Hiya – I am harry brelsford, author of the SMB Consulting Best Practices book and I am starting to post a few times a week an excerpt from this book. I do this for your reading pleasure! Today we look at why even be an SMB technology consultant?!?!?
Harry Brelsford, CEO at smb nation www.smbnation.com
Microsoft Small Business Specialist SBSC, MBA, MCSE, MCT, MCP, CNE, CLSE, CNP
PS – did u know I host an annual conference in Seattle each october for SBSers and SMB consultants? This year we help launch SBS 2008 and Essential Business Server (EBS) between October 4-6!
Why Be an SMB Consultant?
In the SMB consulting community, there are both common and dissimilar reasons for becoming SMB consultants. My motivations may or may not be the same as yours. That’s okay, as there is room for all of us in the vast field of SMB consulting. In this section, I explore the most frequent motivations for becoming an SMB consultant.
Working for yourself
As an SMB consultant, a trainer, and an author, I have observed that the number one reason people make the break and become SMB consultants is their desire to be self-employed. Working for yourself has different meanings and motivations for different people. For me, it means having flex time and not riding the Bainbridge to Seattle ferry with the eight-to-five crowd each day. For you, it might be a way to rebel against authority and not be beholden to corporate bosses. For many, it is a way to follow the family tradition of self-employment. Some folks just come out of the womb with an independent
streak and, like those on the family farms of America, would only be happy if they worked for themselves.
One additional thought on authority figures and problems working for them: I’ve witnessed very successful SMB consultants who weren’t good employees (that’s the “e” word) when they were under a boss (or, more important, a boss’s thumb!). These people didn’t like taking directions and orders from higher-ups. In fact, they would stage outright rebellion. But, fast forward to that point when they have finally blossomed into a self-employed SMB consultants. Often that rebelliousness is under control and they actually thrive as successful SMB consultants.
BEST PRACTICE: Becoming an SMB consultant doesn’t necessarily or always mean being self-employed. Many SMB consultants work for consulting firms ranging from large computer resellers (such as Gateway) to local contract houses and temporary agencies. It’s true that you can work your magic and practice your craft as a salaried (or W2) SMB consultant for a firm (read “employer”) and find that many of the same SMB consulting dynamics — such as billing for your time and enjoying the high degree of freedom that SMB consultants love — exist no matter where, how, or for whom you work.
Variety is the spice of life and this is a theme that holds true for SMB consultants. There is this notion that by becoming an SMB consultant, you are escaping the day-to-day drudgery that many employees feel in their cubicles. This could be epitomized by an evil coworker, a difficult boss, or the rote and routine of life as a network administrator. Escapism works for me and perhaps you too.
Second to the motivation of enjoying relative freedom as a self-employed SMB consultant is the incentive to make money. SMB consulting promises the opportunity to make great money, albeit you will earn each and every one of those dollars (to which the next couple hundred pages of this book will attest). There are no free goods, free lunches, or windfalls here, my fellow SMB consultant. That said, I routinely hear from SMB consultants who are making more than the salaries earned at their previous jobs. And even when I
hear from SMB consultants who have simply maintained the same salary they had before, typically they exclaim with excitement that they get paid for doing what they now love: SMB consulting!
BEST PRACTICE: A cautionary few words of wisdom. If your primary motivation for becoming an SMB consultant is to make money, you’re probably not going to last for the long term. Money is great, but if you’re ill-equipped in other departments, such as managing clients or enjoying the actual hands-on work, your enduring wanderlust will overcome your desire for dough. Trust me on that, as I’ve seen it happen many times.
Need more proof for this theorem? Let me cite the observation offered to me by a small business client, a lady who has been and remains the president of a successful real estate firm. She said that in her after-hours role as the chairperson of the local chamber of commerce, she’d seen many a flash-in-the-pan volunteer sign up for chamber duties in the hopes of quickly scoring lucrative business contacts (and thus make some fast money). When these same volunteers — more often than not assigned to newbie duties like managing the membership committee — realized they faced a lot of hard work with any payoff long down the road, they promptly ran out the door, never to be seen at a chamber function again.
The lesson is that money is a great, but not your one and only, motivator to become an SMB consultant.
A final thought on the money thing. Clients don’t write a check just because you parade around as an SMB consultant. You’ve got to go out, get the work, manage the work and do the work before you ever get paid. All along the way, you’ve got to keep your eyes focused on the bottom line of profitability. It’s harder than it looks, and I’ve seen many an SMB consultant find, mind, and grind out the work only to be star-struck by the top line of their financial statements (gross revenues), leading them to believe they’d enjoy a huge profit—but actually recording a loss. In short, because they spend everything they earn, they’re really not making any money. The middle sections of this book will keep you keenly focused on profitability. You have my word on it.
Serving and helping others
Many SMB consultants enjoy working with people and make the break from other jobs exactly so they can do more of that. As you know, many “regular” SMB jobs, such as network administrator positions, offer limited opportunities to interact with diverse groups of people. It has been my observation that the extroverts amongst us in the SMB consulting crowd are in it as much to work with people as to make money. True, that’s not to say an introvert personality type can’t help people too, because many do. But truth be told, when it comes to outgoing human interaction, extroverted types find that dialogue and communications with clients come more naturally than introverted types. Just calling it like I see it!
Perhaps you’ve seen what I’ve seen, as illustrated in this next example. A liberal arts major from college enters the technology field and, by all accounts, enjoys the people more than the technology. And these same folks might value the relationships they build over the big bucks of technology consulting. These are SMB consultants who work with not-for-profit organizations, who are hobbyists (having made their millions at Microsoft or the neighborhood dot-com startup before the dot-gone crash), or who are “true” trainers. In short, some members of the SMB consulting community truly like helping people.
Some of us carry childhood disorders into our adult lives, often without knowing it. Many years ago, I learned that my grade school teachers were absolutely correct in their assessment of my hyperactivity. Not only do I need variety, but that variety must be engaging. My specialty clearly wasn’t routine administration, which can often be mindless. My life as an SMB consultant has proven to be a true lifesaver, given my need for variety. That is, SMB consulting has provided both the variety and technical challenges I crave.
I’m not alone in this need for variety in applying technical solutions. Not too long ago I had lunch in Redmond at Microsoft with a member of Microsoft’s TechNet team. This gentleman felt dissatisfied with his desk job and sought advice on becoming a technology consultant. His job at Microsoft had such a narrow scope as to be dull and boring. And while he was entertaining the possibility of becoming an enterprise-level consultant instead of working at
the SMB level, the underpinnings of his cry for help were the same. He couldn’t focus on his work while sitting at his desk each day, because he hungered for variety.
Becoming an SMB consultant allows you to do what many of you love best: apply technical solutions to a variety of clients. In the “A Week in the Life of an SMB Consultant” section later in this chapter, I provide a glimpse of the variety of technical solutions an SMB consultant can be expected to apply in any given week.
Some SMB consultants pressure themselves or feel spousal pressure to go out and make some money with the technical skill set they spent so many years acquiring. A common refrain is “You took five years of evenings and weekends to master this software product, you for damn sure better go make some money now!” While that sense of duty or guilt over hours invested in your skill set might not be the best foundation for launching your SMB consulting career, there’s no doubt it’s a decision-making factor for many of us. If you recall the “sunk costs” lecture from Economics 101 in college, you’d know that basing future decisions on past outlays is typically a poor strategy. That said, we SMB consultants are only human, and sometimes we make slightly irrational decisions, like listening to sunk costs.