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Day Two Cloud 084: So You Want To Be A Consultant

Today’s Day Two Cloud gets into consulting. We’ve gotten a lot of listener questions about the consulting world. How do you start a consulting business or join a firm? What does the job actually entail? Is it a good job to have? How do you build a client base?

We’ve got a couple of guests who have answers. We’re joined by Michael Jenkins, Sr. Systems Reliability Engineer at Managed Kaos; and Anthony Nocentino, Enterprise Architect at Centino Systems and Pluralsight author.

We discuss:

  • How someone gets into consulting
  • The differences between consulting and contracting
  • Pros and cons of independent consulting vs. working for a firm
  • Issues such as scope-of-work and billing
  • Dealing with scope creep
  • Closing out a project (it’s hard to say goodbye)
  • Getting paid
  • Taking care of yourself
  • More

Show Links:

@managedkaos – Michael Jenkins on Twitter

@nocentino – Anthony Nocentino on Twitter

CentinoSystems.com

Transcript:

[00:00:05.540] – Ned
Welcome to Day Two Cloud. Today, we’re talking about consulting. That’s right. We’ve actually gotten a lot of questions about this. How do you start a consulting business? What do you do when you are consulting? And hopefully we’ve got some answers for you in this episode. We’ve got two great guests that have a ton of experience in this regard. What stuck out to you about what they talked about, Ethan?

[00:00:29.510] – Ethan
Man there’s a lot of things.If I had to pick one thing, I think I would focus on our section where we talked about how do you get more clients?

[00:00:39.800] How do you get more work, because it’s one thing to start consulting, because someone says something and and you’re like, I can do that job. But then it’s like, oh, that project’s done, I need more work. And we dive into that. And I thought that was a great part of our discussion. But there was a it was all great to be fair. Ned.

[00:00:56.030] – Ned
Yeah, this was we could have gone on for hours and I was sad to cut them off when we did. But you’re really going to enjoy this conversation. We’ve got Michael Jenkins and Anthony Nocentino and of course, me and Ethan. So what more could you ask for? Enjoy this episode.

[00:01:10.370] Michael Jenkins, welcome to Day Two Cloud. Why don’t you tell the fine folks out there a little bit about yourself and what you do?

[00:01:18.860] – Michael
Thanks for having me, Ned. My name is Michael Jenkins. I’m a systems reliability engineer. I work mostly in the fintech and media and entertainment space. My specialty is continuous and continuous integration and continuous delivery and automation.

[00:01:34.500] – Ned
Awesome. Awesome. And our other guest is Anthony Nocentino, I think I said that right. Anthony, welcome to this show. Tell us a little about yourself. What do you do?

[00:01:43.940] – Anthony
You totally got that right. Hey, everyone, I’m Anthony Nocentino. You know, I’m an enterprise architect and founder of Nocentino Systems and also a Pluralsight author. As a consultant, I specialize in system architecture and performance, mostly in transportation, legal and in the education industry.

[00:02:00.260] – Ned
All right. And as you alluded to, this episode is all about the wild and weird world of consulting. So why don’t we start there? Let’s start there with a brief story. How about how each of us got into consulting to begin with? And, you know, Ethan, you haven’t said anything yet, so I’m going to throw it over to you. How did you transition from, I don’t know, sysadmin or whatever to the world of consulting IT?

[00:02:25.400] – Ethan
For me, there was a training school that I was attending, and this goes way back where I was going through Novell training. And as a student, I was working through those courses. And the training center was also a consultancy. And they picked me up because they I don’t know, I did good on the exams, something like that. And and I did some consulting for that company off and on for several years and then worked on Novell and Windows stuff and eventually Cisco stuff over time.

[00:02:54.000] – Ned
OK, so you got thrown into consulting right away.

[00:02:56.510] – Ethan
It was one of the the very first I.T. jobs that I had was was exactly that I did that I did. And then I stepped away and did some like more like Help Desk kind of stuff and then went back to consulting again because it was better. And I’ll tell you this, it was for me it was drinking from the fire hose and I loved it. It was like, you give me so much more water.

[00:03:17.870] What is this project they’re doing this and this. I’ve never worked on those things. Yes. I wasn’t scared at all. It’s like just give me a little bit of what I need to know and dive in. Let’s go make this happen. Figure it out. It was awesome. I love that.

[00:03:30.740] – Anthony
So we’ll definitely get into that and Anthony, I see you nodding your head in agreement and laughing a little bit. So what was your like, entree into the world of consulting? Was it a similar experience?

[00:03:41.660] – Anthony
A little bit. I, I had once I started my career just in I.T. in general, I kind of dabbled with moonlighting on the side, whatever, because that’s probably what a lot of folks that are listening to done right. They’ve done a project here, done a project there. You still had a full time employer and then in two thousand nine I decided to go to grad school. And so I was working remotely for a software development shop in Chicago. And then they got acquired and were like, hey, you’re fired, because the company that acquired it was like, we can’t have remote workers anymore.

[00:04:12.860] So 2009. And what they were like, they’re like, well, we’ll hire you back as a consultant. Here’s a two year contract. I was like sweet. And so I had a forty hours a week of a two year contract to consult. But what’s the number one rule of consulting. Don’t have all your eggs in one basket.

[00:04:31.100] – Ned
Yes

[00:04:31.640] – Anthony
I needed what I had basically was a two way or two year pass to build a consulting firm and figure out like what I needed to do. And the number one goal was diversify my revenue away from just that one customer. And so really, my hand was kind of forced in a way, but I’d always like wanted to do it. And I was just so super fortunate to have that be the thing that pushed me off into this world. And it’s been it was nine years January since then.

[00:04:59.000] – Ned
Oh, OK. Awesome. What about you, Michael?

[00:05:01.790] – Michael
Well, I kind of stumbled into consultancy by way of a layoff, so I started my career. You know, everything was going pretty good. I had worked a couple of jobs and in 2012, I was actually laid off from the job that I was working. And so, you know, I went right back to the job search and started, you know, looking for, you know, another nine to five.

[00:05:24.140] And it just so happened that a consulting company reached out to me and said, hey, we’ve got this gig that we don’t have the skills for the personnel for. And, you know, from my LinkedIn, they picked up on some of the skills that I had and they were like, hey, you know, would you pick up this this job? And it was high performance computing. And I had worked with some clusters in the past at another job.

[00:05:48.230] And I guess it was still kind of hanging around on my LinkedIn and I was unemployed. So I was like, yeah, I’ll take it, you know?

[00:05:55.850] So, yeah, at that point I was a I guess almost like a fourth party consultant because it turns out that Dell was the primary and the Dell had hired this other company to do some work. They didn’t have the personnel, so they hired me. So I was like, you know, the third or fourth person back. From the actual client, and it was really kind of interesting that way, you know, who do you really report to?

[00:06:24.810] Was was was one of the the problems there. But ultimately, it was ultimately it was the customer. But, yeah, I kind of stumbled into a consultancy that way. And after I pulled off that engagement, I was like, that was pretty cool because I was it was like, you know, I was a paratrooper. But for high performance computing, I kind of, you know, jumped in, you know, dropped into this scenario, solved the problem was getting some recommendations, did some implementations. And then I was out, you know, and with a bag of loot at the same time. So it was it was kind of cool.

