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Embedded Systems December 2000 Vol13_13

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BOB ZEIDMAN How to Start a Consulting Business Tired of the humdrum and politics of working for a large corporation? Dying from overwork at a small start-up? Consider striking out on your own, as an engineering consultant ears ago, a "good j ob" meant working for a large, stable company, getting a regular income with some additional benefits, and eventually retiring at a ripe old age. Today, that definition doe n't hold for many peo- pl e. Instead, a "good j ob" may mean one that leaves time to spend with the family, one that provides a better-than-average income, or one that allows you to work in the comfort of your own home. If these aspects appeal to you, Lhen consulting may be a better option. Over a decade ago, I decided to leave the company I was working for and offer my engineering skills on a contract basis to any company that was willing to pay for them. I was lucky enough to know several consul tants who gave me good advice on starting out. Here are the questions that I asked tehn, and that most people ask me today. When is a good time to become a consultant? I have never been able to find a correlation between the availabili ty of consulting j obs and any other factors such as the economy, the unemployment rate, the tock market, or who wins the World Seri es. But if I had to pick a good time for consulting, this would be it. As large, established com- panie are laying off workers, and new startups are hiring at ravenous rates, people are realizing that j ob security is not guaranteed even for employees of large, "stable" companie . In this context, the lack of security tilat consultants live with doesn't seem so bad, and the much higher poten tial income begins to look more tempting. How do I get started as a consultant? If you have a full time j ob, hang on to it. It may take months to get your first contract. My strategy has been to look in the want ads for permanent positions tilat ask for someone with my qualifications. I then end resumes out, but making it very clear that I am looking for a con ulting position. Most managers won't be interested since they advertised for a permanent position. A very small percentage will call me up for an interview. Some will keep my resume on file and cal1 me montils or years later when they do need a consul- tant. But be patie nt. I have often sent out over 150 resumes to get only one call-but that call can turn in to a year-long contract. Also, don't be shy. Talk to your friends in tile industry. Talk to former bosses. Talk to friends of friends. When a consulting position eventually does become available, every- one will benefit- they wil1 have found someone to perform an important task, and you wil1 have found work. What does the government require? You need a business license, which you can obtain for a small fee from City Hall. If you plan to do business under another name, such as Abracadabra Graphics, you' ll need to Embedded Systems Programming DECEMBER 2000 161

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