Transcript of the live chat session that took place Thursday, October 8, 1998. These sessions are normally scheduled for 12 noon-1 PM Eastern Time every Thursday. Please note that the US is now on Standard Time. So in international terms, we are on at GMT -5 instead of GMT -4.
These sessions are hosted by Richard Seltzer. If you would like to receive email reminders of our chat sessions, simply send a blank email message to email@example.com or go to http://groups.yahoo.com/group/businessonthewebchats and sign up there.
For transcripts of previous sessions and a list of future topics, click here .
For an article on how to make "business chat" work (based on this experience), click here .
Since the chat itself happens at a rapid pace, it's often difficult to note interesting facts in particular URLs as they appear on-line. Here's a place to take a more leisurely look. I've rearranged some of the pieces to try to capture the various threads of discussion (which sometimes get lost in the rush of live chat).
Please send email with your follow-on questions and comments, and suggestions for topics we should focus on in future sessions. So long as the volume of email responses is manageable, I'll post the most pertinent ones here for all to see.
Bob Zwick -- Hello everyone. Bob here. Independent Computer Consultant in Dallas Texas area.
Richard Seltzer -- Welcome, Bob. Glad you could make it. How did things go with your distance ed chat on Tuesday?
Bob Zwick -- Richard -- I believe the DE chat is about to fizzle. Think there is too much else available.
Richard Seltzer -- Bob -- Let's email about the distance ed thing. Yes, you've been putting a lot of work into that, but the numbers don't seem to justify the effort.
Jeff Stenger -- Hello. I'm an intranet/Internet software development consultant in Chicago.
Bob Zwick -- Jeff, Interesting name "Dabble" how did you come to choose it ?
Jeff Stenger -- It's easy to remember, easy to spell, it's tongue-in-cheek, it had a .com available, it's relatively high in the alphabet.
Bob Zwick -- Jeff - interesting how search engines are a determining factor in naming businesses today.
Richard Seltzer -- Welcome, Bill Wendel from Realestatecafe. Please introduce yourself and let us know your interests.
Richard Seltzer -- Welcome, VRC and Shane. Please introduce yourselves and join in.
Richard Seltzer -- Welcome, Len Segal. Long time no see and no hear from. Please introduce yourself, and tell us about your consulting business.
Shane -- If I could hop in... I am trying to get into more E-Commerce situations.. Does anyone have any links/ etc
Richard Seltzer -- Shane -- what specifically are you trying to do e-commerce wise?
Bob Zwick -- Shane - are you trying to sell products or host eCommerce sites ?
Shane -- Well.. I am trying to hop on the bandwagon.. I would like to more or less help set them up etc. Programming databases etc
Richard Seltzer -- Shane -- I'm inclined to emphasize the social
aspects and what you can do on a shoestring, taking advantage of the Internet
environment, rather than trying to mimic the traditional world. Check the
early chapters of my book The Social Web at http://www.samizdat.com/#social
And please join us again next Thursday.
Shane -- I would be very interested..!!
Bob Zwick -- Shane - are you trying to set up a mall or store front for multiple business ?
This is a topic near and dear to my own heart, and I will do my best
to participate on Thursday, schedule permitting. I've been a consultant
for five years in December, and it has been really interesting to see
where my own clients have come from. The most by far still come from networking. If you haven't already, join an association of people like yourself and volunteer. Get involved with some of their activities, and
get known to them and you will be able to get quite a lot of work that way. For example, I am active in IABC, the International Association of Business Communicators (New York chapter), and I think that a good
60-70% of my business over the last few years has come via IABC contacts and referrals. (http://www.iabc.com)
Jeff Stenger -- I second the thought that networking is the key.