[00:06:59.370] – Ethan
The paratrooper analogy is pretty interesting. That’s a good way to think of it, although depending on the scenario, it might not be a paratrooper where you’re landing on the ground, that it’s going to be great. It can be like everything’s on fire. And so you’re more like a firefighter dropping in. It’s rough very to use the.

[00:07:17.190] – Anthony
I’ve used the nerd SWAT team analogy similar to what you describe there.

[00:07:22.380] – Ned
Right. It’s almost like, you know, with the forest fires in California, everything where you’re almost like part of that fire team that drops in from the helicopter into this landscape and you’re like, oh, I just got to put out as much as I can.

[00:07:34.830] – Michael
Yeah. And a lot of a lot of times it’s like the cartoon dog was like, yeah, everything’s fine. My servers are burning around me.

[00:07:43.710] – Ethan
But sometimes, depending on the scope of the engagement, you can see all kinds of things that are on fire, but it’s not within your scope to really deal with them. And so they end up having to work around those fiery objects.

[00:07:53.220] – Ned
Mm hmm. Oh, and we’ll get the scope in a little bit. Oh my goodness. I guess I’ll I’ll tell my story a little bit and it’ll be brief. I was working at a university and one of the other people I was working with went to go work for a consulting group. And a couple of months later, he came in to visit and he said, hey, would you like to go earn about twenty thousand dollars more than you’re making now and work with me in this consulting group?

[00:08:18.990] And I was like, let me think about that. Yes, yes. I would.

[00:08:23.790] – Ethan
Thought about it a long time, huh.

[00:08:24.840] – Anthony
A long time.

[00:08:25.830] – Ned
You know, I did I was a little trepidatious about it because I’d never worked consulting before. And to me it was scary because you’re going to be going to different clients and solving problems and it’s going to be constant, maybe not long distance travel, but a lot of travel, a lot of change. It’s not going to be as steady and as comforting as just a regular nine to five might be.

[00:08:48.090] – Ethan
But and you never get to finish a job right the way you want. You’ve got to walk away with it seeming like it’s about 80 percent done

[00:08:54.930] – Ned
Right. Now all of us are doing independent consulting at this point, I believe. But I know personally, I worked for a couple of consulting companies before I made that move. I’m curious what your thoughts are on the pros and cons of doing independent consulting work versus working for a company like a VA or something else. Michael, why don’t you go first? What what are your thoughts on the pros and cons of that?

[00:09:19.960] – Michael
Yeah, well, definitely as an independent, you’re the boss. You know, you can you can pick the projects or contracts that you want to work on, the engagement engagements that you want to take, and you’re calling the shots in that aspect. So that’s definitely a benefit. You’re making your own schedule. If you see something that you want to work on, you can pursue it. If not, you know, you can kind of just leave it on the table. Yeah, that’s probably been the biggest benefit for me.

[00:09:47.220] – Ned
Right. So but there’s definitely some downsides to it as well. And I’m curious, Anthony, what do you see as the downsides to being independent versus having a company behind you?

[00:09:56.880] – Anthony
Wow. OK, so there’s the administrative burden. Let’s be serious, right? Scheduling and time and lawyers and all that fun stuff.

[00:10:06.060] And if you’re working for a firm, I’m going to assume a lot of that is handled for you. And you also have infrastructure for sales and marketing and all those different things. Yes, who does that when you’re independent, right. It’s you.

[00:10:18.150] And so you have to figure out like, where do you want to spend your time and what’s the most effective way to spend your time? And that’s some of the experiments that I’ve had to do over the years, is to figure out where am I most effectively spending my time? Is it billing forty hours a week or 50 hours a week? Probably not, because if you’re billing 50 hours a week, you’re building someone else’s business, not necessarily building your own business.

[00:10:41.820] And so you have to find what that threshold is to help grow your own company. And so. Even for me, like you talk about working with a firm as an individual, I don’t even want to have employees. I have no growth aspirations from a personal standpoint.

[00:10:57.460] I like to make the joke that I am the Centino of Systems. There is only one. And so that all kind of goes back into I guess I have never worked for a firm I don’t have that scale out infrastructure either.

[00:11:09.190] So that’s a pro and con is that I don’t want to grow my firm, but I want to work on bigger, cooler projects. How do I achieve that? Right. And how do I scale up? I learned PowerShell, that helped out a lot. And so that’s kind of the there’s a lot of different things there if you want to dive in any one of those in more detail.

[00:11:26.390] – Michael
So yeah, I’ll second that, Anthony, because I did work for a consulting company consulting company in the sense that we had one customer, but we were contracted to that customer as consultants. And yeah, it was great having project managers and DBAs and, you know, release managers and people that had, you know, very specific jobs to take on that engagement. But when I was all of those people, it was yeah, it was definitely overwhelming, particularly the kind of like the the quote unquote management side of it that you were referring to.

[00:12:00.640] You know, the the legal work, the the, you know, managing the business itself. That’s probably the toughest part because. It’s not a value add for a professional or technical professional to be doing the management work, and at times I have had to hire people to say, hey, can you just do this for me? Like, can you just nag me to tell you how many hours I work this week and then multiply it by my rate and then email this person and, you know, ask them to pay us, you know, and then I’ll cut you some of that. It’s a benefit to me because I don’t have to worry about it and I can keep doing whatever it is that’s bringing in the revenue.

[00:12:41.310] – Ethan
I’m laughing just because if I could pan my camera off to the side here, you would see my my other work desk where I have piles of paper dealing with taxes and I’m paying someone else to do the taxes for me. And I still have a bunch of stuff to do. It’s nuts. And like you said, someone said it’s not a value add. It isn’t, but it’s necessary. You have to do that if you’re in this for yourself.

[00:13:04.230] – Anthony
If you’re going to do consulting and get a good lawyer, get a good accountant, those are core. I have feelings about marketing. That might only be because of my own failures in hiring marketing folks. But we can dive into that if you guys want to, with those things that aren’t core to your business just to have someone else do it. And you might not be able to do that year one, year two because of revenue constraints, whatever.

[00:13:26.940] But long term, you’re going to ramp up in time and you’re going to want to not be spending your time doing your taxes or reading a contract. By the way, the contracts are actually written in Latin because whenever I try to read them, they literally cannot read them. They just like turn into this blur of I don’t understand right.

[00:13:44.610] – Ned
Now. Two of you have mentioned the the idea of having a single customer that you’re working with. And there’s definitely some risk involved with doing that. So I do want to sort of dive into that a little bit. When you’re working in your consulting hat, you know, do you try to land and expand at a single customer and try to get as many projects as you can out of them? Or is it better to diversify across a bunch of customers? And what’s the risk reward ratio for that? Anthony, what do you think?

[00:14:15.990] – Anthony
Sure. So I told the story about how I got started and there was the one customer. And then I spent two years figuring out how to diversify revenue. And even within that, there’s different types of revenue. Consulting revenue is time for money. But anyone has billed by the hour is all about figuring out ways to do pass, build passive revenue streams. Right. And so that’s where Pluralsight came in for me. So that was like my major goals initially was to figure out how to get a passive revenue stream.

[00:14:43.050] But back to the single client question and kind of the entry point into customers is it kind of goes the services that you provide. So, for example, for me to do a lot of work in databases, I do a lot of work and training, the entry point for databases isn’t going to be I’m going to rearchitect your entire platform. Chances are some C level or D level person has a problem with an application. It’s not doing this thing and I need to make it do that thing.

