Author Topic: Thinking about retooling  (Read 7443 times)

unix

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Thinking about retooling
« on: September 02, 2013, 09:36:39 AM »
I am thinking about "re-tooling" but not sure which direction to take.

What sells right now? What's not so difficult and does not require  years to generate an income? My focus is not so much on an income as to get away from a regular paycheck and validate the concept of having enough skills to be self-employed.

Do you advertise  and actively seek clients via cold-calling, knocking on doors, et cetera, or have them come to you after you place a listing in a paper or some similar media?

I read this and am still puzzled. E-commerce seems over-saturated, I suspect mainly because it's easy. Craigslist is full of $99 web sites. How legit is that?

The IBMs of this world don't work with independent's, that's obvious (with some few exceptions). So your target audience is Joe Six Packs of this world and they don't pay well.   From what I hear, they want to pay flea-market rates and expect Nordstrom service, just the opposite of the corporate world, where, let's face it, you get paid a lot and do nearly nothing.

What's the most cost-effective way to update the business model?

http://freelanceswitch.com/start/best-online-microbusinesses/
« Last Edit: September 02, 2013, 10:36:58 AM by unix »
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The Gorn

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Re: Thinking about retooling
« Reply #1 on: September 02, 2013, 09:50:27 AM »
Would you please revisit your past discussion about starting a web design business?

http://www.computerconsultantsforum.com/forum/b2b-direct-consulting-and-business-only/web-design-business-basics/msg69563/#msg69563

It's sort of the same topic and you just abandoned the thread without following up. It would motivate us more to discuss this.

That web design biz basic thread was a really good topic and it's disappointing when I get fired up to discuss something and the OP drifts off without any feedback.
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unix

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Re: Thinking about retooling
« Reply #2 on: September 02, 2013, 10:38:17 AM »
You are right. Sorry. I did recently revisit the whole thing, and scanned articles on the site. It's just that I am having serious reservations if I should pursue the web site design thing.
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David Randolph

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Re: Thinking about retooling
« Reply #3 on: September 02, 2013, 10:46:30 AM »
Going into business for yourself is not "retooling". It is a commitment to a totally different type of life. If you are not interested in a major revamping of how you think, approach problems, accept stresses, etc. don't think about going into business for yourself. There are valid reasons why someone who is self employed is not considered "employee material" by bosses: the thought processes are very different from an employee.

Now, if you feel that you have to be self employed, then talking about how to get clients is valid. We find clients any way that we can: cold calling, networking meetings, postal mailings, offering seminars at the local chamber, hiring people to do the phone calls, etc. Nearly any method works, but you have to find the method that works for your character, financial resources, and target market. It is different for each person, each business, and the only way to know what works is to experiment. Remember that most experiments fail.

One of the most difficult parts of being in business is accepting how often you will fail. Actually, being in business is more about failing than succeeding. Thus, it is important to identify when you are failing and be able to change directions. "Fail often and fail early" is one motto. For example, a good direct mail piece will fail to get any results 90% of the time, get 5 inquiries that will fail to follow up, 4 proposals that the prospect won't accept, and perhaps one proposal that will be accepted. I did one direct mailing of over 400 pieces that got no response. It is because of all these failures that a self employed person needs to have internal drive to keep going when every way one looks, there is another failure. Thus, it is so nice when something actually succeeds.

But the freedom is nice.

The Gorn

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Re: Thinking about retooling
« Reply #4 on: September 02, 2013, 11:13:45 AM »
Unix:

Semantics: "Retooling" usually means changing your technical focus or type of work slightly but going after the same basic type of customers and contract arrangements. It sounds more like what you really mean is operating more independently. That's not retooling.

As David said - this is a commitment to a totally different type of life.

You can't be looking for the easy way around the inevitable challenges that will arise.

Sorry to preach - but you can't be looking for the brokers to ease your path in every new business direction you take.

IT is unique in two very negative ways business wise:

1) Gatekeepers are built into the very fabric of IT. Brokers seem to virtually own the majority of freelancing and contract opportunities in this space.
2) There are precious few genuine "freelance" opportunities. The majority of businesses that need IT people do NOT want task specific contractors or perma-temps - they almost always demand full time employees.

