Thoughts on starting a career as a consultant?

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Thoughts on starting a career as a consultant?

Steve Lacy
Hey all,

I've been a software engineer for well over 10 years, mainly C++, but Python for about the last year, and I'm really enjoying it. 

I'm getting more and more interested in transitioning from a full-timer at a large company to being a Python+Django freelance consultant.  My background is mainly in engineering, not design, but of course I'm fully versed in HTML+CSS, I'm just not the best person to be designing interfaces from scratch or doing complex visual design & graphics.

Has anyone here made this transition before?  How did it go?  My biggest fears are:

- How am I going to attract clients? (Although this list, and sites like djanggigs.com seem like pretty good sources to start.)
- Am I good at managing client relationships?  How hard will this be?  (billing, scope creep, missed deadlines, etc.)
- What about the graphics/visual design side of things?  What do you usually do for this, or has the client already outsourced a design and they just need implementation?
- Maybe I just want to get a FT position with a web design&build firm instead?  What are the pros/cons of that approach vs. freelancing?

Any thoughts or experiences from people who have done this transition would be great.  Thanks!

Steve


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Re: Thoughts on starting a career as a consultant?

Stephen McInerney
Stephen,

This is something which has been of interest to a lot of us, which deserves an evening in itself, long overdue. (How to become a contractor, How to make the transition to going fulltime, How to evangelize for Python internally in your organization).

++ for making this a talk.

Regards,
Stephen


Date: Tue, 22 Jun 2010 10:35:42 -0700
From: [hidden email]
To: [hidden email]
Subject: [Baypiggies] Thoughts on starting a career as a consultant?

Hey all,

I've been a software engineer for well over 10 years, mainly C++, but Python for about the last year, and I'm really enjoying it. 

I'm getting more and more interested in transitioning from a full-timer at a large company to being a Python+Django freelance consultant.  My background is mainly in engineering, not design, but of course I'm fully versed in HTML+CSS, I'm just not the best person to be designing interfaces from scratch or doing complex visual design & graphics.

Has anyone here made this transition before?  How did it go?  My biggest fears are:

- How am I going to attract clients? (Although this list, and sites like djanggigs.com seem like pretty good sources to start.)
- Am I good at managing client relationships?  How hard will this be?  (billing, scope creep, missed deadlines, etc.)
- What about the graphics/visual design side of things?  What do you usually do for this, or has the client already outsourced a design and they just need implementation?
- Maybe I just want to get a FT position with a web design&build firm instead?  What are the pros/cons of that approach vs. freelancing?

Any thoughts or experiences from people who have done this transition would be great.  Thanks!

Steve



The New Busy think 9 to 5 is a cute idea. Combine multiple calendars with Hotmail. Get busy.
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Re: Thoughts on starting a career as a consultant?

John Withers
In reply to this post by Steve Lacy
I can handle a couple of these, others I don't know so much about.

Note that I have been w-2 for the last 7 years, so my thinking might be
somewhat out of date.

1. Hook up with a good designer who understands code and dealing with
clients. This a must or you are going to severely limit the range of
your possible contracts. In my experience about 50% of the people you
run into are going to need the whole shebang. Or, as I have seen more
than once, they start with a designer, realize they don't actually like
what is happening, and start casting about. If you have one in your
pocket, your stock shoots up. You can email me personally if you want a
reference to someone I think is quite good and have worked with.

2. Healthcare and taxes are brutal. Spend some time getting to know
about these issues. Then sit down and start drawing up how many hours
you have to work at what for you seems a slightly low rate, a medium
rate, and a high rate. Then compare your rates with others who are
working as freelancers and see how they stack up. Too many people don't
do this before they leave a W-2.

3. Attracting those first few clients is a pain, in my experience. After
that, it just kind of rolls on its own if you do good work. Being good
at speaking and promoting is a definite plus. Donna, on this list, is
really exceptional that that. I don't know if she still does, but she
used to speak at the drop of a hat.

Speaking and writing for groups that aren't all tech heads brings in
money. In an entirely different field, I once wrote a set of articles
taking down pretty much verbatim some stuff from a guy who was good at
sandblasting. Got them published in a sign magazine. I rapidly became an
acknowledged expert in the field of sandblasting signs. I didn't know
crap about sandblasting; I knew about writing. But that exposure and a
couple of grants put me through college. I dropped the whole thing once
I was done with school, but I could have made a whole mediocre career as
a writer/expert in the sign trade.

4. Managing client relationships is a nightmare, period. Scope creep
happens. Random crap happens. I have been on both ends of this. Right
now I am being a nightmare client for a designer/developer team. It
isn't really my fault and more the organization I am embedded in, but it
is ugly. A two month project has stretched to almost a year. And my
developer is handling it brilliantly. He blocked the time at the start
of the project, charged a low amount for blocking it, and then when we
ran over, he allowed as how he was still on it, but that he couldn't
guarantee turn around times anymore and very nicely made it obvious that
was on us. And kept billing in dribs and drabs as we actually made
decisions. By being flexible and chill and putting up with our crap, he
is going to end up making at least half again what was originally
spec'ed.

