One of the advantages to a small conference is the ability to take attendee feedback and put it in place during the conference. We actually made time for the attendees to pick topics they wanted to discuss and this episodes comes from one of our attendees Aaron Hayes.
It can be very tempting to think of the good life of consulting. I almost liken it to playing the lottery–what am I going to do with all that time and money? While the odds on successful consulting are a bit higher than the lottery, just saying you are a consultant won’t automatically bring in the clients.
The reasons data professionals get into consulting are varied and in this episode we are joined by Randolph West and Jonathan Stewart, former podcast guests, to talk about the reasons we started consulting and some of the challenges along with our decision.
From my own personal experience, working for yourself–whether you consider yourself a contractor or a consultant–is very rewarding but demanding work. There is no one to tell you want to do, but there are very few security nets as well. One of the most important ideas I can suggest for those who want to own their own business is–forget the technology, how are you going to help other people? If you are ok with the idea of focusing on others, then there are great opportunities in store.
Do you have thoughts about jumping into technology? Let us know in the comments below.
“I hate the lost productivity involved in sitting at a desk all day.”
“Becoming a consultant allowed me to… choose my customers, choose what I want to work on.”
“You can do other things but be known for something”
“word of mouth turned out to be a very bad strategy.”
“A consultant is I’m helping you solve a problem, a contractor is getting some job done for x number of hours.”
Listen to Learn
10:26 Challenges in consulting
15:45 Having your own branding or niche as a consultant
19:08 Difference between a contractor and consultant
42:57 How consultants find their particular customers? What are some of the strategies?
*Untranscribed introductory portion*
Carlos: Companeros, welcome to Episode 114. It’s good to have you on the SQL trail again.
Steve: Carlos, Episode 114, sounds like a fun one.
Carlos: Yes, so we are piggybacking a little bit off of a conversation we had at the Companero Conference now that we are on the other side of it and recording sessions afterwards. One of the interesting things that we did at the conference that I’d like to continue and we’ll talk about more of this in our post mortem, but the idea was we wanted to leave some time or some unstructured time where attendees could submit topics that they wanted to talk about. Which we did, and then the attendees voted on the topic, so everybody got to contribute and then we voted. One of the topics that came up was this idea of “How did you get started in consulting?” And so we recorded this, we have it during the conference and then we thought we would make it available to you the podcast.
Steve: And this one was suggested by Aaron Hayes.
Carlos: Yeah, so Aaron of Chicago, shout out to him. Thanks Aaron for coming.
Steve: Speaking of shoutouts do we have other companero shoutouts, Carlos?
Carlos: We do, I guess so keeping with the conference trend so John Szewczak–I think I’m saying that right. I spent two days with him. John, if I didn’t get that last name right, I apologize. This was an interesting event that developed as well in that some of the other conferences that we go to and again the event was two days, so you get to know people. We were heavy on interaction and one of the other sessions that was developed was SSIS, so John who was an attendee had been doing quite a bit in SSIS and as the conversation had jumped up he had responded to a couple of things so we actually had this session. We actually invited Doug who had given a session previously and John up and they led that discussion on SSIS. There were no slides. It literally started with a couple of questions and they just started bringing up a console and just kind of, “Hey, this is what we do in giving thoughts and experiences.” And I thought it was very very cool that contribution can come from anywhere. If you are following the Twitter notice, and we will put it up on the show notes episode for today but you can see a picture of John up there leading that session.
Steve: Well, maybe next time when we do our call for speakers we should open it up to the previous attendees first.
