Networking

For an independent coder, most of the prospecting relies on two legs: the network and the reputation.

Both of them have an influence on the other and both of them require a good measure of time. Reputation attracts more people in your “core” network, and the network brings you in touch with people who will spread your reputation towards the outside.

These past few years, the networking side of the job became more and more visible, with the social network sites, blogging, micro blogging etc. Where a few years back I could trace fairly easily the connection between a potential customer and me, today I sometimes get emails from people who logged a search on a social site, then got somehow pointed towards me.

While it opens a lot of potential work, it also can be a little awkward. Even if they ended up talking to me, they have no idea of who I am. My reputation isn’t in sync with what I am.

There’s the stuff I’m good at doing, the stuff I like doing (which might not be the same), the stuff I do for friends or old customers that I really don’t like doing. Then there’s the rumors of all the above from people who only know of me through n+1 or n+2 connections. And finally there’s the stuff I should be able to do, given my current field. If you mix all that together, the result is a mix-n-mash professional image. In some cases it’s extremely different from how I see my own job.

Ideally I’d like that “avatar” to be as close as possible to the real me, because explaining to someone I will not be the best choice for that kind of contract, and sorting through various and sometimes funny misleadings, are really time consuming.

Of course, that’s the point in the conversation where people usually point me towards the fact I could hire sales people to handle that for me. They could handle gossip (through cunning and/or aggressive communication), they could filter the prospects (through extensive knowledge of my work and my aptitudes), and they could extend my network (through intelligent sifting of aforesaid social links).

But there’s two drawbacks to that strategy:

  • I only have a pair of hands, and wouldn’t be able to do twice the amount of work to pay them. So I would have to hire tech people as well to handle more jobs. Then I wouldn’t be an independent, which is the part I really like best about my job.
  • Keeping the sales force up to date with what I like doing, what I can do, etc… would probably as much time consuming as doing it with the customers directly.

Also, all of the discussion above excludes completely an important part of the job: it’s a job. Meaning I have to earn a living with it. My rates can vary depending on the contract type, location, or customer. Of course I can do a rush job paid with a small fee, if it is for a friend, for something I’d really like doing, or because it might open up new possibilities. Of course, being an independent worker at home, I spend less on the structure (office, supplies, employees, etc) than most and can therefore compete aggressively on the price tag. And if I get conned into doing something that’s not worth the payoff, there’s limits to what my legal department (being my own and cute self most of the time) can do.

Freedom always comes at a price, one you might not be fully ready to pay. For me, it’s handling the administrative part of my job. Up till now, I can cope, even with the rollercoaster ride it sometimes implies. And I tell myself that while I haven’t taken a long break in quite some time, I could do it if I really wanted to. Does that make me an addict? If it does, I guess there’s worse addictions than freedom.

  

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