If you are running a business, chances are you will need the services of a software consultant at some point.
As startups become increasingly reliant on technology, the development of new and improved software systems can oftentimes improve operational efficiency and provide a competitive advantage in market.
What is a software consultant?
A software consultant is a software engineer that has developed additional skills as a technical and business leader. Organizations, large and small, hire software engineers and software consultants on a contract basis to solve a specific technical problem or to build out custom software for a company to meet business goals such as increase efficiency, minimize manpower or lower costs.
What is the difference between a software consultant and a freelance developer?
There are several similarities; both are independent workers and software engineers. However, a software consultant will ensure that all technical solutions delivered meet your business needs and will give you technical direction.
A freelance developer may be more task-oriented and lack the strategic knowledge to add business value to a specific project. Often times, they do not have the same level of ownership of a project and are less likely to provide technical guidance.
How can I find a skilled software consultant?
Once you’ve identified a specific technology need, LinkedIn can be a great resource for finding qualified software consultants.
Using the advanced search tool on LinkedIn, for example, you can easily find a Ruby Consultant (i.e., Ruby on Rails (RoR) consultant skilled on Ruby’s “full-stack framework that covers both front and back end design. It’s at the heart of sites like , 43Things and Basecamp.”)
Here’s a look at a simple Advanced Search exercise on LinkedIn:
- Keywords: Ruby
- Title: Software Consultant (Select ‘Current’ under Title)
- Company: Self
- Relationship: 2nd Connections (and Group Members, 3rd + Everyone Else to broaden the search)
Next, draft a custom message that you will use when connecting with potential consultants. For example, “I am looking for consultants to help out with an upcoming project for _________.”
Review individual LinkedIn profiles to learn more about their background and experience. If you like what you see, click “Connect as a friend,” and use the custom message you created. I recommend connecting with several local consultants. Wait a few days and the interested ones will accept your connection request.
How can I properly vet a potential software consultant?
The next step is to setup a call with the top three consultants you’ve identified to discuss your technology and software needs.
The best thing you can do is be as open and honest as possible about your current situation, your needs, budget and expectations. Be a good listener and try to discern if the consultant truly cares about your business.
Are they asking the right questions? Ask the consultant to share a bit about the relationship they have with past clients. Listen closely to determine their level of confidence, professionalism and domain expertise. If you notice red flags, move on. Remember, a consultant is also trying to determine if you will be a good client.
A common mistake entrepreneurs make is it to focus too much on the technical skills and past experience of a consultant. This is important, but you need to look beyond that to additional skills such as communication and leadership.
What should I expect in terms of rates and billing?
Try to determine your consultant’s rate and how they prefer to handle billing; at the same time, talk openly about your budget. Most business owners are afraid to state their budget up-front, but doing this will only hurt you in the long run.
A consultant really needs to understand the firm budget. Good consultants will negotiate on scope of work, but not on rate. Consulting rates are usually higher than full-time hourly rates, so it’s best to avoid comparisons here.
If the project estimate fits within your budget and you are confident in the skills of the consultant, go for it.
What legal considerations should we keep in mind?
Before the project begins, make sure you have a scope of work in writing. You will also need to review and sign a solid contract and confidentiality agreement (preferably by your lawyer) before you start work.
Do not provide access to any confidential information before this step, even for estimation purposes. Ensure that both
parties can terminate the agreement with reasonable notice.
What are best practices when it comes to communicating with a newly hired software consultant?
The best predictor of a successful consulting engagement is not technical expertise, but frequent, open and honest two-way communication between you and your consultant. This can take place via email, phone, or video conferencing.
Remember that your consultant is self-employed, not your employee, and it is a mutually beneficial relationship. The client-consultant relationship is much like a patient-doctor relationship. Consultants are experts in their domain, assist clients and get paid as a result.
It would be odd for a patient to tell the doctor what to do, would it not? Similarly, consultants value clients that respect their expertise, listen well, pay on time and are not overly demanding.
You may have to go through a few iterations to find a great consultant, once you do never let them go!
This article has been edited and condensed.
Wale Olaleye is a Software Consultant and Ruby Developer at his company, Rails Fever LLC, software services for modern businesses. He has helped many happy clients to build high quality technical solutions that fit business needs.
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