[00:15:09.150] And so I’ll go and solve that problem and then they’ll realize the value that I can provide and we’ll just figure out if it’s a good relationship and then you can kind of move in.

[00:15:17.820] It sounds negative to say this way we kind of move horizontally in an organization and expand your services based on what you’re good at. Right. And so you build these relationships with folks over time. So you were talking about earlier, I think it might be on the list of questions, the difference between contracting and consulting. And for me, it’s kind of been a hybrid in that. I don’t mind doing just raw consulting where I’m advising folks and do it, telling them like, you know, what I think should be done, but I also like to get my hands dirty, too.

[00:15:44.380] So I kind of find a hybrid model is where I enjoy the most because I like to do the stuff still and get my hands dirty on stuff.

[00:15:52.300] – Ned
Michael, I see you nodding your head.

[00:15:53.770] – Michael
Yeah. Yeah, I would I would have to agree because I guess as far as single customers go. Yeah, again, like when I was working for an agency and we had just one customer, that customer made a shift. And, you know, I was not with the company at the time, had since been laid off. But, you know, that was a you know, it didn’t bode well for the for the group that I was with previously, even though they had to find other customers or dissolve or one of the cases I didn’t really follow up on it.

[00:16:24.790] But I guess what I try to do now is diversify customers, but limit limit them so I can give them the attention that they need.

[00:16:33.700] – Anthony
Yes.

[00:16:34.390] And Anthony, to your point, consulting versus contracting? Yeah, one of the my very, very first engagement was it was a purely consulting role, like literally looking over someone’s shoulder, analyzing what they were doing, analyzing their setup and then giving them my recommendation. The the artifact of my engagement was a report and say you should do this, this, this, this and this.

[00:16:55.960] And as I gave that report to them, I was like, man, I would love to to implement this for you. I would you know, I felt like I was handing them money, that I was just, you know, giving away because I know they were going to probably give that to somebody else to do the implementation. And so that that is a difficult part to to kind of say, hey, OK, this is the scope.

[00:17:18.160] We mentioned scope. You know, this is the scope of what I’m assigned to do. But if there is an opportunity to roll that scope into, you know, additional work, like a new statement or work a new contract to say, OK, hey, I’ve given you my recommendations, but now I’m going to implement it. Yeah. And that just it builds on the opportunity for you, you know, and in that relationship.

[00:17:39.760] – Ethan
There’s a couple of things here, though, because if you have the one customer like this, there’s a friend of mine, he consulted for this one company for years. He worked for them full time like like six, seven years where he wasn’t a full time employee, but he was working for them full time, just the one customer, extremely talented guy. And eventually they said, look, man, we love you a lot, so much. We want to put a ring on it, come work for us, like for real, be an employee and all that stuff.

[00:18:09.100] And by the way, you kind of have to the way 1099 rules or I forget what the rules were, but it’s kind of gotten to a point where we really have to make you an employee. And so he did that and it worked out very well for him.

[00:18:21.580] But I love customer diversity, lots of different customers, lots and lots and lots of them, because depending on the nature of the projects you’re working on, it tends to be very bursty work. Customer comes in, they’ve got a thing. They’ve got to get the thing done and you finish the thing. And then, you know, Michael, it might have been like you said, you give me some recommendations or whatever, but they’re kind of done.

[00:18:41.320] They’re kind of done at that point. They might call you in a year or two years. You had a good relationship. You built up some trust. They they like you. It’s not like there’s anything wrong with the relationship. They just don’t have work for you. So what do you do in the meantime? And that’s where that, you know, having a whole bunch of customers in your arsenal ideally fits in. The downside of that being, OK, I got six people who want me to show up this week.

[00:19:03.610] I don’t have enough hours in the week to make this happen. What am I going to do? So there is a downside to it. You know, I don’t I don’t know that there’s a perfect answer here, but there are multiple ways to look at this.

[00:19:14.230] – Anthony
You’ll find your your blend. There’s a couple of things that go into that calculus like. So for me, I literally have a spreadsheet of percentage of revenue per customer. Right. Because I want to make sure that I don’t have an individual customer that’s greater than twenty five percent. That’s kind of my golden rule. Because if that customer goes away, I can live off of seventy five percent of the revenue. Right. If I have one customer and a customer goes away, I can’t live off of zero percent of that revenue. That also goes into another thing. Have a cash like let’s have a say like a huge savings account.

[00:19:45.760] So the ebb and flow of all of that stuff and that takes a long time to build up and a lot of self control. But that’s it’s liberating from a stress management standpoint that if you have a dip in revenue for a month, a quarter, no big deal. Right. Because you have that buffer and then gives you a runway to figure out what to do. The other thing that I track in addition to revenue per client is my time allocation per client, because revenue doesn’t quite tie back to actual hours billed because you have different rates and all these different things.

[00:20:15.880] And so how much calendar time am I dedicated per week per customer? Right. Because that’s all of your commitments. And obviously, next thing you know, if you’re working Saturdays and Sundays, you’ve done you’ve done poorly in your time management.

[00:20:27.340] – Ned
Right. Yeah.

[00:20:28.510] – Anthony
And so those are two things that I track. I would say monthly. I go and recalibrate those things to make sure that I’m giving everybody enough love and attention and also. That my revenues diversified enough across my customer base because I want to keep this thing going and not have to pivot, the next thing you know, I don’t have any income.

[00:20:46.290] – Ned
Right, right. Right. Each customer is probably going to be fairly uneven unless you’re doing that, I’m basically your full time employee in all but name. And because that work is going to be uneven, you need at least enough customers to sort of even out the rockiness. And then you’d mentioned something before, Anthony, that I think cannot be understated and it’s the value of some sort of passive income.

[00:21:08.280] – Anthony
Yes.

[00:21:08.700] – Ned
And that is, you know, for all of us on here have produced some sort of training content that’s generating passive income, which means once we do it, yeah, it needs a little maintenance.

[00:21:19.830] We do need to do that. But overall, we don’t do anything and money just comes to us and that’s magic. And I didn’t appreciate how magic it was until I hit some sort of level on Pluralsight where I was like, oh, this is substantial. And if I have a bad month with my consulting, it’s fine because I still have this this core piece of revenue that’s going to keep coming in regardless. And however you want to build that, whether it’s through training or books or something else. And it’s it’s like…

[00:21:52.110] – Anthony
You make money off books?

[00:21:54.600] – Ethan
What is your secret? How did you do it Ned? Let me me know.

[00:21:58.720] – Ned
Self publish, step one self publish, because that’s a whole other rabbit hole that I don’t want to get into. Basically, if you want the cliff notes of it, the very short, if you’re going to write a book and you’ve done it before, self publish. If you haven’t done it before. Editors and publishing houses are helpful. But if you if you’ve done it before, just just publish it yourself.

[00:22:22.410] It’s like the best possible thing you can do for yourself

[00:22:25.830] – Anthony
But back to your passive revenue concept book writing and Pluralsight guess how much my time in March when it became a thing. Guess how much of my calendar time was dedicated to customers in February and how much of it was dedicated to customers? In March.

[00:22:41.340] – Ned
I’m guessing that it went up in March by a lot.

[00:22:45.960] – Anthony
No it went down to zero. Yeah, literally. I had a bunch of customers just clear house

[00:22:52.560] – Ethan
Because they didn’t want you on site or. Well, wait a minute. You said clear house. What do you mean?

