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Consulting

A consultant is a professional who provides professional or expert advice in a particular area such as security (electronic or physical), management, education, accountancy, law, human resources, marketing and public relations, finance, engineering, science or any of many other specialized fields.

This article is a 'how I did it' of converting from a full-time employee to an independent contractor with my own business.  

The target audience is any technical employee that's been around a block or three that has had some exposure to consultants and contractors, either affiliated with a company or independent, and wants some background information and motivation on how to become independent themselves.

Disclaimer:  I'm not a lawyer, CPA, IRS agent, or your fairy godmother.  Just a guy that’s been there and done that as an independent gunslinger.   None of what you read below implies a contract or a guarantee, so you can't sue me based on this advice.   Having said that, pop some popcorn, grab a comfortable chair, strap yourself in, and enjoy the show.  
 
I'm not the tooth fairy either...

Not Me



In Scope

Benefits and Risks
When to declare ‘Freedom!!!’
Money
Marketing
 

Out of scope

How to get a job.  There are plenty of those articles out there.
Any technical skills that would help you get a job.  You're on your own there.
How to price your services.
 

Benefits

Freedom
From a single employer, from support, from old or specific technologies, from being tied to only what your employer asks you to do, and from being told...
Wow, you received a 0.74% raise?  That's one of the bigger ones.  Be happy with it.

 
Freedom!!
Mel Gibson knew how to declare Freedom!!
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Expert Comment

by:dsacker
Been on my own since 1997. Am considering forming a business partnership, and this is a good article. Well done.
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Expert Comment

by:Sean Masterman
Jim,

Thanks for the insights. This article provides some good direction on navigating the process.
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The first challenge you have as a freelancer is getting your first job. This is why I created “Top 10 Tips To Land Your First Freelance Job”.  Landing your first job as a freelancer is probably the most important and most exciting step in your freelance journey.  It is a unique feeling, knowing that you can actually make money online using your know-how and expertise. Whether it be web design or proof reading. But given that there are already so many fish in the pool, how can you as a fresher land your first job ? It definitely is a challenge, even if you have game, you still have to convince the employer to give you a chance to prove yourself.  Have no worries, it is actually easier than you think to get your first job. These tips work on any of the major freelance sites, but lets assume you did register a free account at a freelancer site and now you want to get a job and start making money.


Based on my experience here are tips 1 – 10

TIP 1 : Have a complete profile with a picture

The first thing you should do is setup a complete profile, stating your skills, experience. You want the employer to know who you are and what you can do if they are considering you for the job. Another good technique is to add a personal photograph. Once you have more ratings and reviews you can get away without a picture. But given you are new, you want to inspire confidence and a personal feeling, a photograph goes a long way in this situation.

TIP 2: Bid low and explain why

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Expert Comment

by:Jim Horn
Excellent read.  Voted yes.
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Yes, my time is valuable. The more skillful I become, the more valuable my time becomes. However, sometimes the value of a service is more than just the time I spent on that service. A couple of years ago, I switched my company from an hourly rate to an almost entirely flat rate billing system and I could not be happier with the results.

First, let's define what I mean by "flat rate". When I say I use a "flat rate", I have a rate card that I refer to in order to give estimates for a client. It is very similar to an auto mechanic who refers to a "book rate" for repairs. Most mechanics look up a certain repair in a book that tells them roughly how long they expect this job to take and thus how much to charge for it. I take this same idea and apply it to computer services. I expect x task to take y amount of time and use that to calculate the rate that service will cost. The services are modular so that a typical service call is a combination of one or more of these "tasks". For example, replacing a hard drive usually includes "basic hardware install" and "data migration". If I come across a task I have not considered on my rate card, using my experience I estimate the time it will take to complete the task and quote accordingly and then add that rate to my card for later reference, adjusting as needed to account for any errors in my estimate.

My Clients Love It!


I rarely have any squabbles over price with my clients since going to a flat rate …
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Administrative Comment

by:Eric AKA Netminder
OldMuttonHead2,

Congratulations! Your article has been published.

Thanks!

ericpete
Page Editor
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Expert Comment

by:Ramona Winkelbauer
I like what you write about your switch from hourly to flat rate billing.  My only caveat would be, "What happens if your service ended up taking (much) longer than expected because of their setup?"

You've already set the expectation that it would cost $XX and it ended up costing you $YY.  I wouldn't expect you to be happy about the mismatch between your prediction and the actual effort.
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I am forever hearing "If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it," which only is effective because the person whom one may ask works in a certain way. This is my way; I hope it helps you.