Richard Seltzer -- more from Kaye -- The other resource I use quite a lot is the Internet, and I have gained a number of clients just by sending them messages and starting a chat. Sometimes it is with comments about their web site, sometimes it is because of messages they or I have left in a forum. But in the past year alone I have had five clients whom I have never yet met, yet we have coordinated, planned and executed their entire project by e-mail and fax. We have never met face to face and the checks just show up in my mailbox! It's an odd and wonderful way to do business! :)
Richard Seltzer -- still more from Kaye -- You might want to
join the National Writers' Union. Dues are very cheap ...I think $75 or
$90. They have an e-mail job listing that they send out weekly and it often
contains interesting jobs you can do "off-site" (meaning at your own location).
That list of jobs has been better for
me than any other. (http://www.nwu.org)
Richard Seltzer -- last piece of Kaye's message -- There is also
a little shareware program called "Wanted Jobs". It's a search agent that
installs on your PC and you can set up a variety of search criteria for
the types of work you want. It will then go out and search ALL of the online
job centers and pull out the jobs that meet
your criteria. I have found several times that if you talk to a company about their job need, it is sometimes possible to convert that into a consulting assignment...it's cheaper for the company, and more flexible
for you! (http://www.wantedjobs.com/help.html)
Jeff Stenger -- I'm excited to see Kaye's success with Internet job finding.
Jeff Stenger -- Everyone - Can you recommend any good books on running a consulting business? I can recommend "The Computer Consultants Guidebook" (or something like that) by Janet Ruhl, and the E-Myth Revisited.
Bob Zwick -- One of my favorite books on consulting is "Million Dollar Consulting" by Alan Weiss. It give a good foundation to determine just what you want to accomplish before you get tied down chasing the wrong things.
Richard Seltzer -- Thanks for the book recommendations. Are there Web sites focused at the needs of Internet consultants -- particularly, consultants like myself who have a business rather than a technical focus?
Bob Zwick -- Richard, I have a good collection of contract resources and professional links on the page I have linked to me today. On the main screen click "Job Assistance".
Jeff Stenger -- As far as web sites go, the only one I can think of right now is Janet Ruhl's site. It provides a lot of information about consultant's rates as well as other stuff. Look it up on Yahoo.
Richard Seltzer -- Jeff -- where at Yahoo? (I sometimes get lost in the maze of cascading menus there.) Thanks.
Jeff Stenger -- Richard - just search on "Janet Ruhl"
Bob Zwick -- Richard - As far as focusing on current projects, I recommend you "work on" current projects and "FOCUS" on the next project or technology. It's easy to get caught up with work and get left behind when a project or technology goes out.
Jeff Stenger -- Bob, what do you think about the "business" end of consulting vs. the technical end (doing the work). That is, do you like the business stuff?
Bob Zwick -- Administration is a necessary evil, marketing is fun and a challenge, doing the work pays the bills.
Richard Seltzer -- Bob and Jeff -- about how much of your work week is spent in activities that directly generate revenue? about how much in promotion, proposals, trying to sell yourself? about how much in general overhead activity?
Jeff Stenger -- Richard, at least half my time so far has been overhead. However, I haven't really tracked it so I can't quantify it more precisely. It would be good to know. I just started tracking the time it takes me to write proposals and land a new client. Eventually, I'll have a frame of reference.
Bob Zwick -- Richard - I spend 20-24 hrs a week billable time and 30 to 60 hrs a week networking, researching and do administrative tasks.
Richard Seltzer -- Bob -- So a typical 80 hour week... What do you do in your spare time :-)
Bob Zwick -- Richard - I do get to pick what weeks I work and what weeks I want to play. I manage my projects so that time is at my discretion.
Bob Zwick -- Richard - Be sure to document "the bills". Let what you need be the determining factor of what type of contracts you need and how many. You must set fiscal goals for your business throughout your consulting career !
Richard Seltzer -- Jeff -- a referral program sounds like a good idea. But how do you let people know about it? Has this mainly been word of mouth and direct email with people you know? Or has some kind of write-up at your Web site or postings in LISTSERVs or newsgroups brought referrals from strangers?
Jeff Stenger -- Richard, I've established contractual relationships with three or four people that I know. They were people that expressed an interest in working with me or brought me leads before they knew of the referral program.