Moral of the story from me watching him handle this better than I used
to: be totally flexible, but when the project goes sideways require your
clients to go to some kind of regular hourly billing and a lowered
turnaround expectation. Put this in your contract and everyone ends up
happy.

Hope this random rambling spew helps.

-john

On Tue, 2010-06-22 at 10:35 -0700, Stephen Lacy wrote:

> Hey all,
>
> I've been a software engineer for well over 10 years, mainly C++, but
> Python for about the last year, and I'm really enjoying it.  
>
> I'm getting more and more interested in transitioning from a
> full-timer at a large company to being a Python+Django freelance
> consultant.  My background is mainly in engineering, not design, but
> of course I'm fully versed in HTML+CSS, I'm just not the best person
> to be designing interfaces from scratch or doing complex visual design
> & graphics.
>
> Has anyone here made this transition before?  How did it go?  My
> biggest fears are:
>
> - How am I going to attract clients? (Although this list, and sites
> like djanggigs.com seem like pretty good sources to start.)
> - Am I good at managing client relationships?  How hard will this be?
> (billing, scope creep, missed deadlines, etc.)
> - What about the graphics/visual design side of things?  What do you
> usually do for this, or has the client already outsourced a design and
> they just need implementation?
> - Maybe I just want to get a FT position with a web design&build firm
> instead?  What are the pros/cons of that approach vs. freelancing?
>
> Any thoughts or experiences from people who have done this transition
> would be great.  Thanks!
>
> Steve
>
> _______________________________________________
> Baypiggies mailing list
> [hidden email]
> To change your subscription options or unsubscribe:
> http://mail.python.org/mailman/listinfo/baypiggies

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Re: Thoughts on starting a career as a consultant?

AlvinW
In reply to this post by Steve Lacy
I have been a freelancer off and on for over 20 yrs.

My advice is to go through head hunter agencies especially in Silicon Valley.  They do take a cut but you only pay the one that finds you work.  They also deal with billing.  They know where the better pay contracts are.  If you have short gigs, you will spend far too much time looking for work.

I use 3-4 agencies.  The key to managing more than 1 agency is that you do not allow them to send you in until they call you with the name of the company.  Do not allow more than 1 agency to submit you to the same company regardless of what they say.

Alvin

On Tue, Jun 22, 2010 at 10:35 AM, Stephen Lacy <[hidden email]> wrote:
Hey all,

I've been a software engineer for well over 10 years, mainly C++, but Python for about the last year, and I'm really enjoying it. 

I'm getting more and more interested in transitioning from a full-timer at a large company to being a Python+Django freelance consultant.  My background is mainly in engineering, not design, but of course I'm fully versed in HTML+CSS, I'm just not the best person to be designing interfaces from scratch or doing complex visual design & graphics.

Has anyone here made this transition before?  How did it go?  My biggest fears are:

- How am I going to attract clients? (Although this list, and sites like djanggigs.com seem like pretty good sources to start.)
- Am I good at managing client relationships?  How hard will this be?  (billing, scope creep, missed deadlines, etc.)
- What about the graphics/visual design side of things?  What do you usually do for this, or has the client already outsourced a design and they just need implementation?
- Maybe I just want to get a FT position with a web design&build firm instead?  What are the pros/cons of that approach vs. freelancing?

Any thoughts or experiences from people who have done this transition would be great.  Thanks!

Steve


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Re: Thoughts on starting a career as a consultant?

Elizabeth Leddy
In reply to this post by John Withers
+1000 on the health and taxes part. If you aren't into learning all about taxes, get an accountant. Whenever I get money in I immediately put 50% aside for taxes. You also should get your estimated tax payments set up if you have any kind of guessable income.

Oh and be prepared for people to not pay on time. I've had clients that were on the mark and paid days later and others that dragged it out for 6+ months. Really business/money saavy clients know how to string you along. Keep a keen eye out for these types and make sure the payment terms are strict and clear, with penalties.

I just started working with freshbooks.com and I like it way better than stuff I've used in the past. I also use mint.com to manage which items are tax deductible - they make it really easy. 

As for health insurance, things have dramatically changed and are still changing with the new legislation. I saved a lot of money (monthly) by switching to basically a catastrophe plan ($250/month down to $52) but I have a high deductible so if you can have that money in the bank shop around on plans. I really like this health insurance search engine and check often to see if I can get better rates: http://www.ehealthinsurance.com/

I just switched over to full time contractor after doing it on the side for many years. I'm incredibly happy with the freedom that comes from it so keep that in mind when you read about all the work that comes too! :)

Liz

On Tue, Jun 22, 2010 at 11:07 AM, John Withers <[hidden email]> wrote:
I can handle a couple of these, others I don't know so much about.

Note that I have been w-2 for the last 7 years, so my thinking might be
somewhat out of date.