Courage is doing what you're afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you're scared.
- my little motto

Work in reverse from goals to milestones to tasks.
Writing “launch MIS System” at the top of your to-do list is a sure way to make sure you never get it done. Break down the work into smaller and smaller chunks until you have specific tasks that can be accomplished in a few hours or less. That’s how you set goals and actually succeed in crossing them off your list.

Stop multi-tasking.
Switching from task to task quickly does not work. Be forceful about stopping distractions. Lock your door, put a sign up, turn off your phone, texts, email, and instant messaging.

Timetable your email.
Pick two or three times during the day when you’re going to use your email. Glancing at your email constantly throughout the day creates a ton of distractions and kills your output.

Use the phone.
Email isn’t meant for conversations. Don’t reply more than twice to a email. Pick up the phone. This one is a must.

Work on your own agenda.
Most people go right to their emails and start panicking. You will end up at clean inbox, but accomplish nothing. Start with your tasks and then you can prioritise the day.

Work in 60 to 90 minute intervals.
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Expert Comment

by:G-Warren
Good reminders here! There are echoes of David Allen's book "Getting Things Done" (specifically the task list) which I've endeavored to apply in my own life.
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Author Comment

by:James Murrell
Thanks for your comment, have to check out that book..
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Everything You've Ever Assumed Is Wrong

The average IT professional has a misunderstanding of what customers really want. They mistakenly think that when a computer breaks, contracts a virus, or has other issues, the customer wants that issue “fixed.”

But they couldn't be more wrong about what the customer REALLY wants....

If it were true that they just wanted a "fix", you could very easily fix any number of issues for customers with any number of solutions, and the customer would be ecstatic with all of them. But, we have all had the excruciating experience of going above and beyond the call of duty to provide the best solution possible, only to have the customer complaining about what we’ve done.

Here's why customers complain about a perfectly fine solution to their problems...

The Cost Trap

Virus problems are the classic situation. A customer brings you a computer, which is riddled with viruses. You remove the virus; but, while removing a virus, that destroys Internet Explorer. You speak with the customer and let them know that now not only do you have to do a virus removal, but a Windows repair as well. They ask you if there’s any alternative. You explain that the damage from the virus is pretty much limited to Internet Explorer, which is broken. However, if you install Firefox, they will be able to browse the web.

The customer thinks about it and says, “Okay. Let’s do that, and that way I can save the money from having to repair Windows.”

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Expert Comment

by:Frosty555
This is the classic customer-technician communication issue that I've run into lots - both witnessing or hearing stories from my customers, or experiencing it first hand.

The problem is that technicians have to realize that the customer does not know as much about computers as they do. In this case the customer didn't understand the difference between "Internet Explorer" and "Firefox", they don't understand the general notion of a "web browser". You tried to explain to them technical details that were beyond their comprehension. As a result they didn't understand or comprehend the implications of the fix that you were suggesting.

Sure, to techies like us it seems baffling that a customer wouldn't understand such an elementary concept, but really it is no different than recommending any other "partial" solution without fully explaining the drawbacks to the customer.

It's tempting to do this as a cost saving mechanism for the customer but I've discovered that doing highly technical, cludgy workarounds to save the customer a few bucks is ultimately not worth it.

Recommend the correct solution, even if it is a bit more expensive. Don't be the guy that slaps solutions together for cheap. Everybody will be happier that way.
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by:Frosty555
I'm not sure if "indemnification" is the right word - but customers definitely want "things to work just like they did before". Any change needs to be carefully explained and understood.

The worst thing is when the customer suddenly, unwillingly and unwittingly experience change in their computing environment.
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I remember in the old days when I wanted to buy a PC for my father I set for the latest tech specs as the notion was the highest the specs were, the 'better' was the PC. So, I picked up the highest processor Pentium IV, 2 GB RAM as far as I remember, 40 GB Hard Disk at 7200 rpm (was really a huge amount of storage at the time), 5.1 surround sound card with 5.1 surround speakers and the new tech 15" LCD monitor that was 5 to 6 times as expensive as a similar LCD monitor existing today. It had cost a fortune! Fortunately, he had a voucher and it covered most of the price.

Reflecting back on those days, and observing that most of the people build their decision on more or less the same notion, was the PC I bought for my father the 'best' PC? My father used it to check his emails and browse the internet. I used it to watch several movies before I lost my interest watching movies on a PC. On the other hand, my brother used it for gaming, some programming and graphics design. Although my brother's usage of the PC made its price to some extent justifiable; however, I have to admit that it was not value for money. I could have bought a PC with lesser specs, at a lower price, but still serving our purpose, thus sparing the voucher for buying something else.

