Setting out to create my own destiny
Like many consultants, I started by accident. Back in 1984, I was lured away from the relative safety of a Fortune 100 company to join a small Silicon Valley startup. “Create your own destiny” was the pitch that got me. I went from a cubicle in a vast engineering department to being 25% of the whole engineering team. Little did I know, destiny would only last one year. However, because of my experience, I was able to get a contract with a company in the same industry to design a similar product. The rest, as they say, is history. One thing and one contract led to another and I never did get another “real” job. I became a consultant.
Join a group of like-minded consultants
One of those “things” that happened along the way was finding out about PATCA – the Professional and Technical Consultants Association. I wasn’t even sure at the time that what I was doing was really a profession. I was just trying to make ends meet and learn as much as possible along the way. Then I discovered this whole organization devoted to Professional Consulting. Other people were already doing the same thing. Surely they had run into similar issues, W2 vs. 1099, health insurance, contract negotiations, where to find the next client… All that stuff was detracting from the real work I wanted to do. So when someone told me I could join a group of like-minded consultants who already had experience in making consulting into a profession, I didn’t hesitate. I was now legitimate. I figured that the relatively small annual fee was well worth the opportunity to gain knowledge, create associations, and meet new people in the profession. That was in 1991 and I’ve been a member ever since.
It comes down to People
Twenty years ago, the word “networking” had not yet come into vogue, at least not as far as I knew. Since then, the notion of networking has been dissected and disseminated. It’s been defined, refined, analyzed and taught in college courses. I wouldn’t be surprised if you could get a degree of some sort in Networking. But what it really comes down to is: people. And PATCA is full of people representing engineering, marketing, human resources, business development, and a variety of other professions., regardless of our backgrounds, we are all consultants, with different skills, different experiences, and different contacts at different companies. With each new conversation with a fellow PATCA member, I discover something new. I have definitely met people with skill sets that I would have never come across in my normal routine. And since I have become an active volunteer within PATCA, the networking opportunities for me have grown exponentially.
Exposure, exposure, exposure
They say that in real estate it’s all about: location, location, location. Well, in consulting, I’d have to say it’s all about: exposure, exposure, exposure. The more people who know you and what you do, the better off you are. The more websites that list you and your skills, the better off you are. People can’t hire you if they can’t find you. In addition to networking, PATCA offers a keyword-filled online directory listing which you can edit, control and keep up to date on your own. Potential clients can contact members directly or they can enter their request in an online referral system which gets sent to all members.
PATCA offers a variety of venues in which to network and learn. There is an informal monthly lunch meeting as well as a more formal monthly dinner meeting, in which speakers are invited to give talks on subjects of interest to the consulting community. Members can also share their own expertise by becoming a speaker themselves, thereby gaining exposure. A member-to-member list server is also maintained, which members can use to communicate with each other. I am often amazed by the quick and insightful answers that I see to questions that members pose. They no doubt lead to many more private and in-depth conversations.
Need more convincing? The dues are tax-deductible, the cost of dinner and other meetings are at least partially deductible, and travel to PATCA events can be written off as vehicle expenses. PATCA recently reduced the annual dues to only $149/year. Can you afford NOT to join?