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Market Yourself:
Tips for High Tech Consultants

How to find quality consulting clients easily,
without dealing with recruiters or the pain and embarrasment of cold calling.

Michael David Crawford

Michael David Crawford, Consulting Software Engineer
Solving The Software Problem
mdcrawford@gmail.com

Copyright © 2005, 2012 Michael D. Crawford. All Rights Reserved.

Someone asked on alt.computer.consultants about using client search firms. You don't need to, it's better not to. I don't.

I highly recommend learning to market yourself. It's really not that hard.

Don't be worried about the fact that you're just a computer geek and you don't know squat about marketing. Being a geek is a big advantage in figuring out how to use the web for marketing, and the basics that you need to know about marketing you can learn from this page, maybe reading a book, asking around, and also just by trying some things out and learning from experience.

Also don't worry if you're shy. I haven't placed a single cold-call the whole time I've been a consultant.

Well, I gave it a try after the dot-com crash, but I wasn't actually able to find work that way.

After a few months doing solely 1099 and getting only one job that served my needs through a broker, I decided to make the break from agents and posted a page with a link entitled Recruiters - Please Read This Important Note at the top of both my resume and my company home page.

I have successfully worked on 1099 since April of '98 with only one broker job, and even on that job, I insisted on billing the client directly. I've had only one broker acknowledge actually reading that page since I put it up and still wanting to work with me under the terms I give - but I've had absolutely no trouble finding clients.

Note: May 2, 2005 - I revisited this article today after a five years, mainly to implement the new XHTML/CSS page design created for me by my wife Bonita. You'll find a few notes added within. I'm not so optimistic now as when I first wrote this at the height of the dot-com boom; I turned forty-one this year, my seventh year of self-employment, and am much wiser and wearier when I started. Yet I have been able to keep working all this time, even through the worst of the dot-com crash, and somehow provide for myself and my wife, to buy our first home and to make mortgage and car payments.

It's not an easy way to live by any means, but I still feel it is a better way.

My Real Feelings about Recruiters and Headhunters

I want to say, though, that as much as it might seem that I hate recruiting agents, I don't. I don't hate anyone except those who work for evil and injustice. It's just that I find many of the agents who actually approach me to be both ignorant, greedy and pushy and completely unwilling to consider my needs as an individual or business.

I maintain quite cordial relations with the ones that do maintain ethical and businesslike standards and take the trouble to understand me as an individual.

I won't recommend for or against particular agencies - and it's not the agencies as a whole I prefer, but the individual recruiters at them that I am happy to work with on occasion. Some of the agencies on my "approved list" have recruiters that would give free crack to kids if it would convince them to hire on.

I used to get jobs and contracts regularly through the agencies, but the last few years, the quality of the agencies has gotten far worse, both from my current point of view of someone looking for work, and also when I've done hiring at previous companies - most of the agencies either don't understand what the client is looking for, what skills the candidate has, or just don't give a damn because there is so much money to be made in this high-tech boom economy that all but the very best prefer to just harass any clueless kid into submitting a resume and fast-talking the client into hiring them so they can get their commission and move on to the next client and candidate.

Don't you ever forget: We are intellectuals. We are professionals! The high-tech economy is fueled by our creativity, the sweat of our brows and the incredible pride we take in our work, not by those who would feed off us like the prostitutes and swindlers who hang around gold mining camps.

We are not cattle! It is totally within our power to create wonderful lives for ourselves and our clients as well as build insanely great products for our users completely on our own, were we ever to admit to ourselves that we can take into our own hands the power we were born with.

If you're a recruiter reading this and you're offended, I'd like to take this opportunity to suggest you do something to work within your industry to police yourselves and set some kind of standards. You might find it helpful to consider how The Cluetrain Manifesto applies to you.

If you're a client and wondering what you can do to find programming talent in these tight labor times, well I'll post some thoughts on that too. I'm just a guy and there's only so much of me to go around, so you all can't hire me! I'm happy to post ideas on how you can locate qualified people - read on though, and think about how you can use the Web to find the consultants who've used the techniques I describe to make their presence known.

And consider whether your needs are really being met by the recruiters that you have actually worked with, and whether you would feel your investment was worthwhile if you knew the recruiter would have no qualms on placing a candidate with you that he knew would be unhappy with the job and just want to leave after a few months.