1. Hook up with a good designer who understands code and dealing with
clients. This a must or you are going to severely limit the range of
your possible contracts. In my experience about 50% of the people you
run into are going to need the whole shebang. Or, as I have seen more
than once, they start with a designer, realize they don't actually like
what is happening, and start casting about. If you have one in your
pocket, your stock shoots up. You can email me personally if you want a
reference to someone I think is quite good and have worked with.

2. Healthcare and taxes are brutal. Spend some time getting to know
about these issues. Then sit down and start drawing up how many hours
you have to work at what for you seems a slightly low rate, a medium
rate, and a high rate. Then compare your rates with others who are
working as freelancers and see how they stack up. Too many people don't
do this before they leave a W-2.

3. Attracting those first few clients is a pain, in my experience. After
that, it just kind of rolls on its own if you do good work. Being good
at speaking and promoting is a definite plus. Donna, on this list, is
really exceptional that that. I don't know if she still does, but she
used to speak at the drop of a hat.

Speaking and writing for groups that aren't all tech heads brings in
money. In an entirely different field, I once wrote a set of articles
taking down pretty much verbatim some stuff from a guy who was good at
sandblasting. Got them published in a sign magazine. I rapidly became an
acknowledged expert in the field of sandblasting signs. I didn't know
crap about sandblasting; I knew about writing. But that exposure and a
couple of grants put me through college. I dropped the whole thing once
I was done with school, but I could have made a whole mediocre career as
a writer/expert in the sign trade.

4. Managing client relationships is a nightmare, period. Scope creep
happens. Random crap happens. I have been on both ends of this. Right
now I am being a nightmare client for a designer/developer team. It
isn't really my fault and more the organization I am embedded in, but it
is ugly. A two month project has stretched to almost a year. And my
developer is handling it brilliantly. He blocked the time at the start
of the project, charged a low amount for blocking it, and then when we
ran over, he allowed as how he was still on it, but that he couldn't
guarantee turn around times anymore and very nicely made it obvious that
was on us. And kept billing in dribs and drabs as we actually made
decisions. By being flexible and chill and putting up with our crap, he
is going to end up making at least half again what was originally
spec'ed.

Moral of the story from me watching him handle this better than I used
to: be totally flexible, but when the project goes sideways require your
clients to go to some kind of regular hourly billing and a lowered
turnaround expectation. Put this in your contract and everyone ends up
happy.

Hope this random rambling spew helps.

-john

On Tue, 2010-06-22 at 10:35 -0700, Stephen Lacy wrote:
> Hey all,
>
> I've been a software engineer for well over 10 years, mainly C++, but
> Python for about the last year, and I'm really enjoying it.
>
> I'm getting more and more interested in transitioning from a
> full-timer at a large company to being a Python+Django freelance
> consultant.  My background is mainly in engineering, not design, but
> of course I'm fully versed in HTML+CSS, I'm just not the best person
> to be designing interfaces from scratch or doing complex visual design
> & graphics.
>
> Has anyone here made this transition before?  How did it go?  My
> biggest fears are:
>
> - How am I going to attract clients? (Although this list, and sites
> like djanggigs.com seem like pretty good sources to start.)
> - Am I good at managing client relationships?  How hard will this be?
> (billing, scope creep, missed deadlines, etc.)
> - What about the graphics/visual design side of things?  What do you
> usually do for this, or has the client already outsourced a design and
> they just need implementation?
> - Maybe I just want to get a FT position with a web design&build firm
> instead?  What are the pros/cons of that approach vs. freelancing?
>
> Any thoughts or experiences from people who have done this transition
> would be great.  Thanks!
>
> Steve
>
> _______________________________________________
> Baypiggies mailing list
> [hidden email]
> To change your subscription options or unsubscribe:
> http://mail.python.org/mailman/listinfo/baypiggies

_______________________________________________
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[hidden email]
To change your subscription options or unsubscribe:
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Re: Thoughts on starting a career as a consultant?

Rami Chowdhury
On Tuesday 22 June 2010 12:30:49 Elizabeth Leddy wrote:
> Oh and be prepared for people to not pay on time. I've had clients that
> were on the mark and paid days later and others that dragged it out for 6+
> months. Really business/money saavy clients know how to string you along.
> Keep a keen eye out for these types and make sure the payment terms are
> strict and clear, with penalties.

+10 to this, too. Unbelievably frustrating.

I've been freelancing since February, and while I can't speak to some of the
other concerns as I'm only doing this till I go back to school this August (so
skimping on health insurance, getting most of my work from people I met months
ago, etc) the late payments thing is really nerve-wracking.

