TOO MUCH to know.

For me, the most important factors to success (and an endless supply of future work) have been:

– Excellent references. Including not only technical skills, but also business skills, communications and plain old ability to hit the ground running and ‘get on with it’. I ask for a written reference at the end of each contract — many contractors don’t bother, but it is a HUGE benefit to have them.

– A portfolio stuffed with ‘sanitized’ samples of documents created. Being able to say, ‘ya, I did that’ takes on a whole new meaning when you can SHOW that you DID that.

– The ability to say NO, and turn down work. Yes, you may be able to squeek through on a project by learning the missing bits as you go — but these days, (at least in the UK), there is such a high demand that you don’t have to wait long for a project that is an excellent match and that you can excel on.

I tell friends looking for work to do the following:

1. Pick the job title for what you’d love to be/do.

2. Go through all the job postings with that title and build up a list of expected knowledge, skills and experience.

3. GET the knowledge, skills and experience that are in demand.

 

4. While you are working on 3, don’t think it is ‘beneath you’ to be racking those servers when necessary. Clients really love it when they don’t have a prima-donna on their hands and can count on you to help out and get your hands dirty when necessary.

58. DanOnTheHunt‘s comment about An independent IT consultant’s code of ethics: Common place

I was an IT contractor for two and a half years and have been in charge of managing groups of IT contractors and this type of situation is all too common. I think that the simple problem is that there is a preconceived notion that you can’t say “I don’t know” in I.T. I read article that started, “just because I work in I.T. doesn’t mean I can fix the coffee machine.” I personally try to do the opposite. I like to error on the side of caution when asked about my experience with something.

59. reisen55‘s comment about An independent IT consultant’s code of ethics: Honest Time and Work

If I am a client’s office, as I was this morning, and running GHOST on a system to make an image, my actual “work” period is far from an hour, and if I am totally honest with myself consists of booting the system off the GHOST cd, typing a few commands, moving a mouse, executing and getting coffee for the half hour or so. Now on one computer, that is honest but if I am doing that on 16 computers, my real WORK time is instead of 8 hours perhaps 2. Pardon me folks, but I bill for the 2 Hours. If I can find other work non-related, OK there but I have an ethical consideration for my own ethics to bill honestly for my work as well.

60. cmaritz‘s comment about An independent IT consultant’s code of ethics: made me think of a humourous exercise …

Try writing the code of ethics of a supplier that you dealt with, based on your (negative) experience of them. Perhaps re-write their logo or catch-phrase, e.g. I dealt with a bank some time ago whose line was “Simpler, Better, Faster”. However my experience with them was definitly “More complicated, Worse” and “Slower”.

 

On a more serious note, ask your customers to write what they think your code of ethics is, based on their experience of you.

61. canIberichnowplease?‘s comment about When your IT consulting client wants you to “buy in”: If the shares are “sure to be worth big bucks”

… pay me the cash now and keep the big money in the future for yourselves.

 

I’ve had the “share” offer twice and rejected it both times. One key reason is that the owner always has a significantly inflated value of their idea. My $150 per hour for many months worked out (in his mind) to be worth about 0.5 % of the company. Given the company had no assets, no revenue, a couple of years before the first client and no serious financial backing at the time, I thought my effort was worth at least 25% !!!

On the other occassion I was wary that the person concerned was not one that I would want as a business partner. I was happy to perform a specific and detailed task and be paid. I didn’t want to share a lot of time with this person.

Luckily in both cases I didn’t regret it in hindsight.

 

The danger is that every now and then, someone becomes a gazillionaire from taking such risks!! They go off and buy football teams and very large boats.

62. price‘s comment about Customizable IT consultant sample contract: Arbitration…is it worth it?

You may want to check local laws and speak with an attorney.

 

Some jurisdictions will weigh the cost of arbitration, which can be expensive, v. the cost of the service or product. In some instances, arbitration clauses have been deemed invalid because the amount recoverable is less than the cost of arbitration.

