April 18, 2008

Good Advice.....

I've been messing around with Linked In for a few months now. Mostly, it's been a good place to network - reconnect with old colleagues and customers, connect with new ones. I've reconnected with a college housemate, for example, who turns out to be working in a field not too far removed from my own. Mostly, it seems to be like MySpace or Facebook for grown-ups. You can see my Linked In profile here.

Linked In has a feature where one can post an open question, and people volunteer to answer the question. Quite interesting. I've answered a few myself, so far, and my own questions have gotten some quite helpful and thought-provoking replies.

My questions:

Growing out of the one-person, sole-proprietor business
I've been in business for 12+ years (engineer consulting). I've found my income to be relatively flat over the past few years - limited mostly by my available time and willingness to take on certain kinds of work (travel). I'm at a stage where I could conceivably grow the business, but I've struggled with how to do that.

In the past, I've brought on part time help with mixed success. A graphics person one day a week was great for improving a lot of my presentations, colors, etc. - I was able to drop projects on his desk and get good outcome without a lot of hand-holding and supervision. It was a win-win; he had a 32 hour a week job in another field with benefits, but wanted to keep a foot in the graphics world while explanding his experience and portfolio with digital graphics. On the other hand, a young IT / network person pretty much needed constant supervision - adding no value whatsoever.

My thought is that if I were to bring anyone on board for a day or two a week, it might be more of a clerical person, and develop a fixed set of responsibilities (billing, expense reports, filing and organizing). If that worked out, I might be able to expand this individual into some of the more mechanical aspects of my engineering work. I rent a small private office in large office building, with shared services (copies, receptionist) - my office is large enough to put a second person in there, if I wanted to.

Any thoughts on making the jump from one person shop to a larger organization?

and

I limit any single client to 25% of my available billable hours. Good plan or no?
I've been in the consulting business for over 12 years (engineering / power quality). In those years, I've operated with the unwritten rule that I will limit clients to 25% of my billable time. My thought are - these are large corporations, and often the work can disappear pretty capriciously, due to management changes, market forces, or decisions 2 or 3 levels up the corporate ladder that do not have a lot to do with the quality or value of my work to the client. "When elephants fight, the grass gets trampled"

It's been a relatively successful strategy - when large clients either slow-down temporarily or disappear completely, I've had enough pots simmering on the stove to be able to take up the slack relatively quickly. I've always got a list of "some day we'll get to this" projects that I can promote if I end up looking for work.

My fear is, however, that I am limiting myself with this strategy.

Have others imposed that sort of limit, or got caught when a large client changed directions suddenly and left you hanging?

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