[00:22:57.000] – Anthony
Meaning like they were like, thank you for your services. We’re going to minimize our hours with you because we’re reducing our capital.

[00:23:03.090] Oh, while we’re reducing our expenses, say.

[00:23:05.910] – Ethan
They were adjusting to what their income, business might look like because of the pandemic. And whereas a lot of as a contractor effectively, that you were one of the easiest places to cut expenses.

[00:23:16.320] – Anthony
Yeah. So they were trying to forecast how to because a lot of my customers are service based as well. I’m service based and so they were pulling back on their expenses. The next thing you know, I have a clear calendar wasn’t cool, but passive revenue. I doubled down on Pluralsight and banged out like seven courses last year. Right. And so that was it. That was able that was I was most fortunate person in universe to be able to have that.

[00:23:38.670] I’m so grateful that I had that the fall back on because it could have been a totally different story. Right.

[00:23:43.910] – Ned
Right.

[00:23:44.400] – Anthony
So that’s why I like that. Is proof is that being able to diversify revenue streams when something goes wrong, you can survive and be sane. Right.

[00:23:53.700] – Ned
Right.

[00:23:54.720] – Michael
And my experience was just the opposite here as Anthony, I actually picked up more work last year.

[00:24:01.110] – Anthony
Nobody loved me.

[00:24:03.750] – Michael
Because, like.

[00:24:04.800] – Anthony
Tell me your secret.

[00:24:07.320] – Michael
I know right. And a lot of it, I guess, was just from from networks.

[00:24:10.560] It’s just, you know, networking, I should say, where folks were like, hey, you know, we really have this need. Maybe they had downsize and they, you know, had gotten rid of some full time folks. And they were like, hey, we have just one thing, you know, that we need for you to kind of take care of or look at. You know, it’s not going to be a lot is going to be like maybe five hours a week.

[00:24:31.110] It might be ten hours total. But, hey, can you look at it? You know, I was like, yeah, sure. You know, pick that up. And that happened a couple of times, you know, to the point where it’s like, OK, well, perhaps we should have an ongoing relationship and then, you know, that becomes a contract or, you know, an ongoing consultancy type situation. But I don’t think I only did one course last year, though.

[00:24:51.480] – Ethan
I always get anxious when they say five or ten hours because they mean twenty, but they don’t want to scare you off.

[00:24:57.060] So it seems like they try to lure you. Like, that’s not that bad. You can you can give us some time. I had to walk away from an engagement because the guy that pitched me and what the engagement was. Oh, it’s this, it’s this. We’re going to need a little help with this. And, you know, why don’t you come on in and do some discovery and chat with some of our folks. And I did that.

[00:25:13.170] I went through that whole process and and then he’s like, oh, yeah. And oh, by the way, you know, one of the people you talked to, we’re actually going to fire him. And I’ll need you to pick up all the stuff that he used to do for us. Oh, and by the way, this office is shutting down. We’re actually going to pick up all of this and move it to somewhere else, to a coworking facility and all the stuff that’s in our computer room data center here.

[00:25:36.240] Yeah, that’s gotta all be moving to Cloud or one of our other data centers, and you can handle that, too, right? It’s like, dude, wait a minute, come on, come on man. This is way more than you were talking about. Way more!

[00:25:47.080] – Michael
Scope creep.

[00:25:47.620] – Ethan
Oh, big time.

[00:25:48.390] – Ned
Yeah, maybe that’s that’s a good transition to talk about some of the the sort of project and billing aspects, starting with when a project comes in, a potential project, you’re feeling things out. How do you decide how to charge for that? Do you do a fixed fee? Do you do hourly? And how do you figure out what a fair price is for that engagement? So, Michael, do you have a calculus for this? Do you have a just a spreadsheet you plug it all into? Or what’s your process for making that decision?

[00:26:17.470] – Michael
Yeah, for for the most part, for for consultancy. Usually it is fixed fee. I’m willing to do a fixed fee depending on what the artifact of the consultant, you know, the engagement is. And usually that is a some sort of analysis and recommendations. And so I’ve done a couple of those. I know what it takes and I can kind of look at it and say, yeah, it’s going to cost this much, you know, and if it’s, you know, a week’s worth of work, you know, say it’ll be $5k for the week.

[00:26:47.170] And if I have to work 30 hours, 40 hours or 50 hours, you know, that’s kind of on me to offer the you know, the the artifact of the the engagement. If it’s a contract, then I’ll have to look at my hourly fee and, you know, negotiate with the client and usually come to an agreement there. But I mean, I try to be fair and understand their budgets and their needs and their constraints, but also, you know, understand that, hey, if I’m trying to do this and be interested in making, you know, some sort of profit from it, you know, I’m not going to sell myself short either.

[00:27:21.250] So I, you know, usually, like you say, a spreadsheet, you know, look at the work and figure out how many hours it may take because that might be a little bit different and then come up with a reasonable rate for that engagement.

[00:27:32.440] – Ethan
Do you feel, Michael, that sometimes your your inclination is to undercharge where you like? I, I don’t know. It’s probably worth this, but that makes me anxious. I’m going to I’m going to charge less and hope they don’t get mad at me or something like that.

[00:27:44.380] – Michael
No, not not really. I mean, I want to I guess I feel like I can back up my worth to say, hey, if you’re paying me this rate and we agree to this sort of timeline, I’m going to meet it. You know, I’m going to try to exceed it, if I can, to show you the value of what you’re paying for. But again, if I if I put my number out there and they’re like, you know, well, OK, well, let’s negotiate.

[00:28:12.760] And if you can’t come to an agreement, then hey, maybe I can recommend you to somebody else that can meet your price point. I don’t ever want to just, like, walk away as like, you know, I’m not going to even talk to you anymore. There’s got to be something beneficial out of the you know, the interaction. Either I pick up the engagement and I go forward or I walk away and they have a recommendation to somebody else that might be a better fit.

[00:28:35.560] – Ethan
I ask you the question because just my personality is like I want everyone to like me. So you don’t you know, you go in being a little frightful about how much to charge.

[00:28:44.260] I want to charge too much. I don’t want to cause a conflict, you know, being conflict averse. But what I’ve learned is you have to charge enough that there’s some pushback or else you probably left money on the table. You just giving you’re giving your time away, selling yourself too cheaply. And what’s the point of that?

[00:28:58.960] – Ned
There’s a there’s a corollary to that as well. If you don’t charge enough, then the client doesn’t feel like they’re getting their money’s worth.

[00:29:07.180] – Ethan
Yes, yes.

[00:29:07.630] – Ned
They might think oh, he’s charging so little because he’s not that good.

[00:29:12.460] – Ethan
Right.

[00:29:13.270] – Ned
Or, you know, it’s like when you give away something for free, people don’t value it. But as long as you charge them something for it, now they’ve got skin in the game, you’ve got to charge them enough so they feel like they got skin in the game.

[00:29:23.230] So they’ll actually respond to you when you need things because they’re burning money by not responding to you. So it’s oh, it’s so hard to walk. And I feel like you’re chomping at the bit to just do things.

