word of.. oh look a shiney thing
September 1, 2008 6:35 PM   Subscribe

How does one develop a thriving side-consulting gig in IT?

I have been doing consulting work for ~8 years privately and professionally. A couple of years ago I left the day-to-day business consulting show for a job as a glorified Network Administrator.

I would like to pickup a few side clients, but am a bit clueless what I am doing wrong. I currently have three businesses that I know casually through friends, one paid, two have dangled the idea of having work done by me -- but it never goes anywhere.

The paid jobs I do -- people seem EXTREMELY happy with the work I do (Specifically referencing the detail in documentation, the follow through, the promptness, the billing detail) -- but this never seems to translate into word of mouth "hey, our guy is great".

I posted to CRAIGSLIST locally and have done a couple of $30/fix jobs for home people (grawr stab me in the face) hoping for that to possibly translate into larger jobs -- and a few businesses did email me, but did not respond to my detailed "sales pitch" (not so much a sales pitch as a short "this is what I have done, lets meet and see if it would be a great fit, first visit is on me".

I do quite a bit of "oh sure, i'll take a look at it for you" free work on a one time basis with various groups. Is that potentially damaging chances of developing paid relationships? (Ie, the $150/h consultant is better than the dude who will take a look at it for free?)

Any thoughts on how a full time netadmin with experience doing pretty much you name it can nudge himself into the market? Is there some key part of networking/work of mouthing that I am missing?

(For what its worth, somewhat of a small town area, a few 10-15k people towns within 25 miles) lots of small businesses. A casual acquaintance who works full time in the area seems to have no problem picking up clients in a geographically similar, but sparser area.
posted by SirStan to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Auto dealerships come to mind. Especially the independents. They are usually in need of IT help. They are currently having to adopt a lot of software systems to stay competitive.
posted by bz at 7:03 PM on September 1, 2008

this never seems to translate into word of mouth "hey, our guy is great"

That's what you want to see happen, not random responses to general advertising. Clients you get by word of mouth recommendation will in general be better to work with than people who find you via advertising.

So you need to help your word of mouth along a bit. What I did was just print up a bunch of business cards, and when I'd finish a job, I'd leave ten of them behind and ask the customer if they'd mind passing them along to other people. I've stopped doing that now because I have as much work as I can use.
posted by flabdablet at 7:42 PM on September 1, 2008

If you're good at doing something, never ever do it for free. That's the first thing that comes to mind.

Usually, the guy who gets the calls is the guy whose business card is on the top of the stack when the problem shows up. Other ideas are to get involved with the local chamber of commerce (most towns who have a CoC have a breakfast mixer or some such. A town I did some IT work in briefly got them sponsored by companies who were attending ... basically, it meant chipping them a few bucks for coffee and donuts and in return you got to talk for ten minutes or so.

One thing you can offer over someone else is customized training. Use something like ScreenSteps to produce HTML and PDF help files ... one business I worked for called them "Recipes"... that showed exactly how to accomplish some mundane but infrequently performed IT task like sending a .Doc as a fax or backing up a workstation.
posted by SpecialK at 9:17 PM on September 1, 2008

Oh, for want of an edit feature.

Let me amend this: Usually, the guy who gets the calls is the guy whose business card is on the top of the stack when the problem shows up. to ...

When a business does not have a relationship with someone who normally does the task at hand (which may be the case -- don't be afraid to ask this when you're talking to business owners.), the person who gets the call is the most recent person they've talked to, or the person whose name sticks out of the stack because of something particularly accurate that they said. The people who say accurate things are usually the ones who an outsider will view as having the most experience. Your real gain from an experience like a chamber of commerce mixer will be the information provided by the questions you ask, not the stories you tell.
posted by SpecialK at 9:28 PM on September 1, 2008

Leverage your existing clients. Make it worth their while to recommend you. Give them a stack of coupons worth, say, $50 off services worth $250 or more. Each coupon says "Recommended by (client name)." A new client that redeems the coupon gets the $50 off, and so does the client that handed out the coupon. Give each new client a stack as well.

Also, have some promotional pens printed up. Each pen could be a coupon. "Return this pen for $50 off services of $250 or more. Small businesses only." Drop pens in banks, the post office, anywhere. If you get a pen back, you get a new client and you get to drop the pen again.

These ideas could be tweaked any number of ways. HTH.
posted by eratus at 8:56 AM on September 3, 2008

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