Friday, September 02, 2005

I’ve been *busy*!!

In July of 2004, when I made the move to ‘restart’ my contracting career, I have to admit I had a lot of second, and third, thoughts.

I’d had a consulting company of my own from the early 80’s until 1995 when I took the full time job here. It had always been marginally profitable, at best. There were years when things ‘boomed’ and I had as many as 5 people working for me, but there were also a lot of ‘lean’ years, where after all was said and done I would have been better off financially had I worked part time at a convenience store!

So, despite wanting to do this, I was more than a little concerned about our financial well being.

Fortunately, that’s not been a real concern over the past 15 months. Things have gone at least as well as I could have hoped, and we’re clicking along quite nicely. That’s despite my wife not being able to work for the past year due to her back problems, and me having no client base. To say I’m surprised would be an understatement.

Along the way though, I’ve had a chance to reflect on how different I think about things today, as opposed to when I got started in this business.

Its funny how a steady, reliable paycheck, of sufficient size to allow you to be comfortable, ‘changes’ your attitudes. When I took on my first contract with Bill Beck and his trucking company I had a ‘day job’ teaching at a local post secondary school. The money was not all that good, maybe $16K/year at the time, but, for the most part I either worked Monday, Wednesday, Friday or a Tuesday, Thursday work week depending on the schedule that quarter.

So finding a sideline (or two) really didn’t interfere with the job, and added some much needed cash to the household funds.

As the client list grew, from that first client, to 10 or 15 clients, it became increasingly difficult to provide them with the services they wanted, and continue to teach a ‘full load’ at school. When I talked to the school about cutting back my hours, their answer was either teach the course load you’re assigned, or find another job.

So when Omnifax came calling… I bailed on the teaching gig in a New York nanosecond… I never considered the possibilities of it not working out, I just jumped at the chance.

When it didn’t work out at Omnifax, and I made the move to APA, again, no second thoughts, no concerns, I just hit the door at APA, ready, willing, and able to crank out the projects once again. However, when things weren’t going as ‘planned’ at APA, I jumped ship there and began to concentrate on ‘my’ clients full time.

Never once, in all of that did I consider the possibility I wouldn’t make enough money. You see I'd been making so little, I was certain I'd be able to "make eats" as we used to say.

Fast forward to now… I spent 1993 – 2004 working essentially for the same company, getting promoted, earning raises etc… and in all that time, they never missed a paycheck. It was also the 2nd best paying job I’ve ever had, all of a sudden in ’93 I wasn’t worried about questions like: “How is the mortgage getting paid this month?”, “Do I have to eat soup or is a steak in the budget this week?”. I'd been, for the first time in my adult life, and for more than 10 years, financially 'comfortable'.

Freedom from those ‘basic’ decisions changes you, or at the very least, it changed me. For the first time, I found myself actually worried that I might not ‘make it’, that the world had changed and there wasn’t the ‘work’ out there for me there had once been. THat I'd lose that comfort level I'd worked so hard to achieve, and once again be back to "making eats". I wrestled with these worries through many sleepless nights, and in the beginning, it seemed on more days than not that I was entirely justified in my worries and my fears.

I picked up a small gig here, another there, but was barely making enough to cover the mortgage, let alone to cover health insurance, food, power and the other bills. Each month our savings dipped as we used the money to cover the monthly ‘nut’, but, each month the dip was a little smaller and I got a little busier.

Then, in November I got a shot at the contract I’m still on. Once again, the money has been fairly steady and they’ve kept me very busy.

I never stopped marketing my services though, and in the past several days I’ve been swamped with potential new clients, and requests for additional work from the few new clients I had in the beginning.

I’ve settled in on three of them, the first (a new client) is an automotive engine re-builder, the second (also new) an engineering firm, and the third is the insurance company I did the call reporting package for in late 2004.

I’m meeting with two of them today to finalize things, determine the ‘scope’ of what they’d like done, at least initially, and also to get some ‘start dates’.

Why did I ‘settle’ on these three? Well, the insurance company is an easy answer, I enjoyed the last project, and it was extremely well received. I’m making some final changes to one report and in determining some final details they mentioned they would like some additional work done. So essentially, for me, it’s a no-brainer.

The automotive guys, well, my love of things automotive is well documented and I know I’ll enjoy the project just from my initial conversation with the owner. It’s also the same deal with the engineering company, my initial conversation with one of the owners left me with the feeling they know what they want, and their wants, tie into my interests.

The bottom line is that I feel comfortable with all three. All three are also very open to my working ‘off-site’, which, in the current ‘gas’ situation is a real bonus! (oh.. and before I forget to mention it, the project manager at the current gig told me yesterday to work from home whenever possible over the next few weeks/months until gas supplies/prices stabilize).

While I’m not exactly looking forward to the long days, and possibly working weekends to get the work they'll need done, I am looking forward to expanding the client base a little. I’ve decided that if I pick the right clients, and manage the work properly, I can make a decent living with somewhere between 5 and 10 clients total.

I have no desire to ‘ramp up’ this time and attempt to have the volume a much larger operation could have. Instead, it’s my plan to have a small client list, that relies on me for IS knowledge and program development. Clients that are not concerned about me being ‘on-site’, but rather with the quality of the work.

