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Independent consultant: How to find work

When I talk to people about switching from being a salaried employee to an independent consultant (see my presentation How to make a LOT more money as a consultant), the most frequent question I hear is “I worry about having to drum up my own business.  I never had to do that.  How did you make the transition?”.

First let me say, it’s a lot easier than you think, especially if your background is in data warehousing and business intelligence, which is a very hot skill-set.  I talk to recruiters all the time who mention how hard it is to find people with both the technical skills and the people skills.  If you fall into this category there is a ton of opportunities out there.

There are two main ways of landing work: through your own direct contacts, or via a recruiter/placement company.  Getting work directly is usually best, as you cut out the middle-man and therefore make more money.  But it’s hard to find work directly as it’s all based on who you know.  Plus, a lot of companies use preferred vendors so you are forced to go through one of them, even if you have a direct contact at the company.

Using recruiters is a great way to find work, and that is the way I have found most of my consulting projects.  Recruiters usually find me either through LinkedIn (see How to use LinkedIn to enhance your career), my blog (see Enhance your career by blogging!), job boards, or from their own local candidate list based on a previous contact with them.  It’s important to talk with recruiters even when you are not looking for work (just avoid the resume hoarders and those looking for you to help them do their job).  If you talk to the recruiters and build a relationship, they will keep you in mind for future opening that come across their desk.  Most of the time these projects are 6-12 month contracts.  It will be difficult to find contracts if you live in a small town and can’t travel.  But if you live near a big city and can travel, there are tons of opportunities.

It has been years since I went a day without work in-between projects.  When a project ends, I have always started another project the next day.  And if you are making twice as much income as your salaried position, even having a few weeks off in-between projects will be more than worth it.

The best way to get direct work is to use those relationships you have built on prior projects.  Contact companies you have worked for in the past as a contractor or perm to see if they could use you.  Even the current company that you are working for now as a salaried person may be very willing to hire you as an independent consultant for a future project.  Like I said, it’s hard to find people with both the technical and people skills.  And as you build up your personal “brand” via blogging, presenting, writing articles and books, etc, you will have more companies contract you directly.

Bottom line, if you have good work experience, are a quick learner, have good people skills, and are always trying to build relationships with recruiters, you will always have work.  You just need to get over your fear of “going on your own”.  Once you do, you will wish you became an independent consultant sooner!

If you are ready to make the jump, check out some of my other blog posts: Blueprint for consulting richesSalaried employee vs contractorConsultants: 1099 or W-2?Thinking about taking a contract position? Questions to askHow to become an expert in your fieldABL: Always Be Learning,

James Serra's Blog

James is a big data and data warehousing technology specialist at Microsoft. He is a thought leader in the use and application of Big Data technologies, including MPP solutions involving hybrid technologies of relational data, Hadoop, and private and public cloud. Previously he was an independent consultant working as a Data Warehouse/Business Intelligence architect and developer. He is a prior SQL Server MVP with over 30 years of IT experience. James is a popular blogger (JamesSerra.com) and speaker, having presented at dozens of PASS events including the PASS Business Analytics conference and the PASS Summit. He is the author of the book “Reporting with Microsoft SQL Server 2012”. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Engineering from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.


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