Rewind to 1998 – my first consulting gig as a project manager. I had previously been content to tirelessly toil for my company that I had worked at in a W2 position since graduating from college. Feeling underappreciated and underpaid, I started to check out other opportunities and even got hooked up with a recruiter. When I landed a 1099 situation at a major engineering and aviation firm at an hourly rate that doubled my take home pay, my first request was to go onsite prior to my start date and meet the team that I would be working with. That took the hiring manager by surprise, but I think he was impressed that I wanted to come in on my own time and talk to the team before actually working with them.
That first gig – intended to be a six month stopover – lasted three years. Another consulting situation, where I was asked to come in and rescue three miserable implementations, was intended to be a 4-5 week quick fix. I ended up staying there for nearly a year and I’ve had repeat engagements with them. There are others as well.
The message I’m trying to get across is that, as the IT consultant coming in from the outside, you’re often looked at as a guru … an untouchable … or an alien. It kind of depends on the makeup of the organization you’re heading in to. But if you come in as a real person – albeit with considerable expertise and sometimes even the reverence of those in the organization – and infiltrate the organization in ways they aren’t expecting, you can often find yourself so needed they can’t and won’t let you go.
There are three ways that I generally go about doing this:
#1 – Meet with everyone you can and find out what they do
If you’re consulting with a small company, get to know everyone and find out what they do and what’s important to them. It’s fairly easy to do this through even casual conversation. If you’re consulting with a larger organization, get to know as many people in your department or division in the same way. One – you’ll become a friend that they can’t imagine working without. And Two – you’ll both find out more about each other. You’ll know what their job needs are and be able to offer advice that may end up adding work to your current assignment thus extending your contract. And they’ll know more about your expertise which can also lead to additional needs and an extended stay.
#2 – Be a good listener and pickup on opportunities
If you’re working fairly closely to those around you, you’re going to hear things about projects, frustrations, etc. Don’t be afraid to jump in with work experiences and advice. Telling them you’ve been through it before and did ‘x’ to make it work will likely land you right in the middle of what they’re doing. That process has worked well for me to add additional projects to the existing projects I’ve run for clients I’ve consulted for and it’s always extended my contract and led to repeat engagements with the companies.
#3 – Know the CEO
Especially in a smaller organization, you can become the right hand man for the CEO. Consider the situation with the organization mentioned above where I saved three failed implementations – I had only been on board for about a month before the CEO started to talk to me about heading up a separate portion of the organization and running an offshore development team for them. His plans were a little too big at the time, but you get the picture. I made myself indispensable to the company and to that CEO and it led to a much longer engagement with them and repeat business.
As consultants, we always need to be looking for the next gig. But sometimes that gig is right there were we currently are. You just have to see it … or hear it or look a little harder for it. It’s always easier to find more work right where you are than to leave and find a new place. You just have to be proactive and be ready to offer unsolicited advice. It can definitely pay off in the end.