 

Also, if you do use an arbitration clause, create a statement that lets the other party know who will pay for arbitration and which arbitration rules you will follow during the proceedings

63. santeewelding‘s comment about Customizable IT consultant sample contract: Nope

The one that “lets you have control” is the one I won’t go near. It’s contractual, remember.

64. PMP’sicle‘s comment about Giving IT consulting clients realistic estimations: Estimates and Pricing ….

First … that’s an excellent calculation for estimating time. People tend to forget the estimator’s error. I congratulate you. The only part (formally) missing is that of when you are estimating and the efficiency factors.

 

Studies have shown that engineering types (IT included) have a tendency to underestimate the length of time needed to complete a task.

 

In addition, standard engineering practice, has identified a rolling error of (-50/+100%, -25%/+50%, and +-10%). Studies on IS have confirmed that this applies to IS (and presumably IT) as well — at least when identifying the workload (i.e. not time). HOWEVER, those studies have also shown that the person doing the work has an influence of +500% when compared to the best person. Since we tend to have our best people do the estimate, the estimate tends to reflect their speed.

In short, our chance of getting a reasonable estimate when doing a team development is zilch.

 

With independent consultants fortunately, we’re typically not estimating other peoples’ time. If we are then we need to include some form of adjusment for the team efficiency.

All of which comes down the fact that you need to include the following errors (variances) in any estimate:

1)knowledge of situation/timing of estimate (in theory built into PERT but often not)

2)project risk factors (built into PERT and also in your U factor)

3)”low-balling” tendency (+20% and no-low varation of PERT).

4) estimator reliability (your R factor)

5) efficiency factor (which isn’t covered).

6) decision efficiency (i.e. how will scope change management overheads affect the estimate)

Since you covered 4 out of the 6 influencers, you’ve done a great job with your calculation.

HOWEVER, I do need to comment that this is a cost estimate. In the case of a fixed price quotation, you need to estimate this to decide if you want to bid or not.

Remember also, that your client is intending to transfer the risk to you (that’s why they want the fixed price). You need to consider this as an extra part of the cost. You need to be compensated (think of it as buying insurance).

But your price should be based on what the client is willing to pay (which tends to be based on their savings/benefits if you can guestimate that).

If the price is greater than the cost – bid on it. If not – forget it.

As independents, we too often confuse cost and price. They’re not the same.

 

(BTW, I HATE fixed price contracts (including per-diems). I always tell my clients that they are going to pay more if they fixed price something vs T&M because under fixed-price one of us has to lose — and it can’t be me.) I also always price fixed-price contracts based on retail price (i.e. twice what I get as an independent). After all, if I was a large company and doing it all the time, I’d need to hire others and they’d be demanding to get paid regardless. So I deserve the same.

65. Bizzo‘s comment about Giving IT consulting clients realistic estimations: Nice

But using G, R, U doesn’t work.

 

I keep getting a “divide by zero” error.

 

Am I that unreliable?

66. ssharkins‘s comment about Overcommitted? Face the music and talk to your client: RE: Overcommitted? Face the music and talk to your client

rock(et) science — I love it!

 

Because I work hourly, I don’t run into this problem too much. Another thing that keeps me out of hot water is the type of projects I take on — they’re all small — a few weeks work of work rather than months or years! That makes estimating a lot easier, so I just don’t run into this too much. In truth, it’s one of the reasons I stick with smaller projects — trying to estimate a huge project truly is rock(et) science and I flunked that course!

67. MacLarenIT‘s comment about The part of ‘no’ that I didn’t understand: Another alternative-

Another alternative would be to ask if they are willing to share their budget figure up front(some will.) This will give you an idea of what you will have to work with, and help alleviate the sticker shock syndrome where an initial proposal would be way outside their expectations. If they do have a budget and it’s low, provide a proposal with what you can do for this budget figure up front, and another with what you could ideally do with more at a later time. This gives them the option to budget for the more comprehensive solution in their next budget cycle, and shows that you care about their budget constraints and processes.

68. reisen55‘s comment about The part of ‘no’ that I didn’t understand: Here is a going rate story you won’t believe

A friend of ours who was a CPA had so little faith in his abilities that he would tell his clients to “pay me whatever you think I am worth.” True.

