As a novice computer consultant, what is the best approach in getting that first client?

I am technical but when it comes to sales, I suck at it. I need advice from experienced IT consultants on how they find that very first client, and build from that. I need advice on how to make it as a successful consultant, and brake out of the corporate world and venture out on my own. Any great advice will be greatly appreciated. I am a SysAdmin who is targeting small business owners out there.
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Networking... in the business sense not the technical.  Ask your friends, family, colleagues if they know anyone looking for IT support. You can also check for local entrepreneur meetings where you can try and find some potential clients.

You'll have the most difficulty responding to classifieds as your lack of experience and active clientele will be a boon.
Consider talking to the people YOU do business with: your local hardware store, pharmacy, doctor's office, accountant, pet store, etc.  If they know you as a client of theirs, they have some idea of what sort of person you are.  In my experience (with very small businesses), they are more concerned about whether or not they can get along with you and communicate with you than how technically qualified you are.

The truth is, in this end of the market, one's technical abilities are less important than their "people skills".  I'm not suggesting that you can get by if you don't really know computers, just that most of the issues are not exceptionally complicated (to a person who is technically oriented).  Most of the problems I see in these relationships have to do with the consultant not being able to understand the client's needs and priorities.
What typically works when a potential client is not sure, is for you to offer to do the first part (if a larger job), or the job for free if they are not satisfied. That is, tell them up front that if you are not satisfied with my work, you don't have to pay me. You need to make a statement of work in writing as to what you are expected to do, so that once you have completed that part of the job there is a way to measure success. Using this approach to get your first clients and future references will take the risk out of using you (without a track record) for the client. However, you need to be careful in offering such an approach,  and evaluate the potential client as to their willingness to comply. Again, I cannot say enough, put the entire agreement in writing and you both sign it. Clearly state the objectives, the not satisfied deal, and the payment terms. The rule of working like this is that If it is not in writing and signed, it never happened.

One other comment, be careful when you write anything as to spelling and proper use of grammar. If you sound illiterate, no matter how good you are technically, it will pose a problem. For example, in your question you use "brake" when it should be "break". Make these kind of mistakes in a statement of work and the client will begin to wonder about your other capabilities.

Hope this helps.
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Matthew NguyenSenior Associate: Social ListeningCommented:
In my previous job working in IT Consulting sales, all of my business was created around building relationships with people in the local area and developing my referral base.  There were a number of networking groups available in my territory, so I joined a number of these networking groups to meet people and to help develop a group of people willing to refer my business to people they knew.

The major networking organization that has groups all over the world is Business Networking International, check out the site and see if there is a group in your local area.  As well, I got heavily involved in the local Chamber of Commerce, a lot of business professional and key players attend these meetings, so it helped me drum up business there.  I became a Chamber Ambassador, which gave me the opportunity to meet new businesses that joined the Chamber, drop a business card and follow up.

If a networking group doesn't exist in your area, consider creating one yourself and inviting vendors and businesses to attend a weekly meeting.  It really is simple to do, I held a weekly lunch with a number of my trusted vendors and we talked about new things in businesses, challenges and passed referrals to each other.

The one other thing that worked for me that takes a little work is that I did some cold walk-ins offering a free 1 hour consultation.  I created a quick summary of my offer, which included a 1 hour review and consultation of a business IT infrastructure and targeted a number of businesses in the area to drop off the offer, introduce myself and pass out my card.  I had a number of businesses taking me up on my offer, in which I would go in, do a high level overview of their IT infrastructure.  I would then take my findings back to the office and drafted up a report that detailed key findings of what is working well, what they should change/fix and what they look at in the future.  About 70% of the time, I had the businesses call me back and ask me for a quote for some work to be done.

Hope that helps, good luck with your new endeavor!