>
> On Tue, Jun 22, 2010 at 11:07 AM, John Withers <[hidden email]>wrote:
> > I can handle a couple of these, others I don't know so much about.
> >
> > Note that I have been w-2 for the last 7 years, so my thinking might be
> > somewhat out of date.
> >
> > 1. Hook up with a good designer who understands code and dealing with
> > clients. This a must or you are going to severely limit the range of
> > your possible contracts. In my experience about 50% of the people you
> > run into are going to need the whole shebang. Or, as I have seen more
> > than once, they start with a designer, realize they don't actually like
> > what is happening, and start casting about. If you have one in your
> > pocket, your stock shoots up. You can email me personally if you want a
> > reference to someone I think is quite good and have worked with.
> >
> > 2. Healthcare and taxes are brutal. Spend some time getting to know
> > about these issues. Then sit down and start drawing up how many hours
> > you have to work at what for you seems a slightly low rate, a medium
> > rate, and a high rate. Then compare your rates with others who are
> > working as freelancers and see how they stack up. Too many people don't
> > do this before they leave a W-2.
> >
> > 3. Attracting those first few clients is a pain, in my experience. After
> > that, it just kind of rolls on its own if you do good work. Being good
> > at speaking and promoting is a definite plus. Donna, on this list, is
> > really exceptional that that. I don't know if she still does, but she
> > used to speak at the drop of a hat.
> >
> > Speaking and writing for groups that aren't all tech heads brings in
> > money. In an entirely different field, I once wrote a set of articles
> > taking down pretty much verbatim some stuff from a guy who was good at
> > sandblasting. Got them published in a sign magazine. I rapidly became an
> > acknowledged expert in the field of sandblasting signs. I didn't know
> > crap about sandblasting; I knew about writing. But that exposure and a
> > couple of grants put me through college. I dropped the whole thing once
> > I was done with school, but I could have made a whole mediocre career as
> > a writer/expert in the sign trade.
> >
> > 4. Managing client relationships is a nightmare, period. Scope creep
> > happens. Random crap happens. I have been on both ends of this. Right
> > now I am being a nightmare client for a designer/developer team. It
> > isn't really my fault and more the organization I am embedded in, but it
> > is ugly. A two month project has stretched to almost a year. And my
> > developer is handling it brilliantly. He blocked the time at the start
> > of the project, charged a low amount for blocking it, and then when we
> > ran over, he allowed as how he was still on it, but that he couldn't
> > guarantee turn around times anymore and very nicely made it obvious that
> > was on us. And kept billing in dribs and drabs as we actually made
> > decisions. By being flexible and chill and putting up with our crap, he
> > is going to end up making at least half again what was originally
> > spec'ed.
> >
> > Moral of the story from me watching him handle this better than I used
> > to: be totally flexible, but when the project goes sideways require your
> > clients to go to some kind of regular hourly billing and a lowered
> > turnaround expectation. Put this in your contract and everyone ends up
> > happy.
> >
> > Hope this random rambling spew helps.
> >
> > -john
> >
> > On Tue, 2010-06-22 at 10:35 -0700, Stephen Lacy wrote:
> > > Hey all,
> > >
> > > I've been a software engineer for well over 10 years, mainly C++, but
> > > Python for about the last year, and I'm really enjoying it.
> > >
> > > I'm getting more and more interested in transitioning from a
> > > full-timer at a large company to being a Python+Django freelance
> > > consultant.  My background is mainly in engineering, not design, but
> > > of course I'm fully versed in HTML+CSS, I'm just not the best person
> > > to be designing interfaces from scratch or doing complex visual design
> > > & graphics.
> > >
> > > Has anyone here made this transition before?  How did it go?  My
> > > biggest fears are:
> > >
> > > - How am I going to attract clients? (Although this list, and sites
> > > like djanggigs.com seem like pretty good sources to start.)
> > > - Am I good at managing client relationships?  How hard will this be?
> > > (billing, scope creep, missed deadlines, etc.)
> > > - What about the graphics/visual design side of things?  What do you
> > > usually do for this, or has the client already outsourced a design and
> > > they just need implementation?
> > > - Maybe I just want to get a FT position with a web design&build firm
> > > instead?  What are the pros/cons of that approach vs. freelancing?
> > >
> > > Any thoughts or experiences from people who have done this transition
> > > would be great.  Thanks!
> > >
> > > Steve
> > >
> > > _______________________________________________
> > > Baypiggies mailing list
> > > [hidden email]
> > > To change your subscription options or unsubscribe:
> > > http://mail.python.org/mailman/listinfo/baypiggies
> >
> > _______________________________________________
> > Baypiggies mailing list
> > [hidden email]
> > To change your subscription options or unsubscribe:
> > http://mail.python.org/mailman/listinfo/baypiggies

----
Rami Chowdhury
"Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice."
-- Grey's Law
+1-408-597-7068 / +44-7875-841-046 / +88-01819-245544
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Re: Thoughts on starting a career as a consultant?

Paul McNett ∅
In reply to this post by Elizabeth Leddy
On 6/22/10 12:30 PM, Elizabeth Leddy wrote:
> +1000 on the health and taxes part. If you aren't into learning all
> about taxes, get an accountant. Whenever I get money in I immediately
> put 50% aside for taxes. You also should get your estimated tax payments
> set up if you have any kind of guessable income.

Excellent advice. Due to my entire situation, I either end up owing a lot of money to
the IRS or getting a decent refund. Sock that money away so you don't have to borrow
it from your savings.