The question here is: what are the factors that will allow us to take decisions leading to a value for money computer? This article outlines four tips to consider when buying your 'best' value for money computer.

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Price

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Having worked with technical  professionals (tech communication) ranging from top IT executives to Ivy League scientists to internationally ranked engineers,  I fancy myself a cocktail party technologist – I understand enough about a wide spectrum of technical disciplines to discuss them for a minute or two, but can barely hook  up Wi-Fi in my own house.

The reality is that there are a lot of people like me in every organization, and technical professionals rarely work in a vacuum – there are other divisions and departments to interface with, and key business decisions are often based around communication – can an IT executive adequately make a funding request to “the business”;  can a professor approaching tenure make his or her case to a foundation; can an engineer make his or her client, often a finance professional, understand why a change is necessary? Tech communication is critical!

There are a few tips every technical professional can utilize to make communication with divisions, departments, clients, grantors, and myriad others much easier.

1. Pronouns – I have been to hundreds of technical presentations in the past, and when hearing men present I often hear the same generic gender-specific pronoun usage – He, him, his, himself, etc. – and as you can see, more often than not it has been specific to males.  Alienating any segment of your audience is never a good idea.

2. Acronyms – My rule on this is simple, unless you are CERTAIN everyone watching you …
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IT Consulting can be a lucrative business, but building a client base and reaching a level of financial comfort and sustainability is not always easy.  In fact, it can be extremely difficult.

I’m not going to focus on your skills and technical qualifications - I’ll assume you have confidence in your ability to install and support relevant IT technologies used in most small businesses.  Instead, this article is intended to provide an overview of the two most common types of IT Consultants - the Break/Fix Consultant and the Managed Services Provider (MSP).

In the Break/Fix business model, you are called when a client has a problem. This is more of a traditional approach, similar to how plumbers, electricians, and auto mechanics work.  You typically charge an hourly rate for the time spent solving the problem in addition to any materials costs, such as a replacement hard drive or keyboard.

One problem with the break/fix model is that work can be inconsistent. If you know what you’re doing, do it well, and are an honest and ethical person, then any given client may call you once every few months as problems develop.  To support this business model, you need many clients who can each call only occasionally so that you have enough volume of calls and clients to make enough revenue to support you and your business.  Especially starting out, this can be very difficult and if you’re good, you can actually put yourself out of business quickly if you don’t do enough marketing …
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by:kachro
Bravo.....one question poped up (just curious)...what's your base (approximate) of clients....can you tell?
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by:hvillanu
This is good!
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It’s time to provide a tender presentation.
         
A short while back I was asked to attend my first tender presentation, I have never done one of these before, and I was very nervous as to what questions and how to prepare. So of to google and found a lot of info on how to present, but little on a tender presentation. I have done many small presentations to companies in the past, but this is different.

OK in English, you should, in fact, must prepare – as in life, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Always bear in mind that your presentation is actually a sales pitch – if the customer accepts your pitch, you win the sale. So my 1st point: You need a small team to prepare.

Ideally someone from sales and someone with a business/technical background.

Decide what to focus on & who from your team. Agree a leader – someone to control your team. Consider what questions may asked, think back to others who may have done this before, (consider creating a tender document management system show that you can look back over other tenders) Agree who will say what and who will answer certain types of questions, (if it’s a sales question you don’t really want the techie guy answering). You don’t have to be a ultimate sales person, after asking the customer on my 1 st tender presentation she hinted that in fact they are often more interested in the people who will deliver. Structure: the content of your presentation must be relevant to the tender (don’t just copy…
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There is an old adage that states: "If you want it done right, you have to do it yourself."  You may be tempted to think this is good advice, but you would be wrong.  You may be tempted to think "no one in my company can complete this task, because no one can do it to my standard."  Again, you are causing trouble for yourself.

Pride Paves the way to Bankruptcy

The difference between doing something well and choosing properly something that only you can do is huge.  The former leads to bankruptcy, stress, exhaustion, and a poorly run business because that decision is made from pride.  When pride says "Only I can do" it is typically wrong.

Conversely, when necessity says: "Mr. Owner, only you can do this one" that's logic, not pride.

For instance, only you have a clear vision and truly understand where you want your business to go, what kind of culture you want the business to have, and how successful you want the business to be.  This is strategic, and like most strategic issues, only you can do it.  Only you can write the vision and missions statements.  Only you can safeguard the strategy with which you will grow the business into a thriving enterprise.