[00:29:36.940] – Anthony
There are so many things I want to bring up. First off, first off, I have like a checklist here, that customer that I told you that hired me as a consultant. The first time they let me set the rate, I set the rate. And since it was a bigger engagement, I set what I thought to be a lower rate. But there was a heck of a lot more money than I was making in salary. But I had all the overhead and had to do all my own stuff. And with retirement, all those things that’s baked in.

[00:30:00.130] So the two year contract finishes and I sheepishly go into the CIO’s office or VP of IS and I’m like, hey, I’d like to raise my rate. And his response was, what took you so long?

[00:30:10.480] – Ethan
Right. Wow.

[00:30:12.040] – Anthony
Because right. So he knew the landscape of consulting because at that level he’s, you know, juggling all his contracts and things. And I was just breaking in. And so I was like, lesson learned. And so the next year, what I did kind of go to what you were saying a second ago is I incrementally raised my rate for every new customer until I got pushed back. And that’s what I figured out, my market value.

[00:30:36.890] – Ethan
Yes.

[00:30:37.750] – Anthony
Now the a corollary to that, and it’s kind of ties into some of the topics you were discussing, Michael, is this if I have a whole bunch of customers now, like seven different rates, I have two or three at my top rate. Who you going to pay more attention to? Right. Right. And that can be challenging. So then you have to level out. You really want to. And this is just because you want to treat everyone fairly.

[00:30:59.750] You want to treat everyone equally. But let’s be serious. Right. And so you want to kind of balance that out and make sure that you don’t have this really wide range in rates, because one you’re leaving revenue on the table and two some people are going to get more or less of your attention, that’s not good for you. It’s not good for your customer. It’s not good for business. So you really want to kind of keep those things tight.

[00:31:17.420] One of the things that I do I don’t do is discount rates. So if someone buys a huge block of hours for me, I don’t discount rate. So if they want my full rate in 40 hours and I only work thirty five, I just bill thirty five. That’s basically the discount because then that kind of it saves them because I feel like I’m not going to burn every nook and cranny of the contract just to get to the fortieth hour.

[00:31:41.690] Hey, if we’re done to work on thirty five hours, no big deal. Here’s your bill for thirty five hours. Have nice day. But then I don’t have a bunch of rates all over the place either, so I can keep everything nice and level.

[00:31:51.400] – Michael
And I think what I’ve done in those situations, Anthony, where you’re saying, hey, you know, you got these sort of prime clients, you know, you’re your top tier clients and you’ve got some others, they’re not getting the attention that they need because maybe, you know, the rates a little bit lower than, you know, it’s beneficial to you. And that’s we’re kind of like the network comes in and we say, hey, you know what, guys?

[00:32:10.280] It’s time for me to move on. But I got somebody great. You know, that would be a good fit for this role. And it usually is somebody who’s a little bit more junior to me or somebody who’s just starting out. And I know they’d be a good fit. They’ve got the skills and they could probably hit the ground running. And so to the side, you know, I’ll give them the lay of the land and say, hey, this is kind of what it’s going to look like.

[00:32:29.930] And then I make the introduction. And if it’s a fit, I’m like, OK, you’re now the paratrooper and I’m dropping you in. And I’m go, I’m doing some R and R, you know, wherever that is.

[00:32:41.470] – Ned
Right.

[00:32:41.670] – Michael
So, yeah, I try to to be as graceful as possible with the exit and and hopefully at the benefit of someone else

[00:32:48.950] – Anthony
Because you want to come back to right? That’s the big part of that. You want to make sure you never want to. When I make the statement like I don’t not going to give a lot of love to those lower paying clients, that’s a bad place to be in because you want to be able to give everyone alot of love. That’s where you want to be. So sort of drill that point home.

[00:33:04.560] – Ned
I’m curious what your thoughts are on subcontracting some of your work out to somebody else, Michael, like that example that you gave you could potentially, rather than bringing this person in, sub the work out to them and still be a proxy for this company. And it’s something that I’ve actually started doing for some of the analyst work I do that’s like benchmarking tests. I don’t have time to spin up all the environments, so I have somebody else who I’m subbing stuff out to spin up the environments.

[00:33:31.340] And if he wants credit, I’m totally fine with giving him credit on the paper or whatever, but he’s like, no, I just want to spin up these things. Don’t don’t bother me with anything else. So I’m curious what your thoughts are on subcontracting versus just passing it through to the next person.

[00:33:47.360] – Michael
Yeah, I have subcontracted and I mean usually for things that maybe I’m not as experienced in. For example, you know, I work in cloud, you name the cloud, and I’ve worked on it and most of the time.

[00:34:01.300] – Ethan
Oracle, Oracle cloud.

[00:34:04.940] Man yes, I worked on Oracle cloud and I have done anything on Alibaba Cloud, you know. Yeah, that’s real. Gets really interesting. Looks a lot like AWS. But anyway, like so I’m working in cloud and clients will say, hey, OK, you’re building out our infrastructure, you’re spinning up servers and databases and so on. Can you design the website for us? You know, WordPress and I’m like, yeah, I use WordPress back in 2008.

[00:34:35.090] I can start it, you know, but I am not a Web designer, so if you want a professionally designed website. Yeah, I mean, oh, maybe, you know, kind of

[00:34:46.140] – Ethan
I can load a theme for you.

[00:34:47.940] – Michael
Exactly. Yeah. Well, you like custom, like solid professional webdesign. Let me find somebody to do that. And you don’t have to worry about, you know, paying this personally or I’ll figure that part out.

[00:35:00.720] But I, I personally am not going to do that because I’m not a designer. I am. I can give you a beautiful hello world that’s deployed automatically pushed to, you know, your repo. And the CI/cD is going to be amazing. But as far as making the hello world look pretty, I’m not the guy for that.

[00:35:20.310] – Ethan
Gotta know what your skills are. Yeah.

[00:35:22.130] – Anthony
A hello world of cloud scale.

[00:35:24.070] – Michael
Yeah, that’s right.

[00:35:25.860] – Ethan
Got to know what your skills are. You can’t just to make a few extra bucks, you can’t take on something that’s you really don’t want to do or there’s a thousand other people that could do it. Focus on the thing you’re uniquely good at and can charge all the money for.

[00:35:38.650] – Anthony
Yeah. The one thing I’ll throw at you regarding subcontracting in the beginning of subcontract, when I would sub work out, I would sub it out to friends and colleagues that I knew that were talented, but they probably still had full time jobs.

[00:35:51.810] And what happens in those scenarios is you don’t get their full time love, right? You get nights and weekends. And so what I’ve pivoted to recently in the last couple of years is other partner firms that are even competitors of what I do. I hire them because I can actually get on their calendar. Hey, I need you to fix this SQL Server Reporting Services problem because I don’t know anything about it. Please fix this problem and I’ll just hire them full rate and they’ll just go off my problem and that.

[00:36:20.960] That was kind of a lesson learned for me, like I want to friends and colleagues, not stuff. I’d love to kind of pass up the love there, but I need problems for customers and I can’t wait till Saturday at 4:00 p.m. or someone to get some attention so that from a logistics standpoint, it becomes important

[00:36:34.340] – Ned
Right, yeah, OK, very, very good point. Well taken. I want to get back to the skills thing a little bit. And because one of the things that I was most excited about when I went to consulting was I felt like for every year I spent in consulting, it was equal to five years in a regular job in terms of experience gained. And Ethan, I think you said something at the top about drinking from the fire hose.

[00:36:57.000] – Ethan
Oh, yeah.

