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James Serra's Blog

James is currently a Senior Business Intelligence Architect/Developer and has over 20 years of IT experience. James started his career as a software developer, then became a DBA 12 years ago, and for the last five years he has been working extensively with Business Intelligence using the SQL Server BI stack (SSAS, SSRS, and SSIS). James has been at times a permanent employee, consultant, contractor, and owner of his own business. All these experiences along with continuous learning has helped James to develop many successful data warehouse and BI projects. James has earned the MCITP Business Developer 2008, MCITP Database Administrator 2008, and MCITP Database Developer 2008, and has a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Engineering. His blog is at .

Blueprint for consulting riches

As a business intelligence architect consultant, I have met many people out there who are as good or better than me in building business intelligence solutions, yet earn much less than I do.  Why you ask?  In the past 18 months, I have nearly tripled my yearly income.  How you ask?  Well, the blueprint I followed is below.  There is nothing incredibly difficult or magical about it.  It just requires some hard work.  And realize I had a solid “base” of experience that has been helpful (over 20 years as a desktop developer, web developer, and DBA with many different companies):

  • About four years ago I became convinced that BI was the area to be in to make the most money, and I was right.  For an explanation of why BI is hot, see DBA’s, want to earn the big bucks? Learn BI
  • Become a Business Intelligence (BI) architect.  Be able to complete a project from beginning to end: take requirements, architect the solution, write the code, etc.  Be very familiar with SQL Server engine, SSAS, SSIS, SSRS, PerformancePoint, and PowerPivot.  There are not many people who can do this, so it’s all about supply and demand.  There is a lot of demand for BI architects as the number of BI projects are growing rapidly.  I would say BI architect is one of the highest paying IT positions if not the highest
  • If BI is not your thing, then make sure you are in a field that you have a passion for.  With passion comes motivation, the key to improving your skills
  • Be a good negotiator.  There is one area where I have really improved over the years.  When it comes to negotiating my pay rate with the placement firms, I know how to work the system.  Take a recruiter out to lunch and ask them how the game works.  Remember if they don’t place you, they get zero dollars, so there is always room to get more money by having them reduce their markup
  • Be a good communicator.  Constantly be improving your skills in this area, as this will help in interviews, working with colleagues, pre-sales calls, demonstrations, presentations, etc
  • Be a hard worker, not just on the job and but also off the job.  Reduce your TV time, social networking, and online gaming and instead spend an hour or two each day learning, enhancing your skill set, playing with new technology, reading blogs, writing blogs, etc.  You say you don’t have the time?  Well, Figure It the %$&* Out!  If it was easy everyone would be rich.  Also check out Brent Ozar’s My 6 Rules for incredible time management
  • Boost your confidence.  If you work hard to improve your skill-set, you will have confidence in your technical ability.  The more confidence you have, the better you will do in interviews
  • Get in the game – don’t be afraid to try.  The way to become a better negotiator is to negotiate and learn from your experience.  Be bold!
  • You can make a lot more money as a W2/1099 contractor/consultant than as a salaried/full-time/perm employee.  If you want to make a lot more money you need to get away from a perm position.  See Salaried employee vs contractorConsultants: 1099 or W-2?Thinking about taking a contract position? Questions to askConsultants: Corp-to-Corp vs 1099
  • It is very difficult to find people who are not only technically astute, but have the personality and people skills to be a consultant.  Especially with BI projects, as you are frequently dealing with top management.  So work on improving your people skills.  Having a good personality is the key to nailing a job interview: if they like you as a person they will want to work with you and therefore will want to hire you
  • Start a blog and blog at least once a week.  That is a way for recruiters to find you, and it’s a great way to show hiring companies that you know your stuff.  I rarely have to do technical interviews after the hiring company sees my blog
  • Present sessions at user groups.  That is a great way to network, improve your communication skills, and learn more about technology
  • Interview frequently.  I do not go more than a couple of months without a job interview, even if I’m not looking for another position.  It’s a way to keep up your interview skills, network, and learn what skills companies are looking for (i.e. keep your finger on the pulse of the market,).  The more you interview, the more you will like it.  I am at the point where I love to do interviews
  • Apply for multiple contracts so you have multiple offers.  If the recruiters know you have other offers, they will increase their offer.  Throw out a high rate at which you would take a project to a number of recruiters…one just might stick
  • Live in a big city.  I live in Houston and there are many BI opportunities here.  You can still greatly increase your income if you are in a small city or town, it just will require travel to where the jobs are
  • Network via LinkedIn and Dice.  Connect with every Microsoft BI person you can find on LinkedIn, and as many recruiters in your area as possible (see How to use LinkedIn to enhance your career and
