In the not so distant past I decided to start up my own business. The idea was to earn a bit of extra cash by taking on small projects. A relatively simple way of helping out people who are somewhat dehydrated when it comes to IT skills. Oh boy have I learned. Over the past months I have considerably reconsidered my take on being a sole trader. Thus follows my take on the top 7 things to consider when starting your own IT consultancy.
[pullquote]Aim at setting up maintenance contracts, monthly subscription fees or any other form of recurring income.[/pullquote]
- Find residual income
For me the main reason was to build a business that would generate more income the longer I was working it and the more clients I had dealt with. The only way that can happen is through residual income. Finishing a project for a lump sum is nice in that 30 minutes after you get paid. But then you realise that you now have to find another contract. You are simply trading time for money. It is essentially still a job; only difference is that you are your boss. Aim at setting up maintenance contracts, monthly subscription fees or any other form of recurring income. Create once, sell multiple times.
- Double the analysis more than halves project time
Because you are only yourself, you need to be incredibly time efficient. Something I do really poorly. I have more than once jumped straight into a project, where the path was very clear in my head. But poor analysis of client requirements sunk the timeline for the project, as the client thought you meant round, when in fact you said square. Find out what the most important feature or part of the project is in the client’s eyes and go from there.
- Understand what the client wants
An oldie but a goodie. Have you ever asked a tradesman to carry a job, only to find out he understood it completely differently? It is no different in IT. Because you are the expert, the client will talk about concepts and ideas, which are clear in their head, but poorly communicated. You need to come down to their level and speak their language to get in their head and extract the idea in terms that can be put down on paper. I once had a prospect come to me with “I have a Nail & Beauty salon, I’m thinking of having a website.” That was it. Now go and design and code the site. Impossible.
- Learn to say “no”
The most overused word by business people that don’t have a technical background is “just”. Can you just move that up there. Can you just make those pictures smaller. Can you just…. As soon as you open the door to accepting their comments of “just”, you are heading for a loss. A loss of time, loss of scope, loss of profit, loss of sanity. If you have any doubt, re-read point 2 above. Get to the core requirement as early as possible, and stick to it. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the client will back down when you say no. You are the expert, you know what is possible. Say no now, but open the door for more work post completion of the project.
- Only take on projects of interest
I took on a project where the client wanted a web server set up as part of the project. I am a developer, not a sys admin. I can probably set up web servers for my own use, but professionally is another thing. I like developing software and exploring new technology. I really have very little interest in servers and infrastructure. I ended up getting a friend to do it and the project took much longer than necessary. The client was unhappy and I was unhappy.
If you don’t regularly communicate with your client about wins and losses, they don’t feel warm and fuzzy. Reassurance from you as the expert, that you are on top of things is paramount. If something breaks and delays the project, tell them. Honesty goes a lot further than silence. I always tell things as they are. If something goes the wrong way, analyse, figure out a solution then tell the client. Let them know that you are on top of it.
- Have fun
Sound like a cliché, but it is true. If you don’t enjoy what you do, then everyone around you will feel miserable too. I will argue that you can’t be successful in your own business if you don’t enjoy the work and the challenges. Sure, there are obstacles, but it feels great to power through them. If you don’t have the passion, don’t bother.