Jeff Stenger -- Richard - What do you plan to focus on?
Richard Seltzer -- Jeff -- My main focus is business on the Internet -- not the technical side, but the people and business model side. I'm especially interested in how to create and build successful Web sites at very low cost. Search engines (being found, not just finding) are key to this. (I wrote the book The AltaVista Search Revolution).
Richard Seltzer -- Jeff -- with my non-technical emphasis, I believe that I could work in conjunction with technical folks in helping companies put together successful Web sites. It will be interesting to see how things evolve.
Jeff Stenger -- Richard - Do you have some potential clients in mind?
Richard Seltzer -- Jeff -- I have a couple of quick projects that I expect to get started on next week. But this happened very suddenly -- reorganization at what was Digital (recently swallowed by Compaq). I find myself with a 39-week severance package, which can serve as a buffer as I get started. (I don't think I would ever have taken the leap on my own, though I had been playing with the idea for years. It takes me a long time to get into the water at a swimming pool. But this time it was like I got splashed, drenched, and now that I'm all wet, it feels really good, and I don't have much inclination to look for another full-time position at Compaq or elsewhere.)
Bob Zwick -- My areas of consulting include hardware, software, networking, internet consulting and hosting, teaching, and software development. Sounds like a generalist, but with the markets changing one or the other take preference from time to time.
Jeff Stenger -- Bob, do you have employees or are you planning to move in that direction?
Bob Zwick -- Jeff - I have no one on a payroll but frequently sub-contract work for various projects.
Jeff Stenger -- Bob - I do the same -- subcontracting.
Jeff Stenger -- Bob, maybe I missed this, but how long have you been consulting?
Bob Zwick -- Jeff - I've been consulting full time for 8 years.
Richard Seltzer -- Bob -- sounds like you've got this consulting thing down pat. (and there do seem to be many pitfalls).
Jeff Stenger -- Bob, what was your experience getting established as a consultant? Did you gradually make the transition? How did you build a client base?
Bob Zwick -- Networking is definitely the KEY to consulting, however, it can also be a drain if you do too much of the wrong kind of networking.
Richard Seltzer -- Bob -- do you mean on-line networking or face-to-face or both? (It seems like face-to-face is far more time consuming, but may build stronger bonds. What's your take?)
Jeff Stenger -- Bob - The obvious questions -- What is the wrong kind of networking?
Bob Zwick -- Richard, one example of wrong networking I can give is joining a professional Association and devoting a lot of time into it and getting little results in return.
Jeff Stenger -- Bob, I'm glad to hear you say that about the professional association. I've seen other people join volunteer boards, etc. and wondered whether or not I should do it. I have avoided because it does require alot of time for uncertain results. I have found my time to be better spent focusing on my projects rather than on a professional association. However, I have found that being a member has been extremely valuable.
Richard Seltzer -- Bob -- That sounds right to me. (I've never been much of a joiner). But, on the other hand, in Kaye's message that was the number one thing she recommended. I guess it may be a matter of personality, but if I'm on my own and my main asset (what I sell) is my time, it would be hard to justify sitting through organization-type meetings. Am I missing something?
Bob Zwick -- Richard - I prefer to keep networking on a more personal level. These chats are one example. Local business functions, Chamber of Commerce, Web site contacts, past business associates, referrals from current and past clients. Believe it or not, one of my most productive networking producers are "my competition".
Jeff Stenger -- I basically serve as a technical project manager and programmer. I do a variety of software development from database-enabled web sites to traditional client/server development. I often work with other independent consultants or small companies.
Jeff Stenger -- Richard -- For me, joining the Association of Internet Professionals has been extremely valuable. I have met people that I work with, I've developed a network of peers, I've found work, and I've learned about new technologies. The part I've avoided is volunteering to help the organization.
Richard Seltzer -- Jeff -- What's the URL for the Association of Internet Professionals?
