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Making a Start


Ricardo

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Dear All,

i have been thinking if i should start developing FM Pro dbs/Solutions in my Spare Time for a bit of extra income.

So i would like a little advice from you all.

My day to day job is developing/upkeep of FM dbs at my work place

i have been using Fm Pro for 3.5 years now.

i started off by going on a FM Pro Bootcamp course.

i don't pretend to be an expert and i would like to go on a few more courses but i seem to be quite good at creating solutions for users needs and solving problems.

one of the dbs at my work i 'inherited' which at first was a bit of a pain as we all do things differently but i have managed to get the 'beast' under control. So this has given me that bit of extra self belief.

Hopefully one day i can start my own business but as i'm only 22 i would like more experince before taking this BIG step.

So my questions:

How do i get started?

what should i do?

How do i go about pricing jobs?

is it worth it?

Any advice will be appreciated

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I'll try some general advice. The viability of business is pretty dependent upon the country (or even state) you are in. Taking on side jobs is a good plan for a start, depending upon how your present employer feels about it. The two not always obvious parts of running a consulting business are: 1) the other disciplines besides FM needed and 2) the suitability of your temperament to the small business lifestyle.

The other things required to survive in small business include a basic knowledge of marketing, sales and accounting. The temperament part includes: Can you deal with clients? Are you frightened by the possibility of long periods of not knowing where your next increment of income will come from? Do you expect regular hours and paid vacations? How will you deal with a lack of employee benefits? Do you think doing the FM work is the hardest part (It isn't)?

As to what to charge, that is dependent on what the going rate is in the area in which you intend to sell your services. In the states, most consultants charge by the hour. Fixed price FM development is very difficult (except perhaps for very large, well specified jobs). The scope of work tends to grow as the client sees the potential of FM.

Is it worth it? This is a personal question only you can answer.

You might also want to use a few more capital letters in your posts. In consulting, first impressions are very important!:

-bd (20 years consulting, 10 years in FM consulting)

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Another thing to consider is the time available for prospecting. Until you build up a client base, you'll need to spend alot of time and money in finding clients.

I would suggest a couple of things:

Join the FSA as an Associate member, this will get you an annual listing on both FMI's website and the CoMedia Marketing Filemaker Resource Guide.

Get a banner ad on FMForums. For a low annual price you'll get rotation all over the FMForums website. I get lots of call just from this.

Start showing off your skills. Become a more active poster so that people can see what you are made of, this is a huge way to increase exposure to yourself.

Joining your local Chamber of Commerce and various users groups can also lead you to some good prospects.

GET A WEBSITE and fast, although some of us with more active consulting business can rest on a simple page with is nothing more than a business card on the web, others will need a good site. As a little antecdote, I used to have a really crappy looking site that I build myself and I got tons of response from it, without really an advertising. Now I am so busy that I am happier with my pretty but single page business card site. I am not saying that you should build a crappy site, but investing in a nice one will likely give you big payback.

Find a niche, this is how you will be able to compete better. If you can capture a big piece of a small market with little competition, you will be much more successful than if you are competing for small pieces of a larger market.

Get into some cooperative agreements with other consultants. Especially if you specialize in a certain area, you can refer your inquiries from other areas out to other consultants, and they can refer back to you. I have done this will both pro bono agreements, as well as agreements for a percentage of the job. Ultimately this allows you to make some goodwill with potential customers who you might not normally be able to service anyway.

Good luck.

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Thanks for all your input.

I'd say iam most experienced in creating Order Tracking solutions - which is where i think i want to start.

i think i will ask my Dad first as he has his own business and has contacts whom have their own businesses.

i have been thinking maybe i could create a solution for one of these people for free (or a few pints!) and then (if it's any good) hopefully word-of-mouth will get me some interest!

Is this a good idea?

I don't want to get in to anything too big yet.

Just looking for extra experience and to see whats-what.

Thanks again,

ricardo

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I am also just starting a little "side" FileMaker business. I am focussing on POS solutions (complete solutions including hardware and custom database). I have registered StoreOS.com, but haven't done much with it yet.

