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Getting Started in Computer Consulting

Ralph Krause

Issue #75, July 2000

This book provides an overview of a computer consultant's life and gives you general information you can use to plan and run your business.

  • Author: Peter Meyer

  • Publisher: John Wiley & Sons

  • E-mail: info@wiley.com

  • Price: $18.95 US

  • ISBN: 0471348139

  • Reviewer: Ralph Krause

The siren call of a career in computer consulting: leaving the anonymity of a big company, being your own boss, and surviving by your wits. With today's good economy and the growth of Linux, you may think the time is right to take the plunge. But, do you know what services to offer in your area? Should you bill by the hour or by the project? Should you use a broker, or not? Getting Started in Computer Consulting, written by Peter Meyer, can help you answer these questions and make your new career a successful one.

The book does not provide step-by-step instructions for incorporating, accounting, or the myriad of other details required for running a business. Neither does it concentrate on things like marketing or the art of contract writing. Instead, it provides an overview of a computer consultant's life and gives you general information you can use to plan and run your business.

The book starts by explaining a little bit of what computer consultants do, followed by information on determining what services you should offer, how you could set up your business and methods of marketing and pricing your services. It finishes up by taking you through some of the ethical problems a consultant might face. The book is a bit uneven in places; some chapters are vague, while others provide quite a bit of detail.

A few charts and tables are in the book, including charts showing hours worked by consultants and consultant income. Many of the computer and marketing terms used throughout are defined on the pages where they are used. The book also contains a glossary, which some people might find helpful. Some web addresses for consulting organizations and job listings are also given.

I consider the book's most useful aspect to be the marketing information provided. It explains how to distinguish yourself to your potential clients by stressing the benefits they get by hiring you (e.g., increased sales) instead of the skills you possess (e.g., database consultant). Mr. Meyer calls this a USP or Unique Service Proposition, and he provides examples of good ones as well as not-so-good ones.

The chapters on determining your rates are also very useful at the beginning of a consulting career. They help you determine whether you should charge a flat rate or by the hour, when to raise your rates, and the signals that high rates send to a client. A seven-step process is presented for getting a contract at a price you want for work the client deems important.

The book provides information on finding out about and obtaining state and federal government contracts. It also tells you under which circumstances you can bypass the lengthy bid process to be awarded a contract quickly.

One chapter is dedicated to brokers, negotiations and contracts. It tries to help you decide whether you should use a broker and what things to look for before choosing one. It explains the benefits you can get from contracts, and in what situations they will not help you. Finally, it explains how you can negotiate with a potential client so that both of you are satisfied with the outcome.

Working for clients might not be your only source of income as a consultant. The book talks about the benefits of writing, lecturing and creating your own software on the side. In addition to generating income during slack times, these tasks also serve to increase your network of contacts and promote name recognition.

As a consultant, your most valuable asset is your reputation. Some common ethical considerations, such as working for competing clients and what to do if you overbill, are given in the final chapter. These examples can help you avoid the not-so-obvious pitfalls you might encounter in the beginning of your consulting career.

This book does not provide detailed instructions on starting and running a business. It does help you decide whether you want to be a computer consultant, and gives an idea of what you need to think out ahead of time and plan for in order to become a successful one. While the book is a little vague in some areas, I think its discussions of billable hours, marketing services and determining prices make up for this. Getting Started in Computer Consulting makes a good addition to the beginning consultant's library.

Ralph Krause (rkrause@netperson.net) is a freelance computer consultant in Michigan. His current career goal is to stay out of automotive paint shops.

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