Thinking of Going Independent?By Andy Goodman | Print
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Opinion: If you have the right experience and temperament, going independent as an IT pro may be a good move. Here's how to do it.
As the SMB space grows and matures, I find more and more IT pros thinking of giving up that regular paycheck and going out on their own. Are you having these very thoughts? Is consulting for you? There are a few things you need to know about yourself before you can make an informed decision.
We will assume you have the technical knowledge to do the job, since you have been doing it for someone else already. But ask yourself the following questions. Do you work better as part of a team or are you a loner? Can you afford to live and pay your expenses while you make the transition? Are you self-motivated or do you need someone to keep you on track? Do you have the ability to interact with business owners or are you a backroom geek?
Have I scared you away yet?
If you are still hanging around, then have I got a career for you. Being an independent IT pro or consultant is a really rewarding career if you can deal with the obstacles. If you can handle the jack-of-all-trades mentality and have the ability to switch hats midstream, then you are a candidate to do it on your own. Let me warn you, it is not for everyone. Some folks just feel like a fish out of water when they don't have a group to lean on. If you cut your IT teeth in the enterprise world, give this some serious thought before you make the leap into the pool alone.
OK, so you want to give it a shot. What do you do? Unlike the world you are leaving behind, all those certifications don't mean a whole lot in the small and midsize business world. What rules our space is reputation and word of mouth. Find friends in need of upgrades or a network rollout and give them a great price and a better job. They will tell their friends without you ever having to ask.
Don't take on a job you know you can't handle. A bad reputation is much easier to propagate than a good one. Those first few jobs are critical. You need to get the job done well and you want the business owner to be happy with the outcome. You never know, at the next weekend on the golf course or over dinner the project you did may come up, and that is where your reputation is born. Spend whatever time it takes to have great results, even if you end up working for a buck an hourjust get it done right.
OK, so you have a few really happy clientsnow what do you do? Get involved with reputable organizations like the local Chamber of Commerce and your local Better Business Bureau. Remember, people (your potential clients) judge you by the company you keep, so try to mix with folks who do what you do well or need what you have to offer.
Find a local IT Pro group in your area and become active in it. There are lots of us one-person shops and when we need help for a larger project, we turn to the folks we know based on relationships built within these groups. I run one such group in the Triad area of North Carolina. I also belong to four others and I am deeply involved in bringing the SMB Technology Network nationwide with this very concept in mind as one of the driving factors.
The next thing is to make sure to register as a partner with Microsoft and to start working on getting classified as an SBSC. This is an indication to your prospective clients that you specialize in the SMB space and are serious about it.
Also, find out if there are any local business groups like BNI in your area and join one or more of them. Find out if there are any professional organizations (not technology-related) in the area, such as a local AICPA chapter and offer to do a presentation for their group. These groups are always looking for speakers, and when group members need someone to build or repair their network, they are going to remember you as the expert that spoke at their meeting.
So let me wish you luck in your new career path if you are so inclined.
Andy Goodman, aka HandyAndy, is president of DownHome Computers in Kernersville, N.C. He has been awarded the Microsoft MVP for SBS three years running. He can be contacted through his site at www.sbs-rocks.com/articles.htm.