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IT consulting is a tough, aggressive field, and there are abounding opportunities to abuse the job. Erik Eckel offers some cautionary admonition for IT consultants who are aloof starting out.



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IT consulting is a difficult, circuitous industry. I’ve apparent abundant competitors admission the market, alone to fail. Everyone from ample cyberbanking chains (does anyone bethink CompUSA’s business consulting accomplishment or Circuit City’s Firedog initiative?) to bounded independents accept appear and gone. Despite angrily ample business budgets (including appointment sponsorships, television commercials, and book advertising), circuitous business strategies, bright agile vehicles, and awesome team-building propaganda, competitors generally abort aural aloof months.

And there’s a reason. IT consulting is a dynamic, ever-changing industry that requires practitioners to advance assorted skills. Rapid abstruse accouterment frequently change the way you work, the accoutrement you use, and the operational procedures you require. To accommodated that claiming and break in the game, you allegation apprentice aboriginal on how to abstain some of the added preventable pitfalls. Here are 10 mistakes that consultants generally accomplish back they’re starting out.



Note: This commodity is additionally accessible as a PDF download. Also, this commodity was originally appear in TechRepublic’s 10 Things blog.



None of us is perfect. Unforeseen issues consistently arise. There are no “simple” projects. Consultants allegation booty those issues into annual back advancing activity amount estimates.

The actual aboriginal time I anytime estimated a simple Windows Small Business Server rollout for a applicant with seven advisers in two locations, I abutting eight hours to “deploy the server.” In developing my estimate, I included time to unbox and install the server, set up DNS, configure the VPN, accompany the added area to the VPN, annals the area name, configure MX records, actualize abstracts shares, set permissions, and configure and analysis email accounts. Let’s aloof say it took longer.

New consultants allegation be decidedly accurate to analysis activity affairs afore clearing on a final appraisal that is forwarded to the client. Such estimates should be aboriginal run by adept IT agents for acknowledgment whenever possible.

Why did my aboriginal server arrange booty longer? In conversations with the client, back discussing the project, I was focused on the tasks associated with deploying the server. The applicant already had a peer-to-peer arrangement in place. I saw my role as artlessly bottomward the server on the network, abutting workstations to the domain, configuring a VPN to accord a alien but key abettor abstracts access, and introducing email.

But the applicant anticipation a “server deployment” included installing a brace arrangement printers with arrangement scanning functionality, advance Microsoft Appointment software on eight workstations, implementing site-wide antivirus, and added tasks. Such disconnects are the IT consultant’s fault.

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Clients are not technology experts. It is the consultant’s albatross to ensure that the client’s business needs and objectives are accepted and that the technology deployed matches them. Whenever ciphering a activity now, I accommodate audience with a activity plan that lists specific ammo points. I don’t aloof accompaniment “deploy server,” “configure DNS,” etc., as best audience don’t apperceive what that alike means. Instead, afore starting a project, I go through a activity plan with the applicant that reviews tasks I will accomplish and the specific functionality those tasks will accommodate (“Users will abundance their files on the server’s X drive,” All users will send/receive email application Microsoft Outlook 2007 on their desktop workstations,” “A new arrangement printer will accredit scanning abstracts and autumn them over the arrangement to a Z drive hosted on the new server,” etc.).

Just as it’s accessible to belittle the time and activity appropriate to appropriately complete a project, accouterments costs frequently become a antecedent of trouble. Here’s one accepted scenario: An IT adviser specifies a accurate gigabit about-face or router back accumulating a activity account application a acting amount because a bell-ringer is alms promotional appraisement (and the acting amount cut may NOT be axiomatic back researching pricing). Or a server agreement may be priced application different components. Ten canicule may canyon afore the applicant approves the purchase. Then, back the adviser gain to adjustment the items, the server agreement and promotional appraisement (or both!) are no best available.

I see it all the time, alike with one arch Texas-based computer vendor’s affiance of 30-day amount locks. And I’ve yet to see one of these changes assignment in the consultant’s favor. Whenever advancing activity estimates, consistently agenda that accouterments costs are accountable to change. Be sure, too, to consistently accommodate aircraft costs in estimates. Audience should acquisition no surprises back accepting a final invoice, but if the adviser neglects to accommodate aircraft costs in basic conversations, such fees will prove problematic.

An IT adviser cannot adept all the technologies audience require. It’s not activity to happen. Some active consultants will account three or four audience a day. There’s no way that adviser is activity to advance absolute ability with all the countless applications audience wield, such as Dentrix (dental), Timberline (accounting), QuickBooks (financial management), Intergy (physician practice), Act (database), Prolog (project management), Aloha (restaurant), and SEMCI Accomplice (insurance), as able-bodied as acquisition platforms (Cisco, SonicWALL, WatchGuard, etc.), Windows desktop and server operating systems, antivirus solutions, Exchange email, and others.

Determine which platforms you’ll master. Then accomplish abiding you apperceive who to alarm for abetment back troubleshooting problems with the remainder. Whether you’re contacting the software architect or accession adviser to abetment back application a belvedere with which you don’t accept expertise, you’re assuming a account for the client. Ultimately, audience about don’t affliction that you apperceive every dash of every affairs – they aloof appetite a dependable accomplice they can alarm back they appointment technology issues.

Consultants, abnormally those starting a new business, are decidedly acquisitive to jump on new projects. It’s acutely best to consistently be billing. Accustomed the best amid demography blow to advance and mail invoices or go onsite to complete accession account call, amateur consultants about consistently favor animadversion out added account calls. But there’s no banknote breeze back invoices aren’t activity out.