Carlos: That’s right. In fact, he did say afterwards that he would be interested in coming back and speaking, which we are going to make some changes there to that whole process as well so it would be interesting. Another shout out there, way too many to mention, but this week I attended our local high school for career day. And I’ve actually done this for a couple of years now, so I lived in a very blue-collar area. You can take that as you see it. So lot of families, so dual income, and the majority of the folks in our area are not college educated, so that’s kind of how I am looking at that. The high schools they have a lot of trouble from a demographics perspective. We tend to be on the lower end of the socio-economic scale. This idea of kind of being able to break out and, these kids have an uphill road. Anyway, I was there and we’ve been talking and I wanted to get across or extend this idea of the power of the network and why making connections is important, and then connecting with the right people, and there is an investment in that. We’ve talked a little bit about that on this program on the podcast before. And so what I did, it was kind of through the moment. It wasn’t as planned as what I would have liked to but I went ahead and took a selfie with the class. I posted it up on Twitter and said, “Hey, this is what I’m doing.” I put in the #sqlfamily, and then said, “Please reply, like or tweet”, to let people know kind of that power of community and where it goes, and it was super interesting. Obviously lots of comments came in but then just seeing I think the breadth. So while I was at the school, I was at the school for 5 hours and while I was there and then the tweet continue to get likes and whatnot afterwards. It went as far as Brazil, people commenting, which they thought kind of interesting and then all the various states, and so we had several people just reply, some of the people retweeted and then of course liking. And you kind of do some analytics on that tweet and they were able to see, again, that idea of so of my followers, which I think I have around 700. It went way beyond my own network, right? But it was because people knew who I was and I was asking for something that was really easy to do and they could feel like they were helping. Yeah, it was an interesting little experience.
Steve: Ok, really cool, so I guess the thanks goes out to all of your followers who retweeted and all of their followers who come in and retweeted it as well.
Carlos: That’s right, who connected and got in on that. I really appreciate it.
Steve: Interesting experiment there.
Carlos: That’s right. Ok, time for a little SQL Server in the news. There are a couple of more announcements for Ignite that we haven’t quite gotten through but this one I thought was interesting, and we’ll see how it goes. My understanding is that it’s currently in preview, and we’ve talked about Azure data factory on the program before. Although it was really in its infancy and has definitely gained traction a bit now, but they are now allowing to deploy SQL Server integration packages to Azure. There are some parameter around it but the Azure data factory is ultimately what’s going to be powering that and there are some limitations as to what you can connect to and whatnot. But that idea of being able to get SSIS in Azure is picking up some momentum and I think they will continue to work on it and it will be a little bit more usable for those who are more familiar with the GUI.
Steve: So perhaps it’s time for us to do an episode at some point in the future on SSIS in Azure and get someone who knows a lot about that.
Carlos: That’s right, that’s right. Which interestingly enough we are getting ready for summit, and so that is the time that I like to go out and make connections to some of those program managers, and the MVPs and whatnot. And so I will definitely put them on the list of people to reach out to. We should probably go ahead and mention, we don’t have all the details yet, but we could probably go ahead and mention what we’re trying to do at summit.
Steve: Yes. Well, we’re both are going to be there and we’re trying to sort of get an after hours, some kind of a gathering together. Still working through the details on that right now but a companero and podcast listener get together where we can just hang out and chat for a while.
Carlos: That’s right, do kind of a happy hour type of thing. Again, those details are still forthcoming, however, I will give you a little sneak peek and that is it will be to your advantage to leave a review on iTunes. So we are going to work out some incentives. Those of you who’ve already done that, thank you. If you haven’t we invite you to go over through iTunes and leave a comment or review. That will be key to, not key, obviously you could come out. We’ll do something for those who would love feedback.
Steve: So if somebody wants to attend that after hours drinks, whatever we are calling the event, how can they reach out to us?
Carlos: Yes, so obviously through social media, you can hit us up on email as well. So probably I guess through Tweeter or LinkedIn. It’s probably going to be the easiest way. One of those two I’m assuming you’re on that social media. We’ll make the information available and we’ll put it up on our show notes page for today’s episode and future episodes. Today’s show notes episode is going to be at sqldatapartners.com/consulting
Steve: Or at sqldatapartners.com/114 for the episode number.
Carlos: Yeah, and so that would probably be the best way to get that information and we promise for next week’s episode to have that.
Steve: Alright, excellent.
Carlos: So now that I’m thinking about it I should go ahead and plug, so at sqldatapartners.com/podcasts, you do have the ability to join our newsletter and we can make sure that it goes out through those channels as well. Ok, well let’s go ahead and get into the conversation here.
Carlos: We’re actually here at Companero Conference. One of the sessions that came up, one of the interesting things that people wanted to talk about was a little bit of the question of how we got into consulting, so we have Randolph and Jonathan here, and so we are going to have a little brief panel discussion and talk a little bit about it, and then maybe open it up for questions or how we decided to go. First, we will let you give your, the brief story of why you decided to become a consultant.
Randolph: I become a consultant because I hate working full-time. I hate the lost of productivity involved in sitting at a desk all day hearing people have arbitrary conversations that have nothing to do with work and not getting their work done. I hate the idea of a 9:00 to 5:00 or an 8:00 to 5:00 shift where you are expected to be sitting at a desk and looking at a screen or doing stuff when your productivity might be better later and during the day or even at night in my case. I found myself to be far more productive just working from home or finding a quiet space as just as shared workspace that’s in Calgary that I sometimes go to. And I can get more done in an hour of quiet time than I used to be able to do in a full day of work working full time. Plus I get to choose my customers. I get to work as much as I like or want to and I get to travel.
Jonathan: I’ll give a slightly more PC answer than Randolph gave. There was a lot of hate in there.
Randolph: Intense dislike.
Jonathan: Ok, sound guy, you fix it. Let’s see you edit that. I became a consultant because lot of the same reasons that Randolph said too for me. I hate to not be thinking. I know right, I intensely dislike to not be thinking so one of the things that happened a lot of places that you will do a project and a project will be great, will be interesting. You will do a lot of work and stuff too and then it sees lulls. In those lulls sitting at my desk, you know, you can only read the internet for so long and then you start getting bored. And when I got bored, it’s just really bad when I got bored because I don’t like to not be thinking. I’m always thinking, and when I can’t control what I’m thinking about then I begin to think about other things too like, “How much I’m getting paid?” There are all kinds of other things that would happen when I wasn’t thinking. So for me, becoming a consultant allowed me to, as Randolph said, choose my customers, choose what I want to work on, be in a load up as much as I want, be a tech time when I want because I want to do work, I can do work. I do work in the middle of the night because I don’t really sleep a lot, so it let’s me add work to it and lets me choose the things I want to work on. As technology moves forward I could move forward with it and not be stuck based off of a company wants to go forward with a new product or not. I can choose what I want to work on. I can choose if I want to move more toward predictive analytics or if I want to move more towards visualization. It’s my choice so it allowed me to control my career and be happy with it because literally if I don’t like the work that I’m doing that’s my fault because I chose what I want to do. So that’s the short story of how I got into consulting.
Carlos: I told the story a bit before. It’s always been my desire to be an entrepreneur, the idea is very sexy. We are Americans, right, we build stuff. We make our own things.
Carlos: My first company was actually like a sort of computer repair. My partner is Jeff Morrison, called it Mor-Tech. he kind of started it and I wanted to help him and then that kind of fizzled out because, anyway, it just didn’t work. You are always afraid, you are afraid to make that leap particularly in technology. Like, what if somebody asks me something I don’t know so that helped me back for a while. And then I was working for a law firm and I was in a position where I was seeing the contracts of these consultants that were coming in, and then you get to a point where they start coming to you for questions and you’re like, “Hmm…” Admittedly, some of them were in California so a bad basis. I was seeing California rates coming in and I said, “Well, gosh, I’ll do that. Maybe it’s time to make the leap.” The timing just happened to be such that my wife finally is going to give me the green light and so that’s kind of how we started. I think that was, and I looked back at that and while the desire was there I had some semblance of what I wanted to do or kind of seen what was there. I did not have a great footing or foundation of what it meant to be a business owner, and I wished I would have waited, not waited but maybe did things a little bit differently there initially.
