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Consulting -- Getting started

How do you get started as an independent contractor? Read on...

Consulting -- Getting started

In my September 7th Developer Career Tip entitled "Is Independent Contracting For You", I discussed the pros and cons of becoming an Independent Contractor. I'd like to continue my discussion of Independent Contracting by answering the question I am probably asked most often, and that is - "How do I get started?" The answer to this question really depends upon how independent you really wish to be.

There are companies in my neck of the woods (the Philadelphia Metropolitan area) that will find Independent Contracting Work for you. Essentially, these are work brokers who are paid a fee by the company for whom you eventually work. Some of these companies also offer some useful support services. For instance, finding you a group health insurance plan or investing some of your earnings in a cash management account to provide you with 'paid' vacation and sick days. The problem with these work brokers is that their requirements for work experience may be even more stringent than that of prospective employers. So if you are trying to get your foot in the door, this is one door you may find nailed firmly shut.

If you have no experience, but plenty of knowledge, what tack should you then take to get started with Independent Contracting?

Forget 'cold calling'--it's just not going to work. The chances of someone hiring you off the street are next to nothing.

Advertising in a local newspaper or the Yellow Pages as a Software Developer is something that some of my associates have tried, but more often than not, the calls they receive are from other developers looking for work, or from vendors trying to sell them office equipment.
Word of mouth and networking is a fair possibility, so let your friends, family and associates know that you are now working on your own. Perhaps one of them knows someone who needs some programming work done.

Personally, I don't advertise, and I've never used a work broker to find work. Over the years, the best method I've found for finding new work is teaching.

I do a lot of teaching, both within colleges and universities and also in computer training centers. Out of a typical class of 20 students, I typically have one or two students who later contact me to come in and lend their company a hand with the subject matter I'm teaching. In fact, two of the largest contracts I've ever landed were a direct result of my teaching.

You might be saying to yourself that this sounds great, but you don't have a teaching certificate or the prerequisite degree to teach. While it's true that a teaching certificate may be required for elementary or secondary education, and you may need a Masters Degree to teach College Credit course, many colleges and universities now offer Adult Education, Professional Development or Certificate programs in which the requirements for teaching are merely a good knowledge of the subject. In my area, colleges, universities, high schools even my local YMCA are offering courses on program.

The bottom line is if you can get up in front of a group of people and convey your knowledge of a programming topic well enough, you might find its one of your own students that will provide your first big break into the world of Independent Contracting.

Please read the aforementioned tip, entitled "Is Independent Contracting For You"

Written by John Smiley, MCP, MCSD and MCT, author, and adjunct professor of Computer Science at Penn State University in Abington, Philadelphia University, and Holy Family College. John has been teaching computer programming for nearly 20 years.

John Smiley is president of Smiley and Associates, a computer consulting firm located in New Jersey.

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