I think the best thing I did when I became a consultant was to marry my long-time
girlfriend, an educator in the local school district. She has killer health
insurance, which extends to her spouse. In the ten years we've been married, I've
undergone cancer chemotherapy, time in ICU, so many ct scans I've lost count, several
operations, to the tune of something like $400K in hospital and doctor bills.

> Oh and be prepared for people to not pay on time. I've had clients that
> were on the mark and paid days later and others that dragged it out for
> 6+ months. Really business/money saavy clients know how to string you
> along. Keep a keen eye out for these types and make sure the payment
> terms are strict and clear, with penalties.

This has happened too often to me. I currently have one bill that's about 8 months
old, and I'm still providing service because its a friend and I know he's having
difficulties. I've had other clients where I've had to stop working to get them to
pay. And I've had others that simply never paid me, even though I provided the service.

But mostly, I've worked with people that respect me and want to keep me happy, and so
they tend to pay my bills almost as fast as I send them out. The mutual respect
really feels good.

I've always been more of a conversation and handshake kind of guy, rather than
drawing up and signing contracts. So far, all in all, it has worked out for me. I get
to live a good life, work out of my home on my terms and when I feel like it,
sometimes burning the midnight oil to get a project done, and feel good about what I do.

> I just started working with freshbooks.com <http://freshbooks.com> and I
> like it way better than stuff I've used in the past. I also use mint.com
> <http://mint.com> to manage which items are tax deductible - they make
> it really easy.

I use my home-brewed time and billing program (written in Python of course), Quicken
and my long-time accountant. I'd probably use freshbooks if starting today, but can't
really justify jumping over now, given that the status quo works.

> As for health insurance, things have dramatically changed and are still
> changing with the new legislation. I saved a lot of money (monthly) by
> switching to basically a catastrophe plan ($250/month down to $52) but I
> have a high deductible so if you can have that money in the bank shop
> around on plans. I really like this health insurance search engine and
> check often to see if I can get better rates:
> http://www.ehealthinsurance.com/
>
> I just switched over to full time contractor after doing it on the side
> for many years. I'm incredibly happy with the freedom that comes from it
> so keep that in mind when you read about all the work that comes too! :)

The life sure is great, but it takes discipline to stay on task sometimes. I find
that when I'm overwhelmed with things to do, I'm happiest and am able to deliver most
of what is required in the time available. But when I'm not swamped, I tend to do
more social networking or trips to the fridge, and don't deliver simple things on time.

When you are a consultant working off site, there is nobody managing you, so you need
to manage yourself. You may be saying "well, duh" but this has been my greatest
struggle: staying on task, and staying billable.

Paul
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Re: Thoughts on starting a career as a consultant?

John Withers
On Tue, 2010-06-22 at 22:02 -0700, Paul McNett wrote:

> When you are a consultant working off site, there is nobody managing you, so you need
> to manage yourself. You may be saying "well, duh" but this has been my greatest
> struggle: staying on task, and staying billable.

+1

Hands down my largest work problem when I am working on my own. Not
taxes, health insurance, late billing, getting clients or anything else.
My productivity is about halved if I am working for long periods of time
on my own.

-john

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Re: Thoughts on starting a career as a consultant?

Aahz
On Tue, Jun 22, 2010, John Withers wrote:

> On Tue, 2010-06-22 at 22:02 -0700, Paul McNett wrote:
>>
>> When you are a consultant working off site, there is nobody managing
>> you, so you need to manage yourself. You may be saying "well, duh"
>> but this has been my greatest struggle: staying on task, and staying
>> billable.
>
> Hands down my largest work problem when I am working on my own. Not
> taxes, health insurance, late billing, getting clients or anything
> else.  My productivity is about halved if I am working for long
> periods of time on my own.

And this is precisely why I stay W-2.  I've learned that I need the
energy that comes from being part of a team.  There's nothing wrong with
figuring out that the consulting/freelance life is not for you.
--
Aahz ([hidden email])           <*>         http://www.pythoncraft.com/

"If you don't know what your program is supposed to do, you'd better not
start writing it."  --Dijkstra
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Re: Thoughts on starting a career as a consultant?

Christopher Lee-Messer
In reply to this post by John Withers
On Tue, Jun 22, 2010 at 11:07 AM, John Withers <[hidden email]> wrote:

> 1. Hook up with a good designer who understands code and dealing with clients. [snip]

This sounds like good advice.  How did you find the designer you work with?

Does anyone have advice on how to find such a person: a good web
designer  who has the ability to design for templates like those used
by django, mako, etc.

-Chris
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Re: Thoughts on starting a career as a consultant?

Alexandre Conrad-2
2010/6/23 Christopher Lee-Messer <[hidden email]>
Does anyone have advice on how to find such a person: a good web
designer  who has the ability to design for templates like those used
by django, mako, etc.


IMO, the designer shouldn't care about the templating engine. You should provide HTML pages with correct semantics, and he will do the CSS without having to touch the HTML. I do both HTML and design. But when I wear my designer hat, I don't have to touch HTML.

