Knowing where to start when venturing into the world of IT consulting can be a daunting task. How do you build up your clientele? How much should you charge for your services? We took these questions and more that attendees asked during our recent “IT Consulting: What You Need to Know” webinar and reached out to trainer Jeremy Cioara for his advice!
Q: How do you prove your competence to potential clients?
You can’t. First off, build your skills in your own home. Set up Network Attached Storage (NAS). Run your own in-home DNS server. Deploy a Linux box to manage your iTunes collection. Now you’ve got something to talk about. From there, realize that your first potential client will almost always come from an existing relationship you have. Strike up a conversation with your dentist on how she manages her patient records. What backup system she’s using. Talk with the bagel shop about their Internet connection. How they stream TV to their customers. Start injecting stories about things you’ve done in your house (up to you if you tell them it was in your house) and offer it to do it for them. Don’t talk price until they ask; be a friend first, salesman later.
Q: Do I have to be expert in most areas of IT to start consulting.
No. Be good at the basics and open your mind to learn, because your first customer will push you into new areas quickly.
Q: What are the best methods for obtaining new customers?
Relationships… 100% relationships. Beyond that? Build a website… a GOOD website: Modern, professional, and competent. Create a simple business card that catches interest with a single question of some sort (ex: “Got IT problems?” or “Computer issues got you down?”) that points them to it. Litter the town with your business card. DO NOT invest in social media marketing until you’ve grown. You do NOT need a Twitter account, Facebook page, or YouTube channel. Those come later.
Q: How did you promote or advertise your IT consulting services when you first started?
When I first started out, I offered my services free to a school for one year. It not only helped the school, but it allowed me to gain experience and “word of mouth” marketing (referrals) to take effect. I dare you to look around and find one business that does NOT use technology. All it takes to get you started is a genuine conversation that might go something like this:
You: “I noticed your WIFI is running slow… I actually do this for a living. I’d be happy to help… mind if I take a look?”
Business owner: “Ummm… sure! I don’t know what the problem is… We’ve had (lame IT consulting company) out at least three times and they can’t figure it out.”
… welcome to your first client! There are many other ways of starting that same conversation that do not involve WIFI. Get creative!
Q: How much does geographic location play in your success?
Not much. We live in a world where everyone needs technology. It’s all in how you position yourself and your products. Walk into the local coffee shop and see if they would be interested in you setting up managed WIFI service. Start posting signs on sticks that say, “In-Home IT Consulting” with your phone number below it. You can start this career anywhere.
Q: How do you know what to charge your first clients?
You won’t! Many consulting businesses do not develop official/published pricing plans until years down the line. To determine your initial rate, you’ll often need to go off a “gut feeling” of what would be fair for you and them. You could also post a question to forums/message boards to the effect of: “How much should I expect to make as a consultant in <fill in your technology here>?” Then take that rate and reduce it by at least 30%. Your first client should always get an “Early Adopter Rate.”
Q: How do you price your services?
The more experience you gain, the more “repeat patterns” you’ll begin to find. Some IT consultants always stay at a “time and materials” model, increasing their hourly rate as their time becomes more scarce. Others will begin to offer a “flat rate” (which tends to make customers feel much better) Example: I can install that server and get everything running for $395. The only way to offer profitable, flat-rate pricing is through experience (learning how long common tasks take you).
Q: What is the best way to set up a price plan?
All you have to sell is your time. If you have plenty of time, you’re likely just getting started. Price yourself lower than the competition. Make it a “no brainer” for a customer to hire you. As you gain customers, continue to raise your prices as your available time becomes more scarce.
Q: If you have no sales experience, what is the easiest way to get up and running?
Refer back to the previous question about obtaining new customers… It does not take any sales experience to have a relationship. Be real, show genuine concern, and offer a solution if you have one. “Organic sales” are the best type. It will likely be years before you hire a “real” sales person (most IT consultants are quite happy staying in a sole proprietorship model).
Q: How do you deal with local competition?
What local competition? If you do everything I’ve described in this post, you won’t even need to know who the local competition is. There are more than enough customers and far too few GOOD IT consultants. you will be the one stealing the customers away!