This is saying that if you want to be more independent, then you need to get away from specialty skill based long term IT permatemping.

I find that most IT contractors who are acclimated to the way things are view brokers as absolutely inevitable and "you can't fight city hall".

For me these factors meant getting out of hands on IT. I couldn't work and live the want I want to without being someone's bitch.

By comparison, almost every other line of work except law, medicine and police work is wide open for anyone to attempt.

One available option for this kind of career change is certainly what Dave Randolph describes: acting as a self employed professional service provider.  I agree with every single thing he wrote about that life.

He wasn't talking so much about product or commodity service based businesses.

Another option is to create something and sell it. Create something that you can legally reproduce and sell. Like a software product. Or create a means to provide a commodity service - like a "software as a service" web site that provides some facility that customers can't find elsewhere.

Or to find something and resell it. That means figuring out what to sell, how to market it, and who to buy it from at a price point such that you can earn a profit. I personally know a guy who bootstrapped a business selling wild bird supplies. He was a shipping and logistics business owner in the past - tanker ships, trucking, containerized shipping - apparently he monetized his knowledge or far east (Chinese based) suppliers  of bird supplies in order to source stuff that he can resell by the web to US based customers.

One last thing: entirely abandon the common bourgeois expectations that most salaried and contract IT people hold:

- That you can "hold back" on certain marketing techniques or pushing yourself, because you "should not need to use them." If you can do it, it is on the table. Lame losers and excuse makers will say things like "I should never have to talk to people on the phone because I can use social media instead and that should work for anyone worth doing business with."

- That the universe will give you beneficial work.

If you wish to do this, you NEED to give up the common, very ingrained expectations of about every programmer and IT person who strikes out after trying to start a wildly different kind of business:

- The paychecks WILL NOT be regular.
- You will NOT just punch a list and have good things just happen.
- There is no salary scale that will attract you like a magnet to a certain deserved notch and keep you there.
- There is no invisible force that will make end users respect what you can bring to the plate.

These are the common preconceptions that most techies have.

Most techies seem to think that things are structured by some invisible hand to benefit them. Far from it.
« Last Edit: September 02, 2013, 04:18:45 PM by The Gorn »
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I D Shukhov

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Re: Thinking about retooling
« Reply #5 on: September 02, 2013, 03:31:48 PM »
I took a look at http://freelanceswitch.com/start/best-online-microbusinesses/.

It wasn't clear how you make money from blogging.
There's too much free training on YouTube. 
Self-publishing non-fiction might work (fiction would be out for me).  But I doubt one could make enough to live on and it would be a lot of work.

I don't know where this was mentioned in the article, but I like the idea of a site that offers a lot of free, high-quality content, which could be reviewed links to other people's work.  The idea is that the site is truly useful to some audience and which keeps people wanting to use it.  The site also offers a low-cost premium service or product.

Here's a site that does all of this.  I think it's the most perfect example of the idea I've ever seen:  http://www.masterorganicchemistry.com/.

The audience is undergraduate students who want an edge up in organic chemistry.  The author (a fairly recent PhD chemist) sprinkles paid-for cheat sheets (along with many free ones) and even a monthly subscription service:  http://store.masterorganicchemistry.com/collections/catalog/products/reaction-guide-monthly-subscription

Here's a testimonial: 
Quote
"The reagent guide is phenomenal... I know there were kids this summer who were pulling C/C+'s because they just couldn't wrap their head around what reagents did to reactants in various circumstances, and I think your guide would be great for them" - Jake, NY

The need is clear:  students wanting to get good grades in organic chemistry
The capability is clear (check out the guy's CV he posts somewhere).

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The Gorn

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Re: Thinking about retooling
« Reply #6 on: September 02, 2013, 04:12:01 PM »
I took a look at http://freelanceswitch.com/start/best-online-microbusinesses/.

It wasn't clear how you make money from blogging.
There's too much free training on YouTube. 

Bloggers who make significant money are either incredibly prolific writers who experiment until they find a voice and a following. Or, they provide some kind of expert view of some subject that is of interest to lots of readers.

