Friday, July 17, 2009

The 12 Big Reasons Why Independent IT Pros Fail to Prosper

Being an independent IT professional, at least if one wishes to be in it for the long-haul and happy with their level of achievement, is a complex undertaking. The level of success, gratification, and income can vary widely.

Many who undertake it fail to grow their level of business to the size they'd like. Still others find themselves unhappy with their lifestyle, even those who achieve attractive income levels.

It is quite common for many to fail to survive beyond a few months to a couple of years. Yes, some do hang on, but often are unhappy with themselves and their businesses.

Or, as some have found recently, they had viable but weak businesses. When low hanging fruit disappeared (clients that fell into their lap by chance rather than through a well developed system for attracting and cultivating new business), income dried up.

In my observation and study of independent IT professionals, non-IT professional services firms, and even other industries, as well as my own experiences, I've concluded that there are a number of common factors why IT professionals, and business owners in general, fail to achieve the level of success they hope for:

  1. Lack of time
  2. Lack of interest in "business issues"
  3. Misconceptions about what marketing is/isn't
  4. Lack of reliable systems (for attracting clients, cultivating relationships, growing income)
  5. Lack of strategy
  6. Lack of understanding what clients value and that not all prospects are the same
  7. Underestimation of their self-worth
  8. Lack of understanding how self-worth intersects with finding the right clients for them
  9. Lack of awareness about distinctions among freelancers (hired help), service providers, advisors, consultants, coaches, implementers, etc. Each of these are very different businesses.
  10. Assuming that conventional wisdom and popular strategies and tactics, which are easily discovered by watching others, are well known and practiced because they "work"
  11. A failure to shift from employee-->business owner mentality
  12. Assuming that outside experts in things like PR, marketing, and sales nearly always know what they're doing and have exactly the same concerns as they do. These specialists are no different than many of the IT consultants we all like to shake our heads at. They not only give untested and ineffective advice, but they sell (or earn commissions for) things that are overkill, unnecessary, or otherwise not entirely in the client's interest.
With persistence, but not simply that, these obstacles can be overcome. There are many paths so I'd be disingenuous if I suggested one solution here. I do believe it is fair to say, however, that the key is to be deliberate - in your strategy, goals, and positioning. Just watching others passively and copying them -- or worse, doing nothing -- is not going to get you there.

I will provide a few suggestions based on my own experiences and mistakes:
  • Observe others... and, in time, learning who to pay attention to and who to ignore, is a good first step. It's not always who you may think...
  • Look at already successful leaders who are NOT in the IT and consulting businesses. Their ideas are more valuable to you because they are more likely to be things that others (read: your competition) aren't doing.
  • Develop a vision for where you want to be (even if you aren't sure how you'll get there). Re-visit and refine it regularly. It's okay to evolve this over time too. It's inevitable.
  • Constant learn, by reading, attending seminars, talking to (more) successful peers, borrowing ideas from other industries/businesses, applying creativity, experimenting (failures are excellent learning opportunities, fail often)
  • Stop reading and listening to others for periods of time -- in order to implement (take action) on what you've picked up thus far. If you don't do this, you will become more addicted to the learning than to the doing.
My own wrong turns are why I started It is a community where I share the best resources I come across, my experiments, current thinking, etc. If you're an independent IT professional, know one, or are an aspiring one, I suggest you take a look at the site and join me.

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