 

For a client, this spells disaster, and if a consultant has so little evidence in his ability to do his job, then the work being performed must be far substandard. If you quote a rate far too high — or too low — but like the three bears, there is always a JUST RIGHT rate for each client.

 

I have three clients in two towns next to each other: one large, one medium and one very small. The large and medium are medical houses and because of their rates I can support the small account and adjust his rate downward dramatically. I could not support his business otherwise.

69. canIberichnowplease?‘s comment about Hourly income gets stuffed on the holidays: We all try to calculate the holidays and things into our rate

but that also means you have to be budgeting the cash like a demon, which in my experience is practically impossible.

 

It does emphasise the need to understand your own personal cash requirements and make sure, for heavens sakes, you’re saving something in the bank or under your bed or wherever. A week or two (or 18!) with little or no cash coming in can be somewhat of a challenge if you live life by the cash-in-cash-out rule.

(I am on contract payments – in daily units plus commission for sales. In Australia it is very typical of companies to effectively close down for Xmas through NY, and then (in my case) the first two weeks of January. That’s three weeks non-billable for me, with no real option of alternate employment unless I retake my role as a lap dancer).

As to the pricing rule? It’s what the dreaded marketeers call Inverse Price Demand. It works on many levels. It makes a Rolex more precious or exclusive and hence plays to the ego of the buyer. Or, exactly as you described, it gives people a greater perception of trust in what they are buying.

Your challenge is to push it without breaking the back of your clients!!

Try adding a retainer on top of your hourly rate. That is, “if you wish to remain a client of mine, you need to pay me $1,000 per month”.

 

See what happens. Get ten of those clients who are also paying you an hourly rate and you don’t have to worry too much about the holiday period ever again.

70. burntfinger1‘s comment about Hourly income gets stuffed on the holidays: Rates

I use a three tier fee schedule. One price (the lowest) for stuff I know well, middle price for things I’m not sure about and the highest price for anything I haven’t a clue about.

 

I’m upfront with my clients and explain what I charge and why. Some of my most interesting work comes from clients who are impressed with my fee structure.

71. ssharkins‘s comment about Nine resolutions for a new year of consulting: Well…

I’m tired just reading your list. I thought I was doing good to draw up a new schedule that includes “getting a life” items.

72. PMP’sicle‘s comment about Nine resolutions for a new year of consulting: Actually I have a better suggestion than 10% …

Start by looking out 10 years (retirement yay!!!). How much will you be making then? How much do you want to be making then? Do you even want to be doing what you are doing?

 

Then cut it in half (5 years). Where do you need to be in 5 years in order to be where you want to be in 10.

Then cut it in half again (2.5 years). In order to make your 5 year objective, where do you need to be?

Then cut it in half again (1 year). To make your 2.5 year plan where do you need to be?

And so forth, into quarters and months.

Let your 10 year plan drive the shorter plans. Otherwise you’ll end up at the end without having what you want.

 

Keep the 1 year out only plans for when you’re in deep doodoo and are looking for a short term exit scheme.

73. wkgraham‘s comment about Don’t require a big commitment from IT consulting clients: this worked for me a month ago

I was referred to a new client who wanted a small (4-page) web site to sell a service. We talked on the phone, I spent a little time creating a strategy, wrote it up, and visited them. And oh, they wanted a a very minimal price….! During the visit they came up with several ideas I had not planned for (could I store the sales online so clients could return and re-order? What about x,y,z?) that greatly expanded both my initial plan and the cost of the project. I suggested at the meeting that I rewrite the proposal into sections and we do the work section at a time. When I did that, and priced section 1 very low by using a temporary intern from a local college, I got approval for section 1 in 2 days. I did a demo of section 1 this week, and they talked about “when” we do the next sections, and there might be other add-ons based on the results. I have done projects like this in the past, but these folks grabbed onto the idea of step-by-step immediately (without any sales pitch). I think their buy-in was greatly increased by doing this in steps, and their comfort with me is increased by taking small steps. It is, so far, successful for both of us.