It's either about the content itself, or it's about the personality and image, or it's about providing some information that masses find essential. I think almost all popular blogs break down into one of these three categories.

Content plays: HuffingtonPost

Personality/image: Perez Hilton, Drudge Report

Utilitarian: BusinessInsider, LifeHacker, an awful lot of "how to start and run a type of business" sites, investment sites, hobby and special interest sites.

I don't know where this was mentioned in the article, but I like the idea of a site that offers a lot of free, high-quality content, which could be reviewed links to other people's work.  The idea is that the site is truly useful to some audience and which keeps people wanting to use it.  The site also offers a low-cost premium service or product.

Here's a site that does all of this.  I think it's the most perfect example of the idea I've ever seen:  http://www.masterorganicchemistry.com/.

You'd have to be a subject matter expert already, and you devote a considerable amount of time and labor to creating a body of work that can be considered a portal. The tradeoff is that you are completely independent and your momentum should keep you going.
« Last Edit: September 02, 2013, 04:31:25 PM by The Gorn »
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ilconsiglliere

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Re: Thinking about retooling
« Reply #7 on: September 02, 2013, 05:53:33 PM »
To me retooling is doing something totally different than whatever you are doing.

Some would say I have retooled several times as I started out as a programmer, than DBA, than architect, than finance guy, than vendor management and than PM. I dont agree that its truly retooling. I have just changed my focus within a given area each time and are still dealing with the usual round of douches. That means big companies and borks. Its not really so different in that yeah my particular niche has changed but I am still functioning along the same lines.

True retooling means going from IT guy to an electrician. Going from an IT guy to a cop. Or inventing some product (be it software or something else) and marketing and selling it or finding some product niche and than leveraging it. Like the guy that was mentioned with the exotic bird stuff.

Retooling in corporate America is not really retooling. Its like moving around the deck chairs on the Titanic, in the end its the same ship, the same iceberg and the same sinking.

I am into photography and have been since I was a kid. There is this guy I read that is named Ken Rockwell.

http://www.kenrockwell.com/index.htm

He is incredibly polarizing and opinionated about photography. That being said he has a huge following out on the web as he pontificates about everything from cameras to technique. A lot of photography people dont like him because he is so opinionated. He makes his money off of product referrals via Amazon and others as well as Google ads. I have read that his income is in excess of 250K a year because of his site. His site is not visually stunning nor complicated. Its very simple but he gives  his opinion and puts it right out there. This is an example of a someone who has leveraged the web to make a good amount of money via whats basically blogging.

I think to make money in this space you have to have a reason for people to come back and read you. In his case he is polarizing but he gets the eyeballs to look at his stuff. There are a ton of photography sites but most are just reviews. He gets people to look because he is different. He than monetizes those eyeballs. Because photography is a huge hobby and people love it sooner or later people end up on his web site reading his stuff.

The Gorn

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Re: Thinking about retooling
« Reply #8 on: September 02, 2013, 06:49:40 PM »
Quote
True retooling means going from IT guy to an electrician.

^ So you say that retooling is a major career change.

I've always seen retooling more as fine tuning by learning new material that enables you to take a large proportion of your skill and talent set and apply it with a new twist. The developer in Language X who learns Language Y. The application developer who branches into database design.

I guess it comes down to semantics and how people around us have used particular words.

We're still in the process (I think) of learning exactly what Unix means by retooling. He seems to be using it in the major career-life  change way that you mean.
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ilconsiglliere

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Re: Thinking about retooling
« Reply #9 on: September 03, 2013, 01:35:13 AM »
Quote
True retooling means going from IT guy to an electrician.

^ So you say that retooling is a major career change.

I've always seen retooling more as fine tuning by learning new material that enables you to take a large proportion of your skill and talent set and apply it with a new twist. The developer in Language X who learns Language Y. The application developer who branches into database design.

I guess it comes down to semantics and how people around us have used particular words.

We're still in the process (I think) of learning exactly what Unix means by retooling. He seems to be using it in the major career-life  change way that you mean.

I think you are right though, it comes down to semantics and what people mean.

