Career Opportunities

The High-Tech Career Handbook

A weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch

Getting Serious Part 1

October 8, 2004

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Over the past several months I have had both a desire and a need to focus intently on my freelance consulting business. Lately, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the nature of my work. What am I trying to accomplish, both for my clients and myself? How am I going to go about accomplishing those goals? Like everyone, I can get caught up in the rush of daily life, jumping from task to task without focusing on the big picture. Sometimes I need to be reminded to take a few minutes to think about what I am doing to insure that I am still headed in the right direction. It is time to “get serious” about your work and your career.

All of this thinking has led me to develop a series of guidelines, methods and checklists, etc. for dealing with my clients. Your relationships with clients can bump along haphazardly or you can actively work on these relationships to insure that everyone is getting the biggest benefit for their time and money. Instead of taking each call as a one time event, I have begun thinking and managing them as one, small part of an on-going process. While I am sometimes reacting to my client’s immediate problems, I am also actively pursuing ways to address future needs. Over the next several weeks, I am going to open up my process to you with all its shining points and ugly warts, so you can start to develop your own process for building your high-tech career.

In the beginning…troubleshooting and more

Starting with the first contact with a new client, I begin to follow several simultaneous processes. First, I work to address the immediate problem, of course. You can’t move forward with a client until you get their basic problems fixed. This procedure calls for a few basic questions. What is needed to solve their problem? What do they need to know? What do I need to know in order to assist them? What research do I need to do? We then address the practical issues of setting the appointment, ordering equipment and such.

While we work through these basic issues, though, I am also thinking along another, parallel path. Your knowledge of the client may be somewhat limited, but you need to start thinking about their future needs. Your discoveries during the troubleshooting above will help to generate ideas and recommendations almost from the moment you start. This is why these processes should happen at the same time.

Are you finding old hardware and software that needs to be upgraded? Do they need to install a network? Are systems having chronic problems that affect their day-today work? Do they need recommendations for training, books or web sites to help them move forward? Do they need a custom solution, like a database developed specifically for their needs? All this information gets notated and filed away for future use. It will become the single most useful tool in developing your relationship with the client.

Note: If you want to make a great impression on your clients, start carrying a journal. While I have always taken notes during my appointments, earlier this year I started carrying a black, cloth-covered, hard-back journal. I use it to notate software versions, questions, IP addresses and a host of other information for future reference. While I did this mainly as a better way to contain my notes in one location, several clients have commented on it. The act of committing your notes to a hard-back journal seems to offer up a feeling of professionalism, commitment and trust. Who would have known?

Business Concerns

Yet another parallel process is the issue of business itself. How much of your time will this client need in the future? How much can they afford? Are there other clients in their geographical area that you can service on the same day so you can make the most of your travel time? Will this client generate a lot of income or remain an “every once and a while” client? While these questions shouldn’t effect the way you treat the client, you need to be aware of how the client fits into your stable of clients and the goals for your business. Are you a good personality match or are there significant differences in your thinking? Are they too geographically remote for you to service them well? Start asking these questions, and more, today.

Getting off to a good start with your clients is more than half the battle. In fact, it can dictate the future success of the relationship. This week, take the time to “get serious” about your career. Engage yourself in some deep thinking about what you want and need. Put yourself in the place of your clients and imagine what you would want in that position. Finally, start implementing the processes above, and developing your own, so you can start enjoying the benefits immediately.

Next week: Maintaining your client relationships over time.


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