Many companies out there have responded to the current economy with layoffs. Often, this has resulted in deep cuts and tremendous loss of expertise. Bright engineers who couldn’t have conceived of an unemployment check just 18 months ago are cleaning out their desks today. And, what happens to the engineers that stay? When half the team disappears, those still standing must attempt to take on double the work and responsibility.
It’s a raw deal on either side of the RIF.
I had a great conversation with a longtime friend and former colleague, John Randazzo, that may provide some relief for those hit with that pink slip, and those left behind. John is a top gun Engineer and recently hung out his shingle as an independent contractor/consultant. In these tough economic times, John is finding plenty of meaningful work to support his own bottom line… and, his manpower-starved clients are finding an excellent, cost-effective way to keep projects moving forward.
JW: John, what factors are driving the increase in contract work?
JR: Well, try as we might to get past it, there is still a great bit of uncertainty about the economy and its recovery. However, there is still meaningful work to be done. Companies find themselves faced with the dilemma of having a need for resources, but not wanting to take on additional head count with such uncertainty. That creates a better than average environment for the independent contractor.
JW: How can a newly fired freed Engineer get started with contract work?
JR: Well, amazingly enough, it is not that tough. If you have dealt with folks in the past in a respectful and genuine manner, they are usually more than willing to at least listen to what you can bring to the table. The other key, in my opinion, is social networking. I was a late guy to LinkedIn, but now I use it as the thread to stitch up a patchwork of possible clients all over the world. It allows you to really identify people by the common interests or tools where you can be of service to them.
JW: What are the most important factors for the independent consultant to be successful today?
JR: Well, in business as in life, you get what you put into it. I believe now more than ever, in order to be successful, you have to be forthright with your clients. Don’t overpromise – don’t underdeliver. You are only as good as the opinion of your last client. One thing I have noticed about freelancing is the truth of the snowball effect – especially when you are just getting started. When you have 1 or 2 clients, good work there will get you 1 or 2 more contacts. Keep it going and you keep it growing.
JW: What is a typical client engagement for you (time, scope, etc) and how do companies typically get benefit/value from your services?
JR: I have had client engagements from as little as a week to as long as a month. Typically, most of what I hear about are 3 or 6 month contracts. I have even heard of folks stacking up part-time deals with multiple companies. So you will find all kinds of arrangements.
JW: Are you typically working remotely, or do you need to live onsite with a client for some period?
JR: I prefer to work remotely, but that limits the scope of what I can do, based on access to tools. Instead, I have found myself spending time onsite. This actually helps foster the relationship, especially with new clients and helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to the work objectives. It may be inconvenient to travel coast to coast (like I did recently from my home in Florida) from a personal sense – but if it will contribute to my client’s success, I am there.
JW: You are multi-lingual… and, actually, I’m not talking about your impressive language skills. I mean you maintain expertise in a variety of CAD and CAE tools/genres. That must be a leg up in terms of attracting new clients?
JR: Absolutely! Much like being multi-lingual is an increasingly powerful skill in the business world, being a “swiss-army knife” when it comes to computer programs for CAD and CAE just increases your potential client base and the value that you may have to a client who is interfacing with customers, suppliers, and collaborators who aren’t necessarily working from the same toolbox.
JW: If you were a company struggling with resource issues, what should you be considering when choosing an outside gun-for-hire?
JR: It all starts with integrity. Do they do what they say, and say what they do? Are they willing to practice “tough love” and be forthright, or will they coddle you until your budget and deadlines have passed and then simply walk away? Look at a resume. After all, you are looking to make them your employee – even if only for a short while.
JW: Thanks John, I really appreciate you sharing with my readers.
JR: Thanks for the chance to share what’s going on out there. Hopefully this might inspire even just one person to take the lemons of a layoff and turn them into the lemonade of a part or full-time freelance career.
John Randazzo is a mechanical engineer with experience in a variety of CAD and simulation tools including CFdesign. If you are having trouble meeting Engineering goals with a depleted workforce and would like to discuss fast solutions, John can be reached here: