ALC Consulting

March 31, 2009

We now return to our regular programming. . .

Filed under: Professionalism — Anne Cloward @ 6:23 pm

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Yesterday I violated two of my personal cardinal professional rules;

1.   I confused the personal and professional parts of my life. This blog is supposed to be about sharing and helping others to understand the process of contracting. I do have a personal blog that I use to share my view of the world and things that have nothing to do with work. I have family, passions and dreams that are laid out there. (If you want to see lots of hand knit socks, go there.)

2.  Whenever I write something fueled by excessive emotion, I should let it sit for a while and gel.  There is a place for emotions in the business world, but things run smoother at work if I temper my feelings and focus on solving problems, not complaining all the time.

If I am responding to good news, (Congratulations on your new job! So glad to hear about your promotion.), that’s fine. But if I am on a negative tear and feel the world is not treating me fairly, I get whiny, and I need to let things settle before posting.

Almost every situation changes in the light of day, and with a little time and perspective, things fall into place. Last night I took a look at myself and realized that there is still much I can learn and do that I have not done in my job search. While many of my job searching methods are sound, I have not been stepping up the plate and following through or fully embracing some practices that will help me land my next gig. I am a stubborn learner sometimes, I need to acknowledge that if something is working, I had better look at myself and see how I can improve things. 

There is a change in the wind. Things are happening. I need to prepare for them. One thing I know about myself is that I love learning new things, once I see the need to learn them. It’s up to me to get going and find resources to learn what I need to know to keep working.

Another friend has been an example of updating her skills during her job search down time. She has been using this time to research the Internet and find free courses and overviews of new developments in her field. She spends time taking free courses and seminars on the new tools in her field and how to use them. She sends me links to these seminars on a regular basis.

That is a much better job search strategy than looking for positions that rely on past technology and older applications. She is ready for the recruiter who calls asking if she has experience with  some of these latest tools. I admire her for doing this on her own. Her determination to keep up to date gives her an edge over the rest of us who are coasting on our past achievements.

Now, it’s back to business. My business here is to write a blog that will help people in learning about contracting, how to adapt to the changing workplace, not whine. The times are tough, but that doesn’t mean they are going to stay that way.

We need to be ready for whatever comes our way and not be playing catch up.

March 30, 2009

It Ain’t Necessarily So. . .

Filed under: Contracting,Networking,Networking Meetings,Recruiters — Anne Cloward @ 11:26 pm
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Way, way back when I was expecting my first child, “Natural Childbirth” was all the rage. We women were supposed to free ourselves of the tyranny of the medical establishment, reclaim our bodies and enjoy the experience of bringing a child into the world without any drugs, all on our own. Well, we could have our husbands nearby, as coaches, but the doctor and nurses were just supposed to be in awe of us as we brought our young ‘uns into the world without their help. It was supposed to be this joyous, amazing experience, available to any woman, any woman ready to throw off the shackles of the oppressive male dominated medical system.

I bought into that construct with all my young enthusiastic heart. After all, if I was going to be the mother of a dozen children, this would be the way to go, right.

So I got pregnant with my first child, and everything went great. Until my due date, in the middle of the summer. Simmering in a 3rd floor apartment, I canned apricots and the day passed uneventfully, except for the men walking on the moon. Two weeks later, I was still pregnant and miserable and hot and not sleeping. On a Thursday morning I went in to see my doctor, tired and crabby and ready to have this baby. I was having contractions, but after one false alarm at the hospital, I was waiting to get my doctor’s OK before going in again. If nothing happened by Friday, go in on Friday night, he said. I went in on Friday night, having good contractions and they put me to bed to wait and see what would happen. Finally, late Saturday night, they decided to do a C-section and get the kid out of there. I woke up a few hours later, hurting and got to see my 8 pound 10 ounce baby boy, who could never have survived a “Natural” delivery. His two brothers and sister also came into the world that way.

I had a condition called “non-progressive” labor, due to some anatomical issues.

Now what has this got to do with careers? Well, we often get the idea that there is only one way to hunt for a job and we wear ourselves out following that path, and sometimes, it seems as though we are in the throes of non-progressive labor ourselves. For those of you who have had to venture out into the job seeking world lately, it is not a pretty sight. There is new conventional wisdom that is being dumped upon us, new ways of finding a position and if you don’t get with the program, you will never get a job. After a while, it begins to sound like a broken record.

I agree that the least productive way of job hunting involves applying online and sending your résumé in response to a job posting. Yours will join the hundreds of others who are also sitting there. And I agree that agreeing to let someone in Bangalore represent me for a job some several thousand miles away is not the way to go either. But what about all the rest of the suggestions?

You go to job seekers meetings, week after week, month after month. You connect with recruiters and even get submitted for positions by some of them. You sign up on Linkedin and reconnect with all your old co-workers, employers and anyone else who wants to. You go to focus groups. You join any association remotely connected with your field that may provide access to others. You clean up your web presence, getting rid of any embarrassing photos. You rewrite your résumé five different times, trying to make it stand out. You email it to everyone you know. You attend some support meetings to commiserate with others, and find you could be going to many more of them throughout the week.

In short, you follow all the advice, and still nothing happens. Then you just burn out.

Just as I had had it when, after all those hours of labor, the doctors finally decided another course of action was needed to get results, some days you are ready to throw in the towel and give up.

This happened to a friend of mine last Friday. After a very stressful week, at the end of another job seekers networking meeting, she just had had it. She started crying and started verbalizing her complete frustration at the situation. She is one of the most talented people I know in her field, with a great job history. She is working for a local company for peanuts just to keep her name out there. Yet nothing is happening for her. In spite of all of her efforts, connections and hard work, she was completely frustrated. All I could do was to sit by her and listen. I could not offer any great advice, because I know just how she felt. Some other guy who knows her came by, with his comment that as tough as things were for her, his situation was much worse, he was sure. That was not the correct response in my book.

Oregon’s unemployment rate is higher than the national average. It’s a great place to live, and there is a well educated population here vying for jobs. These are unusual times, and even though there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel, it hasn’t trickled down to some areas yet. There are still those hiring managers who believe that developers can develop, debug, test and document their creations, since they created the applications (Right!). When will there be a turnaround and our phones start ringing with recruiters at the other end who have real jobs in real companies? I have no idea.

In the mean time, my friend and I just put one foot in front of the other and know that we are there for one another. We know that when we reach the end of our rope, the phone may still not ring, because right now, not much is out there.

It will pass. Things will get better, but right now we aren’t seeing much action. Lots of words are out there, too many to absorb, but no jobs.

March 17, 2009

Attending Networking Meetings and Actually Networking!

Filed under: Contracting,Uncategorized — Anne Cloward @ 11:39 pm
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So you heard all about networking, and you are ready to attend a meeting, but wonder how to make the best of it?

Unlike a 12 step meeting, you do NOT want to remain anonymous. You want to be recognized and talked about. The purpose of a networking meeting is to meet people, people who know other people and who can help you make contacts that can lead to jobs. You also know people who are working and you should be prepared to share your information. Networking is the exchanging of information.

There are some ways to maximize this experience.

Prepare yourself

Before you go to such a meeting, sit down at your PC and be ready to do some printing. First, print out your résumé. Make several copies. Check it for typos and accuracy. Then print out some business cards. You don’t own a business, so why should you do that? Because you are going to meet people who will want to connect with you or people you want to connect with. If you don’t have any, go down to Office Max and buy some blank business cards. Avery makes nice one. They also have some templates online at their website that you can customize. All you have to do is select a layout, enter your contact information and print. Just enter your Name, your Job title, and contact information, including email address. Most serious job seekers have a separate email address that is reserved for work. Get one. Hotmail, Yahoo, and Gmail are all free. Skip the cutesy name, (Joesixpack, suszeebutterfly). You are an adult looking for a job, sound like one.

If you haven’t already, prepare your 30 second—one minute introductory speech. Use positive language; say what you can do, and what you are looking for. If you worked for one of the larger firms in the area, mention that. Avoid negative language. See if you can get that chip off your shoulder. It shows. Your body language should project confidence.

The night before your meeting, lay out your clothes or at least check them out. Dress as you would for a business meeting, since this is one. A clean pair of slacks, a nice clean top, something with buttons all the way down. Put on some better shoes than the running shoes you have been living it. Shave, take a shower and clean up a little. Women should also dress accordingly. You want to show you are serious about your search.

Plan to meet lots of people

Some people have the idea that job networking meetings are only for people who are out of work. That’s not true. I can honestly say that there has been one person at every meeting I have attended who is NOT a job seeker, but someone who is hiring. He or she may be looking to meet people just like you. They are hiring managers, project managers and recruiters. They attend these meetings to get to know who is out there looking.

Work the room

There are certain things you can do that can call positive attention to yourself and help you get more out a meeting. Come early and find a seat in the front of the room. Bring a notebook and pen to take notes. Listen to the guest speakers. You can always learn something that will help you. Accept and pass out business cards. When it comes time to introduce, yourself, stand up. Face the direction of the greatest number of people. Speak clearly and project your voice. Be specific if you need to know something or someone. (I am looking for contacts from XYZ corporation, since they need a project manager.)

When someone makes a request that you can respond to, offer to help and meet up with the person after the meeting. You might have a neighbor who works at XYZ, or your poker pal does. Offer to introduce them to each other. Speak to the guest speaker. Tell him or her that they did a good job. Even if a recruiter doesn’t have a position for you, new job orders come in daily. Get a card to send your résumé. If someone asks if you are on LinkedIn and wants to link up, decide if you want to meet that way. If you haven’t joined Linked in (Linkedin.com ), put that on your to do list. If someone hands you a business card, make a note on the back if you discuss something and promise to help.

Follow up leads and commitments

After you get home, you are not done with this meeting. Empty your pockets, wallet or purse and take all those business cards you picked up. Sort though the ones you promised to connect with and do that right now. Send information, your résumé, and links, whatever. Remind people of where you met and that you are following through with your commitment to send them this information. If someone promised to send you something, send that person an email reminder.

Do this each time you meet. After a while your inbox will be buzzing with links, contacts and leads.

Read the materials passed out. These contain the distilled wisdom of people who know what they are talking about. Learn from them.

And come back next week.

Hey! You, Sitting in the Back of the Room

Filed under: Contracting — Anne Cloward @ 10:52 pm

To the guy sitting in the back of the room at the networking meeting

Hey! You, the guy in the back, don’t think you haven’t been noticed. This post is for you. I know you are there, and I can pretty much tell what you are thinking. Want me to tell you?

You have been laid off, and nothing seems to be happening much with your job search. So, someone (you honestly can’t remember who) suggested you go to a networking meeting. You aren’t even sure what that means, but you got the contact information a few weeks ago, and decided to find out what it was all about. Networking to you means Cisco being an administrator for someone.

It wasn’t fair that you were cut. Your manager could have chosen others, but all that bull about financial collapse and such was a smokescreen for letting the really experienced guys go and getting new kids that they could pay less. But you are good at what you do, and so finding someone who values your skills should not be hard. You will be back to work soon, and all this meeting others stuff will be over.

Since this is a meeting of people who don’t have jobs, there is no reason for you to dress up. You are wearing the same clothes you have been wearing for the past few days; your jeans and a knit shirt and both are a bit frayed. There might even be signs of breakfast on your shirt. When you got here (late), you found a room full of people, so you slid into a seat in the back, thinking you could remain anonymous through the whole thing.

There was some guy up there talking, and you figured out he was a recruiter. Now that’s a waste of time for you. You don’t do recruiters. They are for temp jobs only, and you are going for permanent, full time work, and beside you don’t plan on paying anyone to find you a job. You know the way to find a job is to look out in the internet and apply, sit back and wait for the phone to ring. That’s what worked for you when you were looking eight years ago. It will work now.

And what are all these papers going around? Job opportunities and articles, it looks like. Most of the job opportunities are not your cup of tea, so you just give them a quick glance and pass them on. The articles are titled, “How to Network” and “Answering Tough Interviewing Questions.” Those must be for people who are looking and don’t know much. All the interviewer wants to know is do you know the right technical stuff? All this other advice is not relevant. Your resume lists all this anyway, so the interview is just a formality, anyway.

Now everyone has to get up and talk about himself for one minute. Huh? What good is that going to do? Besides people are sitting down and mumbling, and you can’t hear them. Every once in a while someone will say, “Talk to me after, I know someone who can help you,” or they pass out a business card.

When will this be over? You need to get home to check your inbox to see all the replies you should be getting to your online applications now. Why did you come? What good is this?

Well, Ducky, You missed the whole point of the meeting. Networking is probably the best way to find a job and you have just let a golden opportunity pass you by.

Tune in for my next post to find out how to use a networking meeting to your advantage. This is the new and improved way to find a job that is proven to work.

March 12, 2009

Contractor Best Practices–Day 1

Filed under: Contracting — Anne Cloward @ 11:39 pm
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Contracting Basics

The article is a challenge to write because it contains lessons learned from mistakes I have made in the past. Not all are ones that I have made personally (I have listened to the horror stories of others and taken notes), but experience has been a good teacher. In the ten years I have been a contractor, there are some good practices to put into place that can make your experience more successful.

Some companies value contractors and treat them like the talented professionals that they are, while others have less respect for them and really do not appreciate them. If your skills are specialized, they may not realize what you do.

As a contractor, you are often hired to perform necessary tasks, but the regular folks don’t have the time, expertise or inclination to do them . This is especially true for technical documentation and training materials (my balliwick); since many developers or managers have no idea what should go into a user guide or what makes a good job aid or how to diagram the process flows that management is asking for.

I have developed some practices that I bring to any contract, that establish me as a professional who knows what she is doing.

One Rule to Always Observe without Fail

The cardinal rule of contracting is you never disclose to your salary to anyone. Your rate is established with the contracting firm, not the client. The contracting firm negotiates and sets the rates with the client. It is not anyone’s elses business what you make. Any details of your arrangement are to be kept private, and are not to be discussed with the client,  manager, or your co-workers.

I worked on contract for an insurance company and was paid the market rate. I sat near the A/P section, whose clerks were not paid nearly so well. They processed contractor invoices and saw the bill rates the client was charged (this is the contractor’s hourly rate plus overhead). They assumed we contractors were making our bill rates, and they were not shy about spreading it around the company. Since these rates were considerably more than they were making, there was a lot of resulting resentment. (The clerks were totally unprofessional in spreading the word around, but it put us contractors on the defensive.)

First Day Routines

First days of any new assignment combine the thrill of a new project with the challenge of becoming familiar with a new environment and getting up to speed in a short amount of time. Some managers are prepared when for your first day, but others really have almost forgotten you were supposed to start that day and have not notified the support department, so nothing is ready. Your cube, PC, phone, email and other tools should have been ordered and set up. Good companies have them in place. Accept the situation, whatever it may be.

Show up about 10 minutes early on the first day.

Learn about traffic, (if you are driving) or the bus or train schedule (if using public transportation). There may also be some delay at the front desk. The guard has to call the manager, and someone has to escort you to your cube. A good manager introduces you to your team members and others who work near in the vicinity. In the era of virtual teams, your team mates may be several aisles away. Take notes of names and titles. Do this during first team meetings. Even quick notes help. (Kent is my manager. Ted is his boss.).

Go with the flow, and be a sponge

Some managers have a checklist of things to go over and scheduled times for orientation, which is great. Not all managers are that organized. One of your new best friends should be the Administrative Assistant to the boss or team. She is the person who knows where the office supplies are, the number to call for the Help Desk and how to get things moving. She may be the one who ordered your PC and phone and can help you map to the printer. Remember her name and always thank her for her assistance.

If your PC is ready and as soon as you have the time, set up your email and voice mail, record a greeting and set your preferences. The more of this administrative stuff you have in place, the sooner you can get to work. Check to see if you have all the applications you need to work.

I review the programs installed on my machine and request any others that I may need. For example, MS Office is standard in most offices, but if I am going to create many graphics, I request Visio and a screen capture program.

Depending on the levels of bureaucracy, it may be a day or two before you get your login and passwords. Or a week, or in one case, when I worked for a major manufacturer of hardware, a month. Just be pleasant and ask if there is any information missing and can you supply it.

I am aware that this is a dream scenario. Not all first mornings go this smoothly.

Take care of paperwork and set hours

As a part of your orientation, you may be asked to sign a non-disclosure or confidentiality agreement. If you work with confidential and proprietary information, this is SOP. The data is the property of the company. For instance, financial institutions are quite sensitive about anyone sharing their information because they are handling other peoples’ money and people get testy when data is compromised. Corporate espionage is always an issue and hence the reason for such agreements.

The bottom line is that what you create belongs to the client. No matter how brilliant or revolutionary your deliverables may be, it’s not your property. It’s theirs to keep after you leave.

(You may have signed another set of agreements when you accepted an offer which set your rate and conditions of employment. Such agreements are between you and them. Read them carefully, since they generally tell you how and when you get paid).

Take this time to establish hours with your boss. Many companies have core hours from 9 until 3, and as long as those hours are covered, it doesn’t matter when you arrive or leave. Get your manager’s opinions on the subject. I once worked for two bosses. One came at 7 every morning and the other sauntered in at 8:30. We held a daily huddle when the latecomer arrived and everyone was happy.

Organize your workspace

Get office supplies from the closet and set up your work area. Set up your work area in a way that works best for you. If necessary, clean off the dust and dirt from the previous occupant of your cube. Don’t expect anyone to do it for you. This is your chance to demonstrate you are ready to get going with your assignment and have control of your environment.

Some managers may have scheduled meetings for you to attend or hand you material to review. Just plunge in and take notes, smile and keep going.

As the writer on most projects, I use unstructured time, to see if there is any existing documentation that I could read, or online files that will fill me in on the project. Good projects have requirements documents, use cases, technical specifications, and they are good background. I print out relevant material and read it. It’s a chance to scope out what my assignment really is.

Some bosses are cool and invite you to lunch the first day. Otherwise, wing it. One company had a group of people who would head for the cafeteria about 11:45, and from the first day, they stopped and asked me to join them. Take the opportunity, if offered to get the scoop on the place. How do others get to work? Where are good places nearby to eat? Establishing a good relationship with your co-workers is often done at this first lunch.

Some first days go smoother than others. Take copious notes on everything, and review them to get things straight.

About your past

No matter how big a city you work in, someone you work with may have worked with or know someone where you worked before. Don’t ever badmouth your previous gig. Your assignment may have been rough, the supervisor unmanageable, but keep it to yourself. Such talk marks you as a disloyal spoilsport and difficult to get along with.

(“Did you ever work with Ted at the Blue Bank?”

“Yes, I did. He really knew his stuff.”

“Really? He’s my wife’s brother.”

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say something to the effect that he was the idiot who kept messing up your schedule and caused everyone to miss deadlines? )

At the end of the day, pack up, head for home, appearing ready to hit the ground running and write that manual, code, training, business process flow tomorrow.

March 11, 2009

What is a Contractor, Anyway?

Filed under: Contracting — Anne Cloward @ 11:45 pm

A long time ago, my brother-in-law invited us over to dinner. He didn’t work, and was always coming up with schemes to make money, “the easy way.” (with no real effort on his part). He proceeded to give us a sales pitch into becoming Amway distributors for him. He had it all planned; we would go out and sell soap for him, and he would sit back and watch the money roll in. With no real effort on his part, money would be coming in so fast, all he had to do was count it.

There are people out there who view contracting as an easy way to make money. All you have to do is sign a contract and show up and the money will be there with no real effort on your part. The real world is really quite different.

In the spring of 1998, I was working full time for a hardware manufacturing company writing training documentation for new hires .  I had been working as a tech writer and trainer for six years and had some good experience under my belt. I was approached by a recruiter who wanted to hire me for a year at a lot higher salary than I was making. It was working for a large non-profit whose mission I believed in. So I jumped on the consulting bandwagon. That’s pretty much been my work life since.

One of the purposes of this blog is to explore the world of contracting and share some of my experiences. If there is a mistake contractors make, I have probably made it in the past few years. I have learned a lot from these oopses and will gladly share my experiences, if it will help anyone learn from them.

Often you will hear of someone who worked for a company for a long time, and then was laid off, only to be rehired as a contractor making much more money. Seems like the company made a big mistake, didn’t they? Why didn’t they just keep the employee on their payroll?

Even though a contractor may be making more, he or she costs the client less money than a full time employee.

Why?

Because they don’t have to pay benefits to that person.

Contractors work under a different set of constraints that may make them more attractive to an employer, but the chief one is that they cost a company less.

Contractors can be let go with a minute’s notice and no severance pay. Contractors don’t cost a company in terms of overhead such as vacations, insurance, and retirement contributions. These costs can really add up. Just ask any of the big 3 automakers.

My definition of a contractor is anyone who works for a client on a temporary basis. My contracts have spanned two weeks to one year. Contractors are often used to perform tasks that no one in the company has the time or expertise to do. I am a technical writer and instructional designer and have found a niche most of the time doing documentation for IT shops.

If the company had someone who could do a job, they would not be hiring contractors.

What is the difference between a contractor and a consultant?

I honestly don’t know.

When I first started as a contractor, I thought that consultants were people who really knew their stuff and had all the answers. Contractors were lower down in the pecking order and had less experience. Lately, the difference between the two titles has blurred. I was stunned when kids fresh out of college on their first job called themselves consultants. 

In my world, contractors know their field well and know how to use their tools. They don’t get the luxury of OJT. They are supposed to hit the ground running. They do not get a three or six month window to learn the ropes. They are supposed to start producing from day one.

Contracting is a good way to go for those of us who have grey hair, grandchildren, life before television and home PCs, and even the Internet, and memories of the Beatles invading America. It’s no secret that many HR people freak at the sight of someone who might look like their parents and who could cost them money in added insurance costs. It may be illegal, but it still goes on. In the world of contracting, age is not an issue. You are valued for what you know and can do, not what you might do in five years.

Contracting is a great way to earn a living if you don’t want to work all year round and plan to take lots of vacations or tend to obligations that keep you from working for a time.

Disclaimer: I have grey hair, grandchildren, did not get a TV until I was 10, or a PC until I was 40, and remember the Beatles, and wore miniskirts the first time around.

Contractors are used in almost all industries, and while some do not even work in the US, I am going to focus mainly on the world that I know, contractors who work in the white collar world and have advanced skills and experience. 

Contractors are generally independent people who are flexible and willing to take on new assignments. they know that their livelihood depends on their being quick on their feet and being able to learn lots of new things in a hurry. They are often  restless risk takers who view a full time permanent job as they would a jail sentence.

My next post will discuss how to become a contractor. There is a bit more to being a contractor than printing up business cards and passing them out.

Stay tuned. . .

Before You Get Started

Filed under: Contracting — Anne Cloward @ 11:36 pm

Actually there are a few things you should really do before you print out business cards and start handing them out to everyone you have ever met.

Deciding to Start Your Business

First of all, once you have found your passion, and decided what you want to when you grow up; run your fabulous idea past some people whose judgment you value. It is even better if they know something about your field, your talents, skills, and background. A spouse can give good feedback, but he or she may be prejudiced and see you through rose colored glasses (one would hope!). Someone who has been successful in their field and has some wisdom and maturity is also good. Some entrepreneurs gather a group of these people and call them their “Board of Directors.” My good friend, Joan, the author of several books on women and leadership (see her website at http://www.leaderdynamics.com/) has just such a group of friends. A former successful director at 3M, Joan now makes a living doing consulting, but she is smart enough to know that others can help her direct her efforts to achieving the goals she wants to attain.

Second, try to narrow things down to a niche. Being able to see a need in a particular market and find means to serve that market is a much better way to structure a business and improves your chance of being successful. There are so many resources available on the web and in government sponsored programs. Just Google business startups + your state, and you will be linked into them. Most of the services these groups offer are for free. There are many networking groups in the Portland area who meet on a regular business who are great at helping.         

Third, do your homework. Surf the web and try to find articles on startup businesses and processes. See if you have the qualities needed to start your own company. Do you have the temperament and resources needed to get started? Even if your idea sells and you have a client sign up tomorrow, you may not see any cash flowing in for a while. Do you have enough socked away to survive for a year, or six months at the least? Do you have the thick skin required to handle rejection that could happen when others do not recognize your genius?

The URL for the official government word on starting a business in Oregon is http://www.filinginoregon.com/business/starting_a_business.htm

The URL for the publication, How to Start a Business in Oregon is http://www.filinginoregon.com/forms/pdf/business/1100.pdf The publication even has Business Wizards that walk you through steps.

Another resource is Oregon’s Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) which provide services to anyone who owns, operates – or is considering starting – a small business in Oregon. Find the SBDC in your area at www.bizcenter.org,

Writing a Business Plan

Writing a business plan is a necessary next step. It serves several purposes; 1) Writing your ideas down transfers them from your head to paper. If you are a visual rather than a verbal thinker, try diagramming your process flow. Often this exercise shows you the holes in your logic and gets you to think about what it is you really want to do. 2.) Business plans are excellent to show to bankers and others who you may approach for financing. Take it from me; a well prepared business plan goes a long way to demonstrating you are serious about this enterprise.

Doing the Legwork

The next step is critical. Once you have made these decisions, talk to an attorney who specializes in small business and knows the state laws. His or her advice is worth gold, and pay for it if you need to. I ran this past my friend, Ben Knaupp, (bknaupp@gmail.com ) who brought up some excellent points. A good attorney who knows small business law can guide you in deciding the type of structure you are going to use for your business. You may operate a business by yourself (sole proprietorship), with another person (general partnership), or as a separate legal entity (corporation, limited liability company, limited liability partnership, or limited partnership). He can explain each of these types of organizations and which would best meet your needs.

The attorney should also be aware of any kinds of licenses or insurance you need to be in business.

Your next stop should be the office of an accountant who specializes in small business accounting. You may not need a CPA, but you do need someone who knows how the laws work in your state and how to file your taxes correctly. This person will do his or her best to keep you out of jail and leave paper trails where needed. You have to deal with the feds, the state and often the city where you live. Someone who is aware of this stuff can guide you through setting things up.

Naming the Baby

My only advice here is to avoid being cute. It does not look professional. Unless you are starting a clown or children’s’ toy business I would try to project an image of a person who knows how to do business. Some names focus on a product or service being offered. Others of us just keep it simple and use our names. When I told my accountant the legal name of my corporation was Anne L Cloward Consulting, Inc, he joked, “How long did it take to come up with that one?” But since I do so many things, it just made sense.

Most companies are registered by the Secretary of State in the state you want to establish the business. They have websites and you can often do it online.

But, wait a minute, you say, I only want to work as an independent contractor on a W2 basis. Do I need to do all this? It seems like a lot of unnecessary work, I still would, just to be safe and make sure I don’t get any surprises when I go to file my taxes after a year of contracting. Your attorney and tax guy may say that you don’t have to do all this, but it’s better to be safe than sorry where the IRS is concerned.

 

 

March 10, 2009

The Care and Feeding of Contractors

Filed under: Contracting — Anne Cloward @ 8:28 pm
Tags: , , , ,

I regard recruiters as being essential to my livelihood. Many companies will not hire contractors unless they come through a placement agency. Most recruiters are excellent professionals who really do want to match contract workers and clients successfully. The purpose of this piece is to put down my thoughts on the Recruiter—Client relationship.

Recruiters make their living by placing good candidates with clients. Their company’s reputation comes with each contractor they place, so they want you to do well. The good ones have good networking and people skills, since they spend all day trying to make good matches.

I do not know all goes on from the recruiter’s side of the table, but have worked with enough of them to know the qualities I want someone who represents me to have.

I am a technical writer with 20 years of experience, and have also taught in public schools, private colleges, and corporate training programs. I have worked as a Business Analyst and several of my projects have included SOX compliance work. My skills are pretty solid, and I generally have good reviews from clients. Most of the time, when I interview, I get a job offer. With this wide variety of experience, I can be easy to place.

Recruiters I Tend to Ignore

I prefer working with local contracting firms; ones who have a working relationship with hiring managers are authorized to submit candidates. I don’t like to work with companies who are not even in the same area code as I am.

These recruiters do not know the ins and outs of the local market. They are not a preferred vendor or even Tier 1 provider for the large employers. They have a job order they found on a Monster or Career Builder site and then have done a search and matched job titles to the req. Often, they have not taken the time to read my résumé and have no idea if I really do meet the requirements of the requisition.

Some positions presented to me (when I lived in Minnesota) by these dubious recruiters include:

    One in Detroit (doesn’t MI stand for Minnesota?)

One in Atlanta for a senior tech writer for $45,000 a year, FTE.

One for a help desk position in downtown Minneapolis at $16.50 an hour. (How could I pass up such a great opportunity?)

Some recruiters may not even be based in the US, and their companies never have a website. I generally know when a requisition has come out from a major employer in the area, since my mailbox fills with emails (often bad cut and paste jobs) or my phone rings constantly from area codes that are many states away.

After a two minute conversation, I had recruiter guarantee me a job at Nike at a phenomenal rate, if I would just give her authorization to submit me in the next ten minutes.. Her company had an in that no one else had. Since they were located in New Jersey and were not even remotely connected to Nike, I passed on this one.

Several times I have been contacted by recruiters for a job that didn’t exist. When I have checked with a legitimate Tier 1 provider for this employer, no such position has been posted.

Several recruiters have sent me emails with a job description requesting I respond to the email (skip the phone screen) authorizing them to submit me. They also request the last four digits of my Social Security number. This is a dangerous practice and goes against all the advice about giving personal information out to strangers over the Internet.