Carlos: Ok, so Steve, do you want to give us, how did you get into consulting?
Steve: Well, I got into it a couple of times. The first time I wanted to try being a consultant and this was 12/13 years ago now, maybe. I sort of quit my job, hang out a shingle, started talking to people and my previous employer ended up hiring me. I ended up doing work for them. It was really kind of a weird consulting scenario because I ended up working for them almost exclusively for 1½ year or 2 years.
Carlos: After you had been a full time employee.
Steve: Right, right, and then when that gig came to an end that was when I kind of learn a little bit about making sure that you don’t put all your eggs in one basket which is one client. And I made rules for consulting from there on, and I broke them a few a few time, but then I ended up getting a couple other gigs with other clients and then ended up going full time with one of those clients as an employee which took me out of the consulting ring. And then about 2½ years ago it was when I got back into it. So where I left that job and went full time. I mean, for me, it was really. I mean, just jumping back in and wanting to work with different clients rather than the day job. And I think that, I mean, enjoy being a consultant because it changes the dynamics of what you do every day. I mean today, any day, I usually get up and started early and I work early and oftentimes by 9AM. I’ve completed more work for clients than I ever would have in a full time job by noon, or maybe by the end of the day. And it’s just the nature of consulting that allows you to do that.
Carlos: Right, right. It is interesting that I think a lot of clients or a lot of consultants will start that way. That was my experience as well with a former employer and you get in to it for whatever reason and those rose colored glasses helped you jumped in, and then there comes a point where you’re like, “Holy cow! What did I just do?”
Steve: Oh yeah, absolutely.
Carlos: I think from there let’s go in and I guess talk about, let’s do challenges first, so challenges of consulting. So you mentioned lulls, you know, there’s lulls at work and I think there is definitely lulls in consulting, right? So what are the challenges that you find being a consultant?
Randolph: Scope Creep, so you sign up for a contract that’s going to be three weeks, four weeks, and then suddenly you’re working 6 months. It’s not a bad thing but it might be not the work that you thought you were going to be doing. That’s the good side of challenges that face you. The bad side is where you’re not working for 6 months at all which happened to me two years ago. And that’s why I got more into acting and making films because I had all the spare time but the challenges that I had to pay for it somehow. I found myself compromising; I only do performance tuning to start doing development again because I used to be a developer, so I had to get back into that and I was rusty. So the challenge is that I wasn’t be able to do the work that I wanted to do but at the same time I was keeping my old skills fresh and learning new stuff as well. I was like upside there and that’s kind of how I got involved with a little company called SQL Data Partners. You may have heard of them. Good bunch of guys, the one is a bit odd, then there is Carlos. Hi Steve! I’m kidding, Carlos is the weird one. The challenge is I didn’t work for six months, that was rough. I won’t lie.
Jonathan: Since they’ve already touch on those challenges too, I’ll add another challenge too because we work for ourselves. Another challenge too is something that I didn’t realized until I was doing it is, people don’t like to pay you when they said they are going to pay you. One of the hardest things about making a jump into independent consulting is understanding that for that first month, two, three, depending who your first client is. You may not get paid. You get paid but you get paid down the line.
Carlos: When they want to pay you.
