If you're an independent and you're very close to a new
contract with an agency that you haven't worked with previously,
run a credit check on the agency prior to signing the
contract. You can easily do this over the web (I use Experian,
formerly TRW. URL is http://www.experian.com.
You can get a report on the agency for $20-30, and it's money well spent.
Run the credit check only when you're very close to a deal. Don't
waste money checking a broker's credit history at the submission
or interview phase. However, do it _before_ you sign the
Small agencies may not have much of a credit history. In
particular, contractors who have been stiffed or suffered
through late payments will not report this to credit bureaus.
However, major vendors to the broker will report credit
experience. If the broker's having trouble paying vendors,
they're generally going to have trouble paying contractors on
time as well.
For example, I was dealing with a shop and was about to
finalize terms. Their credit report indicated numerous tax
liens for unpaid withholding taxes on their W2 employees and
late payments on office equipment leases. With those red flags, I took
my net 30 terms off the table and made it net 5. They ended
up paying on time, but other independents working with them
have complained that they pay late routinely.
I was up-front (but not condecending) with this broker about
their reported credit problems prior to contract signing and
they negotiated in good faith.
My general rule of thumb is: credit report OK, net 15-30. Not OK
or incomplete (small brokers generally don't have substantial credit
histories): net 5 or 10. Really bad (major tax liens, routinely
30-60 days late or beyond): no deal.
As to privacy concerns: business credit histories are freely
available to anyone if you pay the fees. If you're incorporated, your
business has one too, like it or not. Personal credit histories
fall under Federal law regarding credit and are only
obtainable by mail, either by the subject of the report or by
"qualified" (term used loosely) organizations such as
mortgage lenders, banks, credit card companies, etc.
Join the local Chamber of Commerce. Then get very
active in all of the Chamber's functions. It pays off.
When negotiating the contract negotiate out the one thing
broker put in but might be willing to pull out. Most
contracts state that the hourly rate for overtime is the
same rate as the negotiated rate. Negotiated to have a
different rate (preferably high enough to hit the top end
or complete part of the brokers margin). The broker if
desperate he will let it happen.
Take note of the "Red Flags": While taking on work from a new
client the client ask me to list the things that I had corrected
on the video conferencing system they had in place. When I
looked puzzled the client stated that they were not going to
pay the previous consultant for work he had done because they
were not satisfied. Therefore they wanted a list a things to
use against this consultant.
I stated that I would simply list the things that I had done and nothing more. I should have taken
caution however, because this same client now owes me money and
is trying to do the same thing. By looking at the Red Warning
Flag I could have saved myself the trouble of dealing with an
obviously "dead-beat" customer.
I check out the Sunday want ads for companies looking for people with my skill set.
I then check to see if they have a web site so I can find out more about them.
Based on their stated needs and additional information from their web site, I construct
a nice cover letter highlighting the areas where I believe I would fit in. I also indicate that I am a consultant. It's usually enough to get me
in the door so I
can talk to them.
I figure if they are looking for employees then they may be interested in consultants too. It works about 1 time for every
7 letters or so I send out. For me, it's better than cold calling because in a sense,
it qualifies a potential client for me beforehand. Also, I am
really uncomfortable cold calling. I'd rather research, write a nice
letter and then have them invite me in.
From Gregory Karpinsky
Use the best software you have to prepare proposals. Most clients will like your document if it's written using a modern word processor, if it includes professional charts, tables, graphs etc.
It should be also a good idea to prepare Gantt of your work using a project management application. All this is not only to make an attractive packaging, but to demonstrate your ability to make things highly professional.
I am a W-2 employee so I am at the mercy of whatever assignments that can be found for me by firms. In talking with many firms large and small, I have found that the majority of the people in the office are non-technical people looking for a quick commission. They will say anything to placate the prospect.
