I was recently chastised by a twitter follower (a beat down in 140 characters or less) for starting series that I fail to finish. So I'm coming back to my "Journey" series to add to the CF Webtools story a bit. When last we met on the subject I spoke of the 3 attitudes you need to succeed in the consulting business:
- Work Hard and Be Patient
- Be a People Person First
- Avoid Perfection Paralysis and Do What You Can Do
With those thoughts in mind I'd like to talk about Phase One of your consulting business - building Clones.
More of Me
Anyone who's ever been successful as a contractor and thought about expanding has thought to themselves, "If I only had 2 of me." Aside from the obvious stress it would put on my wife you would think that having 2 of the Muse would be exceedingly useful. But knowing me, I would doubtless be playing golf right now leaving me behind to do all this work. That's just like me. It would make me so angry I'd be beside myself. Still, the idea is compelling when you are starting out - so compelling that you think about it a great deal when contemplating that all important first hire.
Consulting businesses are often started by knowledge experts with little or no business experience. When expanding such a business the first choice is usually "more of the same". In my case since I worked a certain way, I geared all my documentation, proposals, and estimates to the skill set of the Muse. So what did I look for in my first hire? Muse II of course (same level of action with a weaker plot I guess). It made sense to expand the current way of doing business by simply gathering similar skill sets to myself and dividing the work up amongst them. My first hire (Jason Herbolsheimer who is now CF Webtools VP of development) was an energetic can-do programmer able to find creative solutions to difficult problems. He worked at a similar speed to my own and was (and still is) a terrific people person. It was a great fit. Suddenly we were able to do roughly twice the work as before. In fact, my first 3 hires where like that. They were proven CF developers who I had known previously. Two of them had worked with me at my previous Job. The 4 of us divided up our customers and simply worked them in the same manner that I had worked them when I was an individual contractor.
This approach reminds me of that moving company "2 men and a truck" (would that be a "Mac" truck?). My guess is they started out as 2 men... and a truck. When they decided to expand they were probably considered changing their name to 4 men and 2 trucks, then 6 men and 3 trucks. There's some magic to this approach. It actually works well in many cases - especially if you assemble the right folks. If your team members work well independently and have the right soft-skills (inner-directed, owning problems, eclectic skill set, customer driven etc.), it can work quite well. The 4 of us did fine and had a great time along the way. I know of 3 or 4 consulting companies who operate at this level and intentionally stay at this level. And why not? They make good money, have very low overhead, and the level of responsibility is less crushing. Still, if you plan to expand beyond a handful of developers, the "clone model" (not to be confused with cloning an actual model which my wife says is out of the question) comes with some penalties.