Jonathan: So not just getting paid and being prepared for that and then to understanding how invoicing works and stuffs too. All of my clients are really, they’ve helped me invoice them because there is a lot of things setup invoice, track your time, and stuff like that too. But at the end of the day, you know, been able to go through and invoice somebody and then able to change the invoice in the fly, something happens and stuff too. For me that was a struggle because that wasn’t my strength. Accounting wasn’t really my strength so I actually hired an accountant. Let them do that. So there is a lot of ways to be handed on your business and stuff there too. Some people do it all by themselves and I commend them because that’s a challenge. But there is a help out there so don’t be overwhelmed. You can even contact me. I’m sure Randolph and Carlos as well, if you got questions you want to do it. I see your card, Randolph. You can be Randolph, and I can be … I’ll make a normal $1 bet, we’ll showing our age. But no, the challenge is though is there is other challenge too besides just getting the work and stuff as well, it’s the stuff behind the scenes. The thing is that from taxes and stuff like that and understanding the things outside of your normal day to day task. Those are some of the small things that come being an independent consultant.
Carlos: Yes, as you mentioned tasks so as an employee unless you get to Kevin’s level, right, or until you get to Kevin’s level. I won’t say they are not micromanaging but there is a certain level of expectation, so as database professionals that obvious that you’ve been given is to take care of the database. Maybe they are not giving you every single thing you should do but your tasks is there and assigned. Once you then kind of make the leap, there is nobody giving you that task anymore. The expectations are we want, “make us happy”, and how do you that? The other struggle there is what should your tasks really be? When you first start, you think, you kind of working as an employee like you do anything. So performance tuning, you write a report, you go and talk to whoever about there connecting to a database, right? Lots of the breadths of your assignments is very wide. Now as a consultant it’s slightly different because of that idea of what value are you bringing? Initially I was like, “Well I am a database person you can hire me to do any database problem.” “I don’t have a database problem.” And you’re like, “Wait a second.”
Randolph: Let me find one.
Carlos: Yeah, exactly. I think coming up and actually kind of narrowing the scope a little bit or defining, having a well defined set of what it is that you want to do is very difficult because you feel like all of a sudden, “Oh my world is shrinking a little bit.” But it’s one of those things were you have to go down. I think of Alice, when she takes the potion and shrinks down, you kind of have to shrink. You think about, you could apply this to, when you think for example David Klee. What do you think about?
Randolph: VM guy.
Carlos: VM, VM work, right? When you think about Pinal Dave, what do you think about? Performance, right?
Randolph: One blog post a day for 10 years, that’s what I think of Pinal Dave.
Carlos: You know, when you think even of, so Patrick LeBlanc, or some of these other folks. There is one thing that they are kind of known for. Do they get to do a lot of other things? Sure, but they have that one little niche. Or Jonathan Stuart, what do you think about?
Jonathan: My hair. But no, that’s actually the point. That’s one of this I was thinking about too is, and it actually goes falls right align the things. So Randolph was talking about he wants to do performance tuning, so as you figure out what you want to do become known for something. Brand yourself. Your branding is huge. So I chose my hair to make my logo as my branding, but even still visualization is my thing although I do data warehousing and all kind of other stuff as well. You have that niche that gets you in the door and then you can do other things. But be known for something and then you can do other things as well because what happens is that if you’re just a generalist nobody thinks of you specifically to do that one thing when that comes up. If you want to do that one thing, be known for that one thing and then, “Oh hey, we have X, Y, Z as well.” You may not be able to do X, Y, Z but then I can call Kevin, I can call Randolph, I can call Carlos to help me out do those other things. But that gets you in the door. Be known for that one thing, be very good at that one thing. While Klee is known for virtualization he does all kind of other stuff as well. But the virtualization has got him in the door because that’s what he is known for around the world. When you say Klee, you think of VM. VM ware has changed its name, Kevin say as KleeM ware because it’s what it has become. But that gets him in the door, that’s his brand. That’s what he is known for but he is phenomenal with all kind of other stuffs as well. Be known for that one thing, but be able to do other stud as well. Even with Randolph, like you said, he got to do performance tuning but he can do other stuff as well. So if performance tuning gets him in the door and he goes like, “Hey, I want to do X, Y, Z and expand to Azure SQL Database.” He can do all that as well. So once it gets him in the door he could say, “Hey, I had all these other services as well.” But that’s what got him in the door, that’s his brand, that’s what he is known for.