Another example of things only you can do is: exercise. Proper health and exercise are very important.  If you're laden with prescriptions, or if your calendar is full of doctor's appointments, you cannot concentrate on your business properly.  Conversely, if you do something only you can …
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Decisions are a great resource. They cost nothing to produce, and can make all the difference in the world to your business. Are you making the right decisions? How do you know?

Clearing the Fog of Failure

One of the most overlooked means of success is the speed at which you can fail. Frequent, sustainable failure (planned mistakes called "tests") will give you knowledge of the business landscape with great speed. Just as military scouts are forever attempting to monitor and probe enemy territory, so should you be probing the market to remove the "fog of war" surrounding it.

Carl von Clausewitz was a Prussian military strategist. One of his chief theories was the "Fog of War". Simply put: the fog of war is a blanket of uncertainty that surrounds a conflict or battle because you cannot know all of the data about your enemy. You deal with bits and pieces, and assimilate those as best you can; however, the rest you must approximate. As the battle begins, troops move, and more territory comes under your control, the fog of war becomes less dense around certain areas of battle, which have been explored or monitored, and lifts completely when it has been conquered.

In business, we have many fogs to deal with: marketing fog, employee fog, sales fog, service fog, and customer fog to name a few. Each fog surrounds your goal. Each fog begins very dense. As you experiment with each, you learn more skills, become more productive, and gain insights into each of the …
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This article describes how to convert your business from the normal "brick-and-mortar" office into one in which you and all of all of your employees work from home.

Stories of small business failures are common in today's economic climate.  Quite often, it comes down to "permanent," "unchangeable" overhead costs: To wit: "We need a certain number of offices and cubicles (at $x per square foot), we need a secretary to answer the phone (and look good for visitors), we need a phone system and multiple incoming landlines to handle sales and support calls." ...and... "Our payroll is $y, we can't cut that." ... and the, sad but inevitable math as stated by the owner... "So our company's monthly 'nut' is $z and my savings account can no longer sustain any more months of covering the shortfall.   So, sorry one and all, but we'll be ceasing operations as of..."

This is a scary situation.  But here's a scarier one:  The owner tells you "There are assets here: intellectual property, a customer base, a modest Internet presence, a bit of recurring income, and potential for new income.  How would you like to take that and run with it?  On your own?"

A big opportunity... to rebuild the business and get rich!  Or a chance to fail miserably after mortgaging your home and running your credit cards to the limit.  What the heck, let's give it a go!

Checklist:

Get a mailing address
Form the company -- incorporate
Open a checking account
Get a phone system
Accounting software
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Expert Comment

by:Bob Stone
The hitch I have run into on following this is the first step. I am sure in big cities mailbox services are as numerous as Starbucks and McDonalds, but I can't find one closer than 40 miles from me.
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Expert Comment

by:victorguillen
This article is very helpful, it has helped me to understand some things I was afraid of. I've been working full time for the a long time, but since I was laid off, I've found that many companies are moving to hire contractors; and I feel it's difficult to find a full time nowadays. With this information I will try to incorporate myself and try to obtain more for what I do.
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Be Giving of Your Best Stuff

Probably the most important habit to form in this brave new economy is to be giving of your very best all the time. When my dogs want to play, they don't dig through their toy basket and get the crappiest toy they have to bring to me. They dig through it to find their best toy. The toy they love the most. Then they bring that toy to me to play with. They recognize that it is no use having toys if you're only going to save the best ones for a rainy day.

Be like my dog. Always give your best stuff to your customers, and give like you've never given before.

For example, I have a coaching client who has an Internet business. He and I were discussing how he could attract more clients. His first offer was to give away a free booklet to them, which is something that he himself doesn't attach much value to! I cautioned him: "If you're attempting to build a relationship with a new customer over the Internet, why would you pick your throw away products as your first impression?" He was a little taken aback, but I continued: "Give them one or two of your best ideas or techniques that they can take home and use themselves. We want your prospective customers to think: wow, if this is the stuff he gives away for free... imagine how good the for pay stuff will be!".

He begrudgingly conceded my point, and found out just a few weeks later... I was right. Well, it wasn't me who was right, it was my dog.

How Not to Give Up

A dog never stops selling. "
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by:Alan Hardisty
A great read and invaulable advice.  I need to get myself a dog!

Yes vote from me.
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by:Glen Knight
What type of dog was this?
I need to get one and start breeding them.

Yes vote from me :)
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Clarity in your business will make your decisions easier, your deals more  profitable, your staff happier, your family closer, and best of all  it will give you the best gift ever: more time.

• Do you have clarity in your business?
• Do you know what it means to have clarity in your business?
• Do you know how profitable clarity in your business can be?