Or consider the recruiter who knew a friend of mine was totally unqualified for a highly technical QA position, so she totally fabricated a new resume for him, faxed it to the client and sent him into a three hour interview completely unprepared. My friend found out about the fraud when the client started asking for specifics on the wonderfully relevant job experience the recruiter claimed he had. He had half-hour interviews scheduled with six people, and stayed the whole three hours to explain the recruiter's fraud to each of them and to let them know he was actually completely unqualified for the position.

Think about it it.

Here's what you do:

Get a web page up.

Don't spend a lot of time getting the page up because you can improve it later. But be sure that somewhere in your page you at least mention the keywords for all the relevant job skills your firm offers. Also put <meta> tags in all your web pages.

Abuse by search engine spammers forced the search engines to ignore meta keywords tags. However, many search engines such as Google will show the meta description text when a page shows up in a search, so you should ensure that each page on your website has a brief, compellingly written meta description. Try a "View Page Source" on this page for an example. It has to be brief because only the first couple lines will be shown.

I've learned a few things about legitimate search engine optimization over the years:

A corrollary to this is: get your own domain name. Businesses don't have addresses at AOL, HotMail, or Yahoo. Kids do, when they're fresh out of college, innocent, ignorant and ripe for the plucking by the headhunters. Businesses also don't host their corporate websites on GeoCities or even on their ISP (unless the ISP provides virtual hosting, which many of the major ones do not) - they have their own domain name with an easy-to-remember URL where the entire part that isn't "www." or ".com" is one word.

It's particularly important if there's some possibility that you could ever move geographically and have to change ISP's, or if your ISP could go out of business - Iridium went bankrupt today, Yahoo could too someday, and then how would your clients find you? If you have your own domain name you can relocate to a different hosting service in a couple days if your old ISP or host should tank.

And yes, I know it's hard to find a good domain name these days but it's worth taking the time to find one even if you have to pay a cybersquatter. It took me three months to figure out GoingWare.com - but I only got serious about getting my own domain name after my ISP was down for a week!

Good thing I did too. They were bought out by some big national ISP who shut them down, domain and all, after the dot com crash. I and all their other customers were abruptly cut of from our email at our ISP's domain, with all our websites disappearing instantly from the web. I was very fortunate that my own domain was well-established by then.

Your domain name is your brand in the Internet age. Just ask Apple Computer how much the "Apple" brand is worth - or the fact that they got the Apple.com domain name and not the Beatle's record label Apple Corp, who thought that they had established the Apple brand name while the two Steve's were still in diapers.

Submit your web pages to all the search engines.

There are sites that will allow you to fill in a single form and submit your page to a few dozen engines simultaneously. I've also seen shrink-wrap software that does this.

Well, actually, I discovered the hard way that it's a bad idea to use the site submission services. I used one once, and had the forethought to give them a unique email address, and afterwards that address - which I gave to them and only them - was spammed mercilessly after it was sold to a bunch of porn site operators.

In retaliation, I created my own spam and cookie-free Painless Search Engine Site Submission service. It actually works better than the submission services because the search engines have had to resort to such means as "capchas" to prevent spamming by automated mass submissions. A capcha is an image of distorted text designed to be impossible for a computer to read but easy for a human. You have to enter its text correctly for your submission to be accepted:

Captcha example

Submit your site to all the web indices.

This is different than submitting to the search engines.

Unlike search engines, these are maintained and categorized by humans so I highly recommend you take the individual trouble to register and submit at each one personally. Find all the places where they have consultants listed and submit your company.

A good place to start is the Open Directory Project. Their index is syndicated to a number of other sites such as Google. I'm listed in their software consultants category.

Your web site should include the resumes of all the principals

The "principals" might consist solely of yourself, and the resumes could be abbreviated, but the important thing is that they include the keywords in the job descriptions, skills listings, and meta tags. Submit the resumes individually to the search engines, and also to the "individual resumes" sites of the more legit places that let anyone browse a resume.

Note that if a user has to pay a fee to see your resume, they're not likely to do so unless they're an agent, and agents tend not to be looking for people that their client won't be wanting to put in a cube farm somewhere.

The vast majority of my clients find me because they do keyword searches on the net for my skills. For example, I got one job because I had the phrase "SCSI scanner driver" in my resume and that agent found it that was willing to do 1099 with direct billing. My current client found me by doing a boolean search at AltaVista for:

"live picture" and resume

Dear me, I just tried it in a Google search just now. It's nice that the #2 hit was a page from my resume, but #3 was my letter of resignation from the company!

because she wanted someone to write an imaging application, and figured someone who used to work at Live Picture, Inc. would do a good job.

