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The Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving and Getting Advice Successfully

Gerald M. Weinberg, Virginia Satir · 11 HN comments
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Amazon Summary
Consulting may be defined as the art of influencing people at their request. The Secrets of Consulting takes you behind the scenes of that art, explaining in detail why the world of consulting seems so irrational, and some very practical steps you can take to make it more rational. Topics include: Gaining control of change, marketing and pricing your services, what to do when they resist your ideas, and more. The Secrets of Consulting has been used in dozens of different fields. If you are a consultant, or ever use a consultant, this book is for you. The author draws on his 50+ years of consulting experience to share his secrets about the often irrational world of consulting. "This is a great book. Period! ...this advice is clearly applicable to more than just consulting; it is applicable to life in general." "The book is truly wonderful. A must have!" - Amazon reviews
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Been a consultant, not a contractor, for many years. You cannot be a consultant without reading Weinberg:

"The Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving and Getting Advice Successfully"

"More Secrets of Consulting: The Consultant's Tool Kit"


These books kept my sanity and showed me the Universe twisted sense, twisted...But nonetheless a sense.

The Secrets of Consulting[1][2] sounds like a book you might appreciate in your current situation.



Also Managing the Professional Service Firm By David Maister Helps understand how consulting type firms as a whole work
Here is a book that helped me a bit in my consulting career
Depending on skills you can earn a magnificent hourly rate in comparison to full-time employment and have more freedom in the types of projects you pick. Location matters a lot though. Be ready to jump on a plane / train to discuss with potential clients. It takes a lot of grit especially if you build your own client base and wish to avoid middle-men who broker to the larger companies.

For larger firms though you won't get in without middleman (because of preferred supplier lists (PSL)). The bigger players pay you usually competitive rates (unless the middleman is fucking with you which is rare but happens), but you won't own the relationship with the client (the middleman does). Work for smaller firms and you run a higher risk of losing money, not getting paid or getting shafted simply because they think they can.

Ask a lawyer to help you draft contract templates which reflect how you envision any business relationship and then make your clients that you work for directly sign that (rather than expecting them to talk to their own lawyer which the won't do if they never considered bringing in a freelancer).

Find other freelancers in your region to speak to and get a feel for what they charge and how they go about acquiring new clients.

Biggest question when pitching to middlemen is "do you have any freelance/consulting" experience. If no this will be a read flag. So be creative to get your foot in the door.

Ensure you stay on their radar: Send your professional profile to every middle-man in the country and keep updating them with the latest version and your current availability.

Always say yes to any opportunity when asked for an interview (even you're busy right now with something else, or it is slightly off-topic for you). It's a chance to network and to practice your pitch (practicing the skills of interviewing and marketing your skills/brand is even more important than knowing your technical stuff, the latter should be taken for granted).

Gerald M. Weinberg's "The Secrets of Consulting" is excellent for anyone starting out in consulting or for those who consider hiring them (in any case your world might never be quite the same after reading this book):

> For larger firms though you won't get in without middleman (because of preferred supplier lists (PSL)).

If that’s true for you then you’re either a freelancer, not a consultant, or you’re not charging enough/not in enough demand that they’re willing to work with you one on one.

Nick Disabato has one employee and charges $15,000 and up a quarter for Draft Revise. Do you think he goes through a preferred supplier list? By the same token, when patio11 was a one man consulting firm charging $10-30K for a week’s onsite consulting you think he went though a recruiter?

> Draft Revise engagements are serious, long-term, design-driven, and consultative. We are not a chop-shop contractor, and we do everything in our power to be worth your time and your business's money. Before you send this application, we ask that you be prepared to commit to upfront fees at or above USD $15,000 for our first quarter of work together. The final fee we quote for you will be based on the value we're capable of providing for your business.

For large enough companies I don't think it matters. They might take on consultants on top executive level but from the page you quote

"Are you making over $2M from your store, but haven’t taken the time to optimize it?".

This is small potatoes for the larger companies and it is simply not worthwhile to negotiate individual contracts on the scale they operate. Unless you are on top executive level, maybe.

>If that’s true for you then you’re either a freelancer, not a consultant, or you’re not charging enough/not in enough demand that they’re willing to work with you one on one.