Jeff Stenger -- Richard -- it's http://www.association.org
Richard Seltzer -- Jeff, did you dive in all at once or go through a transition? and as you built your client base, what worked best/worst?
Jeff Stenger -- I took a salaried job that was four days per week to get started. After one year, I transitioned to being a two or three day consultant for my former employer. I just made that transition about four months ago and I'm working on getting down to one day or so with my former employer. It was slow going at first until I got a few clients. I spent alot of time reading business and technical books and laying the foundation. For instance, I got my accounting system set up, got incorporated, did a lot of networking, etc.
Richard Seltzer -- Jeff -- That gradual approach definitely sounds good. But many companies (including the one I worked for) have policies that prevent you from doing any consulting on your own while an employee. That's what constrained me. The way they set up the rules it was all or nothing.
Jeff Stenger -- Richard - Whoa, that kind of sucks. I suspect many large employers want to limit their people that way.
Richard Seltzer -- Jeff -- I do have some of the rudiments set up. I have been running a tiny publishing company under the name B&R Samizdat Express since 1973. (That wasn't considered a conflict with of interest with a computer company). I have my Web site, tons of content, personal email address, and am used to saving receipts for everything and keeping careful records of what I do (with taxes in mind). But I have a hell of a lot to learn in a hurry.
We're exploring the possibility of hosting a regular job hunters support group at The Real Estate Cafe. Glenn Gutmacher, who manages the career / job hunting web site for the Fidelity-owned family of 120 newspapers (TAB, etc.) in Greater Boston and teaches job hunting online courses at local adult education centers in Newton and other communities, has tentatively agreed to lead the workshops / support group. We're interested in:
Richard Seltzer -- Bill -- Sounds like an excellent idea. Yes, job-hunting certainly should correlate with house/apartment hunting. Keep in mind that it is not just the live chat that is an asset. Capture and edit the transcripts. Post those on the Web and get them indexed at AltaVista etc. Content drives traffic.
Bill Wendel -- Richard wrote: Keep in mind that it is not just the live chat that is an asset. Capture and edit the transcripts. Post those on the Web and get them indexed at AltaVista etc. Content drives traffic. I agree wholeheartedly, in fact, I've already told two career counseling outfits that they should refer their clients to your site to review these transcripts in the future
Richard Seltzer -- Bill -- as you move ahead with your project, please keep me in mind. "on-line interaction" is sure to be an important part of my new independent role. There may be ways in which I could help you.
Bill Wendel -- Richard, that was my hope.
Richard Seltzer -- Bill -- from the recruiting, rather than the hunting side, I recommend John Sumser's site. Off hand, I believe it is http://www.interbiznet.com
Richard Seltzer -- Bill -- You also might want to check my article
http://www.samizdat.com/cobb/jul97.html on Finding Jobs and Being Found for Jobs (the search engine side of the story).
Jeff Stenger -- Bill, do you mean job hunting as in employment or as in contractual job?
Bill Wendel -- Jeff, both.
Jeff Stenger -- Bill, have you tried DejaNews? I was able to find some interesting job leads by searching through Usenet.
Richard Seltzer -- Bill -- you also can use AltaVista for searches of the Usenet, and can bookmark a search so to launch the same query later and get fresh results, all you need to do is click on the bookmark.
Bill Wendel -- Thanks for suggestions re: usenets and DejaNews.
Bob Zwick -- Bill - no out-of-towner long contracts since I can choose the jobs. Did do a lot of that when employed by others.
Richard Seltzer -- Bill -- another related element might be the temporary office space and business services business. e.g., Acumen in Marlboro, which is the parent company of the ISP Acunet, where my Web site is hosted.
Jeff Stenger -- Richard, you mentioned temporary office space. How would I locate such a service in Chicago?
