Top Mistakes New IT Consultants Make (And How to Avoid Making Them Yourself)

By Ericka Chickowski  |  Print this article Print

The road to business success is filled with potential pitfalls, especially if you are new to the IT consulting market. Here's a look at the top mistakes newbies make and how you can avoid them.

If you are just starting up a new IT consulting firm, it’s an exciting time.  But even the smartest technical gurus can quickly get so ensnared in all of the minutiae of running a business that it hampers their ability to get their enterprise off the ground. According to Gene Zaino, CEO of MBO Partners, a firm that specializes in helping consultants start their businesses, independent IT contractors should watch out for the following mistakes when first hanging out their own shingle.

Mistake #1: Overspending to stroke your entrepreneurial ego

According to Zaino, many consultants with a brand new business license end up wasting money at the get-go on vanity items that might just make them feel good about having a business but don't really help them rake in the dough. A fancy office and a bloated marketing budget especially come to mind. 

"There are a lot of independent consultants that we've seen start out by spending several thousand dollars on things that are just not necessary and then they realize that that is not going to really help them get work," he says.

Mistake #2: Failing to specialize

No one can be all things to all people, especially not a consultant, Zaino says. He believes that independents need to establish their core competencies right out of the gate and stay tightly focused on them as they develop their practices.

"Clients that want to engage consultants want experts--they don't  want a generalist," he says. "So you need to pick what you're really good at and you need to stick to that as you talk about yourself, as you write about yourself and as you work."

Mistake #3: Boring the heck out of clients

Are you really passionate about what you do? Then don't be afraid of showing it. Zaino says that consultants that can't get excited about how they help clients will never draw in new business the way those who have a true zeal for the nuts and bolts of the work do.

"When an independent consultant starts describing what they do, they really need to be passionate about it," Zaino says. "Don't be low key. If you don't come across extremely positive and confident, you're not going to get that engagement."

Mistake #4: Failing to scope work properly

When you land those first few big projects, it is only natural to want to bend over backward for a client. But Zaino says that new consultants need to be really careful about saying yes to everything before they've thought about how that fits into the project scope, billing structure and time available to them.

"When you take on a project and a client says, 'Hey can you do this, too?'  and you say 'Sure' to try to be a nice person, before you know it there's scope creep," he says. "What we've done that really works is to say, 'That's a great thing and a good idea we can add to the project, but let's do that as soon as we're done with this first one." 

Mistake #5: Doing everything yourself

If it is a no-brainer that clients would hire a consultant as an expert to get a very specialized job done for them, why is it so hard for consultants themselves to understand the value of outsourcing things outside their own expertise to keep their businesses running? Zaino believes that too many consultants get so hung up on the entrepreneurial details that keep a consulting business going that they lose focus on catering to the customer.


"What's most important for you is to deliver really good service to your client," he says. "Try to surround yourself with service providers that can do the other things for you to try to be efficient and focus your energy on the important things."


Mistake #6: Handcuffing yourself to a desk

IT consultants rarely get business from job boards, ads or the yellow pages. The vast majority of work comes from people that know them. And yet many technology consultants tend to cloister themselves. They don't network and when they do spend time pounding the pavement they focus mostly on meeting people within their own small professional circle. Zaino says to broaden your networking efforts to make your business flourish.

"Budget yourself at least four hours a month to go out there and network in some way," he suggests.

Mistake #7: Embellishing your resume

As tempting as it may be to embellish your accomplishments, getting your hand caught in that cookie jar can completely kill your practice. So don't do it.

"It's really tempting to say 'Oh, yeah, I've worked with this company' and maybe you did something really small for them but it makes it sound like you did a lot more," Zaino says. "But

your reputation is paramount and if you jeopardize that by people losing trust and credibility in you, it's just so hard to repair that."