[00:36:57.320] – Ned
And I know, like, I went into clients and I was literally staying, like one page ahead of them and the in the demo guide or whatever it was. I’m curious what what your feelings are on the drinking from the fire hose scenario. And if you have a fun customer story of a time, you’re like furiously reading the manual the night before. So Ethan, it sounds like you already have one lined up.

[00:37:20.840] – Ethan
Well, I mean, I loved that aspect of the job, but it also was exhausting and wore me out and is one of the reasons that eventually I ended up working just a more traditional IT job, not consulting. So one case in point, I remember one night I got thrown into going to fix someone’s Microsoft exchange server back in the days when O365 wasn’t a thing. The exchange server was hard down and OK, go in there. It’s like, what did I know about exchange?

[00:37:45.440] Not a lot. And I’m there on the Internet on some. This was back in the dial up days on a modem hitting the Internet, trying to figure out how to fix this thing. I figured it out. I fixed it, long story short, but it was just like this panic inducing trip over there walking into a situation that was on fire. And I didn’t know immediately how to fix it. And if it wasn’t for finding something on the Internet that clued me in to this particular set of commands I needed to run to to get their exchange back up, I don’t know.

[00:38:14.090] All right. That experience times one hundred where you’ve just done it over and over and over again. The next fire and the next fire. The next fire. I got to figure it out. I don’t know, you know, digging through things and always being on a certification grind. Because if you work for a partner that needs you to have these certifications to maintain some discount spread or something, it just it got to be exhausting. Awesome. You know, if you’ve got an active, engaged, technical kind of mind, you love learning new stuff.

[00:38:42.620] That’s great. But I did get burned out on it after some years. And I was like, I just want to go work for one company, one environment and focus on that. And that’s going to make my life better. And I mean, it’s trading in one set of problems for another in a way. But it did to do it did help with that constant grind and the anxiety of drinking from the fire hose constantly.

[00:39:05.840] – Ned
Yeah, yeah. Anthony, what about you?

[00:39:07.670] – Anthony
Yeah, I think that for me, learning is kind of part of me. Like, I always want to continue to grab on to new stuff and do new things. But when you juxtapose that with having to do that in front of clients, that, yeah, that can be challenging, like what you just described, Ethan, I think the biggest thing is that people hire me for, though, is to solve problems regardless of technology and break down barriers.

[00:39:34.010] And so we talk about you really have scope creep and things like that that we talked about a little bit. I don’t mind scope creep, especially in those scenarios, because in the end, my job is to make my customer, my client happy. Right. And I don’t so I don’t mind skewing away from the contract or whatever. So that also helps me learn and grow, too. So the really kind of like all kind of weaving into the same story of managing the what I want to learn and kind of driving forward and also like how do I manage my customers and the work they want to work on?

[00:40:00.890] So it’s for me it’s been fun, but yeah, it’s this year nine. It is a little tiring of constantly keeping up and like maybe I just want to go like downstairs and like eat a burger or something. Just chill. Right. Or whatever expression you want to use to just take a break. It’s it has been tough. And so I’ve entertained recently going to work for organizations and things like that as a full time employee. And I think a lot of it has more to do with the administrative burden of running the business. I just want to sit down and geek out on some stuff like super deep dive.

[00:40:32.450] – Ned
Right.

[00:40:32.840] – Anthony
And that’s one thing. And depending on the challenge that you get from your customers, you might not get super deep dive stuff. I go do a lot of work in SQL Server add an index, add more RAM, add this index.

[00:40:44.330] Add more RAM and faster disks. Yes. And it’s like the same thing over and over and over again, but it pays the bills really great. So it’s kind of like that’s kind of a balance.

[00:40:53.360] – Ned
So, yeah, I guess that that is a danger of not being a generalist and choosing a specific skill to specialize in. As a consultant. You don’t get to drink from that firehose anymore because it’s now just a trickle of information about a very specific topic. Is that, Michael, have you taken the specialized approach or do you still do some general work to bring in that extra knowledge?

[00:41:14.360] – Michael
Well, it’s more specific, but then the generalization kind of comes as an aside to the engagement. So for me, I really enjoy learning, you know, the new technologies and specifically is moving from different clouds. So one client might be on Azure, one’s on AWS, one’s on GCP. And they all have the same stuff, you know, servers, load balancers, databases. But the way that you automate that stuff is different, you know, so it’s like, you know, you know what you want to say, but you have to learn the language or that particular cloud.

[00:41:51.660] And so in that part, I can be specific, but kind of like, you know, we talked about earlier jumping into a situation and, you know, everything’s kind of up in flames around you and usually has to deal with security. So as I’m, you know, implementing things or making recommendations for from my part of of the engagement, which is usually CI/CD or deployments and that type of thing, I’m looking and saying, hey, you know, this database over here, you should probably not have a public endpoint for that database.

[00:42:20.790] You should probably configure security groups to look like this. So I wasn’t brought on to do security recommendations, but at the same time, while I’m implementing what I’m implementing, I’m seeing it. And I’m like, oh, you should probably do something about that. That’s that. You know, that’s is going to be a problem sooner, you know, if not later. But another thing I want to mention, though, we talked about, like, you know, coming into engagements and and one of the things that was difficult for me as I first started.

[00:42:55.080] So if folks are out there, you know, listening to this and they’re just getting started with consulting and they’re coming from a nine to five, usually, you know, when you’re when you’re brought into a, you know, day to day job, you have a project manager or some sort of management role that interacts with you. They give you your work. They say, hey, this is what we want you to do or, you know, this is your task for this week or whatever.

[00:43:18.750] And that’s that’s not the case, when you’re consulting, you come in and it’s like they expect you to tell them in a lot of cases what they should be doing. And that happens to me on my very first engagement, I and I learned like super quick because I got you know, I was, I walked in, we made our introductions and everything. And I was sitting there for a second like, OK, what do you guys want me to do?

[00:43:43.260] And I realized, like I said instantly, it’s like, wait a minute, they’re waiting.

[00:43:48.060] – Ned
I’m in charge.

[00:43:49.450] – Michael
Yes, exactly. They’re waiting for me to tell them what they should do. And I mean, again, it was like a master’s thesis in, you know, consulting in the fraction of a second. But as soon as I realized that, I was like, OK, I’m going to take charge. This is what we’re going to do. You know, show me the servers, show me your code, who has access. Let’s talk about this.

[00:44:12.000] And, you know, we kind of I just kind of, you know, went through a process of analyzing everything and, you know, got on with the engagement. But that was I really just kind of like eye opening moment for me to like just to know that I was the boss of the engagement and that I had to take charge.

[00:44:26.460] – Anthony
Yeah, I think that’s what we talk about, working for a firm and not working for a firm and scope creep and all that fun stuff. And I make the comment jokingly, like my job is to make my customers happy. And that’s kind of what you just described, Michael, in that your job is really to ensure your customer success, that they’re doing the right things. And as an individual, you can kind of move horizontally in an org and say, you know what, yeah, this smells funny over here.

[00:44:47.010] I need you to focus on that, because in the end, that’s really kind of more important than might even ask you to do it already over here, it may potentially depend on a scenario like public database endpoints.

[00:44:56.610] And yeah, that’s a that’s a key lesson learned and also how you architect your business. And I like having that fluidity in my engagements so that kind of solve those problems and really comes down to adding value to who’s hired you.