That said, I never worked with a designer so things may be different in real life. I would be interested to have some feedback. But that's off-topic.

--
Alex
twitter.com/alexconrad

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Re: Thoughts on starting a career as a consultant?

Alex Clark
In reply to this post by Steve Lacy
Re: Thoughts on starting a career as a consultant?
Hi Steve and all, (just lurking from across the country)

(And re-sending this after properly joining the list)


On 6/22/10 1:35 PM, in article [hidden email], "Stephen Lacy" <[hidden email]> wrote:

Hey all,

I've been a software engineer for well over 10 years, mainly C++, but Python for about the last year, and I'm really enjoying it. 

I'm getting more and more interested in transitioning from a full-timer at a large company to being a Python+Django freelance consultant.  My background is mainly in engineering, not design, but of course I'm fully versed in HTML+CSS, I'm just not the best person to be designing interfaces from scratch or doing complex visual design & graphics.

Has anyone here made this transition before?  How did it go? 

Yes, I’m five years into being a full time Plone consultant. Still going.


My biggest fears are:

  • How am I going to attract clients? (Although this list, and sites like djanggigs.com <http://djanggigs.com>  seem like pretty good sources to start.)

One great way is to contribute to the project you plan to consult on. E.g. I do things like “run the machines”: http://admins.plone.org/.

Another great way is to organize a user group. I’ve gotten a ton of work simply by organizing monthly meetings for local Python people (http://zpugdc.org). In fact, I got my first gig through a user group friend (the one that inspired me to quit my day job).


  • Am I good at managing client relationships?  How hard will this be?  (billing, scope creep, missed deadlines, etc.)

It’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done — I tend to obsess about a single task and spend my time lost in it (at times to the detriment of other work). The best advice I can give is to communicate communicate communicate. People are usually fine if you tell them what is going on. Usually, but not always ;-)

  • What about the graphics/visual design side of things?  What do you usually do for this, or has the client already outsourced a design and they just need implementation?

I don’t worry about it. It would be great to have an in-house designer, but I can sub or use the client’s designer. I focus on being an expert in the things I care about (developing and deploying Python web apps and having fun).

  • Maybe I just want to get a FT position with a web design&build firm instead?  What are the pros/cons of that approach vs. freelancing?

The biggest pro to freelancing is you make your own schedule. The biggest con to freelancing is you make your own schedule. At first the freedom is exhilarating, and to this day it’s still very enjoyable and preferable to a day job. But the pressures can be enormous. I end up working 24/7 a lot of the time.

Any thoughts or experiences from people who have done this transition would be great.  Thanks!

Do it! You will not regret the satisfaction you get from working for yourself. It has been hard at times, but I’d never go back!

Actually, that’s not true, I would consider a full time work from home job with somebody like Mozilla, at this point. cough

But unlike with day jobs, there is no cap on the amount of money you can make as a freelancer. Contrarily, there is no one giving you work and the well can run dry at any moment. This can very stressful to some people, so it is definitely not for everyone.

Hope this helps!

Alex

Steve



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--
Alex Clark · http://aclark.net
Author — Plone 3.3 Site Administration · http://aclark.net/admin


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Re: Thoughts on starting a career as a consultant?

Emile van Sebille
On 7/5/2010 7:37 PM Alex Clark said...
>
> But unlike with day jobs, there is no cap on the amount of money you can
> make as a freelancer.

Well, there is -- 2000-2500 work hours/year at say $100/hr -- $200k -
$250k (flavor to taste or individual circumstances)  This is probably
the biggest downside to strict consulting.  You're selling your time.  
You need to add people or develop resellable products to go past that
and get a multiplier or residual effect going.

Emile

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Re: Thoughts on starting a career as a consultant?

Simeon Franklin
On Tue, Jul 6, 2010 at 11:26 AM, Emile van Sebille <[hidden email]> wrote:
> On 7/5/2010 7:37 PM Alex Clark said...
>>
>> But unlike with day jobs, there is no cap on the amount of money you can
>> make as a freelancer.
>
> Well, there is -- 2000-2500 work hours/year at say $100/hr -- $200k - $250k
> (flavor to taste or individual circumstances)

I understand that you're using these numbers as a cap but I think it's
worth pointing out that most people who freelance may work 2000 hours
and only bill 1200. I personally consider days I can bill 6 hours a
pretty productive day but I rarely work less than 8 - usually more.
This is something to consider when establishing your hourly rate. I
don't charge for billing time, time writing proposals or reading specs
or meeting with clients. I don't itemize routine communications
(emails/phone calls from clients) and pretty much try to keep my
billable hours down to the time I actually spend working on something
technical.

This is especially true at the beginning of most people's freelance
careers. Unless you have established relationships you probably start
out underpaid and doing small jobs for a variety of clients. The cost
of context switching between clients shouldn't be minimized!

