Lessons from consulting

2013-10-27 4 min read

    To supplement my income while working on a startup, I took on a few consulting projects and wanted to share some lessons learned. It seems that everyone’s consulting experience is different so consider mine experience as just another data point.

    • I was able to get more work from my existing network than anything else I tried. As soon as I told people I was looking to take on some consulting projects I was able to get interest and referrals. If I didn’t have that I’m not sure how I would have gotten my first few projects.
    • It took longer than I expected to agree on a project’s scope and get the contract signed. My approach was to do a call or meeting to understand the goals of the project and then break it down into components with an estimated time and cost for each piece. I liked this approach since we were able to discuss the priorities of various pieces and talk about the risks associated with each.
    • It took longer to get paid than I expected. I was confident that I’d get paid but it took a few emails and meetings to get the payments made. The part that helped was getting an initial deposit before starting the work.
    • The biggest benefit was the flexibility to choose when and how to work on the projects. Unfortunately, this flexibility is better in the abstract. I didn’t find the flexibility that valuable since almost everyone I know is working at a full time job which causes me to also follow a pretty standard schedule.
    • Most of the knowledge I gained was on the business/marketing side rather than on the tech side. I wasn’t doing challenging work and for the most part didn’t get a chance to work closely with others. The projects I did were also pretty independent so I had to resort to Google and Stack Overflow to help me deal with various questions that came up.
    • The projects I had were not critical to the company and were mostly “nice to haves.” This had the effect of me not feeling very aligned with the company vision which made the projects less interesting than they should have been. I’m not sure if this was due to the way I positioned myself for consulting work or due to the companies not wanting to outsource their critical projects.
    • A shared GitHub account worked amazingly well. The client was able to track the progress and provide feedback at various stages. This required me to commit well documented, working code but it definitely made communication easier. I also had a staging environment set up for my projects which let the clients see the code in action.
    • I wrote a post last month on pricing smaller consulting projects and wanted to highlight that again. I would come up a time estimate for a project that would be billed at my usual rate. Any work that spilled over would be billed at a discounted rate. This gave clients confidence that my estimate was reasonable and gave them a sense of the total project cost.

    This was my first time doing serious consulting work and it’s a mixed bag. I enjoyed the flexibility but didn’t find it being a huge deal. I was also taking on projects that paid the bills but weren’t the most exciting. My biggest gripe was that I felt I wasn’t learning as much as I would have had I been working as part of a team. This gave the illusion that I was falling behind on my skills and not improving as much as others were.If I were to do it again, I’d want to specialize in a particular field and only do projects that fit in with my passions and interests. I’d also want to get it to the state where I’d be working alongside others rather than being entirely independent.