[00:45:09.870] – Ned
Right.

[00:45:11.310] – Michael
Yeah. Because it’ll be great if your code’s deploying fine. But not if people are hacking it.

[00:45:17.520] – Anthony
Oh, man. Yes, yes. I see flashbacks right there from that statement.

[00:45:24.840] – Ned
The whole drinking from the fire hose thing definitely came into my world when I probably zoned one or two fabrics for storage in my entire career and barely like tiny little things. And then my account exec comes over and he’s like, hey, we’ve got this client and this other consulting group set up the the fabric for their storage array. And it’s just not working. They can’t get anything to connect.

[00:45:49.230] Can you go in and fix it? I was like uhhhh, and it was Cisco fabric switches, MD something? I don’t even remember the type. I didn’t know the commands for that. It was an extreme IO box and they were trying to connect to it through, through VMware and Fibre Channel. And I was like, I don’t know how to do any of this, but sure. Yeah. And two hours later it was all working and the other consulting company called us real angry, like, what did you do? How did you do it? Like they really wanted to know and the account exec was like, I’m not going to tell you, you should be able to figure it out.

[00:46:27.810] – Anthony
Good luck with that. I’ve gotten to the point. I just say, no, it’s too stressful.

[00:46:33.780] – Ned
I should have said no. Yeah.

[00:46:35.460] – Anthony
Yeah. So here’s an interesting corollary to that. I had a customer about a little bit over a year ago, maybe like 14 months ago.

[00:46:42.000] I got it through a reference through a friend. We could talk about referrals a little bit that they’re like, hey, they’re having all these kubernetes rollout problems. Their app dies when the thing rolls out and they it’s all this hot mess. And so I signed the contract to get on the call. I do the discovery and like three hours into the discovery call, they’re like, hey, we’re running windows, containers and kubernetes. I was like, you’re the only one, you’re the one. But luckily I have a lot of Windows experience and I’m like, all right.

[00:47:09.270] So I, I figured out what your issue was because I was able to merge those two experience together. But I guess like similar to what you described, Ned like you get into the situation, you’re like, I thought I knew what I was doing, but the next thing you know, it’s like windows, containers and kubernetes.

[00:47:22.720] So I was like, OK. And so like that’s like the craziest situation. So I’m like, you want me to just keep plowing through it? Like, well, we need to get this code rolled out. I’m like, let’s roll up our sleeves and figure it out. So but that was stressful. That was really stressful.

[00:47:35.670] – Ned
I think we have time for maybe one or two at most things. So why don’t we talk about how you get new contacts? How do you get new business, especially when you’re starting out? That’s like the hardest thing to do is I have one client and I want to have obviously more than one. We’ve talked about that. How do you get more clients? How do you find more work, Michael? What what’s your process for finding more work or what was it when you were starting out?

[00:48:01.260] – Michael
Yeah sure. So, yeah, like when I started out, I was an accidental consultant. I had not planned to go that route. But like I said, somebody picked me up. I looked at it and I was like, yeah, I could do that, you know? And I kind of fell into it. I did go back after that, you know, consulting for a little while. I did go back to, you know, nine to five, you know, 40 hours a week type engagement.

[00:48:23.280] But the consulting engagements that I’ve had after that have come through networking. I don’t market myself as a consultant. However, people know that I am willing to consult. I have the experience to do it. And so if if they’re talking and there’s, you know, professional circles and, you know, somebody mentioned they have a problem, they may say, oh, I know somebody that could probably help you with that and I’ll get the referral that way.

[00:48:48.750] Also, I am in communities of practice where I, you know, talk to people on Slack or on LinkedIn or whatever the case is. And through some of those, you know, interactions, I’ve gotten referrals. I also work with some folks and they have gone on to recruiting agencies. And sometimes they will have clients that have you know, they are they are, what do I want to say? Like they hire contractors, but they have a task that’s too small for a contractor to take.

[00:49:18.540] You know, again, it’s like one of those five or tens, five or ten hour jobs. But they, you know, contractors are like, hey, I want a forty hour a week engagement, you know, for several weeks or months or so on. But, you know, so the person that I know that’s a recruiter for these agencies will say, well, I know a guy that could probably do that, you know, and so I’ll get a referral that way because, again, I’m not reliant on on that income like somebody else might be.

[00:49:44.760] So, yeah, for the most part, it’s referrals and networking that that give me my engagements.

[00:49:50.520] – Ned
Anthony is similar situation for you?

[00:49:52.920] – Anthony
Totally. Referrals all the way, networking all the way. Build your personal brand like there’s a reason why you have your logo over your shoulder Ned right? That’s part of who you are and how people recognize you. That’s extremely valuable. So to add to what Michael said, what those things partner organizations and I don’t mean like become a Microsoft partner. I mean in the industry that I work in, I worked with a lot of people that deployed data centers like traditional data centers, and then they’d roll out these data centers and their apps still perform poorly.

[00:50:23.370] Their databases still perform poorly on all this new fancy hardware. And so I would partner with those types of organizations and they put me into their sales cycle. And I basically had an ad hoc sales force that would go out and sell my services and that worked fantastically. So that’s for pretty much the entire time I’ve done consulting. But outbound marketing, I think and just building your personal brand and establishing your technical expertise in a domain is is really the key.

[00:50:51.000] If you’re going to be a single person consultant, if you have, like, aspirations of building a 50 person consulting firm, that’s a different business. Right. Right. You’re talking like I think we’re all doing.

[00:51:02.190] It’s really it’s about how can you. Get out in the world and people say, you know what, this person’s expert on this tech, I’m going to call them where they’ve read your blog or they’ve watched your podcast or listen to YouTube videos, whatever.

[00:51:16.020] – Ethan
You know, Anthony had said something earlier about you’ve done some marketing and it didn’t go so well or something to that effect. So so is there a flip side of this where you tried something to get more clients and work, but it didn’t work out and you wouldn’t recommend it?

[00:51:29.670] – Anthony
Yeah, so I I’ve gone through three marketing consultants and I bought the services and I’m like, let’s do these things. And guess you didn’t have enough time to fully implement their strategies.

[00:51:41.940] Right. Because what I really needed was they were they were marketing consultants, not marketing implementers. And I needed someone to implement the marketing and I didn’t have time to do that. So that really was my failure in managing those projects. And so I shifted to doing basically outbound content based marketing, blogging, public speaking to help build my brand so people realized what I was good at. And that was the difference. You know, if I probably should have someone formalize a marketing strategy for me, but I generally don’t get a lot of inbound leads.

[00:52:15.510] People don’t Google me and say, hey, I found your website, I need you to do this. It’s I met this person at this conference and they said, you’re really good at this thing and I need help with this thing. Right. And so there’s two different ways to get in your customers and you just figure out what’s the most effective way for you to find customers. And it’s going to be one of those things. Inbound, outbound.

[00:52:32.970] – Ned
Yeah.

[00:52:33.510] – Ethan
A kind of a corollary to that with just finding a regular job. Many of the jobs that I’ve got, not consulting, but just working for a new employer came through word of mouth and networking. And, you know, people that I knew not I was trolling through indeed dotcom and found this thing and applied. I mean, that can work, too, of course. But most often it’s who, you know, doing that networking is a big deal.

