Client Search Strategies

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Whether you are looking for a full-time, part-time or contract position, the stability of the economy generally determines how time-consuming the IT job search will be. Regardless of the state of the economy, though, independents in particular continually should use multiple search strategies to build and sustain regular clientele during the good times and the bad.

Uphold Contacts Already Made
No matter how much or how little experience you have under your belt, you at least should have already made a pocketful of contacts — no matter whether you realize it. Yes, your family, friends, neighbors and former professors definitely count.

“From a consulting capacity a lot of it is kind of who you know,” said Melissa Maffettone, branch manager of the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Robert Half Technology office. “For example, a network administrator is looking to fulfill a short-term assignment at a small company, and he or she is speaking with friends and family and says, ‘If you know anybody who owns a small business that may be having computer problems, would you mind passing along my information?’”

If you have worked for several companies, make sure you stay in touch with former bosses and colleagues, as well. Maffettone said these relationships are relatively easy to uphold.

“Because e-mail and communication are so easy these days, especially for technology professionals, you should take full advantage of this — you should send out little e-mails, letting everybody know you are looking for new clients,” she said. “Also, if it has been a few years since you have last spoken or exchanged e-mail with a former colleague or boss, it is likely he or she has moved onto another company, as well. So e-mail him or her and say, ‘I don’t know where you are, but this is what I am up to, and here’s what I am looking for.’ This just increases the chances of landing a new client or contract position.”

In addition, you never know what waits around the corner: It could be your next great client or contact who could help you land a winning gig. That’s why Maffettone suggests that professionals have a quick pitch ready. “I always tell candidates to practice their 30-second pitch, so that when somebody says, ‘What do you do for a living?’ you have a brief, professional response ready,” she said.

The Solo Search
The Internet offers a fountain of resources for independents to use. Obviously, online job-search engines such as the Big Three — Monster.com, Hotjobs.com and Careerbuilder.com — offer extensive contract opportunities for independent tech professionals. Job-search engines that solely focus on high-tech positions, such as Dice.com, Computerjobs.com and PRGjobs.com, however, streamline the search by allowing users to specify the tech fields for which they’re seeking contract work.

These high-tech job-search engines also often feature opportunities that do not appear on the Big Three. PRGjobs.com features jobs not only for programming but also for database and networking positions, and Dice.com and Computerjobs.com feature the full range of IT fields and thousands of freelance and contract work opportunities. These sites simply require “contract” or “freelance” to be specified during the keyword search.

Another way to boost your client search strategies as an independent is to volunteer your expertise through online communities or discussion forums and publications. Not only is communicating with fellow IT pros fun, users potentially can meet future clients, as well. In CertMag.com’s discussion forums, for example, a few members have assumed the expert role, consistently sharing their knowledge and experience to their peers by offering advice whenever questions are posted.

Writing for a publication, although a slightly more challenging route to volunteer expertise, is a more formal option to reach potential clients in your field. Maffettone said getting involved in an association or event is a great way to get leads on such writing opportunities, as well as expand your personal network.

“This is a way to get free press, so to speak — (associations) all need newsletter articles and things like that,” she said. “Not to mention, these associations often look out for their members. They perform job searches for them and send out mass e-mails when their members are looking to make a move or have been downsized or whatever the case may be. So it just gives you a broad-range network that you wouldn’t have otherwise.”

Putting Staffing Companies to Work
Although many independents employ the solo-search strategy successfully, it shouldn’t be their only line of attack. Staffing companies present independents with a chance to get their feet in the door at companies they might not otherwise had access to — not to mention access to unique short-term projects.

“By working with a staffing company, the advantage you are going to get is a greater exposure to a number of opportunities — it boosts your sales channel. If you work directly with a hiring company, it is very difficult to get to the decision-maker, opportunities and projects,” said Jim Lanzalotto, vice president of strategy and marketing, Yoh. “For example, you are a SAP subject-matter expert in CRM. If you work with a staffing company, it has access to at least 100 to 150 SAP installation customers. Your chances at getting into those 150 companies and penetrating and developing relationships with the right decision-maker are slim. However, with a staffing company you are exposed to each of those 150 companies.”

Moreover, staffing companies eliminate the unpleasant paperwork associated with working independently. “You can work directly with a company as an independent contractor, but in doing so there are many things you have to do as a businessperson, including billing, insurance requirements and paperwork, which most IT professionals aren’t most adept at — they are great technologists, but they might not be great business people,” Lanzalotto said. “Going with a third-party representative such as a staffing company, you are guaranteed to be paid once a week — you don’t have to wait 60, 90 days to be paid. So it enables the worker to concentrate on doing your job and not worry as much about the business side of things.”

Remember to put all nodes of your network to work while searching for you next client because no node is too small, and no node is too big. Take advantage of all the available resources and put all the search strategies to work so that when the next economic downturn occurs, you won’t be strapped for cash and forced to eat ramen noodles.

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