74. herlizness‘s comment about Five strategies for handling stubborn clients: RE: Five strategies for handling stubborn clients

I’m not known for being a push-over but on this kind of thing I’m forever caving in if initial reasonable attempts at persuasion are unsuccessful. As you say, it IS their project, their business and I DO present myself, more or less, as a hired gun rather than an artist looking at their enterprise as my blank canvas.

 

With that said, there are sometimes lines to be drawn, where you have to document your exceptions and get a sign-off or graciously find a way out of the project.

 

All of this is a little easier in my legal work since I have an ethical obligation to maintain professional independence and, strictly speaking, cannot do anything the client’s way if I believe it violates good practice. Ethical obligations for lawyers are not merely precatory; you can lose your license for violating them.

75. PunkRock_PM‘s comment about Five strategies for handling stubborn clients: Everyone wants choices

I face this as a project manager on a daily basis. The way I react is to present a list of well thought out choices (not more than 4) with pros & cons listed under the categories of Schedule, Scope, Budget, Quality, Satisfaction, Sustainability. I let my customer SIGN OFF on the one they’re willing to live with. Make sure the choices are all acceptable whenever possible.

 

In this scenario you are removed from being the instruction giver and are the knowledgeable consultant again. No one has their professional pride or experience dinged.

76. SilverBullet‘s comment about Five strategies for handling stubborn clients: Document your professional analysis,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

with facts only, opions are like a_ s _ o _ e _.

 

You will know well in advance of the type of personality you are working with. Document, and ask for aknowledgement with a signature, then move on with the task, again documenting everything.

77. apotheon‘s comment about Why relationships are key to IT consulting success: knowing has to happen before you get there

Unfortunately, it’s worse than trying to figure out how to determine whether you’re getting too close — you have to figure out how to avoid getting to the point where you worry about whether you’re getting too close. If you know you’re getting too close, it’s too late.

78. apotheon‘s comment about IT consultants, keep your pipeline healthy: Also . . .

. . . skill development.

 

Think of all the thousands of dollars you spend on training each year that you could save if you find equally valuable skill development through open source software development. You just need to find the right projects.

79. kenr‘s comment about Resist the temptation to do wrong by your clients: Additional thought about “Clamming up about your mistakes”

I’ve found that it’s important to establish a reputation for not caring about the source of a mistake compared with the correction of the mistake. By exhibiting this “anti-witch hunting” attitude, it tends to be infectious (in a good way). Once people are more interested in “fixing the fault” than “fixing the blame”, everyone’s mistakes are more readily forgiven, come to light earlier and, as a consequence, cause overall less damage.

80. PMP’sicle‘s comment about Running an IT consultancy without a credit card: Excellent summary

Budgeting is a core skill with any small business but especially with consultants.

 

When building cash reserves always remember to pay yourself first. Roughly 10% of your net should be put into tax-deferred savings (401K I believe is your version of an RRSP). Another 10% should be put into short term savings (i.e. safety net). This should be done before you “pay yourself” (in other words right after paying the company expenses and before subtracting your wage).

One neat trick to help with this is to pay yourself the same wage you would be earning if you were to work for someone else. The remainder (there better be a remainder or you need to get out of the biz) is then put away as a safety net.

 

One other trick is to use lines of credit. For example, putting your mortgage on a line of credit will allow you to pay down the mortgage when times are good and draw from it when the times are bad. Unlike a credit card which is new, often frivolous purchases, the line of credit is typically limited by the original use (e.g. mortgage).

Fourth tip is to develop multiple streams of income. For many of us, we deal with only one client or group of clients at a time. That’s the definition of high risk. If the market goes south on us our income is going to suffer. As entrepreneurs one of the things we need to do is constantly look for ways to leverage our businesses to create new businesses (i.e. multiple streams of income). If one stream dies then presumably the others can take up the slack.

 

Bottom line, is that you need to spend with discipline. And hope that you’re prepared when the land turns to swamp beneath you.

81. PMP’sicle‘s comment about Avoid the interrupt-driven model of time management: The downside of availability

One of the marketing coaches I subscribe to is Dan Kennedy. In one of his videos he has a time and productivity consultant Lee Milteer talk about procrastination and time management.

