What Happens If the Computer Consultant Needs a Consultant?

I think one of the best IT Jobs available today is that of an Independent Computer Consultant. Becoming your own boss allows you to remove any limits on your potential income, you’ll have unlimited technical and professional growth potential and you can take comfort in knowing that as long as you take good care of your customers, your job will always be secure.

However, when you’re starting a small business, you have to realize that no matter how great of a Computer Consultant you may be, you’re simply not so talented that you can physically be in two places at once,. which will likely be required at some point in your career. Probably sooner than later.

Maybe one of the places you’re at is at another client whose server is down, or you’re home in bed with a stomach virus (and won’t dare wander more than 20 yards from a bathroom), or perhaps you’re on a much earned vacation. Sooner or later you’re going to need someone to give you a hand. Even if it’s to assist in solving a technical problem that you simply can’t seem to figure out.

There have been several times in my early consulting days where I’ve been at a client site and I literally was ready to say “Sorry Client. I can’t seem to get the server back up, I have no idea when it will be working again and I think I’d like to go home now.” Of course, I didn’t go home and I stayed until I got the problem resolved. I used whatever resources I knew of… Web searches, Microsoft Technet, a $250 call to Microsoft Support, tech support forums, etc.

But because I never let a client down and I always did whatever it was that I had to do to get the problem resolved, is why I’ve been able to form the solid relationships that provided the referrals I needed when starting and growing a small business of my own.

But through experience, I’ve learned that it’s just smarter to have help available before it’s really needed… and to be smart enough to call upon that help when it’s needed.

This is where I’ve come to rely on a fantastic means of both support and business growth.

Partnering.

Once you’re ready to start promoting your new business, you’ll want to research some of your larger, local IT Providers, MSPs or Computer Consulting firms. When you find several that look reputable and appear to be able to support the small business market, reach out to the owner. Business owners generally like speaking with other business owners and most will be receptive to your call and happy to speak with you.

Explain your business model. Be clear on the fact that you’re an Independent Computer Consultant and you’re looking to support a limited client base of small business customers. Explain that you’re exploring partnership possibilities and would like to see if his business would be interested in providing non-competitive support to you if you need it.

If you could get your prospective partner’s rate to match what you charge your clients, whenever you need help, it won’t cost you anything out of pocket. If his rate to you is higher than what you currently charge your customers, accept your partner’s charges as a necessary business expense.

Let’s say his billing rate is $25 higher per hour than yours.

You get stuck at a client. Their main server is down and they’re panicking without access to their email. You spend 2 hrs. working on the issue, yet you still have no idea yet what the problem might be… and no specific idea of how much longer it will take to find a solution.

Now, You can spend the next 4 hrs. doing continued troubleshooting, but risk making no progress, which will leave you with a client with diminishing patience and questioning their Computer Consultant’s abilities. They’ll also be stressing over the amount of time and therefore money that this repair job will ultimately cost. And depending on the final outcome, they may very well dispute a portion, if not all of the charges.

Or you can call in your partner who will hopefully bring the expertise needed, as well as additional resources necessary for getting the problem solved quickly.

Even If he spends the next 4 hours, but actually gets the problem solved, this cost you $100 (plus you “lose” the 4 hours of billable time that you would have gained if you were able to fix the problem yourself).

But your client is happy to have the problem resolved. Your client is also happy to have a computer consultant who has the resources to call in assistance when necessary and get the job done. And you’ve reinforced your relationship with your tech partner.

I’d say that’s a well-spent $100.

Another positive result that can come from a partnering with a larger MSP or Support Provider is that you can offer to refer potential business their way should a prospective customer be too large or complex for you to support yourself.

If you marketing your services well, there will be an occasion where a large company with IT Support needs is referred to you. While this might not be the type of client you’d like to support, by referring this company to another reputable provider (rather than saying, “Sorry, I can’t help you.”), you’ll enhance your reputation and relationship with both your partner and with the business associate that referred the prospective client to you in the first place.

Your partner can in turn refer customers to you that don’t necessarily fit their desired profile and are better suited for an Independent Computer Consultant. Many of my current small business customers have come from partners who felt they were just “too small” for them to service profitably. These small clients however are absolutely perfect for my business model.

Another excellent place to find assistance is through the very same channels you’d advertise your own services. A quick web search through a local directory, Craigslist or a freelance job board should turn up several progressive Independent Computer Consultants or very small IT Support Providers in your immediate area.

You could view these other providers as competition, or as your potential allies. I prefer the latter.

Contact the ones you like and that are in close proximity to you or your clients. Tell them that you’d like discuss a potential support relationship. Setting these meetings over coffee in the late afternoon is often casual, relaxed and productive (I find early morning meetings are usually way too rushed).

When finding someone to partner with, be specific on what everyone’s expectations are and put these specifications in a strong, non-compete or partnership agreement before doing any work on each other’s behalf.

Starting a small business on your own doesn’t mean you should be going at it alone. Establish strong partnerships and you’ll be strengthening your own successful business as well.