>This is probably the biggest
> downside to strict consulting.  You're selling your time.  You need to add
> people or develop resellable products to go past that and get a multiplier
> or residual effect going.

In fact I have a 4 step theory of the path of the typical freelancing career -

1. Low money for hard work. You probably start out underbidding just
to get the job. You have poor estimating skills at this point and are
abashed to ask for much more than you made as an hourly worker. Expect
to work 10 hour days for relatively low amounts of money.

2. Medium money, for moderate work. This is actually a decent place to
be if you can afford it. You have established enough relationships
that you can charge what you're worth. Your main concern now is
rounding up work each month - you may not have full time work and you
probably never have more than a few weeks worth of work stacked up.
You still spend time pitching, networking, writing proposals and
looking for better gigs.

3. Good Money, Hard Work. You have arrived as a contractor. You've
fired your first clients and are able to concentrate on your more
lucrative or interesting clients - or you simply have the luxury of
consolidating and eliminating some of those context switches. You
could probably bill 10 hours a day (and work 14) 7 days a week. The
money is good but beware of burnout.

4. $$$ for moderate work. At this point I branch off into theory. I
have heard that some people are able to make a living (or better)
without working 10 hour days. The obvious way to move into this
territory is to raise your rates and if you have too much work you may
well be pricing yourself too low. But most of us work in competitive
industries - its not like I'm the only Python/Django/DB/Web guy in the
world so raising my prices only gets me so far. I suspect that the way
to get to stage four is to own a resellable product or service that
isn't directly related to your hourly billing. My personal business
goals at this point center around saving enough money to pay my salary
while I do a mini-startup - and this will be when I really feel I've
made it; not only being my own boss but also developing for myself! In
the meantime I read hackernews to keep myself motivated...

-regards
Simeon Franklin

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Re: Thoughts on starting a career as a consultant?

jim stockford

   there's a rule of thumb to double your estimate.
some say then double that. assume you can work an
average of four hours a day.
   one friend of mine never worked by the hour,
always fixed price, because he could make more
money (he was very good--microsoft's engineers
sometimes called him to find out how things worked).
   another friend set aside tuesdays for marketing
day--did no project work, spent the entire day
trying to line up more jobs (made sure to have
lunch with somebody, schmoozed, tried to catch the
right crowd at happy hours.
   i think simeon's path is exactly right. over
time one builds a reputation and contacts. i'm
guessing three years to get established.




On Tue, 2010-07-06 at 15:23 -0700, Simeon Franklin wrote:

> On Tue, Jul 6, 2010 at 11:26 AM, Emile van Sebille <[hidden email]> wrote:
> > On 7/5/2010 7:37 PM Alex Clark said...
> >>
> >> But unlike with day jobs, there is no cap on the amount of money you can
> >> make as a freelancer.
> >
> > Well, there is -- 2000-2500 work hours/year at say $100/hr -- $200k - $250k
> > (flavor to taste or individual circumstances)
>
> I understand that you're using these numbers as a cap but I think it's
> worth pointing out that most people who freelance may work 2000 hours
> and only bill 1200. I personally consider days I can bill 6 hours a
> pretty productive day but I rarely work less than 8 - usually more.
> This is something to consider when establishing your hourly rate. I
> don't charge for billing time, time writing proposals or reading specs
> or meeting with clients. I don't itemize routine communications
> (emails/phone calls from clients) and pretty much try to keep my
> billable hours down to the time I actually spend working on something
> technical.
>
> This is especially true at the beginning of most people's freelance
> careers. Unless you have established relationships you probably start
> out underpaid and doing small jobs for a variety of clients. The cost
> of context switching between clients shouldn't be minimized!
>
> >This is probably the biggest
> > downside to strict consulting.  You're selling your time.  You need to add
> > people or develop resellable products to go past that and get a multiplier
> > or residual effect going.
>
> In fact I have a 4 step theory of the path of the typical freelancing career -
>
> 1. Low money for hard work. You probably start out underbidding just
> to get the job. You have poor estimating skills at this point and are
> abashed to ask for much more than you made as an hourly worker. Expect
> to work 10 hour days for relatively low amounts of money.
>
> 2. Medium money, for moderate work. This is actually a decent place to
> be if you can afford it. You have established enough relationships
> that you can charge what you're worth. Your main concern now is
> rounding up work each month - you may not have full time work and you
> probably never have more than a few weeks worth of work stacked up.
> You still spend time pitching, networking, writing proposals and
> looking for better gigs.
>
> 3. Good Money, Hard Work. You have arrived as a contractor. You've
> fired your first clients and are able to concentrate on your more
> lucrative or interesting clients - or you simply have the luxury of
> consolidating and eliminating some of those context switches. You
> could probably bill 10 hours a day (and work 14) 7 days a week. The
> money is good but beware of burnout.
>
> 4. $$$ for moderate work. At this point I branch off into theory. I
> have heard that some people are able to make a living (or better)
> without working 10 hour days. The obvious way to move into this
> territory is to raise your rates and if you have too much work you may
> well be pricing yourself too low. But most of us work in competitive
> industries - its not like I'm the only Python/Django/DB/Web guy in the
> world so raising my prices only gets me so far. I suspect that the way
> to get to stage four is to own a resellable product or service that
> isn't directly related to your hourly billing. My personal business
> goals at this point center around saving enough money to pay my salary
> while I do a mini-startup - and this will be when I really feel I've
> made it; not only being my own boss but also developing for myself! In
> the meantime I read hackernews to keep myself motivated...
>
> -regards
> Simeon Franklin
>
> > _______________________________________________
> > Baypiggies mailing list
> > [hidden email]
> > To change your subscription options or unsubscribe:
> > http://mail.python.org/mailman/listinfo/baypiggies
> >
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Re: Thoughts on starting a career as a consultant? CALL FOR PANEL