 

During that talk she commented that there are two major downsides to being freely available … one is the impact on productivity but there is another and more important impact … people do not respect people they can connect with directly. We’re programmed to believe that important people (CEOs, COOs, CIOs, and company Presidents) all have secretaries and gatekeepers. These people arrange their days and appointments. If you can be immediately reached then you obviously don’t have a gatekeeper and therefore obviously can’t be important. If you want people to believe that you are worth the money (or more) then you need to convince them that you are too busy servicing other people who want your time to waste time answering their unimportant questions.

 

Interesting take by a marketing type. It does however, explain why being on site full-time is such a blow to our credibility as consultants.

82. Justin James‘s comment about Avoid the interrupt-driven model of time management: Good stuff

I’ve been railing about this for years. At my last job, my entire day would work like this. Heck, everyone who was not an hourly employee worked like this. As a result, none of us got “real work” done 9 – 5, we had to wait until we were home and physically out of the office to get our actual jobs done. And even that was prone to interuption.

 

I think you missed something critical though, and that is the cost of context switching. There are lots of studies out there that show that a 1 minute interruption adds up to a LOT more than 60 seconds of lost productivity. That’s why having your email constantly open or being available on IM are deadly. It’s why I refuse to use Twitter. If it takes me 60 seconds to get back on track after a 15 second interruption, how could I handle that? I’ve found that if 2 people are IM’ing me at once, my ability to do work is effectively zero, even if it is not a constant back-and-forth; waiting for them to respond every 30 seconds is just as bad as immediate responses.

83. JohnMcGrew‘s comment about Creating a productive work space: An IT consultant’s office essentials: Lap Desk

Not sure it has a name. It’s a very simple affair; a 13×17 flat surface with a bean-bag on the bottom. Very comfortable to use, and quite necessary during the warmer months. I recall finding it online a dozen or so years ago at the suggestion of my wife. Nowadays, you can find various versions everywhere, like at Bed Bath and Beyond.

84. PMP’sicle‘s comment about Answering client questions about perceived risks and benefits: Clarification …. Emotion has a role

People buy for emotional reasons. Not rational reasons — emotional reasons. Rational reasons are used after the decision to justify the decision. (ouch)

 

What that translates to is that one of the first things to identify is what emotions will drive or prevent the purchase. Then identify the elements (like Chip’s list) which will affect (or better effect) those emotions. By answering the elements in your pitch, you satisfy the emotions which support a purchase decision.

That’s the basis behind all those “Dan Kennedy” direct action sales letters you see masquerading as web pages. The reason they are the length and format they are is that they are focused on making you feel good about your purchase … Effectively making you want to buy.

People are notoriously hard to sell to … but they’re very happy to buy.

 

When selling to companies we need to remember that we never actually sell to companies. We sell to people in those companies. We sell to the recruiter, we sell to the hiring manager, we sell to their boss. These are all individuals – these are all people who are making emotional commitments to buy.

85. kingmail53‘s comment about  Encourage your IT consulting clients to embrace innovation: basic rules of life

Two basic rules of life are:

 

1) Change is inevitable

2) Everybody resists change.

– W. Edwards Deming

IT personnel often feel they are instruments of change. They are, most often of other peoples’ change. IT personnel are, in reality, just as resistant to change, of themselves, as everyone else.

As Gen. Eric Shinseki put it, “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”

IT Leadership (and I don’t mean management) must work to overcome the issues of change just as much as Leaders from other parts of the company must.

 

As a consultant one must decide if you wish to assist your customer to be a leader, or a manager.

86. JohnMcGrew‘s comment about What to do when your client doesn’t pay: I guess if I had nothing else to do…

…I might put up with it more. But one of the lessons it took me the longest to learn in this business is that people who do not pay or do not consider you enough of a priority to pay over others are not worth the trouble in the long run. Better to put that energy to clients and projects that do pay.

