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I've been thinking about this for a few weeks now, thought I might ask for tips around here.

I'm currently working as an IT consultant in Germany. The pay is very good, but the job is not permanent, and can be "laid-off" almost any day. I'm pretty savvy in open source software (Linux, BSD, MySQL, PHP, perl, etc, etc, etc), and I have a very heavy programming background. So I don't mind at all tinkering with software to make it work.

I'm planning to return to my country (Guatemala) in approximately 1 year. When that happens, I may look for a job, but it's not my idea to be a wage-slave for the next 40 years. So, since I'll have a comfortable cash cushion to support me for some time, I've though of a consultancy business to give local support for companies using open source software. The idea would be "You can use MySQL, Linux, PostgreSQL, whatever, on your company, and we will give you local support". Companies are starting to dip their toes into trying out open source, but managers become freaked out when they find out there is no local support. Well, I believe I could give that local support.

Do you think this is too far-fetched? Maybe I'm not taking something into account? What would be things I need to think about before getting myself into this?

Thanks.

Marcos
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Do you think this is too far-fetched?

Numerous questions provide this type of service for things like GCC, MySQL, etc. I don't know if it's a proven model, but it's definitely not one that's been ignored.

Maybe I'm not taking something into account?

The big problem is that a lot of people use open source software because of the cost. An hourly consultant will often exceed the cost of almost any shrink wrap software in a day or two. So they may balk at hiring out support if their initial motive was cost cutting.

-Hook
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Hello Hook,

The big problem is that a lot of people use open source software because of the cost. An hourly consultant will often exceed the cost of almost any shrink wrap software in a day or two. So they may balk at hiring out support if their initial motive was cost cutting.

Thanks for answering my question. What you say is true. However, I've often seen cases of people trying out Linux or MySQL to replace a HP/UX or an Oracle server costing upward of $50K each. And, believe me, these HP/UX with Oracle servers have been way overdimensioned for the job. Sometimes, they only want a webserver with a backend database, and they splurge $100K on a complete server bundle which they'll use at most at 1% capacity.

In these instances, the difference is between a $20K Xeon server with Linux/PHP/MySQL, and a $100K HP/UX+Oracle+WebSphere monster. Both will do the job easily. It is a $80K difference, so it's almost a no brainer. However, when management sees the local maintenace column, the HP/UX+Oracle+WebSphere combo includes it for "free", while the Linux/PHP/MySQL solution does not have local support. This is what freaks managers out, having no one to call or shout to when the whole server goes down.

In this case, even if I charged $50 per hour plus a $1000 yearly contract fee (in Guatemala, $25 per hour would be considered expensive), they would gladly accept it. Assuming 10 hours of downtime per month (and that is a lot), it would only come to $500 monthly. Over a year, $6K. The good thing for managers is they have someone to shout at, while the good thing for the consultant (me) is that, if I configure everything right and in the best possible way, I will probably never have to see that server again, and I just pocketed $1000 for a couple of day's work.

Notice that, in the example, I'm not offering to make their application/gateway/whatever. That would be software development. The only thing offered is support in case something goes wrong, and they have no idea what to do with it. My idea goes further in that, since I would have to be finding bugs in open source code, I might as well start contributing formally to some projects (most probably MySQL, PostgreSQL, PHP, Phorum, etc), and in that way, enhance the very same products I will be supporting out there.

Seems to me like a win/win situation, assuming the managers bite, of course. What do you think?

Marcos
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Seems to me like a win/win situation, assuming the managers bite, of course. What do you think?

I think it's a good idea, but it comes down to marketing and sales -- can you get that message across, succinctly and emphatically, to the people making the purchasing decisions?

-Hook
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You should do some market research first.

1. Find out WHO is using open source tools in your market right now.
2. Find out how their meeting thier needs for support right now. The current users are having their support needs meet SOMEHOW figure out how they are doing it and how you can offer them supperior value by doing so.