[00:52:57.030] – Ned
Right? A lot of the time, that entry level job that you’re going to find, it’s going to be something like indeed. Or LinkedIn or, you know, the classified ads in a newspaper if we’re old now, which…

[00:53:07.860] – Anthony
That’s how I got my first job.

[00:53:11.040] So that’s a real thing. But yeah, once you get beyond a certain level, it’s more often going to be someone let you know through a network that they’re hiring or they’re looking. And that’s how you end up with with the next job or the next client for your consulting group. So the last set of questions I want to ask is sort of two, two ends of the same spectrum. What is the hardest thing about consulting or the worst thing and what is the biggest reward from consulting?

[00:53:38.190] And Ethan, why don’t you go first?

[00:53:41.370] – Ethan
The hardest thing about consulting. There is an act, that aspect that we were talking about earlier, of getting thrown into that new situation because of my personality. For me, I want to be completely in control and know exactly what’s going on and walk in there and just make it all magically happen, because I am thoroughly studied and deeply knowledgeable and a diety when it comes to these technologies. And so the hardest thing for me was always that fear of the unknown.

[00:54:12.180] But again, that’s a personality thing. I think of other people, you know, thrive on that kind of thing. But as I said earlier, it’s part of what drove me out of consulting.

[00:54:21.600] I mean, I still consult, but it’s part of why I mostly left that behind just to take some some of the unknown out of the equation. It’s too stressful. I mean, maybe that’s the right way to answer the question Ned. Consulting for me was always rather stressful.

[00:54:37.830] – Ned
Mm hmm.

[00:54:38.340] – Anthony
Yeah. Let me let me jump on that thing, because you’re asking what’s the hardest and the biggest reward? It’s actually the same thing.

[00:54:44.530] Time management. Right. Because as you described, Ethan, it can be stressful. And the number one thing that you need to take care of is yourself, right in your own stress levels and your own time management. And I failed at that. Like I will fully own like in 2018, it was a hot mess of stress. And I learned I had to rearchitect my time management skills to not overcommit and not overwork, focus on my health, focus on my family and all of those things.

[00:55:14.130] And that’s the biggest reward, is once you find that balance and you can have weekends off and not worry about work at nights, and especially if you’ve decoupled time and money with passive revenue, that then becomes the biggest reward because you can take off two weeks around the holidays and just relax and not worry that, you know, in December my revenue is going to be off 50 percent because I am not working the last two weeks. And that’s all that’s the most important thing.

[00:55:41.490] – Ethan
And in fairness, Anthony, you’re talking about independent consulting, too, which is subtly different than, not subtly different. It’s majorly different than working for VAR, where, hey, you have five minutes spare in your calendar. Can you figure out how to make that billable, you know, that kind of nonsense that just never let you go?

[00:55:57.480] – Ned
So, yeah. What about you, Michael?

[00:56:01.320] – Michael
Yeah, Anthony stole my thunder.

[00:56:03.210] I literally wrote down time management as you asked the question, because that’s that’s what I wanted to speak to because, yeah, everything that Anthony said is spot on because I mean, bumber one, I’d like that you led with health because you are the product. If you’re independent, then you are the company. If you’re not healthy, if you can’t perform, then you can’t work. And if you’re not working, then you’re not making money. You know that that’s what it kind of boils down to.

[00:56:30.480] But then the time management part of it is. So you do have a few clients. Is usually the case that nothing is going on between the three or four of them, and then all of a sudden everybody wants everything right now, and it’s just like you kind of got to juggle that. Add on if you have a family, you know, they’re going to want your time and attention as well. So really, you know, becoming sort of Zen and managing all those things is just like a primo skill when it comes to consulting because, yeah, you’re going to want that time off and, you know, you’re going to like say you’re on vacation with your family and they want your time and attention.

[00:57:07.880] But you’re like, oh, man, I got to close this pull request or, you know, I got to push this change or the case is, and you’re on your phone, you’re on your laptop, and you can’t enjoy that time with your family. And it’s like, man, you really got to get a handle on that so that you can, you know, live your life and not be, you know, a slave or beholden to your your job, even if you’re the boss, you know.

[00:57:29.930] You know what I mean? The work…

[00:57:31.190] – Ned
I do, I’m I’m the worst boss I’ve ever had. Yeah.

[00:57:34.580] – Ethan
It’s killing me right now. I’m sitting here getting upset, listening to all of this, because for me, taking care of myself has been it’s been incredibly difficult. My wife found a picture digging through a box of old photographs back when pictures were printed on paper. And that’s how you viewed them. And I had gained a ton of weight, I didn’t look good and I know where I was at that point in my life, all the things that were going on, taking care of myself was at the bottom priority because I had so much else to do that the thing I can cut short is me. Take time off? No, I’m going to work however many hours it takes. I’m going to go in on, you know, the nights and the weekends to make this data center cutover happen or whatever it was. And and then you don’t take care of yourself and you don’t sleep well and your eating habits are, you know, go go away. You’re just not conscious of all that stuff. It’s it’s a big thing. And I think I think Michael, I think you said you are the product.

[00:58:36.520] You’re standing in front of a customer trying to present and help them understand how you’re going to proceed through a project or what it is that they should do. And you’re exhausted and you know, you’ve grown out of the shirt you’ve picked out that morning. It didn’t notice it that you’d put on 15 pounds and you really need a haircut and et cetera, and you’re just standing up there doing the thing that you’ve been doing. And you just because you’ve been so busy and had so much to get done and you’re just running scared to keep it all happening and moving and going, especially if you work for yourself, it catches up with you.

[00:59:11.740] You don’t you think you think I’m just not working hard enough, I’m going to work harder and it doesn’t actually work that way. You break down over time.

[00:59:19.850] – Ned
At a certain point, if you’re going one hundred miles an hour all the time, things break and you don’t take time to fix that. And that in the long term is going to burn you out. And when you burn out and you’re working for somebody, at least maybe you’ve got some some backup from them. When you burn out and you’re by yourself, you’re by yourself. So, yeah, you got to take care of yourself. And I think that’s probably a great note to ride out on.

[00:59:44.470] You got to watch out for yourself and take care of your personal health and your time management.

[00:59:49.000] If folks want to know more about our amazing guests, Anthony, where can people go out and find you on the Internet?

[00:59:56.440] – Anthony
Sure, on the Web. It’s centinosystems.com. And I’m on Twitter way more often than I like to admit. That’s @nocentino.

[01:00:05.650] – Ned
Hey, what about you, Michael?

[01:00:07.900] – Michael
Best place to find me is on Twitter at Managed Chaos with a K.. Interesting spelling. But again, yeah, Twitter is kind of a draw so they can find me there.

[01:00:19.840] – Ned
Awesome. Well, thank you so much to our guests for appearing on Day Two Cloud. And hey, virtual high fives to you out there for tuning in. If you have suggestions for future shows, we’d love to hear them hit either of us up on Twitter at ecbanks or at ned1313. Or you can use the show’s handle at Day Two Cloud show. Or you could fill out the form on my fancy website, Ned in the cloud dot com

[01:00:43.790] Packet Pusher’s has a newsletter. Did you know that? Totally do. And it’s called Human Infrastructure Magazine. It is loaded with the best stuff we found on the Internet, plus our own feature articles and commentary. It’s free and it does not suck. You can get the next issue via Packet Pusher’s dot net slash newsletter until next time. Just remember, cloud is what happens while it is making other plans.

Episode 84