Secrets of Independent Consulting – What they won’t tell you

After I left Microsoft at the end of March, I had a few offers for big consulting gigs and had some horrible experiences.  Let me share what they won’t tell you…

1) Enteprise Company Politics are Slow (TONS of red tape) – The customer’s SharePoint folks were very excited to have me, but because of the size of the company and company politics, I needed to come on as a sub contractor through MCS.  So talking to the MCS account rep, he setup a call and we discussed it.  The whole account team was very excited.  We can have you start on Monday.  Monday comes, and I’m still there and I send mails with delayed responses.  Oh, sorry, we need to get upper level management approval and your rate is concerning them.  What?  I thought we were past this…  So tell me what they want.  Oh, MCS is adding a cushion?  Sure I expect that.  So will each layer.

2) Statement of Works are a fact of life and completely ridiculous – We know what you’re going to do, but we need a statement of work.  The statement of work might be approved, but it will take a review sometime in the next few weeks.  It might happen as soon as tomorrow or as late as next budget.  Template for the SOW?  Just write something up and we’ll let you know if it works.

3) To be a sub, you need to choose sub contracting company – So I need to get in a company to get in another company?  And we wonder why the rates are a problem.  Independent consulting really doesn’t exist at the enterprise level.

4) What sounds real is fake – the people who want to do things are often completely not enabled to make decisions.  This is very, very much a common problem.  I’m sure SharePoint ISVs see this all the time.

5) Life is completely random – You might get a call in the middle of the night from a client that has to have you on the ground tomorrow, and by the time you get yourself together.  It’s gone.  Something happened, but you don’t know what.  You just know they stopped calling and they don’t return your calls… if you even have their number.  Urgent has been reprioritized.

Lessons Learned – If you want to do consulting, then you likely are better off picking a company to hang your hat on, even if your relationship with them is loose.  Getting insurance can be hard if you have existing conditions that have medication.  Some alumni organizations either from your previous company or from your school may have options for you.  Small and medium companies are actually more agile and can make decisions much faster.  They often are willing to pay the rate and can pay it because they don’t have the multiple layers and red tape.  They want the expert and boom they can have them.

Long story short.  I never ended up at the big enterprise job that had to have me that made me drop other things off my plate.  They wasted a TON of my time and I wouldn’t even give them my time if they doubled my rates due to the way I was treated.  I had an awesome summer doing a ton of fun things from short high impact consulting gigs, training, workshops, and conferences all over the globe.  It was awesome.

Consulting at an independent level is ultimately sales.  So if you don’t like sales you may not like independent consulting.  You have to sell your skills, then you have to sell your solution, then you have to deal with account management.  No guarantees at all along the way.  No matter how much time the customer has invested there is no guarantee it will go through.  Those 2 months where you could make TONS of money could be 2 months of wasted time trying to get the job that gets reprioritized and you’re out all that time.  SAD.

There are upsides to independence don’t get me wrong, but that’s for another post.

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Joel Oleson

I LOVE traveling our little planet. In my quest to visit every country in the world I've got about 35 UN countries left! I'm not just country hopping, but looking for the most immersive cultural experiences and capturing them as photos and videos. Yes, I'm also a geek. I've been recognized as a Microsoft Regional Director, a community leadership award. When not traveling, I'm in paradise in sunny southern California as I'm a Senior IT Manager at Blizzard Entertainment.

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