Pay $20 to post your resume at The Software Contractor's Guild

It's the one website that I've seen that seems to be really set up to serve the needs of the consultant and not the headhunter. Agents can participate, but you can indicate you don't want to hear from them. Clients and employers can browse resumes and do skill keyword searches for free. You can post your resume there in HTML form, your home page link and email is directly visible on your page and they don't try to get in your way by handling things like bidding and billing and health insurance for you.

Don't deal with those websites that try to pretend they're the consultants friend when actually they're just contract agencies implemented in CGI Perl scripts or Java servlets.

Read Janet Ruhl's books

Janet operates RealRates.com: "Resources for Computer Professionals". She is a computer consultant's consultant, and has published several excellent books about how to run a consulting business. I bought the PDF download of her Market Your Consulting Services shortly after the dot-com crash, and it made a real difference to my survival during the downturn. It is an excerpt from The Computer Consultant's Workbook.

RealRates.com also has a Consultant's Directory that, like the Software Contractor's Guild, is free for clients to use. It's also twenty dollars a year and well worth it.

RealRates.com is best known for its salary and consulting rate surveys which are published periodically and available for a modest fee. If you are not sure what you should be charging your clients these surveys are a good way way to find out.

Janest also runs a computer consultants message board which is a good way to get to know your colleagues and seek helpful advice.

Write a brochure

You can write it yourself, and it's more important that you have one written at all than that you get it written well. That's because a brochure that doesn't exist isn't getting you customers.

Do take the trouble though to lay it out neatly (use conservativily attractive fonts, author it with a quality page layout program, spellcheck it, have your friends and coworkers comment on it).

I do highly recommend getting a professional copywriter who is experienced in high-tech advertising to write your brochure, though. I did the first few drafts of mine myself and had the final one done by my friend Frances Cherman who did just a wonderful job.

If you're willing to go to the expense and you're pretty sure you've got the brochure the way you want it, you can have it attractively (and expensively) offset printed on glossy paper. I just print mine in black and white on a good-quality laser printer; the only real problem with that is that my logo comes out in grayscale. I'm going to experiment with inkjet soon.

Remember, being a geek with a black and white laser-printed brochure isn't really a big disadvantage in this business, because you are a geek - you're trying to reach clients who want to hire geeks. I wouldn't suggest hand-printed brochures to a user interface artist; consider your market when making your choices.

Pay for print advertising

I've yet to see the results of this as I just placed my ad this week, but I just paid $500 for a full-color (CMYK) 1/12th page ad in the Linux Journal "marketplace" page.

GoingWare's Linux Journal ad
Note that this looks poor because it is rendered at screen resolution - it looks really nice in print.

The price goes down to $300 per month if you run it continuously for several months and in black-and-white (I'm blessed with a logo that really has to be in color). Note that the linux journal has a readership of 63,000 and the vast majority of them are computer professionals.

There are lots of other magazines with such inexpensive ad pages in the back, just find one or two that your clients are likely to read.

I've experimented with banner ads and found them really a waste of time. Leave that for the Fortune 500 and the porn sites. You can't afford banner ad placement that will get decent results.

Have you ever seen a banner ad that you though might be worth looking into a few minutes later and went back to the page to look at again? Were you able to find it? Didn't think so. That's because the banner ads are rotated.

But in the case of a technical magazine the ad stays in place on the same page, on the newsstands for a month and in the reader's possession for years potentially, and many people get the tech magazines just to look at the ads. How many people browse the web to look at all the interesting banner ads?

However, carefully targeted text ads such as Google AdWords Select work pretty well and will be the subject of an upcoming article. Pay per click advertising is not for the faint of heart though; if you're bidding on competitive and expensive keywords that get clicked by people who aren't going to buy what you're offerring, it can cost you dearly. The trick is to use keywords that are so specific that you can be sure that anyone searching for them is a potential client.

Actually locate customers directly

I'm in Santa Cruz, where the zip code is 95060. I did an Altavista Advanced Search for:

programmer and employment and 95060

and also searching for "jobs" and "software" and 95062 and all the other zip codes in the county. Then I found the web pages of all the local software companies. Look up the zip codes for the area you want to find clients at the Postal Service; many nations have their postal codes online - it shouldn't be hard to find postal codes for any location you want to find clients in.

