Tired of sitting by the phone? Wish you had something to do or someone special to share your time with? If only you had someone to call…

Sometimes, consultants looking for new clients feel a little like people placing singles ads in the classified section of the newspaper: Nothing would make them happier than a phone call or an e-mail from the right person. Their potential clients often feel the same way.

To better match IT consultants with clients, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers-USA—an offshoot of the IEEE—has rebuilt their database of IT and high-tech consultants. We recently took a tour of the retooled site to see how IEEE-USA helps consultants and potential clients get acquainted.

Simple design
Visitors to the site will find a simple, uncluttered design from which to launch their searches for consultants or clients. The main page’s left navigation menu is duplicated in the main content pane. Included are links to a Consultant Finder, which requires users to answer a handful of questions to locate the most-qualified contractor.

Main page for IEEE-USA consultants database

Searching for consultants
Potential clients can narrow their search for consultants by city, state, metro area, area code, and even down to ZIP code.

The site makes it easy to find a consultant near you.

The search continues by asking clients to choose which method they’d prefer to use to negotiate the contract: by either 1099 or as an independent consultant, or through a W-2 or a contract firm. You can also choose Don’t Care to get the greatest number of results.

How would you like to negotiate the contact?

The search also allows users to describe either the specific task or the entire project for the consultant.

Clients can choose to describe the task or entire project to give the potential consultant more information.

From there, you can search by expertise by selecting from a drop-down menu both the skills that are essential for the consultant to land the contract as well as the skills and experience that are “desirable.”

There also are also fields that ask about tool experience, degrees and certifications, and foreign language proficiencies.

For more options or to speed up the process, you can choose Advanced Search from either the content pane or the left navigation bar. If a client is unclear as to what the search requires, the site also has a nice Client Help section that illustrates how each search field should be filled.

Simple Search
Another useful feature is the Simple Search function. We entered CCNE and included UNIX from the drop-down menu of technical categories. We also selected Table Of Contents Of Names With Links To Listings and had the results listed by order of relevance.

The search turned up 18 consultants from all over the United States. The Relevance bar beside each name was completely darkened, which indicated that we had the best choices in the database.

An example of a successful Simple Search

Registering as a consultant
Consultants who are IEEE members that want their information on the site must pay a registration fee of $75; nonmembers pay $99. Consultants can also pay $250 a year for a banner ad on the site.

Besides offering their contact information, the site also allows consultants to provide a link to their own Web site. After entering an e-mail address and a password, consultants can fill out a profile, which allows them to list their technical expertise and includes a text field for them to write a short description of their specialties.

The Web site also allows clients to post and, if a mistake is made or if the parameters of a project change, edit potential assignments and projects.

The site also has a listing of recent assignments entered in the database. When we visited, there were five listings.

The site’s recent assignments listing

When we clicked on Cisco Optical Engineer, which was posted on July 30, it gave us contact information for the potential client.

Contact information is listed for potential clients.

Consultants’ services
Perhaps the most valuable feature on the site for the casual visitor is the Consultants’ Services page, which features links to local IEEE consultants’ networks, the AICNCC newsletter, the IEEE’s 1998 fee survey (the more recent version is being sold through the Web site), as well as links to other professional organizations.

Like the Client Help section, the Consultant Help section on the Consultants Database page walks consultants through registering on the site, outlines the fee structure, and suggests solutions to such common problems as a consultant’s name not appearing on the database or an IEEE member being charged nonmember fees.

The IEEE-USA Consultants Database seems to give both clients and consultants an easy way to find each other. The search functions include a wide array of technical expertise for clients and consultants: A quick search of one dropdown menu revealed sections for everyday IT needs—LAN/WAN, hardware, and application software—and for high-end fields like aerospace, digital design, and fuzzy systems.

The site’s simple design—the GUI looks like it could have been designed in a high-school HTML class—makes it easy for visitors to enter their information as a consultant, submit details of projects, or use the database’s listing of consultants to assess their own skills.

Although it’s impossible to research the qualifications and experience of every consultant listed in the database, it would appear that having a collection of seemingly qualified contractors would help organizations that need specialized IT and high-tech services. For consultants, such a database would offer the potential of gaining lucrative work for a relatively small fee.

However, press information concerning the retooled database said that the site received 30,000 visitors last year. Obviously, not all of those visitors connected with a client or a consultant. It stands to reason that perhaps if IEEE-USA made a greater effort to promote the database, it would be more widely used.

(Later this year, the IEEE promises to offer a free CD of the entire database. Copies can be obtained by calling IEEE-USA at (202) 785-0017, ext. 8637, or by sending an e-mail to the IEEE.)

Are you registered on a consultants’ or clients’ database?

Are there other organizations that have listings of consultants or potential clients that you think TechRepublic members would find valuable? Tell us about them. Post links and a description of the service in a discussion below or send us an e-mail with the contact information. We’ll compile the information for future articles.