Follow Up on ‘What’s Next for Me and Sympraxis Consulting?’

After posting my sort of rambling, pointless What’s Next for Me and Sympraxis Consulting?, I got a *lot* of very useful and kind responses.  (If you like that rambling, here’s another fix for you.) Many of the responses were direct, so you can’t see them in the comments on the post.  This is going to be a pretty long post, so bear with me again.

People made some great (or funny) points:

  • The people I am helping in the forums are probably not the people who would hire me. This isn’t a dis on anyone, but it’s probably true.
  • I give too much time away.  This actually came from people who I’ve worked with the most.  They don’t want me to stop, though.
  • I should charge for the jQuery Library for SharePoint Web Services.  Yeah, but see my thoughts on that below.
  • Quite a few people have offered to hook me up with work as well as to make connections for me with people who they believe can find me work.  For this, I am deeply grateful.
  • They don’t want someone to hire me because then I won’t help them.  Hey, none of you can keep this monkey in a cage!

I’ll give you the straight dope on my goals in founding Sympraxis Consulting LLC.  It was pretty simple:

  • I started the company with a guy who I’ve known a long time and respect greatly named Peter Sterpe. I wanted to work with him, and this was a good way to do it.  He’s moved on to another job because it was a great opportunity, so I’m on my own at this point.
  • I realized that others (meaning my prior employers) were making the money on my efforts where I might be able to get a larger slice of the return.  This is the “selfish” line item.
  • I felt that I could do a better job for my clients out from under the politics and hassles of a larger organization.  I loathe political jockeying and see it as a waste of time and money.  (I actually believe in collaboration is the true sense.  One for all and all for one!)
  • I wanted to have fun.  I figured that the points above would help to increase the odds of this.  I want my vocation to be my avocation and so far this part is working well.

Note that none of those bullets talk about rampant growth.  I’m not interested in creating the next great anything.  What I want is to accomplish the things above and make a decent living for my family.  If there’s enough work so that I can bring in some like-minded folks to work with me, that would be absolutely great.  (It certainly would be less lonely around here.)

If you’re reading this, then I assume that you’ve been "watching" what I’ve been up to in one way or another.  So you know that I play in what I call the "Middle Tier" of development with SharePoint, by which I mean SharePoint Designer. I try to stay off the server and leave the hardware and managed code to others. I feel that this lets me get more done faster, but it can seem unorthodox to many. (Maybe this is part of my problem!)

I’ve been giving the jQuery Library for SharePoint Web Services away for free, as you know.  I like the “crack cocaine” discussion I’ve had with a couple of people.  You know, here, just have a little taste of jQuery and Web Services: it can’t hurt. ;)  Giving software away for free and trying to make the money on services is a business model that I was a part of once before with a company here in the Boston area called ArsDigita.  We had a free community Web development toolkit and and no, we didn’t make it up on volume.  It worked until the bottom dropped out of the market in 2001-2002, though mismanagement of the VC money played a huge role, too. 

What I don’t want to do is cross the line.  I’ve been giving the library away for free, and it’ll stay free.  I’ve seen too many others try to change their approach in the middle and be reviled by the community they have so carefully built up.  Deciding that something you’ve been offering for free should now cost money is not a good idea, IMHO. Once it’s free, the genie is out of the bottle; no stuffing him back in.

So, I’ve had a few new thoughts based on some of the input that I’ve gotten.  They are absolutely non baked yet (barely batter):

  • Retainer-based model  – I don’t know if anyone will even go for this.  I’d have to stop the free support to make it look worthwhile.  That isn’t going to make a lot of people happy.
  • An independent SharePoint consultant referral network, sort of a small job mart a la or something, but not allowing ANY recruiters in.
  • A loose, collaborative society of VERY GOOD SharePoint professionals who work together.  This would go beyond the ideas of things like (which is really cool and new; check it out) and the International SharePoint Professionals Association (“ISPA”) to be a real talent pool to draw from so that we could all go for larger projects together.

The whole speaker thing is interesting. If I worked for some big company, I’d be all over it. As it is, getting to the venues is on my own dime.  When I went to SPTechCon in January out in Burlingame (not San Francisco, but it was a great conference all the same) it really opened my eyes to the fact that I’m recognized out there in the SharePoint community and that people appreciate what I do.  That’s a great feeling.  It also showed me that I can help people by talking about my approach to building things with SharePoint.

I would argue that my "Middle Tier" approach is faster and cheaper to develop, easier to test, more reliable, and more maintainable.  I know, I may be the only one who believes all that.  What I’d like to be able to do is get out there and convince people of my belief in this.  Flying around to SharePoint Saturdays is a labor of love, though; there’s no money in it.  Just paying for the flights and hotels adds up pretty fast.

All this said, I’m interested in hearing about anything. My background in management consulting and development means that I can add value to projects from conception through strategy formulation, requirements gathering, architecture, and implementation. I hope this doesn’t sound grandiose, but I’ve been around the block enough to have worn a groove in the pavement.

I hope that all of this makes sense to you. I guess that hearing back if it does or not will be another useful bit of info for me as I continue to think about how I present myself and my capabilities to the world.


What’s Next for Me and Sympraxis Consulting?

This post may come off a little whiny and entitled, but bear with me, as I don’t mean it that way.  I was on vacation recently and did some long, hard thinking about where I am in my career and where I want to go.

This cow has been giving away milk for a long time.  I don’t want to be a whiner about it, but the kid will need to go to college, there’s stuff around the house that needs fixing, we find that eating is a useful activity, etc.  I absolutely love what I’m doing: I’m my own boss, I get to work on things that interest me and challenge me, and people appreciate what I do.

I’ve been thinking about ways to monetize some of the support which I give away without being crass about it.  I figured that we live in a social computing world, so why not throw it out for discussion.

Quite a few of you who use my jQuery Library for SharePoint Web Services said you would be more than willing to pay for it, so I set up a link so that you could donate to the Boston Museum of Science.  I did it because I figured that it wasn’t going to be big money, and they could use it.

I’m not a sales guy.  I’m not good at flogging my services.  However, I *do* know what I’m doing, and I’m a very good consultant.  (It’s taken me years to be confident enough to say that out loud.)

I don’t know if it’s that people assume that someone who is so vocal in the SharePoint community must already be busy or too expensive or what, but I don’t get pinged too often about potential projects.  Yes, I had hoped that by getting out there with a strong personal brand, the knocking at the door would become deafening.   Not really, but I did figure that I’d get some contacts every once in a while from it.

I read in the press and on other people’s blogs that there’s a real shortage of SharePoint people.  I would argue that there’s an *extreme* shortage of *good* SharePoint people.  So, where’s the work?

Here we go: I’m saying out loud that I’m looking for good projects to work on.  Know of any?

And what about monetizing the "support" work that I do for my jQuery Library for SharePoint Web Services or in other places?  Do you think that there’s a business model for retainer-based SharePoint support? Does my Web site not say enough about what I do and where my strengths lie?

I’m interested in your thoughts (and projects).  Toss ’em over.