Know Your Contractors

Get to know the people you are marketing. Many skilled recruiters do good phone screens, and is a good first step. A face to face meeting is better. (Lunch would be nice.) But I (and most consultants I know) would be more than happy to come into your office and meet you. Meeting at Starbucks or Caribou gets old. You can see how I present myself, look over my portfolio and judge my interviewing skills. You have a chance to ask me more questions about my experience and skill sets.

Good honest feedback can help us contractors improve how we present ourselves and interview. I do not think it is realistic to expect recruiters to do major career development consulting, but good constructive suggestions are appreciated.

I will meet with recruiters even when they don’t have an outstanding req. They are building their network and it can work for both of us. I also am willing to connect with them on Linkedin.

Don’t submit me for positions that I am not qualified for. I am willing to stretch some out of my comfort zone, but will not lie about my skills. I can always learn to use new tools, but do not like to be misrepresented as being an expert in an application that I have never used before.

Don’t lie on my résumé. One contractor recently wanted to submit a candidate for a position, but he had some gaps (periods of unemployment) in his résumé. She was willing to manufacture some jobs for him and even had names of people who would pose as his managers in those fake positions. He wisely turned her down.

Talk up my strengths. Many IT workers and tech writers are not good at selling themselves. A good recruiter can help the contractor identify his strengths and play to them. I understand recruiters are not résumé writers, but I also am able to tailor my résumé, to a particular job, or rewrite it to focus on past experience specific to a particular position. It’s my job to rework my résumé, but guidance from a recruiter who knows the client is helpful.

Go to bat for your candidates. I remember one situation where a friend of mine was up for a position as a tech writer for a major hardware manufacturer. I had referred him to the contracting firm. I got a call from the recruiter asking me what she could say to the client who had interviewed for a tech writing job that required a heavy technical background in Engineering. They interviewed him, but had some reservations. Most of them were technical engineers. My friend was a laid-back Hawaiian who did not come across in interviews as being very intense. He had an Engineering degree and really did understand their business. He was also an excellent writer. The recruiter focused on his strengths and convinced them he would do a good job. On her word, the client took a chance on him. The client was so pleased with his work that six months later they offered him a full time permanent position. Because the recruiter knew the contractor’s strengths and style, she was able to market him successfully.

Know Your Clients

How obvious is that? I know that this is not always easy, but at least get the basics down. Get to know managers and hiring people. This is not always easy with some of the big places that have you work through their submission system. Every company has its way of doing things, and it helps to learn as much as possible about how they do it. The better relationship you have with a client, the better you will be able to place contractors (me). If you have other contractors there, pump them about the company.

There are companies who don’t let recruiters talk to hiring managers or limit to them to responding to poorly written job requests, which is a real challenge. Good long-term relationships and feedback from other contractors can help a good recruiter get a leg up when a req comes in.

Learn to read (interpret) the reqs. Like Tarot card reading or divining meaning from tea leaves, sometimes a request can be difficult to interpret. Do they use standard boilerplate that may not fit this particular job? Do all of the requirements make sense? Is this request based in reality, or is it a list of requirements that no human could possibly fill? There can often be a real disconnect between what the req says and what the client has in mind.

Sometimes a request comes through that is very clear and you can easily tell exactly what skills the client is looking for. Others are not so clear and you must guess what the client wants. I was sent one recently with the title of Technical Writer. About four lines into the description, it said, “this is really a position for a training developer.” Then about three lines later, it said, “needs to write test scripts for an application.” This carne from a large firm with lots of roles, and both the recruiter and I were confused as to which of the three roles they were trying to fill

I saw a job listing for a technical writer that had a requirement of a BSEE in electrical engineering. It’s very rare to find someone with that kind of degree doing technical writing, since engineers require a different skill set and a combination of a BSEE and technical writing experience is rare. I have also seen requirements for a technical writer who is has extensive background in specific programming languages. Again, this is an unrealistic request.

Separate the “must haves” from the “nice to haves.” Clients get hung up on tools and require experience with certain specialized ones. Others put together a laundry list that no one can fill. A good recruiter can make the call and decide when to submit a candidate who may have good experience, but not experience in every single application listed.

I had an experience where I was submitted for an instructional designer position. The standard company boilerplate was there asking for several years of experience, in Instructional Design. I was rejected because the hiring manager was looking for someone who had a PhD in instructional design, and she that was obvious in the req. When it was pointed out to her that there was no mention of a doctorate, she had to admit she had grabbed the standard material and had not read it carefully.

I was submitted for a training position for a large PeopleSoft rollout. My first response was that I have no experience with the PeopleSoft and so did not think I would be a good fit for the position. The recruiter said it was a “nice to have” but not necessary. Five minutes into the interview, I was asked about my PeopleSoft experience. When I said none, there was an awkward pause. Feedback from the client was they would pass on me since I had no PeopleSoft experience and the interviewer (who may not have written the req) considered it essential. It was a waste of time for the recruiter, the client and me.

Treat Contractors with Integrity

Don’t present me to a client saying I have experience that I don’t. My résumé is a truthful representation of what I have done and should be strong enough on its own merits.

