I Want to be a Consultant in .NET

You have been doing .NET technology as an employee and now you are considering breaking out into your own business as a consultant. Here are the things to consider and how to go about getting .NET consulting off the ground.

Introduction

So you've made up your mind to get out of the rat race and work as a consultant.  Or perhaps you just decided to supplement your income with some consulting work.  What are the steps you need to take to get things running?   What are the risks?  This article should put you on the right path.

The Birth of a Consultant

Before you become a consultant, you want to ask yourself a very important question, "Am I a Risk Taker?".  If you are a very skilled developer and you have some good communication skills, the risk factor is lower, but there is still risk involved.  Here are some of them:

  1.       As a consultant you are far more expendable than an employee.
  2.       Once your contract ends, you need to find another contract.
  3.       You often need to provide health care for you and your family.
  4.       You are forced to become a businessman, a salesman, a marketer, and an accountant.
  5.       You have to be careful about legalities in receiving payment
  6.       You need to create a business entity or work for an existing business entity.
  7.       Employees of a client might treat you differently.
  8.       You may go a long time before getting another contract.
  9.       The time you collect payment from a client may not be for a while.

 

Those are the risks.   Still want to be a consultant?  Good!  I think you made the right choice and here is why.

  1.      You control your own salary and set your own rates
  2.       You answer to the client and not a boss who could be falsely evaluating your performance.
  3.       You are not subject to the whims of the performance of the company you work for.
  4.       You don't have to settle for whatever the benefits of the company throws at you.
  5.       You are paid for the hours you work.
  6.       You can work for multiple clients at once.
  7.       You can sometimes set your own hours and even work a few days a week.
  8.       In a virtual world, you can often work from home.
  9.       You do not have to sit in politically driven and HR meetings any more, and for some reason if you do, the company must pay you for the hours they are devoting to these activities.
  10.      You are your own boss and can pick and choose your clients.
  11.      Should your consulting business grow, you can hire people to do the administrative work.
  12.      You get to work on a variety of different projects and get to learn about technology in all different kinds of fields.
Now that we are fairly sure we want to be a consultant, what are the steps you need to take? 

Get a Business Entity

First of all you will need some sort of business entity whether it's a s-chapter corporation, limited liability corporation,  sole proprietorship, or just a registered business.  Why do you need to a business entity?  Other business are much more likely to deal with you if you have one.  You can get a business entity online such as an LLC.  Once you've got your certificate your ready for the next big step.

Market Yourself

How do you market yourself as a consultant?  The same way you would market yourself as an employee.  That's the beauty about entering consulting in the Microsoft Technology world.  Businesses are looking for you.  Most companies would rather have an employee, but if they can find a better consultant, then they will still be happy.  Begin by posting your resume on Monster and Dice.  Also do a search for consulting jobs to apply to on a site like consultingcrossing.com.   It also doesn't hurt to contact a recruiter to see what jobs are available.  If you want to cut out the middleman, though, you'll need to market your skills directly to the company or through articles, books, and publications.  You might want to consider doing some presentations in .NET technology to get exposure.

Choose a Vertical Market

If you pick something specific in Microsoft Technology (such as Tablet PC development) and stick with it, it's easier to find clients.  A generalist in .NET technology is not as marketable.  The reason is simple, if you are a business looking for a consultant who for example just knows about WMI, how are you going to find that individual?  You might do a search on WMI and find people writing about it.  You might look for a book on WMI and see who wrote it.  But in any case, you are looking for an individual linked to WMI technology.  If you are writing articles only about WMI and answering forum questions about WMI, and blogging about WMI, you are the WMI expert.  If you are marketing yourself as an expert in general .NET technology, what exactly does a client look for?  They have to weed through a sea of .NET developers to find you.

Landing the Contract

Once you touch base with a potential client, you still have to close the deal.  They may have seeked you out, but you still need to convince the client that you know what you are talking about and you can solve whatever problem they throw at you.  When talking to a client, be sure to spend a lot of time listening to their problem.  Remember, they are hiring you and parting with their hard earned cash to get you.  The client needs to feel confident that you can handle it.  You may know in your heart-of-hearts that you can handle their tasks, but it's not enough to know it.  You have to explain to them how you would go about solving the problem and give them just enough detail to make them comfortable with your skills to do the job.  If the contract involves a large corporation, then you will probably have a technical interview just like you would for a fulltime job.

 

Doing the Work

As a consultant, you answer to the client.  It's that simple.  If the client wants you to produce a certain application in three weeks, then be sure you are comfortable doing it before landing the contract.  As a consultant, the client will often look to you as the expert for advice, so be careful to research your answer if you are not completely sure.  A .NET consultant is a programmer, but they are also an advisor, a mentor, and often a leader on a particular project.

Collecting Funds

If you were formerly an employee, you have to remember that as a consultant, you are now running a business.  That means that you need to invoice your clients with terms of payment and an explanation on how to pay you.  Payment can be a check, a wire, PayPal, or a credit card depending on how you and your client set up payment terms.  If your client does not pay, it is your job to call the client and figure out why you have not received payment.

Always Marketing

Your existing clients are your best potential customers.  That is why it is always important to keep following up with those clients to see if they have additional work.  If you are the expert on the project, you can often suggest work that needs to get done on the project.  The thing to remember as a consultant is that you are driving your own business, so you do need to be proactive in getting additional work and don't expect the client to do it for you.

Conclusion

If you've decided to make the leap from an employee to a consultant, you'll want to understand the risks and decide if consulting is right for you.  If you are excited about switching to consulting and are not swerved by the risks, then I highly recommend it.  If you are a little squeamish about going full bore into the consulting world, then I recommend sticking your big toe in the water, but keep your day job.  Landing a consulting contract that can pay the bills before you leave work is a good way to diminish the risk.  Anyway, if you are a programmer, and always dreamed of starting your own business, consulting is both a rewarding and liberating way to make the dream happen.