While clarity is an important concept it is also a very elusive one. These are the big three symptoms you lack clarity in your business:

1. You're Working for Peanuts

Have you looked around your competitors, and wondered "How do these guys do it?" "Their rates are higher than mine, their service isn't as good, they don't care about the customer like I do. Why do they have all the money, and I struggle just to make payroll!?!?" Have you asked yourself that question or similar?

Lack of clarity causes you to undervalue you your own self and business.  When you undervalue your business and talents, so will everyone else!  Lack of clarity on who you are, what your business is, what you bring to the table, and ultimately what you're worth keep you on the hamster wheel working for peanuts.

It’s time to get off the hamster wheel, and get clarity.

2. You Are All Things to All People.

Business that lacks clarity will frequently attempt to be all things to all people. You talk to a customer who needs a website, and while you normally don't do websites, you …
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by:Bob Stone
I can totally relate to the "You're Working for Peanuts" section.
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As IT people, the world runs on our skill set. Email, printers, workstations, and servers would plunge into darkness never to be seen or heard from again if it wasn't for us. So why, then, are we usually the most unappreciated members of the company?

If the toilet cleaners put an extra biscuit in the bottom of the urinal, it might make the company news letter, but if we increase uptime from 75% to 99.99997% people in the clients and colleagues just think that's the way it ought to be.

So, who else is tired of being unappreciated?


Enter the science of user-ology.


User-ology is a term we have coined to describe the art and science of understanding users on four dynamics: Needs, Wants, Expectations, and Emotions. Once you understand your users on these four levels, you will be able to develop a service mission that will train your clients and colleagues to love you unconditionally.

Needs


These are usually pretty easy to spot. The company CEO needs a Blackberry to stay in touch with all the clients and administrators. The sales guy needs Excel to run his projections. The secretary needs a phone system that will show her who is busy, and who is in the office  like an air traffic controller sees planes in the sky.

Needs are easy to spot.

Wants


Wants are harder to see. They are not overt, and you have to ask for them. The CEO needs a Blackberry, but in reality, he wants freedom from his desk to play golf during the week …
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Expert Comment

by:PagodNaUtak
"The IT department makes work fun and easy by keeping all our systems working properly, and helping you make the most of your computing. If you didn't have to think about your computer today, that means we've done a good job."

Well, I used to be a network administrator and I computer technician for two years. Maintaining 7 servers and 300+ workstation.

Damn! Why is it now? Why not two years ago you wrote this Article so I can explain to my boss why I am not doing anything...
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Expert Comment

by:Bob Stone
"Of course I'm not busy, I did it right the first time"
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Our industry is full of micro-geniuses. I once hired a kid  that failed out of Purdue University's Computer Science program as my head network engineer.

Not sure why he failed out, and I still don't particularly care. I hired him because he was an absolute genius, and he made it through the gauntlet of tests and labs required to work for me. In fact, he scored higher than 92% of all other applicants of all time.

But hiring geniuses should come with a warning label. The more brilliant the star, the more concentrated their skills. The super-geniuses, in fact, may be missing a whole slew of skills including, but not limited to:

Social skills
Empathy with customers
Punctuality
Ability to meet deadlines

I once had a company whose lead engineer invented some type of classified technology that makes all satellite communication possible. My contact at this company would repeatedly tell me stories of how brilliant this guy was. They would also lead to stories about how one day he was out with a weed whacker trimming the grass by his driveway, and he got so enthralled thinking about how the weed whacker worked from a physics standpoint that his wife had to come outside to remind him that he had been standing in a torrential downpour in a dangerous thunderstorm for the last 25 minutes.

He had no idea. He was too lost in thought.

Like I said. They should come with a warning label.

There are also …
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by:Ted Bouskill
I'm going to respectfully disagree with your article.

Leadership, Managerial, Technical Skills, Problem Solving et cetera can be enhanced with training and by working with others.  I've managed to enahnce people skills with technical geniuses that were lacking in that category.

However, top notch Leaders are as rare as technical geniuses because I believe they are Leadership geniuses.

In fact, I think many people confuse Management with Leadership.  Managerial skills are far easier to teach but read this article on top Leadership Qualities:
http://www.hrworld.com/features/top-10-leadership-qualities-031908/

Vision, Integrity, Dedication, Magnanimity, Humility, Openness, Creativity, Fairness, Assertiveness and even a Sense of Humor.  Those are NOT easily taught and are core values that a person has from very early life.