Don’t ever submit me for a position without my permission. Some recruiters will ask for my verbal permission and I have given it. Others will send me an email and ask that I respond. Some use a combination of the two. There is always an acknowledgement on both sides of what we are doing and on what terms.

Keep me in the loop. You submitted me for a position, I interviewed and you got positive feedback. But a more qualified candidate showed up. This happens. It is not fun to make the phone call to tell me I did not get the job. Make the call anyway and let me know what is happening. As an adult, I can take the bad news and I respect you for letting me know. It happens, it’s part of the contracting game.

Be ethical. I had a nightmare experience with a firm for an excellent position with a major firm that was known for its high standards in the financial community. In the course of 72 hours, they:

  1. Submitted me for one rate and then tried to reduce it by 20%.
  2. Lied to me about the client’s time table, trying to force me into making a decision on the spot.
  3. Continued to phone me throughout the next two days telling me that I had to accept their offer. (I was trying to decide between their offer and another one). One day there were five messages on my machine from them, each one saying something different about the terms, often contradicting earlier information. It bordered on harassment.

I did not accept the position. I would have loved to work for the client, but the idea of having to deal with people who could not be trusted nixed the deal.

Pay your contractors promptly. Most large contracting firms have a time keeping system set up, and the money goes into a contractor’s bank account with direct deposit. I don’t worry about them. But some of the smaller ones have do not have a workable system and can’t pay until they get paid by the client. I cannot wait 60 days after submitting my timesheet to be paid.

Follow Up With Your Contractors

Once I have been placed in a position, I do appreciate communication to continue. My personal practice is to file weekly status reports with my boss (onsite) and cc the account manager. Any issues quickly surface and can be resolved. I always track my accomplishments so everyone knows if things are on track. Daily handholding and checking in is not required, but good communication makes for a better relationship.

Lunch away from the office is a nice break. If there is good communication between contractors and account managers, opportunities for additional business can happen. I may be able to work out an extension, or a raise. I had one six-week assignment last for a year, because the client kept finding more work to do.

Your contractors are often in a position to see other needs a client may have, and can pass that information on to you. Contractors are often a good source of referrals. We have friends who do what we do.

Anne Cloward

March 1, 2009

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I used to hate that question, since it usually came from someone who had really no interest in the answer. And since I was a baby boomer, I always gave the acceptable answer.

“A Teacher (with a capital T),” I would reply. I guess that was the truth. I did become a teacher, and it was a good career choice for me.

My second choice would be a writer, though in my heart, that’s what I really wanted to be. And I have made a living at being a writer for long time.

But I am posing this question in terms of contracting. What is it that you have a passion for? But, secondly, What is it that you do incredibly well that you can make money doing? That’s what a good contractor does, knows what he or she wants to do and does well and works at that. I want to share a few examples of people who have figured out what their passion is and have developed their talents well enough to make a life doing it.

large_bruceI am currently listening to Bruce Springsteen on my PC. I recently watched an interview he gave, reflecting on his life and career. The man, at the age of 59 looks fabulous! And when he performs onstage, the energy is there. The guy has been making music his way for over 40 years, not a bad gig.

kay_newNow for a lesser known, but equally passionate person, is my fabulous friend, Kay. Adams. In the 80s when I was dealing with stuff, I instinctively resumed keeping a journal. In my attempt to get beyond the “Dear Diary” stage of journal writing, I picked up a copy of her Journal to the Self. Over 20 years later, this well marked book still holds a revered place on my bookshelf and I return to it again. It is one of The books I love to read. Check out her website at http://www.journaltherapy.com/index.html

One last quote: “In an internet poll on About.com, Kathleen Adams was listed (with Anais Nin and Anne Frank) as one of the three most significant influences on contemporary journal keeping.”

And I get to hang out with her next week!

janet-book-coverJanet Kay Jensen, was a successful speech pathologist and supervised graduate students at Utah State University, one of the premier schools in that field. Despite that success, she decided she wanted to be a published author, and took a leave of absence to pursue this passion. Go to her website: http://www.janetjensen.com to see how well she has done.

My buddy, Scott had an interested in family history and organizing it, and creating a tool that helps people organize their family pictures. It’s a simple and powerful application. He started working on it several years ago, and gave a huge sigh of relief when he got let go after 19 years at Intel. The fruits of his labor are on display at http://www.photoloom.com/

I am not giving shameless plugs here, but trying to show how people within my circle of family and friends have given thought to the question and come up with their own answers.

I am amazed at the number of mature job seekers out there, who give their history, and then come up with “What I really want to do is . . .” and then reveal a dream that has absolutely nothing to do with what they have been doing for the past 20 years. I always wonder how did they get so far away from their dream.

There are some good sites out there with talent inventories, and personality tests at career sites that could help. Most of these are free; you do not need to pay for them. If you are working with your local workforce agency, they can administer them to you. It may give you an idea of what your real talents are and what would be a good fit for you. I found this great URL for evaluating such tests.  http://www.quintcareers.com/career_assessment.html

Maybe it isn’t too late to dig in to find the answer to that question.

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