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kalian31Author Commented:
Great advice from you folks, especially from mattdnguyen. I want to get more input before i give points. Also, as a consultant starting off, would I need to get a license with the state? Im thinking not because I am a certified professional. However, if I blow up, maybe I would. Also, are some really great sites for a novice consultant to look at to get more info, and also any good consulting books out there?
Licensing is dependent on your local counties laws.  I know in LA, IT consultants do not need licensing.
You may want to consider Errors and Omissions Insurance,  this will protect you from being sued if you drop a server, delete a database or any other mistakes.  It's also a point of sale, because if they out source their IT work to you, you have insurance to compensate for damages, if they hire internally, damages are all on them.

I can't think of any particularly good consultant books, but you can look up self employment topics on the web or at a book store, there's mounds of info, but the most pertinent is going to be what type of tax entity are you going to be?  Sole proprietor, LLC, incorporated... You'll also be getting 1099's instead of W-2's come tax time, so you'll need to check out that too.

Myself, I use a DBA ($30 + publishing = $90 in LA), and I consult as a Sole proprietor with my SSN as my Tax ID.  Make sure you get a contract (write it yourself, its better for you), exempt yourself from software licensing, and LOG ALL YOUR WORK!  (that last bit is the hardest for me).

Hope this helps.
I would set up as a sole-member LLC in your state. Also, talk to your local United Way, non-profits, or churches for opportunities to get your foot in the door. Offer your services free or significantly reduced.

Yes, it's all about networking. You don't have to be a marketing wiz, but you will go alot further in this business by being personable.
Matthew NguyenSenior Associate: Social ListeningCommented:
In regards to licensing and certification, it really depends on the area you live in.  In California, there are no specialized IT licensing you need to be an IT consultant.  For myself, I do some SEO consulting on the side and all I had to do has to get a business license where I can operate as a contractor (without an office).  

In regards to resources, there is so much stuff out there, I can't really recommend one thing that would help you out.  Since consulting is an ongoing learning process, here are a few professional resources that I've found helpful and still use to this day:

1. I subscribe to INC magazine (it's an entrepreneur magazine) and read blogs on their website regularly.

2. I read Seth Godin's blog often.  He provides thought provoking ideas for businesses and entrepreneurs

3. Some books I recommend:

Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi (About building relationships, I found it helpful in my networking strategies)

Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (More of a motivating/encouraging book as you progress you career)

Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury (more of a sales book for strategy, I find sales books more helpful than consulting books)

Let us know if you have any other questions
kalian31Author Commented:
I have a potential client, and need some advice.

1. In southern california, what would be an appropriate hourly rate to charge a customer to work with troubleshooting a Windows Server 2003 box? The customer wants to pay $200 flate rate for fixing a network issue problem where his 5 client machines cannot connect to the server.

2. The Server OS version is in Japanese text, is there a quick way to change that to english?

3.  The customer ask: "How much for your remote assistance help in case of emergency"? What is an appropriate hourly rate for remote assistance?

Basically, I want to do whatever I can to have them retain me as there IT consultant. They currently do not have an IT person in-house. How should I approach this scenario? Also, I cant give up my current job, and can probably only support them after hours and weekends.
Matthew NguyenSenior Associate: Social ListeningCommented:
I'm not 100% sure on pricing, but what I would recommend is doing some comparison shopping yourself.  Call some IT companies in your area and ask them the same questions on pricing and track them in a spreadsheet.  Once your get a good idea (I'd call 5-7 places) and find out the average, I would set up your pricing accordingly.  

For the Server troubleshooting, $200 flat rate may be a bit light.  The company I used to work for charged $125/hour for server side work and project like this would take a couple hours to troubleshoot alone.

Sorry I can't be of better help, but my suggestion is find out what other people are charging around your area, it will give you a good baseline to work off of moving forward with your business.

As for the Server OS question, I don't have an answer to that, but II would suggest asking a new question on EE to get more Experts eyes on it.  Maybe in the Hardware > Server Hardware Zone?

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