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The day I did something (frankwiles.com)
205 points by justinmayer on Nov 29, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 37 comments

Yeah, this is refreshing to read. One of my favorite scenes in movies is the Wolf in Pulp Fiction, because the comedy of it is how there's no magic to the Wolf. My own entry into consulting was similar to this guy's story - it felt huge and mysterious and forbidding beforehand, but in hindsight it was just a bunch of breaking problems down to stuff that felt boring and mundane in hindsight, even if the solutions were stylized to my own needs.

One thing that was important to me was to be able to max out retirement contributions even while being self-employed. (I think a lot of folks that go into business for themselves will too easily convince themselves to sacrifice that early on.) So I had a spreadsheet that basically factored in my needed take-home income after taxes and retirement contributions, and added in those taxes and contributions, and I turned it into a daily (weekday) dollar amount that I needed to earn, complete with 7-day and 30-day moving averages. Being able to check that daily helped me to know whether I was on the right track. For the first few years, I think that was around $300-$400 per day - later on, I was able to stop paying attention to it since I was exceeding it so much.

there's no magic to the Wolf

Funny. That's my favorite scene in that movie, too. For exactly the same reason. I only find it comment-worthy here because you're the first person I've heard outside myself make this observation.

Another scene I really like, for similar didactic reasons, is the opening scene to the HBO series Rome, where Caesar's army is battling the Gauls in a forest and Titus Pullo breaks out of formation to start kicking barbarian ass. Vorenus, his commanding officer, has to follow him out at great personal risk to knock him back into line.

I see it as an allegory for the perils of bringing a ninja/rockstar/cowboy to a mature team that has a greater need for professionalism and discipline.

The first time I hired a really well-known, expensive attorney, I felt the same way you do about the Wolf. I thought "There's no magic to what he is doing, he is having the same conversations and doing the same things that I would". It was the same when I took on a very wealthy business partner - he did many of the same things that I would do.

In most cases, the work these kinds of people perform is neither magical nor brilliant. It's that because of their reputation, resources, and influence, when they do the same things that you would do, it has an entirely different result. This is just one of the many unfair aspects of life - knowing exactly what to do and working hard on it isn't even close to enough to make you successful. If no one listens to you, it doesn't matter what you say or how brilliant it is.

A similar situation is discussed in Godin's Linchpin: you could do most of that attorney's job, perhaps even better than he does, except for what he does for five minutes a day. Of course, all the value is created in those five minutes.

I think also, a really top notch expert makes what they're doing seem so effortless that you do think "yeah, that's just what I would have done".

And probably you would have, at least eventually, although maybe with a couple of false starts and by that point perhaps some misfeatures have already been locked in and now your simple, elegant solution (the one you came up with all on your own without some fancy consultant) isn't quite going to work the way you'd like it to, but it's still 90% of the way there and you're only a little bit over budget -- so long as you cut a couple of the less useful features you should hopefully get the whole thing done before you lose the support of management -- but then they change CTO and the whole thing gets put on hold indefinitely.

There's often no "magic" to what consultants do, and expertise is the accumulation of innumerable layers of knowledge / insight / practice. I'm a grant writing consultant and years ago I wrote a post about why it's so hard for many employers to hire employees as good as the better consultants: http://seliger.com/2008/06/22/why-cant-i-find-a-grant-writer.... Employees and consultants are also incentivized in different ways that sometimes makes hiring an employee better and sometimes hiring a consultant better.

One thing I'd emphasize about consulting, however, is the need to almost continually market. That seems foreign to many people thinking about consulting (and I too admire the Wolf's scenes in Pulp Fiction, but we never see any marketing from him—I guess he's in a line of work that's word-of-mouth only).

I thought that was the whole point/comedy of Winston Wolf - that the criminals were so stupid, a guy with an average IQ was revered as a mastermind.

It seems a lot of consultancies follow this pattern:

    1. Hate permanent job.
    2. Start consultancy.
    3. Spend half the day finding work/collecting bills; other half programming.
    4. Eventually find reliable client with long-term project always pays on time.
    5. Cancels all other contracts to focus on reliable client.
    6. Go to step 1.
The way to break free from this is to scale the consultancy by hiring developers and profiting on overhead. This was not mentioned in the post, but if you neglect the scale factor, it will be very difficult to break past a typical employee salary. There are only so many hours in the day. The alternative is to sell a product.

I think your post is a little misleading in that #1 implies working for BigCo on the first read-through, but then working for yourself on your own business stuck with a single major client on the second read-through.

Perhaps some people will find this equivalent, should both stakeholders (BigCo/single demanding client) be equally unpleasant, but I for one still see a lot of value in having full control over my life and my time.

Of course, then you aren't writing code, you are building a business and doing sales and recruiting. Which is fine, if that is what you want, but most folks who are technical probably want to focus on technical services.

Both trying to charge more than typical employee salary as a solo consultant and scaling a consultancy business have their own difficulties.