BTW, I consider Gorn I consider what you have done to be retooling. To go from hands on tech to writing is HUGE retooling.

unix

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Re: Thinking about retooling
« Reply #10 on: September 03, 2013, 02:35:15 AM »
Gorn is right -- sorry for the ambiguity. A new modus operandi is what I am looking for. I am at the stage where I am trying to decide the path of least resistance, or at least not the most resistance.

Talked to a Java friend of mine yesterday, his opinion is that me retooling into web design is not effective, I am better off staying where I am, with Unix admin, and just incorporating and then seeking your own clients. You already have the skills set, essentially. I am at the point where I am trying to evaluate all these options.
I do clearly understand you have to completely change your attitude - nobody is going to bring work to your doorstep, you have to aggressively advertise to begin with.

The only disadvantage is that web stuff seems a little more portable, e.g. you can do it remotely - or so it seems. In actuality, that might be  a delusion because you have to actively seek clients in a big city such as DC and if you move to the boonies, there are no paying clients. And I don't know how to find work remotely, over email or phone.  Unix admin seems like the perfect thing to do remotely, but in practice it never happens. Clients don't want you remote, but FTF.

The root cause of my epiphany that I need to pursue something like this is that "full time" or contract work is so unstable as to offer null benefits over a "free lancer" lifestyle. We already have all the liabilities and risks.  There is no "full time" anything, borks are ineffective and you might as well schedule your own business somehow.

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I D Shukhov

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Re: Thinking about retooling
« Reply #11 on: September 03, 2013, 04:55:14 AM »

The only disadvantage is that web stuff seems a little more portable, e.g. you can do it remotely - or so it seems.

Remotely, as we all know, can also mean in other countries.

Quote
Unix admin seems like the perfect thing to do remotely, but in practice it never happens.
  Which might be a good thing.


What I don't think gets discussed enough are work environments and companies.   I think you can take the ideal work project and make it miserable in the wrong environment.  I've always thought I could do something boring, like creating web pages, and tolerate it well in a good environment.

Many people want to be self-employed, not because they have found something that really turns them on, but because working at home is the best environment they can think of.

I know of a case where somebody worked for years in a succession of miserable jobs for government contracting companies as an environmental scientist.  He was always getting laid off and often complained about shitty documentation projects he had to do to satisfy government requirements.

Finally, he got his dream job:  a job as an environmental scientist for the county.  He was going to do important policy-making work.   For a short time it was great.  It really was his dream job.  It was secure, paid well, and he was doing important, meaningful work.  Then things went downhill.  The place turned out to be incredibly cliquish -- filled with old government hands that didn't particularly want to admit him into their clique.  His boss took a disliking to him and became a royal prick.  The guy struggled on for awhile.  Sadly, he had contracted blood cancer before this last job but it was in remission.  The stresses of the hellhole triggered a relapse.  He died within a couple of years.

I've sometimes thought that an MIS department for a deep-pockets organization, assuming the people are friendly, might be a workable job.   As a sysadmin, you might be able to find something like that.   Another possibility would be some organization that is doing heavy pipeline processing of data, like gene sequencing at https://www.23andme.com/.  Anywhere, like I said, where the money is coming in and there is a good workplace culture.   

I suppose it's like dating and finding a suitable mate.  If some environment becomes toxic, you don't hesitate to leave.  And the only way to do that is to relentlessly be a lifelong learner and keep your skills and marketability up to date.   And relentlessly network.


Be Prepared.

TRexx

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Re: Thinking about retooling
« Reply #12 on: September 03, 2013, 05:11:50 AM »
Unix admin seems like the perfect thing to do remotely, but in practice it never happens. Clients don't want you remote, but FTF.

It's been my experience that allowing folks to work remotely has little to do with the actual job or even the individual. It's usually some arbitrary management decision. Sometimes it's purely about numbers.  They figure they can save $X/person/year by having folks work from home.  Other times it's management assuming that all employees are criminals and cannot be trusted to work without close supervision. (Unless it's 3 AM or a weekend and they are responding to a crisis).
   