Steve: Right, so I think some of the challenges and I think some of the others mentioned this, things like scope creep. I mean, oftentimes you will start on a project that you think is going to be one thing. And then after meeting with the client and understanding what they want, it ends up growing into two, or three, or four or ten different things that you never even expected. And that could be good or bad depending on how you look at it. I mean, it’s good and it brings in more work but oftentimes it can be bad because one of my rules is never do more than, well hopefully more 30% of your time with any one client. Sometimes I’ll break that and go to 50%. But when the scope creep goes the point that they want you to be there as like all your time with one client, I just don’t go for that because that’s way too risky. Because when the relationship comes to an end with that client which it always does eventually then you’re sort of out of work at that point. I kind of fight that scope creep by pushing back and prioritizing things but then limiting my time amongst multiple clients. Which I guess sort of brings up one of the other challenges that have come across in consulting is, when you’re working part-time with teams that are working full-time, and oftentimes they kind of expect that you are on the same full time schedule they are, even though you are a part-time consultant, and trying to sort of balance between the different clients so that you can responsive as needed but also so you can spend the right amount of time with each client each week.
Guest: What is the difference between a contractor and a consultant?
Randolph: Well, a consultant I feel gets to choose what you want to do, a contractor gets told what to do. You still have billable hours and you still have to fill in a timesheet. It’s all the same thing. It’s just who you are working for is a little but more blurry because a contractor might work for a contracting house like I use to and then I get told, “You’re going here tomorrow. You’re going to work six hours, you’re going to bill eight.” Hey, I’m not going to lie. That’s the difference for me. A consultant is I’m helping you solve a problem, a contractor is getting some job done for x number of hours. The religious work comes in whether contractors are actually doing anything useful, and some are and some aren’t. It’s just depends who you’re with I guess.
Carlos: You think these goes to that idea of like of the branding? This idea of are you being paid for your hands or for your brain in a sense, right? So if you’re being, like brought in, here’s the work we want you to do. I tend to think of that as the contractor route. If it is, “Hey, I have this problem how do you think we should solve it?” Ok now, I’m in putting it into the process and again not a generalization but that’s my delineation. You feel good about that?
Jonathan: That’s exactly how I say it too because some people say that’s semantics is the same way but a contractor is like a staff person. You are filling a role, you are filling spot so they can just throw work at you. As Randolph said, you are being told what to do whereas the consultant is solve a problem, help me solve a problem. You know, like management and consultants, they are all helping solve problems whereas the contractor is somebody who is filling a seat for a specific time and a role.
Randolph: Yeah, there’s nothing wrong with doing contract work if that’s what you enjoy.
Carlos: Yeah, and I guess that’s an interesting point. It’s not like the one is necessarily better than the other. What are you constraints? What are your box? Where do you want to be and then that’s going to make your decision there for you.
Jonathan: I used the same approach in regards to vendors. So we are going to do an imaging project and we sent RFPs out and have them to kind of do demos. I look for things like contractor versus consultant in the vendor aspect. Are they are going to help us solve problems or just put the imaging system in and leave. I think I can use it both ways in regards if you’re interested in consulting like myself. You can still see that in the vendors you deal with. One of the things too that a consultant has to worry about and a contractor doesn’t even though they can actually be the same person at the same time as well but the consultant has to work on managing relationships as well, if that’s at the end of the day you don’t want as Douglas is saying, you don’t want to just come in and fix something because that’s the end of the gig there. I want to develop a relationship so I would rather spent four hours with you every month than spend five hours with you one time upfront just to do one thing. That’s another big thing there too so.