I think they were speaking to the OP, who seems to not yet be a consultant, as they are considering "Becoming" one

I’m an independent consultant and am on the supplier list for a Fortune 10 company. If your client is a decision maker at the company and they value your service enough, then they will get you on the list.
if you ever only read 1 book about consulting, I warmly suggest Gerald M. Weinberg's "The Secrets of Consulting"

It's a bit like diplomacy for engineers.

for those not familiar with Weinberg:

The Secrets of Consulting by Gerald M. Weinberg. It showed me how to deal with, and get true value out of consultants. It also helped me become a better consultant myself and scale my service to bigger projects & customers. Also the book has great advise on how to sell your service. It's not only what you sell that sets the price but how you "package" your service. In a nutshell it's a book that can help leap from external contractor, who works only via agents to become a "true consultant" where you pick your own clients without a middle-man, create a pitch, draft the offer, and also carry the full commercial risk.

There was another HN thread some years back linking to a fascinating blog post of somebody who pointed out not to charge hourly rates and invoice per week. It was giving really solid advise on pricing strategy for individual consultants to increase the rate from 100/hr to 6-8K/week. It argued to never compromise on the price but see what parts of the project could be left out, etc ... If somebody here remembers this site/article it would be fantastic (I can no longer remember where to find it unfortunately).

Weinberg is great but I knew him from other material. Thanks.
@putnam thanks for reviving that:
You guys are asking some interesting questions in particular about whether people feel they charge too much or not enough. The best expose on that I've seen is in Gerald Weinberg's "Secrets of Consulting"

It's a question that's both externally determined, e.g. "What does the market bear?" and also based on someone's own perception of their worth. It's hard to disentangle the two but very important in order to maximize revenue. What's more the objective question of what the market will bear is often colored by my own perception, which is a recipe to leaving money on the table.

Weinberg's advice is to set your rate such that you'd feel emotionally neutral whether or not you get the gig. If you over price (by your own feeling, not by what the market says) and you get the gig, you'll be stressed to deliver at what you think that price level should be worth in labor. If you under price (by your own standard, perhaps because you think the market will not accept more) then you'll be resentful for working below what you're worth. Having been a consultant myself, I can only advise everybody to challenge the own perception of what the market will bear.

Fantastic point on challenging your own perceptions of the value of an hour, the market, etc. We really hope this survey (and subsequent ones that we plan to do) gives people an additional data point to consider.
I had this exact same pattern for a while!

It sounds to me like contracting is worth exploring. When I contracted (for about 7 years), I was exposed to new technologies and business domains every couple of months. I fondly remember about 2 weeks into every contract there was an 'oh sh*t' moment where I realized I was in over my head and running to keep ahead of what the client needed. Of course, that was nicely counterbalanced by the 'aaah' moment about 6 weeks in when things were finally jelling.

(I mostly worked on custom web applications and ecommerce and made a decent living working 30 hours a week.)

If you pursue this path, you might want to consider going out on your own as a single person consulting company, rather than going through a contracting company. You'll have more control, though less security, and will have a wider scope of project domains. That said, if you are interested in certain types of projects (J2EE, big data) you might find it hard to contract as a one person show.

Of course, I don't know what your financial situation is, but if you pursue this, I'd start going to meetups, have about a year of expenses saved in the bank, and read a couple of good books like this one: and this one:

For this reason due to this law (but it's not entirely honest, e.g. it doesn't tell you that Daniel Patrick Moynihan was the Congresscritter who slipped it into the bill in the dead of night at the behest of several pass-through agencies) it's going to be nearly impossible to achieve what you want.

At best you might start up an independent consulting firm, but you'd have to have multiple clients and spend a lot of time on sales and marketing (of yourself). Gerald Weinberg recommends you make your hourly rate 5-6 times what you want to earn just to allow for all the overhead ( or get it new from the publisher:

Gerald Weinberg's two "Secrets of" books on consulting are a pretty good start. They're actually good for anyone who gets paid to give advice, not just professional consultants. Highly recommend..

Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving and Getting Advice Successfully:

More Secrets of Consulting: The Consultant's Tool Kit:

The best consulting advice I got, and revisit is from Jerry Weinberg's "Secrets of Consulting".

Highly recommended.

DHH actually plugged that book at RailsConf this year and sales on Amazon shot up to top spot in consulting section. Yeah, it's a great book!
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