87. herlizness‘s comment about What to do when your client doesn’t pay: Bad attitude

<< I just installed an EMR app for a client that the EULA states explicitly that the app is able to be remotely crippled in the event of non payment or even a bad attitude >>

 

crippled app for a “bad attitude” ? don’t try that with any clients who have any brains

the problem with crippling apps is that what you have is a contract claim against a non-payer … the law provides a remedy for you but it isn’t self-help and intimidation; you sue for non-payment; remember that some clients consider that they have a defense to your claim and they are entitled to assert it

 

You might instead write up a license which stipulates that in the event of non-payment client agrees that the license to use the software is terminated and take it from there …

88. thomas_w_bowman‘s comment about Five resume tips for IT consultants: 2 More Tips

1) Keep a ‘Super Resume’ that goes into too much detail for anyone – but you…it’s fast and easy to delete to size (focusing on each opportunity while doing so), thus eliminate irrelevant details while including everything that matters for the job.

 

2) When posting a Resume on the Web, remember that a Human is unlikely to ever see it if a Web-Resume-Selection Engine likes the ‘Keywords’ it finds. In my Skills section is a list of Keywords designed to attract a search engine. narrative is sketchy on the Web Resume, and many will request a current one from you – that’s where you tailor the Super-Resume and send it (with narratives for human use).

89. PMP’sicle‘s comment about When clients embrace innovation for the wrong reasons: Unrealistic Expectations

It’s not just that it could turn into an albatross.

 

Using unrealistic expectations as your baseline, sets you up for failure. A perfectly good practise or technology or process (or any other type of innovation) gains a bad reputation and is rejected as a result.

As a result, you will reject the use of the tool in precisely the situation where it is of most use.

To illustrate with a silly example … you decide to adopt the newest innovation … steel nails. They’re great, perfect … easy, quick, one smash with a hammer and they go straight in. So you try them when installing floor boards. Oops, shoulda used screws! Floor squeeks. So you reject using steel nails. Then when you go to install the 1/4 round you go back to that ol’ standby — screws (DO NOT TRY THIS IN REAL LIFE BTW).

 

(Can you tell I’m doing renovations? )

 

Glen

90. reisen55‘s comment about 18 maxims of successful IT consulting: The IBM Rules

Always found these three to be perfect.

 

Respect for the individual

(ie. my client’s staff)

Go the extra mile to do a thing right.

Spend alot of time making the client happy.

Another good motto, and a simple one, came from BATMAN RETURNS, spoken by Danny DeVito as the Penguin. If you get this down, you have much of what life can throw at your in a mangaged state.

“Things change.”

 

Two words = genius.

91. robin‘s comment about 18 maxims of successful IT consulting: We do nothing for nothing

My wife always said we should put this phrase on our logo in Latin. We may not charge for a service, but we always get something for it, at least recognition and/or satisfaction of serving the profession. Some other guidance we live by:

 

I am responsible for my results.

A boat doesn?t sink on just one side.

Never turn down good business.

Everything works out for the best.

Learn from everything.

 

Congratulations, Chip; and thank you for this and so many other good columns of advice. We?ll be celebrating our consultancy?s 27th corporate anniversary in July.

92. propellerheadus‘s comment about 18 maxims of successful IT consulting: RE: 18 maxims of successful IT consulting

Nobody hires consultants for easy jobs.

93. tburkett‘s comment about Consultants: It’s not the theory, it’s the execution: RE: Consultants: It’s not the theory, it’s the execution

I really enjoyed your column. It sounds like we need to remember to insert the ART form into our project methodology. As an old CHIT manager, we use this strategy every time we needed to get a project done. (A – Always begin promptly R – Reject all negative thought T – Take action now and adjust when necessary) Let the CITS fall!

94. herlizness‘s comment about How friendly are you with clients?: Right again …

<< .. and a lot of times a client who is also a “friend” will expect that you’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. Not that they would return the favor >>

 

exactly … and there are some friends you can do without; my bottom line is you have to keep in mind which clients, if any, are REALLY friends and which ones are just people who you get along with pretty well and like … because a real friend I might indeed give the benefit of the doubt to … in the end, it’s all a matter of being pragmatic and doing what’s in your long-term interest and hope that aligns with the client’s interest

95. Saurondor‘s comment about Stop procrastinating and just get started: Learned enough

Another way I’ve fallen victim of procrastination and have seen other fall into it too is “learning cycles”.