So, the point, and yes once again there is a point, to all of this, is that there is life after a change. Just as there was life after my Dad died, after my divorce, there’s life after leaving a job I’d planned on retiring from. It’s not exactly as I’d pictured it, the new clients have not exactly been beating the door down, but rather showing up at about the same time I’m ready for them.

Don’t be afraid to dream and to take chances. Sure, this could have been, and still could be, a dismal failure. However, in the final analysis, regardless of what the eventual outcome is, right now, at this moment, I’m feeling like it was the best decision of my life!

I’m still working on the stories I mentioned the other day, I’ve got to scan pictures, so, if you have a preference as to which story you’d like to see first, be sure to let me know!

Thanks again for stopping by, if you have thoughts, comments or an experience of your own to share, I’d love to read about it!


Chase said...

I've had to follow a long list of links to get to this page. I think it was Kim's site that finally led me here. I'm an IT consultant in Savannah GA. I'm also the proud owner of the trailer park everyone keeps hearing about. I saw you mention it and if you would like a lot feel free to stop by and say hi.


Firehawk said...


It's tough to shake your world up when you've grown comfortable and content in the routines involved. You learn the rhythms, the limitations...the dance steps to whatever you're doing. Contemplating something else, even if it's possibly a big improvement, can be tough.

I just changed jobs to one that'll take a lot more of my time and energy. So far, it looks pretty good. I like the people and most of the tasks, and look forward to being around all the IT guys who can teach me their kung-fu. Still, the shakeup of the old familiar things gives me a bit of that cold feeling under the ribcage. You hope you can do the work, that you'll be up to the challenge. I think I will be, but when I think about doing what you do--having to plunge in and hope like hell you won't be eating Ramen noodles when it goes belly up--I don't know if I'm built for it. Selling myself isn't something I'd want to do every few months.

Good luck with your consulting ventures. May the code be free from error and the customer be happy in the end. May the paychecks come on time and be plentiful.

Comfort Addict said...

Nice post, Bill. Are you sure we're not the same guy at different stages of life (like that Twilight Zone episode)?

I started in IT in 1986 as an employee. Though I moved from that job to another, I never imagined that I could handle being a contractor. Then, in 1990, I took the plunge because I was tired of uncompensated overtime.

This was great - for a while. The client company where I was assigned was offering huge bonuses to employees and, of course, none to me. In addition, my contracting company started to get really pissy about things in general. Luckily, the client company (where I worked during all my time as a contractor) hired me in 1999.

I like the steadiness of being an employee. With the advent of off-shore outsourcing (which is really taking hold at my company and displacing a lot of local contractors but not employees), I think that I made the right decision. You never know what the future will hold, though.

Greg said...

Aren't you going to mention the alien abduction? I suspect the removal of the probe has increased your comfort level significantly. I know I sure felt better after pulling it out.
It sure is good seeing you doing well.
Best to all

Bill said...

Hi Chase - and welcome, glad you stopped by. I'll definitely stop over soon.

Firehawk - Sometimes, I think it's better to live without those 'rhythms', and ignore the limitations... It seems to me they're more trouble than they're worth... the allure of that 'steady state' however seems almost irresistable at times.

It's strange, regardless of our abilities, skills, etc... every time we (well I) land in a new playground, all those feelings of 'am I good enough' seem to rise up, along with that "cold under the rib-cage" sensation you mentioned.

I'm actually hoping to build a nice, solid customer base of less than 20 clients that need some regular (as in billable) assistance from me. None so big that gaining or losing one would have a dramatic impact on the overall cashflow. We'll see what happens.

As for the "selling myself every few months"... well, the way I see it, in today's market place, we're all selling ourselves, every single day.

CA - it's definitely very possible!! One of the reasons I started writing about all of this, is that, despite feeling at times like I'm alone in my experiences, I suspected my journey has not been all that 'unique'... that it's shared by many in the field.

Your continued observations are a testament to the fact that we do share quite a bit of this!

Greg - Always nice to see your smiling face! The alien abduction... which one? There was a probe? It was removed? You had one too? How did you know? (I've always suspected there was an 'insider in all of this!)

Yeah, things are rollin along... still not there yet.. although things haven't changed much... Everyone still wants to write a 'software winner' and become rich and famous. Fortunately I'm a lot less excited about that 'possibility' and a lot more excited about the work!!

We're over-due for a chat Bro.. drop me an email, let me know when a good time to call is!!

Trevor Record said...

I'm just getting into the world of making money and mortgages, and I am really afraid that if I lose my job I won't be able to keep up with payments ($1266/mo!)

For the poll you put up at the side, I picked anger, but envy is sin that'll cause the most problems in the long run, in my opinion! I don't think that greed is so bad as much as it is neutral. A lot of progress in the world has come from greed. Of course, it has also stalled a lot of progress

Bill said...

Trevor - Having financial obligations does change your viewpoint 'eh? Fortunately, for most of us. it causes us to become better, not worse at what we do.

As for the 'poll'... I had a tough time deciding myself... They all cause problems, in different ways. Lust has probably caused more pain than all the rest combined... but correctly applied (like to your partner)... IMO, is a good thing. I don't remember if I picked anger or envy, but I'm sure it was one of those!