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How to become an independent IT consultant

Matthew Heusser | Oct. 23, 2015
The risk may be high, but the rewards can be even higher. Here are some practical tips for making the leap from employee to independent IT consultant.

itconsultant vs full time

In my previous article I talked about the first half of the journey toward consulting – increasing responsibility as an employee, from getting direction, to owning your own process, to finally being a trusted advisor to senior management. The next step, the step of faith, is leaving the safety of the employer to the cold, external world.

Today I'm going to cover that next step of going independent, including a bit of my own story. 

If you have enough capital, you can go independent tomorrow. All you need is savings to survive for the next five years without generating any revenue. Most people do not have five years of savings, or are unable to put that much capital at risk. In that case, you'll want a few other things before you leave the nest: A somewhat reliable way to find clients (network and reputation), the skill to serve them well, and techniques to figure out how to price, predict work and build reputation to generate more. 

Let's talk about finding work. 

Finding work 

Sales makes people uncomfortable; it brings to mind pictures of used car sales-people in cheap suits. It is possible for consultants to "push" business, walking up to relative strangers at a conference or user's group, asking a leading question, then replying "Oh you need help with your website, eh? I'll do it." 

Rarely do these sorts of tactics close deals. In the odd chance that the "prospect" really does need a new website right now, and has budget, and decision authority ... they probably already have someone else in mind. 

Instead of sales, allow me to suggest a different approach, marketing, which is the often-ignored cousin of sales. Marketing isn't about direct selling as much as notifying people of our services, along with making, perhaps, a brand promise. That way, when they have a need, they think of you. If you don't like the term "marketing," consider another: Reputation. Reputation combined with some way to remind people of your offerings can be all the marketing you need, and it changes the relationship. Instead of "pushing" sales, people are approaching you. 

One way to start is to find a player in your field who has more work than they can handle; ask them for referrals. It's very common for me to get calls about projects when the timing doesn't work (e.g., I am booked), or the location is too far away, or even for work I am not qualified/interested in doing. Sometimes the pay level isn't a fit for my business, but might be fine for someone more junior. Some consulting companies make this a business, subcontracting work and collecting a profit, while some independents do this out of genuine desire to help newcomers. 


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