jim stockford
In reply to this post by Steve Lacy

   This was an active thread, and a couple of years
ago there was another similarly active thread on
this topic.
   This is a call for people to be part of a panel
presentation at one of our BayPIGgies meetings.
We've got one volunteer already. If you've got
experience and opinions, please reply.
jim


On Tue, 2010-06-22 at 10:35 -0700, Stephen Lacy wrote:

> Hey all,
>
> I've been a software engineer for well over 10 years, mainly C++, but
> Python for about the last year, and I'm really enjoying it.  
>
> I'm getting more and more interested in transitioning from a
> full-timer at a large company to being a Python+Django freelance
> consultant.  My background is mainly in engineering, not design, but
> of course I'm fully versed in HTML+CSS, I'm just not the best person
> to be designing interfaces from scratch or doing complex visual design
> & graphics.
>
> Has anyone here made this transition before?  How did it go?  My
> biggest fears are:
>
> - How am I going to attract clients? (Although this list, and sites
> like djanggigs.com seem like pretty good sources to start.)
> - Am I good at managing client relationships?  How hard will this be?
> (billing, scope creep, missed deadlines, etc.)
> - What about the graphics/visual design side of things?  What do you
> usually do for this, or has the client already outsourced a design and
> they just need implementation?
> - Maybe I just want to get a FT position with a web design&build firm
> instead?  What are the pros/cons of that approach vs. freelancing?
>
> Any thoughts or experiences from people who have done this transition
> would be great.  Thanks!
>
> Steve
>
> _______________________________________________
> Baypiggies mailing list
> [hidden email]
> To change your subscription options or unsubscribe:
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Re: Thoughts on starting a career as a consultant?

Alex Martelli
In reply to this post by Emile van Sebille
On Tue, Jul 6, 2010 at 11:26 AM, Emile van Sebille <[hidden email]> wrote:

> On 7/5/2010 7:37 PM Alex Clark said...
>>
>> But unlike with day jobs, there is no cap on the amount of money you can
>> make as a freelancer.
>
> Well, there is -- 2000-2500 work hours/year at say $100/hr -- $200k - $250k
> (flavor to taste or individual circumstances)  This is probably the biggest
> downside to strict consulting.  You're selling your time.  You need to add
> people or develop resellable products to go past that and get a multiplier
> or residual effect going.

On several occasions, I've accepted options, warrants, or restricted
stock (at very low valuations, in either case) as part of my
compensation, when I consulted for startups I really liked.

None of those has made me millions (yet -- some of those startups are
_still_ going, they just haven't IPO'd or gotten acquired...
yet...!-), but if I had had a better "nose" (or had been a better
consultant -- enough to propel my clients to triumphal success against
all odds!-), there is, indeed, "no cap" (just as there isn't when
you're working full time for a startup -- but then, you _do_ have all
your eggs in one basket!-).  Yes, you _are_ selling your time, but you
can negotiate some part of the compensation to be in lottery tickets.
(Negotiate _very_ hard, ideally without seeming to, in such cases:
remember you have the upper hand, since cold cash is extremely
valuable and scarce for a startup, while stock-based payments are much
less so... especially if you forget to negotiate for being paid
specific %ages of the company ["number of stocks" is meaningless if
you don't know how many will be out altogether by the time you can
cash yours;-)] or other conditions such as "privileged" status, or
whatever the equivalent is in your country/state, meaning you can cash
out at any event that allows _any_ other stockholder to cash out, if
you so choose).

BTW: 2000-2500 billable hours a year is something of a pipe dream --
sure, you may WORK that much, or more, but you won't be able to BILL
that much -- there's a lot of "overhead time" in which you're trying
to _sell_ your wares, and some more burned in administering your
business.  Old hands who gave me advice back when I was transitioning
to freelance suggested, as a rule of thumb, that I figure I could bill
roughly about half the time I worked (I ended up well above that, but
that was due to several pieces of good luck -- but, in any case,
nowhere close to 100%).  OTOH, $100/hr strikes me as a pretty low rate
for consulting (unless maybe it's part of a long-term recurring
contract which makes it likely you'll be able to bill a lot of hours,
over time, without further "selling" effort, and also with less
administrative overhead).


Alex
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