Richard Seltzer -- Jeff -- that's a good question. I don't know what the generic term is for such a business, so it would be hard to do a Web search. I'd be inclined to contact the folks at Acumen/Acunet and ask for a referral or advice. The person I deal with most often there is Anthony Alvarez. He's not in the office space side of the business, but he should know who the right folks are. firstname.lastname@example.org
Bill Wendel -- Richard, interesting suggestion... I hadn't leaped to the office side of the opportunities that the booming employment market has created. My focus was more on "how do you match short term housing needs, with short term but well paid consulting assignments?" One of our responses has been to host an weekly event, now bi-weekly, for roommates, you'd be surprised by the age distribution, more people over 40 than under 30 years old.
Richard Seltzer -- Bill -- that's one of the fun things about this crazy Internet environment. You start doing something thinking you are targeting one audience, and it turns out that another set of people are far more interested. Next thing you know, you're in a new business...
Bill Wendel -- So we're finding out, we've been taking our cues from the "Virtual Housing" community, but it may make sense to broaden our focus.
Bob Zwick -- As far as office space, executive suites are a good alternative. They give you a permanet address, phone, meeting rooms, and office space as required. A good way to start without a large overhead.
Jeff Stenger -- Bob, what is an "executive suite?" How do I find them in my city?
Bob Zwick -- Jeff - check the business rental or lease section of the newspapers or look for "Executive Suites" in the yellow pages.
Bill Wendel -- Jeff, HQ (Headquarters) is big in the New England.
Jeff Stenger -- Bill, thanks for the HQ idea.
Jeff Stenger -- Len, how did you make the transition to consulting?
Len Segal -- Jeff, easy . . . DEC laid me off!!
Jeff Stenger -- Len, that'll do it.
Richard Seltzer -- Len -- Once you were forced out of the DEC nest, what did you do to get your first clients? How long did it take before you were bringing in enough revenue to pay the bills?
Richard Seltzer -- All -- before you sign off. Please post your email and URL addresses. Don't presume that the software will capture that.
Richard Seltzer -- All -- I'm very interested in continuing this discussion next Thursday (same time and place). How do the rest of you feel? And, Len, will you be able to make it then?
Bill Wendel -- Bill
Wendel, The Real Estate Cafe, 221 Concord Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138
(617) 661-4046 email@example.com http://www.realestatecafe.com
Jeff Stenger -- Richard, I could
go for more discussion. Jeff Stenger, Dabble Communications, Inc.
Richard Seltzer -- Thanks to all. Please join us again next week. And please spread the word. (Unless I get email strongly to the contrary, I'll plan on focusing on this same subject again.)
Richard Seltzer -- Bob -- Thanks again for the good advice. Shane -- I have to run now. Hope you can join us again next week. Please feel free to send me your questions and comments by email for inclusion with the transcript.
Your change of topic caught my attention even before I read on to find what I expected.
Welcome to the "Club". The exact same thing happened to me when I was working for TRW. After 9 years with them, a buy out and an offer of what I thought would be a temporary assignment in another city. It was just the push I needed to start my independent consulting business. I had begun getting established three years prior to the big event so I had a few small customers and some experience getting work.
I'm so glad I made the switch. The opportunity to spend more time with my family and choose who I worked for and what type of work, has been wonderful and I wouldn't go back to corporate life for anything.
I'd be happy to work with you during your startup and share my resources and experiences.
You might take a look at my ICCC site http://www.cottagemicro.com/consult/ There are a lot of job sites and professional organizations listed there. It's a new and growing site.
To respond to some of your questions:
From the Boston Computer Society (RIP) and Egghead Software (3 stores) I received a lot of referrals. It added up, but it was all very, very small businesses with no money to spend or "Joe-consumer" who went into cardiac arrest when I told them my rates (they all have this friend down the street who has a son in high school who will work for $10-20/hr, etc.).
After the BCS and Egghead both went under, the drop in business has been very significant.
I also got some business from the Boston Windows User Group (BWUG), but most attendees are "Joe-user" who also have no money to spend. I was Associate Director of that group, but for many reasons, divorced myself from the group in July after starting up the new group. Microsoft strongly suggested that I start the group for IS/IT professionals and I accepted the challenge . . . it is a lot of work, but I am hoping that it will pay off.