Yes you can train most people to be great employees, but real leaders are as Napoleon Bonaparte said "Dealers in Hope" and that is a rare gift.
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by:epichero22
I'll say this: anyone can learn about configuring servers, deploying an enterprise-class IT solution, connect seven continents together over the Internet; anyone with a drive to learn will learn.  What's more difficult to change is someone's personality.  I would rather have someone who may not know that much off the bat, but is driven to succeed, has a great personality, works well and motivates others, sets an example, and shows up on time, than a genius who just gets the job done but is otherwise a mixed bag to work with.
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It never fails. You design a client a whiz-bang system that would make you drool, and they look at the price, and start in with "I don't think I need all that." A thought swiftly crosses your mind: "Since when are YOU qualified to make that judgment?!?"

So, they start to ask for something "less complicated."

In reality what they are saying is: "I don't like the price", but they don't want to say it. You know it. They know it. There are only two people in this elevator, and we both know where that flatulence smell is coming from.

So where do you go from here?

There are three reasons this sale is in trouble, and three ways to fix it.

1. You Failed to Communicate Value

But it's super-duper! I wish I had one myself!
The primary reason you will ever come up against this objection is because you made one of two errors. Either you didn't listen when they told you what they wanted, or you did not present what they wanted in a manner in which they could understand it, or both.

If you listen carefully during your sales process the customer will tell you exactly what they want and what they are willing to pay for it. If you don't hear exactly what they want, or what they are willing to pay for it, then ASK!

You simply must become skilled at listening to what a client says and filtering out the key buzz words they use that describe what they are envisioning as their new system. This skill can take a long time to hone, but done properly, …
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by:Dave
Highly enjoyable & interesting , and as always, nicely written

Dave
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by:b0lsc0tt
Thanks for the article.  I  enjoyed it and the info in it.

bol
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In the IT business we don't spend as much time as we should on personal relationships. To most of us, people seem to be incomprehensible in many ways. We might spend half our time wondering why "users" just don't get it.

Amongst ourselves, we throw around fun terms like PEBKAC, FAIL, and RTFM.

So, when it comes to dealing with customers we tend to over compensate. We commonly make a fatal mistake: We may be too polite.

I know. It's a startling epiphany.

Is there such a thing as too polite? Yes, but it has nothing to do with being polite.

"Why is it every time you fix something, something else breaks?"


As the IT guy, you are usually under appreciated by most everyone you do service for. We've all had the experience where a customer contradicts what you advised them, breaks their system, and then blames you for it. It usually manifests itself in the phrase "It seems like every time you fix something, something else breaks."

...and it makes you want to strangle them!

This is usually a case of being too polite. Instead of being a leader and telling the customer what they want will only cause more problems, many IT guys simply roll over and give the customer exactly what they asked for: a half-baked solution that results in more headaches. The problem could be avoided by explaining to the customer that you are not going to do a job half way. Either they need to do it right, or you're not going to do it at all. Over a long enough …
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by:romojotek
Superb advise!
Great article DR Damnit!
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Expert Comment

by:developingprogrammer
The moral of the story is: set the bar low, leap over it, and ooze with confidence. Being "that damned good" is not a measure of your technical skill. It's actually a measure of how far you can leap over the bar you set for yourself. So set it low, leap over it, and buy yourself a cape.

Lesson on the year
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I have heard a great number of wisdoms coming from the business community. One such conjecture is that there is no such thing as a win-win situation, it is really lose-lose. It might not be so far from the truth, and thinking about it, there is a lot to win from that perspective… But , how do we measure the success of a win-win relationship?

Well, firstly let us consider that it really is a lose-lose relationship. The assumption is, what the other side considers a win, must surely mean that you have compromised on something. And a compromise cannot mean we both do not get what we want, it has to mean this time I win, next time you win.

So, what about the other side winning on some point that really didn’t mean anything to you ? Well, that is not so much their win, it is more your own win because now you can use that in the negotiations for the next compromise (remember this time you win next time I win, if you can choose those moments then you have the upper hand).

Then put a value on, or better still know (and stick to) your limits, or somehow quantify on the fly (for those unexpected issues) how much you have lost in each compromise. Take your time, and as Oscar Wilde says "He knew the precise psychological moment when to say nothing."

Don’t focus so much on your wins, they are ideally a given (hope, desire, want) before you enter into your negotiations. It is vitally important however, to remember you don’t really want to win at any cost, and is sometimes …
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Expert Comment

by:datatechcorp
Truly insightful.
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I recently enjoyed reading an Article by DrDamnit entitled 7 Secrets of Success in the New Economy Revealed and reminded me of one business strategy that is always important regardless of the economy.

Those that deliver service as well as product will always win out over those (competitors) providing product alone.