 

You can start procrastinating because you’re not well versed enough in the technology, language or tool you’ll be using. You haven’t read all the books and articles on the matter yet. You read and read and read thinking something is getting done “for the project”.

 

I’ve found that prototyping is a good way to stop procrastinating on this and the issue you mention. Take the title of “official” and play with the project a bit. This helps to sort out the ideas and problems the project may hold and hide. Helps remove some of the burden produced by “unknown variables” that then leads to further procrastination.

96. biancaluna‘s comment about Dealing with negativity: Stop naysayers from derailing a project: Oh yeah,

I had a discussion with my project sponsor last week about what I dubbed the Emotional Black Hole in this organisation that nearly derailed my project. I had to bring it back from the trainwreck it was when I took over from the previous PM who chucked it in.

 

What I saw:

– Towing the company line is a foreign concept, there is no backbone in the leadership to encourage the One Voice

– The business is afraid to let go of “secrets”

– I was an outsider, spot on the money

– It ain’t broken

– We should not be doing this, deliberate obstruction

– Fear of exposure how bad the current state really is

– But we’ve tried in 1969 and it failed

– It will never work, nothing ever works around here

-Sigh

– But the new system does not solve world hunger nor does it wash my car or bake a pecan pie

 

– We should wait until….

Seen it all. It is mostly about the fear of change. This is why I engaged a change manager and focussed a lot on the arm around the shoulder. But the sponsor did not have my back, he dropped me in a mess without support as he felt threatened, we were uncovering a big mess.

 

Once we had a good honest heart to heart about this, we could move on. For stage 2, I am identifying the likely obstructive forces in the business and giving them ownership in how we turn things around. It might just work. If not, I will be the sacrificial lamb, yet again.

 

Isn’t that my job?

97. Marty R. Milette‘s comment about Why should clients hire you?: Care in specialization… And salesmanship…

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…

98. biancaluna‘s comment about Keep IT consulting project scope small for success: Teh business hardly ever knows what it knows or needs

In my experience, and I have been doing this for almost 2 decades, the lack of knowledge about the business is a major issue for the business . See, many business divisions don’t have a big picture view, at times they don’t have a clue what they do or what they need. Even some large IT outsourcing companies I worked for in the past, had limited understanding here (touches heart) and here (touches head) about what it is they actually did and could not articulate that very well.

 

I work in Govt and semi govt organisations a lot, consulting is a black art in these environments as these types of organisations do not view themselves as a business. what you propose is the ideal situation, that is hardly ever reality. As a consultant, I look for similarities in processes and validate those with the business when a project commences, we do need to help the business with the right questions.

 

That is experience, not scope definition.

99. Tony Hopkinson‘s comment about Eight reasons why it’s time to fire a client: Strangely enough we were having the same discussion

about a client today for unstated but overarching reason number 0, can’t break even with them.

If you can’t at least make your costs, they aren’t a customer.

100. MrEddie‘s comment about Eight reasons why it’s time to fire a client: It isn’t alwayys intentional

There REALLY are people who are naive/dense enough to not understand that what they are asking is illegal/unethical. But more than likely they are pretending to think this so that they can plead ignorance when or if they get caught. The way to tell the difference, at least with larger companies, is to ask that a company attorney sign off on the request. You still won’t do it but at least you can classify the requester!

—————————————————————————————–

From the comments, you can see that not all of the readers agreed with my original post — and I didn’t always agree with everything the readers said, either. But these responses made me think, laugh, or both. Sometimes the comments were the inspiration for another column; sometimes the comments were the starting point for a heated thread; and sometimes the comments were the last word of a thread.

Thanks again to all of you readers, and especially those of you who make the discussion interesting by commenting frequently. Sorting through all of the comments to find the 100 to post here was a wearying exercise (though worthwhile); in my stupor, I may have overlooked some comments that I would liked to have included. If you’re disappointed that I didn’t feature one of your comments of which you’re particularly proud, please bring it to my attention in the discussion.

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