My guess is most people will fall into the following areas:
1. They support themselves
2. The can't pay for support
3. They don't need support

You've got to know VERY well what people are doing right now to meet their needs before you can sell them on changing what they do


The biggest problem every computer consultants I've known is finding customers. Figure your customers out very well before you start the business.
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I've seen advice from others that you find out what companies that are using open source currently are doing for support and see how you can offer a better solution.

I say, that your intended market are those companies that are poised at implementation, about to make a decision between big cost (Sun/Oracle) and big risk (Linux/mySQL). Your pitch, "I can help you save the money by reducing the 'big risk' factor enough for you to choose open source software." However, as you are a single person who could, perhaps, be hit by a truck tomorrow, your services would probably not be seen as reducing the potential risk by much. I think that you would need to be a larger firm of at least 5 - 10 people before you could make that sale.

Another hitch - how are you going to identify those companies that are about to make this implementation decision? You can't rely on advertizing alone and hope the IT manager decides to give you a call. You will have to be building relationships and a reputation. Your idea of contributing to one or more open source projects is a good one. But you will need some greater visability than just that. Plan on speaking at technology shows and user group meetings - or hosting seminars on open source that you present yourself, inviting relevent IT Managers. Also ask anyone you know for any introduction to any IT person at firms that might contract with you, so as to have that person say "I know someone we sould be speaking to about this. Lets call Marcos ..." while the project is still in it's planning stages. Having a team working together can make all of this easier - as you can spread the marketing load.

There may not be a lot of work involved in providing server support to your potential clients. But there will be a great deal of work involved in selling those clients. At least at the beginning. Plan for that before you begin.

Good luck!

Womanontheverge

PS. Another choice would be to find an existing consultancy that has a decent track record and reputation in the area, and then try to join that organization with a pitch about you enabling them to have an open source server support product offering.
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No. of Recommendations: 7

I have done some computer consulting in the past, using open-source software as much as possible.

In my experience, it is useful to target companies that have somewhere between 5-25 employees. These are general guidelines, but companies with less than 5 people usually handle things themselves, while companies with >25 tend to have some sort of support on staff. Companies in the middle are big enough to have computer problems, but not large enough to keep someone on full time to solve them.

In general, companies this size and looking for business solutions. They don't care about whats behind it. They don't care if it is open source, closed source, or even what the name of the program is. They care about two things: (1) What problem will this solve? and (2) How much will it cost me?

If you decide to target companies of this size, you will find that they have a lot of old hardware. They are reluctant to buy more if there is any way to reuse the old stuff. You will get calls about everthing from setting up a new mail server to installing a printer. Take them all seriously, each one could lead to more business.

After you work with someone for a while, make suggestions about things they can do to make their business more efficent. They don't want to hear things like 'let me install the latest kernel, postfix, and apache' they want to hear 'I can take the server you are currently using, upgrade the software a bit, and then you will save $1000 a year in license fees. The new system will be more reliable and I'll do it for a one time cost of $500. If you don't like the changes, I'll switch it back for free. Make sure they like it. Propose things like this as solutions to problems (ie. our email went out 3 times last week) instead of out of the blue. If the current system is not broken, there will be no interest in fixing it.

In order to succeed you will have to be personable, always available, and patient. People will not call you - you will have to find them.

Best of luck-
joe




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Thanks for all the responses. Now I have some more stuff to think about, and to decide ultimately whether to take the plunge or not. I believe the market in Guatemala/Central America is very ripe for this kind of business, and it could flourish into something nice.

For those interested, I also found a very interesting article about a guy who does this for a living. You can find the article here:

http://www.teledyn.com/help/linux/Consulting/consulting-howto/history.html

On a somewhat related line, this two-part article on technical self-employment appeared in Slashdot a few days ago:

http://homepage.mac.com/monickels/techjob.html

I believe both pages give out very good tips.

I'll post when I'm starting this whole new line of work.

Thanks!

Marcos
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