It really doesn’t matter what your "product" is. Supplying that little bit of extra "added value" over and above product alone will make a huge difference. It’s all about extending what you normally offer with exemplary customer service.

So, what is "added value" ? It is not about chopping the price, or providing freebies, and it cannot be bought or sold. It is harder than that. It requires thinking about the types of things that will make a real difference to your customers. That "something extra", the "added value" becomes your value proposition. It has to deliver something that your customers consider to be worthwhile. With a well defined value proposition, you can avoid the price wars often associated with supplying product alone.

To the customer, value is often far more compelling than price alone.

Well there is one small challenge. Your value proposition will work, if and only if, the customer can perceive the value as "worth" something.…
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by:DrDamnit
Fantastic! Great analysis on the art of value.

While I also agree that adding value is an art form, I would also say to any readers out there just getting started on this: you don't need your value added bonuses to be perfect at first. Get started with anything. Over time, through careful testing and measuring and collection of customer feedback, you will slowly refine your value added into the razor sharp super-weapon of competition.
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Expert Comment

by:datatechcorp
Loved this!
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aka. What it takes to succeed in today's new market place as you watch everyone else fail.


The world economy has hit the skids, and is now in the process of a stuttering, sputtering, restart. There are 7 secrets to being the last man standing. These are the "pearls of wisdom" that will help ensure that you stand triumphant over the war field that is competition in the New Economy.

1. The power has returned to the customer's hand, and they know it.


Your customer has a wallet full of reasons to put you out of business. You, however, see that they have a wallet full of reasons to keep you in business. The era of transactional business is done. Understanding that you are fighting to win every dollar they spend with you is half the battle. From now on, be thankful, and show it. Your business will increase instantly.

The fact that you're at war with your competitors doesn't mean that you need to live in scarcity, constantly scrimping and saving. This doesn't mean that you should become cheap and pre-occupied with pricing and market levels.

In fact, it means quite the opposite. You must live and operate your business in abundance: being generous with your time, and giving with your attitude. Start writing thank you notes to your customers. Make sure that you ditch the bottom 20% of your customers that will never be satisfied. They will be a cancer on your time, which should be spent making your existing GOOD customers even more loyal …
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by:younghv
This is another one of those Articles where I find myself chuckling and nodding my head - and identifying things I need to change.

Big yes vote above.
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by:Alan Hardisty
Vote yes from me - great article.

Alan
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I've recently had a problem where I needed to ask for help.  I didn't come to Experts-Exchange to ask my question because it had to do with a vendor product and the issue was pretty clearly a bug in their code.  So only the vendor was capable and authorized to fix it.

However, my experience is potentially the same thing that could happen to an asker here or on any help site.  It could just as well apply to face-to-face situations of professional tech-consulting or helping a friend trying to save their wilting garden.


Discovering the problem and starting a question

First, I identified an issue in my program, I tried for hours and then days to get it to work assuming I had made a mistake.  I will admit I am not an expert in this particular feature.  Fortunately, the vendor product has excellent instrumentation which let me see what they were doing with my data, and it became quite clear that what I passed in was not what they were processing.  Their own logs showed me the problem.

So, I begin the question process.  I log in to their help site and click to open a new request.  Immediately I'm confronted with the problem, how do I classify my problem?  I imagine this might be similar to what some people think trying to pick an EE Zone.   I have a very specific problem but my categories to choose from are very broad.  None of the choices seem to fit perfectly but I picked as best I could and then left a comment about why I had picked the category. Maybe I was …
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Author Comment

by:sdstuber
I'm glad you enjoyed it.  I reread it everyonce in a while as refresher to myself.

Becoming a bad expert is an easy trap to fall into when you see the same error for the 1000th time; but for the asker it might be the first time and while I might be bored of it, it can still be traumatic for the asker.
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Expert Comment

by:Scott Fell
"Bad Expert" or "Bad Asker", both happen and are really just how the other interprets.  

When we find something wrong, we need to look at ourselves and this is what I think you are addressing.  If the Expert asks if you are sure your thing is plugged in, Askers shouldn't take offense as many times it is the smack yourself in the head, "oops" thing that was forgotten.

Many times questions are not clear, and the good Expert will ask questions to help pull out the right question which in turn will probably answer the problem which may be different from the question.  Many times the Asker is sure their question is focused on one specific thing but it is not.  This can cause frustration for both Asker and Expert.  

I have referenced this to my knowledge base and will for sure use this to help others get a hint when needed.
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Where I work I have final decision on IT related stuff but still have to get expenditures over a certain dollar amount approved by the CFO and on the really big stuff, approval by the CEO.