I D Shukhov

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Re: Thinking about retooling
« Reply #13 on: September 03, 2013, 07:13:33 AM »

I've always seen retooling more as fine tuning by learning new material that enables you to take a large proportion of your skill and talent set and apply it with a new twist. The developer in Language X who learns Language Y. The application developer who branches into database design.

The reason that radical retooling can be problem -- unless one realizes this going in and is prepared to accept it -- is the "10,000 hour rule".   It takes about 5 years to get proficient with a reasonably complex skill.  And then there is an apprenticeship period, where you're still learning the real-world practicalities of the skill.

This is great in your twenties -- no problem.  A massive amount of training and apprenticeship is what you are supposed to do.  By your  thirties you're at your peak.  It's still  possible in America, the land of opportunity, to do a makeover in your thirties, assuming you have self-confidence and are willing to be a relative newbie in your early 40s.

However, from 40 on, the shine wears off a career makeover, and I think it's better to accept what is and to work with evolving what you've been doing for the past 15-20 years.  I.e. think about what good things attracted you to the profession in the first place and go back to the source of what's interesting and  try to do something fun.  As I posted earlier, a lot of job misery has to do with environments.  So, theoretically, minor retooling to something more enjoyable and finding a non-toxic workplace may be all that's needed.

Be Prepared.

The Gorn

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The doctor is in... answers to Unix
« Reply #14 on: September 03, 2013, 07:40:16 AM »
Gorn is right -- sorry for the ambiguity. A new modus operandi is what I am looking for. I am at the stage where I am trying to decide the path of least resistance, or at least not the most resistance.

Talked to a Java friend of mine yesterday, his opinion is that me retooling into web design is not effective, I am better off staying where I am, with Unix admin, and just incorporating and then seeking your own clients. You already have the skills set, essentially. I am at the point where I am trying to evaluate all these options.
I do clearly understand you have to completely change your attitude - nobody is going to bring work to your doorstep, you have to aggressively advertise to begin with.

The only disadvantage is that web stuff seems a little more portable, e.g. you can do it remotely - or so it seems. In actuality, that might be  a delusion because you have to actively seek clients in a big city such as DC and if you move to the boonies, there are no paying clients. And I don't know how to find work remotely, over email or phone.  Unix admin seems like the perfect thing to do remotely, but in practice it never happens. Clients don't want you remote, but FTF.

The root cause of my epiphany that I need to pursue something like this is that "full time" or contract work is so unstable as to offer null benefits over a "free lancer" lifestyle. We already have all the liabilities and risks.  There is no "full time" anything, borks are ineffective and you might as well schedule your own business somehow.

Unix, it doesn't matter what catch phrase you choose to use, just so we know what you mean. Your anecdote and continued explanation here is quite helpful to figure out where your reasoning is.

Quote
Java friend of mine yesterday, his opinion is that me retooling into web design is not effective, I am better off staying where I am

My considered opinion is that your Java friend's advice is bullocks. He's not mentioning marketing or finding customers in ANY WAY. So he is a typical geek. He doesn't have a clue.

Did you ever bother to read the FreelanceSwitch article on starting a side web design business whose link I provided? I think you should read it just to get a taste of what could be small business wise.

A Java or other programming code hacker is likely going to know nothing about freelance business. Just because the guy does Java does not mean that: he knows ANYTHING about real freelancing and it does not mean that he "gets" that web design is a much broader field than back end programming.

Quote
I am better off staying where I am, with Unix admin, and just incorporating and then seeking your own clients. You already have the skills set, essentially.

Who are your market? How will you find customers?

Unix admin is probably a lot like C++ programming (my last technical gig) in terms of contract dynamics.

A lot of clients want a full time commodity body for the role. They neither want nor have any idea how to leverage a part time C++ programmer nor Unix admin. They want you for 40 per and 50 weeks a year.

Most highly specialized IT work is bodyshop contracting or FTE bound role.

Look: there are a LOT of things that you can recast as a contracted, outsourced service. I do business content writing. That lends itself perfectly to freelancing as an outsider.

You seem to be stuck completely on not wanting to consider or talk about finding your target market or finding customers. That is the single biggest factor in making a go of freelancing.
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