As a FileMaker developer, you probably haven't thought much about the *business* side of running a FileMaker business. One of the most important of which is the legal side. It's very important to protect yourself, because sometimes customers have a different picture in their head than you do, and that needs to be clarified early.

I just got a great book -- "Web & Software Development - A Legal Guide" (see my quick review in another thread in this forum).

There is lots of interesting information but since you mentioned hourly vs. fixed prices, I'll share a bit about what I learned about that... A fixed rate gives the customer certainty (which customers like for obvious reasons). The risk can be removed by having a clear contract (they explain how to do this in detail) with detailed specifications for the project. If the customer wants more, you can make an ammendment to the contract, but with that there would be a corresponding change in price. Each ammendment would have to be signed (agreed to) by both parties.

Personally I have always prefered fixed rates. Perhaps as I get busier I might consider moving to a hourly rate.

Here's some good advise I will never forget about pricing (from Alan Graham in another thread).

I never get into a bidding war with another developer...once I get that vibe I back off. If a company is going to make a big deal over a couple of grand...it isn't worth fighting over...because cheap clients are the most trouble...wanting something for nothing.

The point is: make sure to charge what you are worth and no less, because while you don't want to be charging more than developers who are "better" than you, you also don't want to get those clients that want "something for nothing".

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Fixed price development "sounds" like a good idea. It did for years in the aerospace business. The problem is a practical problem with human nature. When you sign up to a fixed price contract the customer is thinking, "Now I can have what ever I want for one price". You are faced with continually saying, "no it's not in the contact" to their requests and reproposing the work. On a large corporate contact scale, USD$100,000+, and with corporate customers, I think this can work well. On a small scale, I think you will find that customers don't understand this contact method any better than "time and materials". And certainly don't understand "changes in scope". On a time and materials basis, you usually get a pretty good idea of the customer's cost sensitivity early on. If they want a small change (as defined by this sensitivity), you just say "yes sir" and do it. If the change is financially significant, you point it out to them and get a clear decision. I find this far less adversarial.

I've found that fixed price contacts lead to a continual draining fight over what's included in the contact. It is no small thing to produce a contract with a specification specific enough to cover all possibilities. Also, who pays for the generation of this specification? The client mostly won't want to pay for all, or maybe any, of the costs of a specification adequate to define the job.

The other problem is enforcement. On large contacts, it is easier to achieve a court hearing that will deal with the complex technical aspects of a database. In a small claims court action (this is all U.S. based) a clear techical hearing is pretty much impossible for a fixed price contract. It's much clearer on a "time and material" job what was "included"

Perhaps we can get some feedback from the forum members on how many full time developers do fixed price work.

-bd

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I agree that a full-time developer should always charge by the hour, but they have the advantage of an established reputation. I think someone who is new to the business will have trouble winning customers this way, especially if they are young and "inexperienced-looking". Not only is the customer insecure in how much they will pay, they have concerns over your abilities (since you don't have an established reputation). A fixed price gives them at least some sense of security.

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Every rule has its exceptions. If you are prepared to spend a little extra time on a job to gain experience and reputation, doing fixed price work as a part time developer may be a good trade-off. Just wanted to point out some of this pitfalls in this approach, it can be life threatening for a full-time developer. I've seen a couple of instances end up with the attorneys.

-bd

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Many customers are concerned with after-sales service for their databases: the better clients understand that needs are constantly changing and therefore their databases need to change too. They want to know that one or two years down the track you'll still be there to support them.

This is a big negative against "part time" developers.

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Hi Vaughan,

That's an excellent point. Support is always a key concern.

One little tidbit of advice I learned from my book is the idea of using an escrow to hold the master password (if you are not giving it to the customer).

This way, under certain circumstances (eg: you go out of business) the customer is allowed to take the master password in order to maintain the software.

I realize this resolves only a small part of a customers concern over support, but is helpful none the less.

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Does anyone ever end up in situations where you are asked to create a solution very similar to one you have already done? It may only require a few hours of modifications, but you'd want to charge what it's worth (say $3000).

Would this be a situation where you would opt for a fixed price tag?

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