I found that even after doing a ton of research and presenting the best deal to meet the bare minimum need still didn't work every time, especially over the last year or so. Here are a few things that helped me.

Shop around
For example, a while back I needed a new cable certifier as my very old one was slowly dying and was getting really hard to read. A direct replacement was over $3000, but I knew they'd never approve that. After some research and shopping I found a new brand of certifier that came with really good reviews and a price tag about 1/5th that of the brand name one.

Research
I still wasn't convinced that the much cheaper tool would be sufficient for my needs despite all the glowing reviews. Here I got very lucky, the local electronics supply store had just received a couple of them and since I have spent a fair amount of company and personal money there in the past, I was able to borrow one for a few days to test it out.

There are other ways to check out discount versions of stuff you already know that only take a fair amount of search engine prowess and/or a lack of shyness. You can search about for multiple reviews or bug your colleagues to see if they are already using it.

Presentation
Face to face meetings with the money …
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Nobody ever likes to give bad news. Whether you're informing a colleague about what you think about his/her latest assignment, or telling a subordinate something negative about a task that's been done, there never seems to be a right way to go about it.

More often than not, you end up being the bad guy. Nobody likes being the bad guy.

So is there a way to get your message across and still come out with as little negativity as possible? Yes. There is.

I'm not about to share something unheard of or unique in this article. I'm just elaborating a method which seemed to work wonders every time I have had to use it.

So do you like sandwiches?

A sandwich. Two slices of bread, and filling to tingle anyone's taste buds. Who doesn't like a sandwich?

No, I've not gotten lost down an irrelevant path to talk about food in an article which has nothing to do with it. It just so happens, that the name used to the technique for effectively delivering bad news is called 'The Sandwich'. The idea behind this, is to 'sandwich' your bad news in between layers of good news. This makes the news a lot easier to take.

Let's use an example to examine these three parts of the sandwich and how it applies to giving someone bad news.

John is a team leader and is in charge of making sure his teammates deliver a module on time and working as it is supposed to. Bob is a member of John's team and has recently been producing sub-standard code with far too many bugs. John is
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by:Patrick Matthews
Excellent article that works for anyone in a management role, technical or no.

Perhaps EE should package it up with some other well-done, not-really-tech articles:

http://www.experts-exchange.com/articles/ITPro/Consulting/WARNING-5-Reasons-why-you-should-NEVER-fix-a-computer-for-free.html
http://www.experts-exchange.com/articles/Programming/Project_Management/How-to-Succeed-in-Anything.html

Cheers,

Patrick
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by:Ray Paseur
Nice Article.  A slight variation on this theme is used in Toastmasters' Clubs when giving an evaluation of a speech.  The three parts are (1) Thank you for your effort, for sharing your speech, etc.; (2) You did really well on XXX (voice control, visual aids, emphatic gestures, etc); (3) Going forward here is one thing to work on: XXX (looking your audience in the eye, not picking your nose, etc).  I have personally verified that this 3-part compliment, evaluation, guidance strategy works very well on 7-year old boys.
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Going from zero to hero in 5 easy steps.


If you're not making customers angry, you're not in business. Any business owner or consultant who claims they never make their customers or clients angry, is a liar, liar, pants on fire.

No one is perfect. No one can make it through their entire career without angering at least one client. Eventually, someone is going to get mad at you. You might deserve it, and then again, you might not. They might have a right to be angry, or they might be entirely irrational.

Regardless if you made the mistake or not, angry customers present a GOLDEN opportunity: you get to be a super-hero.

Let's examine why super heroes are super heroes. They are not super heroes because they pour a good cup of tea, nor are they super heroes because they always put on their turn signal before they change lanes.

Super heroes are super heroes because they take bad or impossible situations, and turn them into a "good guys win" situations.

Therefore, an angry customer is presenting you with an opportunity to be a super hero.

The Secret Ingredient for being your Customer's Super Hero

The biggest mistake you could ever make is to allow the customer to believe that they are on a team by themselves. They need to know and understand that you and the customer are going to attack the problem TOGETHER. It's the two of you versus the problem. The PROBLEM is the evil villain.

As long as you understand that,…
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by:lherrou
Nice! It got my thumbs up (Yes vote). I've had angry customers. Far more painful have been the (fortunately rare) patiently disappointed customers. Fortunately, a similar approach works for them as well.
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by:Patrick Matthews
Another terrific article under the category "Things any professional should know and practice"--it's great that EE is getting these types of articles in addition to the articles on specific technical topics.

Great job!
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