Steve: I think that, I mean, as a consultant you are coming in to do something that sort of project or problem base where you are trying to come in and create something or fix something or come up with a solution, whereas, a contractor you are punching time on the time clock. And not that you’re not getting things done but you’re showing up and you’re there on the clock for whatever is needed. And I think the comment was, are you paid for your hands or your brain? And I think that that was a great analogy there in that, if you’re there just sort of on assignment for a certain amount of time and you will do whatever needed in that time, that’s kind of the contractor role. And when you’re there to help get the job done to focus on a specific task then I think that’s more on a consultant where you’re either building something or advising on something or coming up with solutions, and that consultant role is the piece I really like.
Carlos: Great, and again, so if you we did mention it, I should mention it here that neither is right nor wrong. The labels are not really important per se. I think it is however more of a philosophy of who’s kind of driving the boat in the relationship in the sense of who’s dictating what work will be done, and that can be a fine line sometimes. I think kind of going back to your comment about the expectations of the client dictates quite a bit about of what role you’re taking on.
Steve: Right. I think some of that comes from just what the client has been used to working with. I mean, if they’ve been used to working with a staff type position where they get a body and can work specific hours. That can be very different than getting in a consultant who’s there with a specific specialty like we have to solve a problem or fix something or help them with their performance whoever it may be.
Kevin: Kevin Feasel, professional podcast guest. You guys just talk about… it’s better than being an amateur. So you guys just talked about brand, about building up skillset but I would like to bring in the next question as somebody who has absolutely no interest in doing consulting work, hello employers, how do you go about finding the particular customers that you want to work with? How much of that is them finding you, how much of it is you finding them? What’s the strategy behind that?
Randolph: Most of my customers were from LinkedIn which surprised even me. I thought I’d find people through word of mouth, those were terrible customers because what happened is somebody says, “Oh, you know computers, I know somebody who could use your help.” And then you end up working on MySQL doing index tuning and then after 20 minutes you got no more work for them because… They are only useful in certain context. But the point is that word of mouth turned out to be a very bad strategy. LinkedIn where I specified this is what I can do, this is what my company does. People who need it usually go there because they are business peoples so they are looking for a problem solver for that particular problem. I do give my cards out that’s why I have them up here because if anybody hasn’t got one yet I’m going to give it out because I want people to associate me with the fact that I am available to do almost anything. Because the chances are 5% of the people call me back and out of those 1% or 2% of those 20% of those people will actually turn into a paying customer. So I have to go and do the whole mail shot or whatever so that I can get 1% back to actually pay me to do something. There is a lot of targeted advertising I could do but I don’t have the time or the money to do that right now, and I don’t want to because I don’t want to work full time.
Jonathan: Because if you work full time he will never be able to play dead in TV shows and movies. It’s acquired arts skill. Don’t you play dead with me sir. There is a wide gamut of ways that you can acquire customers. Most of my customers I do partnerships with a lot of people. A lot of people find me because I speak a lot so I go places and stuff too and people say, “Well, come up to …”, and I talk to them too. A lot of these are business owners. They have their own SQL practices as well. But it’s like, “Oh hey, we might want to partner with you. We want you to do business intelligence. We may want to do visualization. Can you help me with this client and do such and such.” Speaking is a great way to get your name out there, to be known for certain things. So for me, like I said, a lot of my clients come through not just word of mouth but from partnerships that people I’ve met on the speaking trail, or heard me on SQL Data Partners Podcast, right, I got people contacted me in that way as well. It’s not really hard to find me because I’m the guy with hair. See it’s a branding thing again, right, but have a brand. Everybody has a way to be branded you just haven’t thought about it yet. So if you really consider doing this, think of a way to brand yourself to get out there and then there’s multiple ways. As Randolph said, he gives his card to everybody. Anybody can give us cards because that’s a cheap way to advertise. You know, me, it’s not really a cheap way because I’m flying everywhere to do this. But there’s so many different ways. There is not just one way. You got to think outside the box. You know, and there’s more ways than we talk about. I’m sure Carlos has another way as well.
Kevin: Write a book.
