Part 4 of 6 – 5 Keys To Becoming a Successful Consultant as a Software Developer

Part 4, Key 3.

Being Able to Find Work

This article was also published at simpleprogrammer.com

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

This is part 4 of a 6 part series:

The biggest way people fail as consultants or contract programmers is in not being able to find work. Specifically, the second and subsequent contracts are harder to obtain. When someone leaves their full-time job to consult, they usually have an arrangement waiting with another company. The difficulty comes when that first contract ends.

One interesting thing about contracts that I want to share is this: I have started multiple contracts over the years that had a stated duration. Ninety days or six months, let’s say. That is not a lot of time and not something I would recommend leaving a full-time position for.

However, I have never been on a contract that lasted only the stated duration. (If you listen carefully, you can hear me knocking on wood.) My point is that contract durations are often contract starting points. There is a never a guarantee, but that is my experience and the experience of many other consultants.

Remember that contract work is designed to end. 

That is perhaps the most important statement in this article. In a sense, you are there to work yourself out of a job. With that in mind, you should have your eye on where work will come from after your current engagement ends.

Let me say it a different way: You need to look for future work and future relationships, and tend to your current relationships, your social media platforms, and yours and other blogs, or you will be out of business. Finished.

Attending user groups is a great way to meet people who work in your space and are doing more or less the same things that you are. This is where you can make friends, potentially help others, and meet people with influence and hiring ability.

Connecting with consultancies around the country that offer the same types of services you do is a great way to build valuable relationships. As you know, it’s not just finding work, it’s being able to staff that work as well. Other consultancies have this challenge, too, and will look for people like you to meet their customer needs. This is a big win-win in that you can conceivably find work and potentially have access to their resources to staff projects you might sell into.

Something to consider when working through other consultancies is that you will not get the same rate you will get from a direct client—this could be seen as a negative. The positive is that you will typically not have to wait an eternity to get paid. You are also benefiting from their sales efforts.

Working with direct customers is more profitable but harder to sell into. Also, billing with direct customers can be painful and adds another task to an already busy work life—Welcome to Accounts Receivable.

Our company has never had a problem getting paid through our consultancy relationships, but I have frequently had to make phone calls, send emails, etc. to remind our direct customers that we have not received payment.

Stay in touch with people you have worked with over the years. People move around, take new jobs, learn new skills, and may need someone like you to help with their projects, their company, and their software products. Keep your contacts warm. Phone calls, emails, lunches, and other friendly gestures are what keep these relationships alive.

You will feel the gravitational pull of your billable work trying to distract you from the road ahead. This is a dangerous trap. Yes, you need to work and bill to get paid today, but time will pass and you need to be ready for that too.

Strive for balance in tending to your present work while tending to your future possibilities as well. Contracts are built to end. Get comfortable with change. Stay connected!

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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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