Jul 6, 2005

Consulting 101

Dear Friend--
You know who you are, the one who's about to submit her resignation to the Big, Safe Secure Job!

Congratulations! There are a few helpful resources I want to share with you:

Your real business. Never forget your real business is you and your skills--not the business of your contract holder. The company that holds your contract will change. So, because you are your own enterprise, it's better for your long term success if you project yourself as an enterprise and have your own consulting identity. Most of the following suggestions tactically implement this strategy.

Your Domain. Eventually, you'll want a web site. I went to www.godaddy.com and noticed your name (.com) is available. You might want to take it off the market. Later, when you're ready, you can put up a site. There are three main reasons to do this:

1) It assists in projecting your professional image separately from that of your current contractor. It also gives you a place to have your resume ready to go at a moment's notice.

2) It helps people who know your name to find you when they need you. (As you spend more years consulting, this becomes more important.) With your own site, just Googling will bring you up for them.

3) It provides a place for you to post, and access, your favorite
templates and documents. I have a couple dozen finished documents ready to go at my server -- statements of work, requirements templates, survey templates, user manual templates, generic sales pitches, brochure templates . . . It's a real time saver. I use www.1and1.com to host my Web site and FTP my favorites to my root directory at www.write2market.com.

Business cards. Your contract holder will probably have business cards for you, but those are not the ones you want to give out when you're networking. You need your own card for personal and business connections outside of the direct business you undertake for your contract holder. You can usually get a decent set of cards delivered to your door for under $10 at www.vistaprint.com.

Outlook Anywhere. The company you're contracting with will provide you an email, but don't stop there. Network with your own email account and put that account on your personal card. (If you have your own domain, like yourname/com, then all the better.) I use a hosted exchange service provider-- www.1and1.com . They provide a proxy that allows me to bypass most corporate networks that would otherwise block webmail. Plus, I have full Outlook functionality through Outlook Web Access.

Email marketing. I've found it effective to stay in touch with professional contacts once a quarter with an email newsletter. I use www.constantcontact.com.

Credit card payments. My clients eventually pushed me into finding a way to take credit card payments. I use Paypal--most people don't realize Paypal will let you sign up for a business account. You can even send invoices by email, and your client can click "pay now" in the email, enter their credit card number--and bingo! Cash is in your account.

Online surveys. You know I adore surveys. I think quantified answers to well conceived questions from the target audience are much more practical, powerful and actionable than gut feelings from the team leaders. Gut feelings can be a moving target, but survey results support you always. (*grin*). I use www.surveymonkey.com. It's inexpensive and has great free technical support.

Separate expenses. I know you know a lot about running a small business, so this is probably not a suggestion you need . . . but consider consolidating all your business expenses (DSL, gas, domain hosting fees, security service for your office, office expenses, cell phone...) to a business credit card. I use American Express and earn membership rewards points. Amex imports into Quicken like a flash and also offers a great dashboard online to view your account. They are very pro-business so any disputes I've had, Amex has won in my behalf. Also, Amex has negocitated a lot of discounts at business supply shops like Staples and ConstantContact. I often get a 15% discount just by using the Amex. It goes without saying you pay this off monthly.

Reduce your taxable income. ROTH, SEP-IRA, you name it, you do it--reducing your taxable income reduces those beastly quarterly tax payments because unlike "real jobs," you don't pay tax on everything you earn--just the net. You don't have to pay quarterlies your first year--it's only after your first year in business. So you have some time to set this up the way you want, and next year, the IRS will graciously send you quarterly payment coupons. :>)

I certainly don't know all the ropes on the USS Consultant, but hopefully this note tosses you a few interesting ones. I predict smooth sailing in your future.

For writing that gets results, visit my business site: www.write2market.com.

Jul 5, 2005

July Fourth in Cumming, Georgia

Last night's fireworks are something I won't soon forget. I didn't see fireworks much as a kid, and then living in Texas, we always went somewhere to see fireworks--like Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, or Disney in Orlando. This going somewhere usually involved asphalt and a bit too much July heat.

Last night, the fireworks came to us. Sitting on our front porch, the first street to light up was maybe half a mile from us. Their grand display--worthy of Epcot--was finishing up only when a few folks on our own street started warming up their rockets.

Not only were the fireworks bursting right overhead beautiful, but there was a brewing storm for background ambiance. Purple and green lightening chased each other through the clouds with pitchforks. A misty rain threatened to douse the display but it couldn't keep up with my neighbors' persistence (and deep rocket reserves).

We went to bed way too late.
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