I always ask many many details about the assignment. Some very helpful questions have been:
1. Actual applications used? If not known, please find out and call me back
2. Overtime available? Do not assume yes-some companies allow only 40 hours/week
3. Name of project--to see if
I have talked about this with another firm
4. What is expected of me in detail.
After I have gathered some information, I can then go to an interview and confirm the the answers that I received with the recruiter. I even ask versions of applications such as VB, Word, QA Partner. The software will say some things about the shop (sloppy/tight/outdated). After gathering all of the FACTS, I usually go back to the recruiter and re-negotiate if I am still interested. Usually, the recruiter will not know if I need to write from scratch or update code. This is all brought up in the renegotiation.
You must always evaluate what you will be doing for the next year or you will regret your rate being 25% less than what is should be. Never underestimate the power of walking away. Like the man who walked away from a used car salesman not meeting his price and the salesman running after him in the lot, you too can leverage if you KNOW how to and have ammunition. Have fun and talk with friends in similar assignments. We usually compare rates and can get what we want. If not, go through somebody who will pay what you are worth.
I use my personal network of people I have known to continue growing the business. My approach is always low-key--an e-mail to say hi and give an update on what I'm doing, then a brief and casual pitch which amounts to 'if you find yourself needing my skillset, I'd be happy to talk about...' This tends to keep the pressure off of them while informing and inviting them to talk to me about their possible project needs.
If I'm browsing through some web sites that I find intriguing or interesting, I'll send a letter of inquiry along with a resume.
Resume style: I've had very much positive feedback from my resume. It lists projects and companies, it lists software products with which I'm familiar and under what platforms, and then the regular work history in synopsis form, with one addition not always seen in resumes--I list one significant contribution or accomplishment per job.
to know your client's boss. This way, if it turns out that your
client is the root of the company's trouble, you can have informal
discussions with the boss. Otherwise, the discussion becomes a big meeting,
and you only get one shot. Either you hit the bull's eye or you are gone.
Do not underestimate the importance of the cooperation of the client's employees. Qualified consultants are often seen as a threat and this can sometimes result in obstructive behavior which can jeopardize your project and potentially damage your reputation. Whenever possible, work directly for senior management rather than middle or junior management to avoid political sabotage.
Train students in a subject you know a lot about. You will make money for training and meet a lot of people who are wanting to know what you know. Often there is work involved. Stick around for a while. More work is on its way.
Software projects are notorious for time and money
overruns. We may be the cause of our own problems
because we cave in to management bullying.
Don't back off reasonable estimates of the time
needed to do a project.
Do refuse to take on a project for which a bad
estimate was made. Save your reputation, and
maybe spare yourself a heart attack or ulcer.
At the very least, take on a badly-planned project
under protest and write a memo to anyone concerned
about the unreasonableness of the schedule. Ask them
which requirements they are willing to sacrifice to
meet the plan.
Some people make a game of seeing how far they can
push you. Remember that bullies usually back off when
you stand up to them. I have done this recently and
was not fired. If nothing else, leaving is preferable
to taking abuse. There are plenty of good opportunities
for computer people these days. Remember that if you
are good at what you do, you are difficult and expensive
Some syntax to use: "I'm sure you can find someone who
will tell you what you want to hear. The problem is
that they probably won't be able to deliver. By
the time you realize you have a problem, you will have
wasted a lot of money. You will have to spend more
money to repair the damage before you even start to
From >Mike Creswick
Teaching at a local community college, continuing education program, or Small Business Development center. Provides a great way to hone your presentation skills AND meet potential clients.
Typically, these teaching assignments pay only a fraction of what you're worth as a consultant -- but the business contacts you may get are worth much more.
HISTORY For the past two years, I've taught regularly as a local junior college. Considering that I only get paid $14-25 per contact hour (i.e. $0 for course development, prep time, etc.) this isn't a great way to make money. A However, in each session that I teach, I've met 3-5 small-business owners, some of whom requested my services outside of class. My general rule is to provide all advice free of charge to anyone currently enrolled in a course -- this avoids potential conflicts of interest.