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What does Technology Consulting have to do with Employability?

Most of us joined the entrepreneurial movement. of technology consulting with the notion that once we are a our own small business owner, we are free of the perils put upon us by ‘regular’ employment. Finally you get to be our own boss, make your own decisions and no one gets to tell you what to do anymore!. Little does it cross our minds, that in reality we now have multiple employers with diverse needs, and we now have to become more employable then ever.

Most of us joined the entrepreneurial movement. of technology consulting with the notion that once we are a our own small business owner, we are free of the perils put upon us by ‘regular’ employment. Finally you get to be our own boss, make your own decisions and no one gets to tell you what to do anymore!. Little does it cross our minds, that in reality we now have multiple employers with diverse needs, and we now have to become more employable then ever.

One that has mastered the skill of continuously reinventing and making himself re-employable is Small Business Server (SBS) Most Valuable Professional (MVP), Jeff Middleton. Middleton has long contributed with his word and deeds to the small business partner community where his long-time focus on the SBS product and serving real customers, grew into mastering SBS migrations. His professional knowledge base was effectively enhanced last year when hurricane Katrina visited his hometown, shifting his technical professional focus towards disaster recovery. “Sure” you’ll say, “that is a no-brainer” – the market for disaster recovery must be flourishing along the coast of Louisiana. The question I pose here is does it really require a disaster for one to change his mind and head of into other directions? What does it take and how many times do people reinvent themselves on their own? And why should one make conscious changes in their professional path by adding a skill set or two – without the help of hurricane Katrina?

The road more or less traveled
Having started out his professional career in Industrial Engineering working only jobs that matched his background Middleton realized that he’d prefer to follow his own unique career path. Besides this realization, he also learned that schooling in a specific trade does not equal guaranteed employment. Catapulted into the wild by an unexpected layoff, Middleton found himself hiring in at a computer retail store at the mall in the mid 80’s.

SIDEBAR: “The state of Louisiana …has historically been ranked in the bottom 10% of US states for technical investments and purchasing technology” according to Middleton. This equates to about the worst place to consider starting up an IT consulting business.

The industrial engineer bit the bullet and became an AutoCAD sales person for the mall retail store. He was determined enough to know that he would eventually start his own business to consider his employ a stepping stone. Less than two years later he took his knowledge learned during the mall store tenure and opened a regional office for AutoDesk in New Orleans. After managing the store for two years and a flat economy, Middleton had to call it quits. During his work with AutoDesk, he had however become familiar with a specific videographics product. Needless to say, the entrepreneuring Middleton became a dealer for the videographic product shortly thereafter, finally getting to implement his very own business plan. This was the start of a profitable career, and since then Jeff continued to reinvent himself every three to five years adjusting to market demands, knowing he has a career worth doing.

  • Lessons Learned
  • Did Middleton start his own business right out of school? (No!)
  • Did Middleton become an instant success? (No!)
  • Did Middleton learn new skills continuously? (Yes!)

Looking back at Middleton’s career path, we see the step-by-step progression he made. He had learned how to run a business bit by bit and gained valuable skills along the way before he headed out on his own. He had left school with theory (engineering degree), practiced his profession (implementation of theory), learned to sell to business owners (AutoCAD), sharpened his professionalism (running regional office) and finally followed his gut feelings! (starting own business).

Soul Searching
Regardless of what profession you find yourself in today, have you always been there? My guess is that your career path has changed throughout your current lifetime. So why does one focus so much on becoming an expert at an explicit profession? Shouldn’t technician-turned-SMB consultants be out there acquiring business skills on top of their technical skills, elevating them into even more valuable and more employable consultant?

The one-track mind
In order to be employable you will have to be able to break out of the one-track mind set. By stating “I am the best there is at Small Business Server and CRM” (for example).to a potential client essentially says that you don’t know about finances or sales and marketing. (And how much do you know about that?). A business owner would like to know that the consultant understands the all-around business and its challenges, and not just a part of it. Your strategy should consider including diversifying yourself towards different career orientation. Middleton learned this lesson throughout his career, by accepting the changes and embracing the new opportunities offered to him. He had first tried to stay in the engineering type jobs until he was forced to move on. He soon realized that he could build on his gained knowledge and continued to expand his horizon and business skill. Finally, his strategy of not focusing on one career path alone, carried over into his business.

The business split personality
A common business strategy is to have portfolio diversification to enhance your earnings potential and your professional rewards (that is, not getting bored). You can even do this while having one or more technical niches (having more than one niche is itself a form of diversification). Middleton accomplishes this by taking a three pillar approach. First, he has his “bread and butter” SBS customers who he has strong loyalties to and enjoys serving as the consultant. Second, he serves the small business consulting community fulfilling his need as an entrepreneur, through sales, marketing and support of his own developed SBS migration kit. Finally, he got these pillars of income to support his third personality which is community volunteerism. Jeff found a way to have his business operations spin off enough financial rewards so that he could deepen his community involvement.

My advice, based on this storyline? Combine the skills you have acquired over the years and involve them towards success as a Small Business Specialist at the “day-to-day” level. Using this as a path towards supporting your additional professional interests, will give you a viewpoint that keeps you fresh, recharged and most importantly, give you the benefit of looking at your business endeavors with a new perspective.

Wisdom and Expertise
No doubt, Middleton’s business model clearly is based on his expertise. But recognize that he did not build his business on his excellent Small Business Server knowledge alone. The combination of being an engineer, a sales and marketing rep, a business manager and entrepreneur make him the good business person he is today.

Middleton’s path can be emulated and you don’t have to be analytically gifted or know how to sell a superior skill set. Everyone has their own experiences, gifts and talents that can be applied as their “personal style” to their business strategy. I am not saying to copy Middleton, the point is, the boot should fit you, so why even try putting on someone else’s boots?

A Though Leader Validates Business Balance
Having watched Jeff as a fellow small business technology professional for the past several years, I can attest that Jeff has sharpened his professionalism. Here are my observations. Jeff remains deeply committed to richest and most complex technical issues of the day surrounding Windows Small Business Server. But in the past few years, he has firmly affixed his business hat atop his head so that he can rightful earn the economic awards he deserves plus serve as a technology (geek)business role model to the small business technology community.

Jeff has proven himself conversant in both techno-speak and business-speak. It’s a balance I feel should be achieved by successful technology consultants and especially Small Business Specialists everywhere!

And that is what I call employable!

Harry Brelsford is the CEO of SMB Nation (www.smbnation.com) and Beatrice Mulzer runs http://www.sbstraining.net/.

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