Personally I’d find it more difficult to try to scale up my consultancy business rather than just convince the client that I provide results that are worth more than what they’d normally pay their own people to try to provide.

I thought this post was full of actionable advice for starting off on a consulting adventure (product companies are a whole different animal, in my opinion, definitely in terms of marketing research).

I did much the same. Having the savings are key, as are knowing your burn rate and having a plan B.

At the start of my most recent consulting stint, I watched cash in the bank and was prepared to be an employee if the balance fell below two months of expenses.

Agreed! I call it my "get a job" date and I still calculate it about monthly.

I started consulting without this safety net due to...circumstances and with the holiday seasons coming up (and my anniversary) I am really regretting it to be completely honest.

I've had the pleasure to work with Mr. Wiles. He's a wonderful person with refreshing perspective. If you're working on a serious django project and you want a little direction or advice on scalability or other technical decisions, his consultancy is great to go to.

Side note: RevSys put out a Django cheat sheet a while back, which was given out at PyCon. Whenever I step away from Django for a bit and start to get rusty, I pull out the cheat sheet as I'm getting back up to speed. It's helped me work more efficiently on numerous occasions.

Download (pdf): http://media.revsys.com/images/django-1.5-cheatsheet.pdf

I really liked the post.

I'd be curious to hear more about the process of finding work from people who have made the leap into consulting. The post mentions networking and just doing everything you can to increase your chances of meeting clients. That makes perfect sense, but are there any other insights or good practices?

For example, is it good to be a little bit forward and make sure people know you're a consultant looking for projects? Are certain kinds of networking better than others? Have you ever done any kind of out-bound marketing, or even cold-called potential clients? What about rules of thumb for whether or not to take on a project (e.g. better to turn down small things and wait for something big, or better to just take anything and everything, or certain kinds of clients you avoid)?

I would imagine that with all of this stuff you kind of just have to use your judgement. I also would suspect that everything gets much easier once you've been doing been doing it for longer and have a proven track record and even start to get referrals from previous clients. That said, it seems like getting the ball rolling with finding work must be one of the hardest aspects of starting out as a consultant.

How does this translate to SaaS where you might have paying customers on the line if you fail? Is runway supposed to be longer, or does it just not matter to them if it goes belly up?

This should probably be covered in your terms of service? Along with what happens if your SaaS is sold to another owner.

This article has the start of his journey... and he's 8 year into it now.

But it gives no sense as to whether he's just breaking even, is killing it, or what?

It wouldn't be that encouraging if after 8 years he's still struggling to make ends meet, whereas if he's killing things (in the positive sense), that's more inspiring. To me anyway. ;)

He runs REVSYS. I'd say he's doing OK. :-)

I'm not familiar with REVSYS. I don't know if this is a one man shop making $80k gross or a 100 person consulting company throwing off $5M/year profit.

Six staff total.

(I followed the REVSYS link and then went to their About page.)

Cool. It should be explicitly mentioned in the article though, not left for readers for wonder about and maybe figure out wrongly. ;)

It's in the footer!

The footer indicates REVSYS, but (in my opinion) that doesn't really say anything useful about what I'm meaning. The article itself would be better if it directly mentions this, so people can put it in context from that instead of having to guess.

It's possible I'm being an idiot though. ;)

I've met the author, and chat with them on IRC occasionally. Since I don't think they're aware this was posted to HN, I guess I can share what I know.

From what I've gathered in conversations, I'd put fwiles at making decent money, but not really "killing it." Given that Kaplan-Moss left Revsys to join Heroku, I'm guessing the consulting money is less than what one might earn elsewhere, and compensated in autonomy.

Love this page, very straight to the point and some great advise. No fancy styling, just the facts. And no ad trackers!

This was a great read. Starting a company is more than anything else a matter of getting off your duff and doing it. Then keeping at it through thick and thin.

I particularly liked the point about raising your skills in non-core areas but wanted to add a caveat: it is really important to find good partners. For example, when selling technical products or services things tend to go better if one person sells the technology (aka the good cop) and another handles the money (aka the bad cop). Even if you are good at both it is hard to maintain both personalities simultaneously.

I wonder if the reluctance to rent an office, new desk etc extended when the author started hiring?

I personally think its very important to ensure your employees know you spent a bit of money making them comfortable and you value their work! I have worked in a number of startups with a kind of shitty office, shitty equipment etc and imo it always contributes to some kind of morale/impression problem.

No such thing as "fraternal grandparents"

Hahaha apparently I needed more coffee. Fixed, thanks!


Wow tough crowd :(

I for one appreciated it. Good actionable advice with minimal bs. There's a pint waiting for you next time you're in London.

Please stop posting unsubstantive comments to HN.

There's no 'actonable advice' in this post as far as I can see, except perhaps 'pay off debt'.

That, and the other financial strategies, are some pretty darn good actionable advice for a lot of people starting out.

There's - increasing contract work - networking - more blog posts - more open source contributions

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