For those of you planning to go out on your own and start your own consulting business, the hardest thing you’ll do is to find work for yourself. Not only that, but you must balance the time that you spend working on chargeable projects with the time you spend thinking about how to keep your project pipeline full. By the way, it’s easy to get so caught-up in a project that you feel too tired to do this, but that’s a mistake – you need to be always on top of the marketing portion of your business.
Getting Business From Software Vendors
But I’ve always said that, considering this is the hardest part of our business, the easiest solution to it is to find a software vendor who needs some extra hands and get them as your customer to fill some of or your entire pipeline. A consultant who happens to be at Pittcon wrote to ask my advice on this, so I figured I’d just share what I know with everyone who wants my advice.
First, let me make this disclaimer: since I’ve never managed to get a steady pipeline of work from a software vendor to this point where I just a few weeks ago passed my fifteen-year anniversary of having my business, that I’m probably the wrong person to take advice from. So, take what I have to say with a grain of salt, but this is my experience as best as I can portray it. Notice that I said “steady” so I’m not counting the few tiny projects I’d received throughout the years, and all early in my business, to boot.
First of all, if you’re at an exhibition, keep in-mind that software vendors have paid a LOT of money for their booths and that their goal is to be there to talk to customers, not to you as you’re trying to develop your own business. I try to be careful to go up to vendor booths when they look empty and to immediately identify myself as a consultant, not a customer. If I have a specific reason to be there, such as a customer starting a product selection, I’ll say so, but if I’m just there to network, I’m clear that that is why I’m stopping by.
By doing that, I’ve gotten a reputation of honesty with some vendors. Past that, if I want to contact them with questions or if I need information, those that I’ve developed some relationship with will respond back to me. Others remain cold to me no matter what, and when I walk into their booth, I can see them get a grim look on their face. Likely, since they know that I’m not bringing any potential business to their booth, they see talking to me as a waste of time. That might or might not be true, but that’s my interpretation of it.
If vendors almost drag you into their booth, it means things are slow at the event and they’re a little bored. But if you have a specific reason for talking to them, address it quickly – if a potential customer comes along, you need to be ready to leave and let the vendor give their time to that person, instead. Once again, remember that they’ve paid a LOT of money for those booths.
Remember this: when you have a business, no-one owes it to you to give you projects. It’s up to you to network with whoever is your target, either vendors or end-customers, and to figure out how to drive your own business. So, and this is my best piece of advice and a mistake a lot of us seem to make but, don’t wait around for anyone, regardless what they say to you. When you’re at these exhibitions, just about every booth you walk into will say they want to do business with you. If they’re in front of customers and if the customer is saying they’re waiting too long for resources for their project, the person in the booth will say it that much more loudly. But when you return to your office, that doesn’t mean they’ll call you, nor does it mean they’ll return your calls when you try to call them.
The other issue is that, just because the sales people in the booth think the company needs more people to work with doesn’t mean the services group wants more people or wants you as their resource or would even trust any recommendation given to them by their sales team. Beyond that, remember that things can change. A software vendor that has a big project and is understaffed, today, loses it to budget cuts and, by the time everyone gets back to their offices, realizes they’ll have a number of their people sitting around doing nothing.