I serve on 3 committees at the South Shore Chamber of Commerce (Comm. for Small Business, Technology Comm., and a new Office Productivity Forum that we'll start in Jan.), as well as on the Business Disaster Response Team for Neponset Valley Cof C. The exposure helps get business, but again most of the attendees are very small businesses without budgets.
I have yet to "break into" the mid-sized company (10-100 users) where they budget for IS/IT work and are willing to pay a professional rate for advice! Thus, after 5 years I have had one profitable year. I admit to enjoying this much more than my last 8 years or so at DEC.
Keeping skills sharp:
Len Segal, MCP, Segal Computer Consulting, Microsoft - MVP (DTS), ClubWin
Here's another suggestion/topic for the chat Thursday...which I will have to miss since I will be on the road. :(
This past week I saw a posting in Commerce Business Daily, the "official" resource for postings for government contract work, and I wrote to the person in charge of the job to find out where I could get some specifics, to determine whether they wanted someone of my background or an ISP. She wrote back and described the job and then said that the military now accepts bids only from "registered contractors". She pointed me to a form you may want to complete yourself, if you have any thoughts of doing business with any government agencies.
First, though, you are required to have a DUNS number, which you can get for free from Dun & Bradstreet (http://www.dnb.com) by completing some basic organizational information about your business. Once you have a DUNS number you can complete the online CCR form. (Central Contractor Registration - http://www.safaq.hq.af.mil/contracting/ccr0.html)
However, you will need the SIC code(s) for you business, and you might want to line them up before you start the form. I discovered something new in this process. While I used SICs quite a bit several years ago, I didn't realize that they had been converted in 1997 to NAICS (http://www.naics.com/)...a totally new numbering system.
The SICs I had previously used had Internet consulting as a 99xxcategory. The new NAICS has NO Internet consulting category at all! (Which seems strangely shortsighted to me!) The only reference you can pull up for "Internet" is for ISPs and Internet providers...not services related to the Internet or Worldwide Web. In the end, I used the "management consulting" and "business services, nec" (not elsewhere classified) for my two choices. Pretty weak, IMO.
There are two sites referenced where you can search SIC codes/key words and turn up the new NAICS number that corresponds. They are http://www.ecrc.camp.org/sic.html and http://www.osha.gov/oshstats/sicser.html . The first one is the one I found easier to use.
Filling out the form took about 30 minutes, and if you haven't yet fully developed your business, they may ask questions you can't answer (such as annual revenues and your bank account number and bank contact's phone number or e-mail number). It's possible to "save" the form and go back to it later (within 30 days, I think). After you complete it, it takes 7-10 days for them to process the information and assign you an official number. Hopefully, that makes it easier for us when we actually do apply to do a project along the way...
Hello there! I just read your e-mail and it gives me great joy to see that you're going to start your new venture.
Anyways, I was just wondering, would I really be able to get a job through the internet? You see, I'm from the Philippines and I would like to be able to work in the States. I was just there for 6 mos., mostly in California and I just got back on the 30th of last month. It is really my desire to work in the States and I would just like to know if people really hire through the internet even though I'm thousands and thousands of miles away.
Although this is most oriented toward web design, you all may find my long list of urls on the web design business and web business contracts, pricing etc. to be helpful. http://www.windweaver.com/webwork.htm(not updated for about 6 months however)
Tracy Marks WINDWEAVER Web and Windows 95 Resources - Web search and design http://www.windweaver.com/
Internet Business Advantage http://www.cobb.com/iba
Consultants Online http://www.expertcenter.com/consultants/comain.html
Small Business Development Centers (several in Massachusetts)http://www.businessfinance.com
7 Steps to Starting http://www.startupbiz.com/Doit/seven.htm
Business Plans http://www.bplans.com/index1.html
Larry Hanawalt, Drake Beam Morin
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