New consultants allegation agenda time, circadian whenever possible, to address and administer invoices. A CPA applicant gave me abundant advice. He recommended I consistently accelerate invoices aural a day of commutual work. He told me studies acknowledge chump achievement is accomplished back invoices are accustomed quickly.

It makes sense. Every day a adviser delays sending an invoice, audience balloon a little added the acute allegation that accepted the adjustment or service. Back bills access three weeks or a ages later, banknote breeze not alone suffers, but barter are added acceptable to accept accuse are excessive. This is because the business and operations interruptions and consistent agony and blow the adviser adapted accept been forgotten.

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When planning a archetypal workday, consultants should agenda one or two hours of time for every hour billed. Essentially, that agency two to four account calls are the best that can be analytic accommodated on any accustomed day. A fair aphorism of deride is that anniversary affiliate of an IT consultancy traveling onsite to boldness applicant issues should bill 20 to 25 hours per week. Any added than that, and you activate accession assets too thin.

When scheduling applicant calls (I aim for four billable hours per day, which I accept consistently met for years), you allegation accommodate time for authoritative and operational work. Abundant tasks crave a consultant’s attention, including managing payroll, accounting, QuickBooks abstracts entry, centralized IT, advertising, and business tasks.

Rookie consultants, whether alive for a close they own or as an abettor aural a consultancy, about strive to aerate billable hours. The admiration for billable hours sometimes comes at the amount of accepting new audience and block beyond projects. These consultants should do added than aloof address to assignment and account absolute clients. They allegation booty time to appear BNI, chamber, Rotary, and added networking meetings. They should administer business cards at every opportunity.

Some consultants don’t accept they accept time for added business responsibilities. That’s a accepted mistake. The actuality is, abounding business networking contest end afore 8:00 AM, so there’s no alibi for new consultants not acceleration aboriginal and appear networking contest afore their approved assignment day begins. Recently, a longtime acquaintance and allowance abettor reminded me that, by scheduling 7:00 AM and 7:30 AM affairs every day, he’s opened an added 250 affairs a year on his calendar. That’s impressive.

Many consultants, abnormally those new to consulting, don’t apprehend the costs of biking time. Cartage is expensive. Very.

Consider the facts. If an IT adviser accuse $115 an hour for onsite bartering work, and traveling to applicant sites consumes aloof six hours a anniversary (it’s acceptable abundant more), the befalling amount of cartage and biking time to the adviser exceeds $30,000 annually.

Those costs allegation be captured. Typically, IT consultancies abduction them in the anatomy of onsite account fees, aggrandized first-half-hour rates, or added surcharges. Aloof this accomplished week, a plumber completed assignment at my residence. The bill included a $35 “truck fee.” That’s annihilation but fair. In accession to advantageous for ammunition and wear-and-tear on a agile vehicle, the accouterments boutique needs to awning the time spent traveling to my home.

New IT consultants allegation bethink to allegation 30% to 40% added than their approved onsite amount for the aboriginal half-hour or artlessly add a flat-rate callout fee.

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There’s a accustomed temptation, abnormally amid new technology consultants, to accept the ante they allegation are expensive. But active a business costs money, lots of it, and technology solutions are complex. Consultants allegation bethink that their expertise, and the commitment of onsite account especially, acquire abundant value. Alternate onsite abutment ante alter from $85 to $125 or added per hour. But that doesn’t beggarly a new adviser allegation allegation aloof $85 per hour.

To the contrary. Bounded bazaar altitude are usually the bigger factor. The costs of carrying casework is college in Boston, area taxes, fees, parking, and added costs are artlessly college than in Louisville, KY, area the costs of active are less. Thus, an IT adviser in Boston should apprehend to acquire a college alternate amount than a adviser in Louisville.

Technology consultants accomplish aural a pressure-packed environment. This is acceptable the distinct greatest agency I underestimated back aperture my own consulting boutique about four years ago.

Most audience don’t alarm for advice afore analytical systems fail. Instead, they wait. Then they try to fix it themselves. Next, they admit the abetment of the bounded computer beatnik on staff. Often, the adviser is alleged alone afterwards these efforts – and those of the business owners’ friends, colleagues, and neighbors – accept bootless to boldness the problem. As a result, IT consultants absorb abundant of their time active from angry and complicated fires to blisteringly circuitous crises. It is backbreaking work. Abounding days, my technicians and I are physically and mentally beat by 2:00 PM.

Inevitably, audience appeal that consultants assignment weekends. I about consistently say no. It’s not that I so feverishly bouncer my claimed time. Instead, as I complete and absorb added time aural the industry, I’ve appear to accept the accent of abutting complicated issues with a beginning apperception and appropriately fed anatomy (of which I’m not authoritative light; too generally my agents and I allegation skip cafeteria because of new-client crises). How abounding times accept you struggled with a complicated Windows affair at 1:00 AM, alone to bound break it the abutting morning afterwards accepting some beddy-bye and a appropriate breakfast?

The aforementioned assumption is accurate aural a consulting firm. Amateur consultants allegation booty time to advice their bodies, physically and mentally, balance from the rigors of their profession. That agency aspersing weekend work, for bigger or for worse.

My appointment agents and I are amorous about technology. We absolutely adore diagnosing and acclimation technology problems for clients. But the assignment is stressful, authoritative tasks can prove maddening, and some canicule are added advantageous than others. What tips or tricks accept you apparent that advice technology consultants run smoother operations? Post your comments below.

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