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

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

Money, money, money

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

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

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

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

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