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How to Start an IT Consulting Career

How to Start an IT Consulting Career
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A hardworking and driven IT professional with a background in writing, technical sales, and management seeks to parlay his drive and skills into creating his own IT consulting company. Problem is, he's got no degree nor any certs under his belt. I lay out a plan to rectify at least half that equation, and recommend a course of action to help him start making progress toward his goal. He's going to have to burn the midnight oil for a while, though, as he accumulates startup capital and gets some training and certification under his belt.

If I understand your educational and cert background correctly, you've got some school under your belt, and have prepped for but not yet taken the Project Management Professional certification, and you have some significant and substantial project management experience, some or much of it working as a consultant or contractor taking care of websites for third parties and organizations. I also perceive you to have an entrepreneurial bent, where you're content – as many are not – to work on your own recognizance, and take responsibility for generating and managing income and business yourself. To that final element I say, good for you! This will serve you well going forward, as you position yourself to attract the kinds of clients and customers who can help you realize your goal of starting up, running and owning "an IT consultancy of my own," as you put it in your email to me.

First, one important observation: you show a pattern of starting activities and then not finishing them. If you want to establish the kind of credibility that is consistent with meeting your professed goal, you must first complete those significant items of work that you start. To that end, I would urge you to refresh yourself on the PMP curriculum, and then take and pass the exam at your earliest opportunity. This will take some time and effort, to be sure, but it will also help you to present yourself to current and prospective customers in a more positive and flattering light. 

Next, you must sit down (and possibly also involve your family) to decide if you want to return to school to finish up a degree. Given an entrepreneurial bent and a willingness to tolerate (or perhaps even enjoy) self-employment, this is not strictly necessary for your success, but you would undoubtedly benefit if you were to acquire a degree in computer science, management information systems or business because of the things you can learn thereby that would equip you better to realize your aspirations to find and manage a successful constancy (which perforce involves managing growth, money and other people, as well as yourself). For the longer term, you sound like an ideal candidate for a Master of Business Administration (MBA), with an emphasis on personnel management, technology integration and governance, and business management, given your interests and objectives.

If you want to stick with the Microsoft Server 2012 (R2 strongly recommended) track, I'd urge you to earn the MCSA: Windows Server 2012, and then follow up immediately with the MSCE: Server Infrastructure and/or MCSE: Private Cloud. This will give you an opportunity to vet and improve upon your current skills and knowledge and, again, also give you the opportunity to position yourself to current and future clients more positively and professionally. It will also allow you to better understand the kinds of tools that Microsoft offers for businesses to use to improve their productivity and profitability (such as Lync Server, SharePoint and Business Intelligence) to help you suggest better uses of technology to clients, and then to implement and maintain such solutions on their behalf as part of your growing consultancy. 

My final advice is this: Stick to your current job for a while longer. In the meantime, I'd suggest you amass at least six months' worth of operating capital (12 months is better) upon which you can launch your consultancy, which will probably start as a one- or two-person operation. At the same time you're saving like mad to create a launch platform for your company, finish the PMP, and get going on the MCSA/MCSE sequence for Windows Server 2012.

Once you're ready to launch, you can ponder a return to school, part time, as you build your client base and start adding employees. When you get to the point where you are managing people as your primary day-to-day responsibility, and can turn sales over to a talented and qualified professional to keep business coming through the door, then you can think about pursuing a bachelor's and/or MBA. This should keep you busy for the next decade or so, at which point I hope you'll look back at some resounding successes.

Best of luck in your career and professional development planning and activity. It sounds like you've got some serious work to do, but it also sounds like you have right attitude and temperament to prevail. Please let me know if I can provide any additional information or answer any further questions to help you make your way down this path.

Ed Tittel

Ed is a 30-year-plus veteran of the computing industry, who has worked as a programmer, a technical manager, a classroom instructor, a network consultant and a technical evangelist for companies that include Burroughs, Schlumberger, Novell, IBM/Tivoli and NetQoS. He has written and blogged for numerous publications, including Tom's Hardware, and is the author of over 140 computing books with a special emphasis on information security, Web markup languages and development tools, and Windows operating systems.