AltaVista ain't what is used to be. Here, try a Google search. I'm not in Santa Cruz anymore either. I moved to Newfoundland to get married, bought a house in Maine, then sold it and moved to Nova Scotia, Canada in the fall of 2003. I'm here to stay: my landed immigrant card should arrive any day now.

I created a Filemaker database with the addresses of all the companies, actually two entries each, one with a "To" item of "Human Resources Manager" and the other "Engineering Manager". They're all getting brochures with hand-signed cover letters and a reply card (stamped, not business reply mail) where they can write in their names and the name and address of anyone else who might want a brochure.

Another thing you can do is stop by a trade show that prospective clients might be exhibiting at and pick up the exhibitor list (you probably don't have to actually attend to do this, just get one in the lobby). Then send a brochure to "Engineering Manager" and "Human Resources Manager" at every company, perhaps "President" if they're small companies.

One more thing that is particularly valuable is to actually attend the conferences where they will give everyone who attends a list of those who also attended. Mail everyone who attended a brochure - a printed, hardcopy brochure via postal mail, not email spam.

Hey, that's what the headhunters do - after I attended the Usenix conference in San Francisco back in the late 80's I got a couple dozen phone calls at work, many of which my boss answered and took messages for, asking if I would like a new job. That was my abrupt introduction to the world of "executive placement firms".

At a job interview soon after, when I told one of the clients of the headhunter I eventually caved into that that was how she found me, he told me he had asked the headhunter how she found such great local talent. "It's a trade secret." she replied. It's no secret - not for you or for our clients to find each other; it's just a matter of taking the trouble to do a little research.

Be active on the net

Participate in the newsgroups where potential clients might hang out asking questions. Spend a certain amount of your time posting authoritative answers to difficult problems users are having. Have a signature file that gives a blurb about your consulting business:

Michael David Crawford, CEO Dulcinea Technologies Corporation Software of Elegance and Beauty http://www.dulcineatech.com/ mike@dulcineatech.com

Don't be concerned as to whether the person your helping could be a client someday because your next client may be lurking, quietly watching the newsgroup for someone knowledgable to approach about getting some work done. Or maybe the person you help will go on to recommend you to a friend.

Good deeds will ultimately come back to reward you (although I do strongly advocate that you take the time to help people out for sheer generousity); on the other hand, the annoying and unethical activities of the vast majority of recruiters I encounter come back to do them such damage as consultants like me writing web pages like this one as well as consultants trading tips on alt.computer.consultants on how to avoid the agencies.

Also participate in web page discussion groups.

This really works! I've gotten quite a few clients who said they found me in mailing list archives, where I had answered somebody else's question.

Post genuinely useful web pages on your web site

Such pages will draw traffic and especially stimulate others to link to you. For example this page - Secrets of the Debug Meisters: Tips and Tricks for MacsBug - is useful to Mac programmers and when I moved it from my old ISP hosted site to my own domain at a web hosting service, I found at least 25 different pages on the net that had linked to it (if you search for your own web page URL you can find all the pages that link to it, so you can ask them to update the link when you move the page - but you won't have to, because you got your own domain name, right?)

Also this page - The Santa Cruz County Computer Industry Index is helpful to job seekers and employers in my area

Both those pages get a lot of hits, get me a lot of favorable response and the localjobs page got me a $100 gift certificate to my favorite Santa Cruz restaurant (India Joze) from a grateful new employee of a local company.

Post your business resume on the newsgroups

There are places where you can perfectly legitimately post either your resume, as long as you are careful to say you're looking for consulting work from your own office as I do, or you can post a plain-ascii newspost brochure or blurb.

Originally local to the San Francisco Bay Area, but now worldwide, Craig's List is a good place both for posting such things and for looking for contracts (my very first gig once I started independent consulting full-time was from there). This is a "web community", there are many web communities world-wide. If there are any in your area, participate vigorously, and also find ones that may be elsewhere geographically but serve the interests of people like yourself or your clients.

If you have any more tips, please email them to mike@dulcineatech.com and I'll post them with proper attribution (or anonymously if you prefer).

I'm particularly interested in URL's to resume pages and consultant listing sites that are designed to serve the needs of people who aren't dealing with headhunters and agencies - the main criterion is whether our clients can browse the site without having to pay and preferably shouldn't even have to register.

Regards,

Mike Crawford, CEO
Dulcinea Technologies Corporation
http://www.dulcineatech.com/
mike@dulcineatech.com

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