[TriLUG] How to get consulting work...
Sat, 16 Mar 2002 01:05:39 -0500
Some folks have asked off list about the best way to grow consulting work.
I'm not an expert at courting consulting work, but what I do works very well
The key thing is that you have to find something(s) you like and are willing
to devote some time to. I generally keep about one step behind the cutting
edge, but I'm not shy about bringing in new technology to HAHT (my erstwhile
and primary employer).
As an example, HAHT needed remote connectivity with our remote sites, so I
helped out with various Open Source efforts to perfect VPN's. Initially I
used PPP via SSH and I still use it today for some sites. Then I moved up to
using PPTP and IPsec, after a brief flirtation with CIPE.
In mastering the above skills, I had joined several lists, and eventually
found myself answering more questions than I asked. That led to the write up
of some FAQ's and the layout of some easy to follow processes. Soon, I found
myself being quoted as an authoritative source...
The transition from giving free tech support on a list to "paid for support"
is sometimes tricky, but my general rule is that if it they want me to do it
for them - they pay. If they want to do it themselves, I'll answer any
publicly asked question - or point them to a resource that helps.
Also any major information exchange that takes place off list - in private
should be paid for.
I don't have to justify this. It's my rules. I do have justifications of
course... but the key thing to remember is that this is your time, and it is
How valuable is your time? Well that is for you to decide. I generally
charge $40/hour for remote work but my rates vary from $25 to $60/hour. The
cost difference is mainly based on how busy I am and how much I really want
to do the job. It really pisses me off when someone excepts my bid for
My current "passion" is Mailman, and that has brought in an incredible amount
of work - mainly from small ISP's and medium sized businesses. It turns out
that I have a talent for customizing Mailman so that it matches the
specialized needs of my clients.
I am fairly business-like in my dealings and I always follow up the initial
employment inquiries with a general statement of work:
- State my requirements for doing the job: remote access, ssh, root access,
- A general description of the work I will do, systems I will modify,
documentation I will provide
- A general description of the clients responsibilities, what systems they
will be responsible for, who will be responsible for on-going maintenance,
skill set they will need to acquire in order to perform that on-going
- I try to give an accurate time-line, and generally I give myself some
cushion here. If they push on this item, the price goes up... (choose two of
three: quick, good, inexpensive)
- I lay-out my payment schedule and how and how-often I expect to be paid
- Last, I generally follow up with a warranty statement about my work:
basically it says, that once they sign off on my work, it's their
responsibility (unless they want to sign a maintenance contract...).
Oddly enough, most folks accept right away. I don't think I've ever had to
haggle with a single client.
Above all else, remember that this is simply a business. Keep it that way.
Paradoxically, the more business-like I am, the more often I get repeat
business. The friendlier I am, the least likely I am to get referrals or
repeat business from that client.... Draw your own conclusions.
Finally, remember the IRS. They will certainly remember you. If you do more
than $600 worth of work for a client, they will need your SSN and will have
to send you a Form 1099 at the end of the year. If you do less than
$600/year for a client, then you still need to record the income ("other
income" on your tax form). If you haven't put aside the IRS's portion of
that cash you earned, then you'll be hurting come April 15th.
I hope this helps some folks. I'm interested to hear others adventures in
consulting as well.