    Heads up, LinkedIn users: 93% of recruiters are looking at you).  I have gotten my last 5-6 jobs because recruiters found me on Linked or Dice.  I never apply for a position…everyone finds me.  See The best IT job boards
  • Try to be known as a BI expert.  Then you can demand expert-level pay rates.  See How to become an expert in your field
  • Check into all jobs as even one’s that don’t seem like a fit may turn into a fit after you research them more
  • Do not fall into a comfort zone.  If after six months you are not getting what you expected out of your role, it is time to re-evaluate your current situation
  • Keep in contact with many recruiters and try to know as many as possible.  The more recruiters you know, the more who will be letting you know of new openings.  Have connections with many recruiters who know you, your background, and career aspirations. It’s a way to learn about opportunities for growth and upward movement you would often know nothing about.  Also keep in mind that many large companies have preferred vendor lists, so you want to know the recruiters on those lists
  • Take recruiting calls if even you are content where you are.  You have leverage and the recruiter will have to really sweeten the deal to get you to move (i.e. a lot more money).  You don’t have to consider the recruiter’s opportunity unless it meets the criteria you have set.  Be proactive and keep your options open.  ”Dig the well before you are thirsty”.  See Forward to Your Recruits: Why a Passive Candidate Should Take a Recruiter’s Call
  • Don’t feel disloyal by listening to other career opportunities – managing your own career path isn’t a sign of disloyalty, it is professionally responsible.  Even if you do not leave your present position, you are now that much more aware of why it is you are content where you are, and sometimes gain a bit more leverage in the salary/benefits department when you are made aware of how in-demand you are.  Also, if you were to pursue another option and choose to leave, think of it as you are now providing a job for someone else!
  • Always be learning.  The more you know, the more job opportunities you will be a fit for.  See ABL: Always Be Learning
  • Be open to some travel.  Look for projects outside your city.  Demand a higher rate for those jobs and you may get it.  Your expenses will be paid, and most allow remote work so you don’t have to travel every week
  • You need to embrace change.  Don’t stay at the same job.  Experience many different projects and companies.  Staying at the same job for five years may only result on one year of experience as you repeat that one year of experience five times.  And the more successful projects you complete, the more confidence you will have in your abilities.  See Make life more stable with more frequent job changes
  • Take projects where you can learn new technologies or become much more familiar with a technology you know a little about.  I took projects in succession where I each learned a new skill or became much better at one I already knew: C#, SQL Server, SSIS, SSAS, SSRS, PDW, MDM.  You become more well-rounded and a whole bunch of more opportunities become available.  Take only jobs that will offer you exposure to experience that is in demand in the job market
  • You need to embrace risk.  No matter how confident you are in your ability, every new project brings a certain uncertainty.  ”Maybe I’m not good enough”.  But I see that as a challenge.  That is what makes it fun.  The old adage is true, no risk, no reward!
  • Create short-term and long-term goals.  Determine where you want to be, what steps you need to get there, and follow the plan you create.  Every few months make sure you are on track
  • To make even MORE money, you want to cut out the “middle man”, those placement/recruiting firms, which take anywhere from a 20%-60% markup.  This would require you to build relationships over the years with many managers, but it could pay off big time.  Be aware that many big companies have a preferred vendor list that you must go through no matter what
  • Check out my presentation on this topic that I made at the Houston PASS

The end result of following this blueprint is you will have an in-demand skillset, make more money, and have no trouble finding your next consulting gig.  This will give you piece of mind knowing if your project was suddenly canceled, or is coming to an end, or you just don’t like it, you will have no problem finding another job right away.  And a higher income means more money in the bank to handle a down-turn in the economy.

Another major point that I wanted to make: my family is my #1 priority, and a major driver of mine to earn more money over my career was to provide a better living for them.  I was able to work from home while my kids where young letting me spend more time with them, am able to have my wife not have to work outside the home in order to be with the kids, have taken a nice vacation with my family each year, provide an overall higher standard of living for them, and be able to send them to college without them being swamped in debt when they finish.  That was the motivation for me to follow the above blueprint for my entire career.

Hopefully this list give you more insight into becoming good at selling and marketing yourself so you are on the path to riches!

More Info:

Consulting vs. Permanent Employment: A Comparison

Consultants: W-2, 1099 or Corp-to-Corp?

Are you a consultant or a contractor?

Technology Consulting as an Employment Option

The difference between contracting and consulting and why it matters

How IT consultants are different from contractors

5 Reasons I Love My Job

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