Carlos: Initially we tend to suffer. It’s very similar to the idea of finding a job. How many of us has just taken a job that has come our way? Do we actually think about the industries that we want to work in? They type of people that we want to work with? The type of projects that we want to take? We might say that, “Oh yeah, I want to do migration”, so SQL Server 2017. At the conference several people have mentioned, “Well, they approach me with this job. I wasn’t really looking for it but it paid me x percent more than I was making”, and so you take it. We follow on that same mindset that we want to spread the word, the cards are great but ultimately it is trying to, with that niche, finding what you want to do, we’ve had our best success then defining a vertical which is healthcare and then going after those people, right? And so, yes we still like I still hold the conference, I still do the podcast. Our health care people, in fact I don’t think if there is any health care people here?”, so we’re still doing things outside of healthcare before my marketing and like where we’re going to look for customers. We spent all of our focus. In fact, we’ve actually even gone as specific to customers of GE. And that’s who we’re targeting, trying to establish those relationships, increase our network width. We want to become the SQL Server people for GE centricity customers, and then once we do that we will go on to the next phase.
Steve: I think finding customers, that’s the hardest in the very beginning because you start out, you have no history there other than with your full time employer before that perhaps, and you’re trying to find customers. I think that getting the on boarding process for new customer the very first time always seems to take far more time than you ever expect because that first customer is everything to you, and without that first customer you have no income, you have nothing there. And then I found overtime once you’ve got that first customer, as long as you’re not breaking the rule of putting all of your eggs in one basket with just a single customer, the next customer is little bit easier because you have the work from the first customer to sort of subsidize the time while you’re waiting for that second customer to get things signed. And then once you’ve got more customers you end up getting repeat work. And I think there are some customers that you may work with that once you found them you’re getting work every single week for years to come, and there are others that once you found them and you’ve done work with them it may be you come back and work with them every six or eight months depending on what their needs are. I think that finding them, and I think a lot of it is really just the specializing. And I think in finding the customers you just find out and say, “Hey, I’m a computer tech guy. Hire me.” That is I think the wrong approach there because then you’re competing with everybody that’s a computer tech person anywhere. But if you specialize, like my specialization has been in database corruption. There is not a lot of people to compete within that area so that’s an area that people find me now when they come across corruption. And because of that specialty I’m able to take it on and fix them and get happy customers really quick right there or not always real quick, but generally as quick as we can. The other areas like the database health assessment. A lot of that has come out of Database Health Monitor. I think that just getting your name out there, whether it’s like what we do with the podcasts, or what we’ve done with the database health monitor or blogging. I mean just getting out there, social media, LinkedIn. Things like that to get your name out as someone who very rarely when you’re doing those kind things turn into an immediate like you do something and within 24 hours you have work. But it turns into you become that trusted name and then 6 months or two years later somebody remembers, “Hey, that’s the person who specializes in that. Let’s call him.”
Carlos: It’s definitely an investment, right? You have to wait a long time for those returns sometimes. It can be very very difficult. Ok. Well, thanks again Aaron for the question. I thought some interesting insights and conversation if you’re interested in talking a bit about this more. Maybe have some of questions, of course we much being at the summit or you can reach out to us via any of our social media channels and we’ll be happy to have a conversation with you. Give some thoughts around that.
Steve: So one of the things that I wanted to do was call out an interesting comment that I like from Randolph where he was describing us at SQL Data Partners and he says, “One is a bit odd, then there’s Carlos.” Thanks Randolph, I love it.
Carlos: Special thanks to Randolph and Jonathan for providing some insights there as well. Our music for SQL Server in the News is by Mansardian News under Creative Comments. If you have other suggestions for topics or suggestions about things we should be talking about, you can reach out to us on social media. You can find me at LinkedIn, I’m Carlos L Chacon.
Steve: Or you can find me on LinkedIn as Steve Stedman, and we’ll see you on the SQL Trail.
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