2013 has been an interesting year for myself, and Calwell. It has been a good year to be involved with technology consulting, and we’ve has helped solve a great deal of technology challenges. During the year, I’ve also seen a great shift. More prolific blogging about real products and ideas. More companies and individuals interested in having me be a part of ideas they’ve created. I have had a few ideas of my own over the years; but I am now in a better position than ever to support and invest in other ideas.
What connects all of this is Calwell’s continued growth. Through the great number of challenges faced and starting with almost little support and less investment – Calwell was not supposed to succeed. Over the years, however, a great deal of amazing folks grew to support what I was doing and that grew to something I’m proud of today. Sure, it’s ongoing, but I’ve learned a lot about this thing called “independent contracting”. Today, many see this as something they want to do. On an average day, I see a number of elevator pitches from various companies and individuals – many of them I have started to invest in.
I am an Information Technology Consultant. Yes, that’s my day job. I manage, maintain, repair, and work with all kinds of technology in the Greater Toronto Area. I’ve, in the past, mused on the different aspects of what it takes to be a Consultant (self employed or not), whether it be the dark side of the craft, various essential tools, or tips on how to work better. But, one topic I’ve never broached is: What does it take to be a great IT Consultant?
What are kinds of skills and qualities do you want to work at to be the best you can be in this (at times) difficult line of work? Are you interested in starting your own business in IT and wonder if you can do it? Well, you’ve come to the right place.
So many in technology and consulting are amazing at what they do. They can figure out things no one else can. But, they, like the rest of us are at war with one of the most difficult obstacles. Is is their own internal dialog? Is it the other companies that want the business? Is it the client that second guesses them? No, they’re at war with the one thing that levels the playing field. You might call it clarity, understanding or transparency, but with this simple piece missing, the most brilliant person is reduced to ineffective.
While reading Jaron Lanier’s fascinating book named You Are Not a Gadget, he speaks of a very interesting concept that I think resonates with all of us. This concept, the Circle of Empathy posits that we all have a circle of people, places, and things that are most important to us – and everything outside of that can die without us worrying too much. The question is, from day to day, what fits inside of this circle and what should be placed outside of it? That’s a tougher questions to answer than you might think – everyone is different in how they would answer. When related to Consulting, the idea of a empathy circle has to be inflated for you to succeed.
I warn you, this post has nothing to do with movies or hollywood per se. This post is about the users you support as a consultant and an interesting complex that starts occurring over time. This complex happens when the user, needing help, thinks he or she has something of unique and glorious significance (although it’s likely not anything more than a mundane issue). This interesting complex, one that I call the hollywood complex, can really skew the way we support clients – and even make solving issues more difficult.
There is a time in any skilled freelancer/consultant’s life when someone they know comes up to them and says “Can you help me with ” and said person expects you to do that for nothing. Even worse, they may give you the runaround or play you more as you’re doing something to help them. Here are some simple rules to follow when you’re gut’s telling you the person looking to you is after “something for nothing”.
Recently, I met a 70 year old former engineer, who by all accounts was in great shape for his age. I remember thinking I’d like to look that good at 70. He had been a mechanical engineer for more than forty years and recently left the industry he enjoyed to retire. These days, he tells me travel and leisure take up a good portion of his time. We struck up a conversation about length of work, working on what you love and why he left. This gave me great perspective on work, the future of the work we do, and how long I might continue to be an IT Guy in an industry filled with younger folks.
I run a small business. I handle customer service and I’m also a customer to other businesses. Often, the phrase “The customer is always right” is mentioned in passing or sort of in jest when someone talks of a customer/business disagreement. There is actually a history to this phrase that dates back to the early 20th century. But I wanted to talk about whether, as a consultant and a business owner, is it really true that the customer is always right?
In business there are some things that you’ll find are absolutely true. You’ll have customers that won’t pay, you’ll struggle with cash flow, you’ll hate paperwork. But, one thing that no one will tell you about is how to stay motivated. Yes, there is this sort of power juice that everyone in business needs to keep at it on our worst days. It’s for those days your significant other gives you hell for not devoting time, those days that you’re out of the country and the customer walks away because you can’t take care of them. I want to let you in on a few secrets I’ve learned over the years to keep on keepin’ on.
It has been years too. I have been doing this in some capacity for more than twelve years. Along the way I have run in a great deal of situations that have tried my patience with the very idea of being in business. Through it all, somehow I have stayed the course and continued through the barriers and still get back to it every morning. I learned early on, one of the hardest things we’ll need to do is to start. There are those days you forget to call a customer back, the days that you fail to finish a job on time, the customers that treat you badly. The list of reasons NOT to do this is longer than a donkey’s years