Part 1 of 6 – 5 Keys To Becoming a Successful Consultant as a Software Developer

Part 1 - Why I Became a Consultant

This article was also published at simpleprogrammer.com

If you would like to read the transcript for this video, click here.

This is part 1 of a 6 part series:

Part 1 – Why I Became a Consultant

Part 2, Key 1 – Your Skill and Experience

Part 3, Key 2 – Writing for Blogs and Posting on Social Media

Part 4, Key 3 – Being Able to Find work

Part 5, Key 4 – A Good CPA and Business Attorney

Part 6, Key 5 – Welcome to Sales and Marketing

When I left my chief information officer (CIO) position in 2007, I wanted to return to the purity of software development. The work of software development—programming—was my first love by a very wide margin, and after a few years as a CIO, I came to hate the day-to-day tediousness of budgeting and more budgeting, and defending that budget; performance evaluations; personnel management; endless meetings to plan and organize, and then scheduling the next round of meetings to ultimately arrange yet another series of meetings. Rinse and repeat.

In my earlier senior management days, I was ecstatic to participate in guiding the steps of the company and our department. I loved being involved in decision-making processes for software and hardware acquisition, high-level business planning, and the subsequent staffing and project development processes to ultimately meet the goals of the business. All of that was fun and exciting. For a while.

After a period of time, though, I realized that I am not the guy who can evolve completely or comfortably out of software development. I know lots of people who have happily hung up their programming duties in favor of a management position. That’s great for them, but I am not that guy.

I found that I could no longer participate in the things that advanced my career in the first place. The things that got me promoted through the ranks and to the roles that I aspired to were the very things I had to relinquish. Being a good software developer got me promoted right out of being a software developer. After a while, it just didn’t make sense to me.

I missed software development more than I liked the status, money, and responsibility that came with my nice big title. I started asking myself what I really wanted to do. I had more or less achieved what I thought was the endgame for software professionals. Heck, I was a CIO. What was left?

That was a hollow thought for quite a while. I was miserable.

By that time, I had been hiring consultants, contract programmers, freelancers—call it what you will—for years. I, too, had been in and out of contract and consulting work at times over the years.

Then it hit me. Why not consult? Why not start my own consulting and contracting business? Wasn’t that the dream in the back of my mind all along?

I got excited! I mused, I plotted, and I daydreamed: I would write code for various customers. I would help companies make good systems decisions and then I would help them create their software. I would bring my experience as a software developer and a senior manager together and help companies achieve their software and technology goals. I would have fun again! I would be great at it! They would love me!

It all made perfect sense. It seemed so simple.

Just one problem: How? And where do I start?

How and Where Do I Start?

As I thought about it, there were endless “hows” to deal with:

  • How do I stay busy enough to survive, to thrive?
  • How do I market and sell?
  • How do I close deals when I find customers?
  • How do I price my offerings?
  • How do I find additional programming resources?
  • How do I manage finance, taxation?
  • How do I handle legal issues?
  • How do I grow my company?
  • How do I manage contracts?
  • How do I stay relevant technologically?

And that is only 10 questions! I could increase this list ad infinitum.

Within each of these “how” questions are a conceivably endless list of more questions.

Gulp …

Back in 2007, when we first started our company, Pinch Hitter Solutions, there was not a ton of information on the web about how to start a software development consultancy.

I had my career as a software developer, and my experience as a senior manager and CIO. I knew what buying assets and services looked like. I was skilled as a Java and JavaScript developer and I had a ton of AS/400 and RPG experience; I knew how to write code, manage teams, and run projects.

Even with all my experience up to that point, considering the list of “how” questions above, the skills I started with were not nearly enough. Not even close.

Nevertheless, I began my journey with what I had to work with, which was really just myself. My wife and family believed in me, and my experience in corporate America was certainly helpful, but ultimately I had a lot to learn. A whole lot. And that is a vast understatement as I look back.

By the end of 2017, I began to reflect on all of the lessons I had learned in my journey as a consultant. And there had been many!

I asked myself how I could be helpful to others. What could I do for those that might be considering a walk down the same path? That would be the path of leaving a relatively stable life in corporate America to live in the wild, Wild West of consulting, contract programming, self-employment, and business ownership. And, oh yeah, marketing and sales.

Earlier this year, after a lot of thought, consideration, and research as to how I might do this, I started a blog and a YouTube channel of the same name (Motivated Code Pro—links below). Both of which were inspired and encouraged in part by the work of John Sonmez—his SimpleProgrammer.com blog and YouTube channel were extremely helpful to me.

In the interest of space and time, I have distilled a lot of experience down to just five keys that will help you become a successful software development consultant.  Stay tuned for the next article in this series.  

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About the Author Scott Salisbury

Scott is the creator of Motivated Code Pro and the Managing Partner of Pinch Hitter Solutions, Inc. Motivated Code Pro is devoted to helping developers build better software careers. Pinch Hitter Solutions (phs4j.com) is a consultancy focused on mobile app development and enterprise web work. Scott works primarily in Java and JavaScript and focuses on Spring and Ext JS.

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