Do you want to be an independent professional? More importantly, do you want to harness the tremendous business opportunities offered by Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), and also change the world with your passion for the freedoms of FOSS?
Don’t be surprised if you soon find yourself in the awkward position of having to choose between freedom and success. Ironically, success may just come your way if you stop talking about freedom. Compiled here are my observations of the top mistakes independent professionals make between freedom and success.
If they want bread, give them FOSS
Stop talking like a philosopher, and start talking like a business-person. Clients only need to know one thing: what business problems and challenges you can solve for them.
On your website, or during your client meeting, do not waste time talking about “the four freedoms of FOSS”, or launch a debate about free software versus open source software. Even worse, don’t shoot off your mouth about how proprietary software companies are evil, or how software patents are a bad thing.
Focus, instead, on the one immediate thing that could lift your client’s business higher, and thereby help you clinch an order. “You have this business problem. I have this solution that works for your business.”
Who digs whom?
You know how you are always so full of beans for your favourite FOSS projects. However, try not to mention specific software names to clients (such as SugarCRM, Drupal, Apache SOLR, or even your favourite programming languages like PERL, Python, Ruby, or whatever else). Stop being obsessed about your products and tools. Become more client-oriented and focussed.
If you use too many technical names and jargon, the client may just be too embarrassed to confess he fails to understand how all these could possibly solve his immediate business problems.
Rather than intimidate him by his lack of ability to comprehend you, you should be the one digging up and researching the client’s needs, and how you could possibly fulfil them. Go to your client meeting informed about the client’s business, competitors, and challenges.
Don’t kill your skill
Independent professionals often bore their clients by talking too much about their tech skills. I think that enough is already known about your tech skills and competency to merit a meeting.
Speak instead about the discipline(s) you offer. For example, “Apache administrator” makes no sense, but discussing skills that ensure a client’s website has 99.99 per cent guaranteed uptime, or those which secure a client’s Web-based services, are more comprehensible.
Okay, so you’ve got everything in place. Now let’s talk about money.
Please do not shoot yourself in the foot by suddenly erupting into an unwarranted discussion about “free-of-cost versus freedom”. Instead, just think: what is the worth in terms of money, of the business solution you propose? Evaluate whether an equivalent proprietary software will be more expensive.
Don’t just stop there; think about direct competition from other independent FOSS-based professionals like you. Then assess what makes your solution unique, better and more attractive to the client.
Once you’ve weighed in all these factors, try to imagine if the client is capable or willing to pay your price. Preempt any negotiation tools or tactics the client may use against you. Adhere to the industry’s best practices for your terms and conditions.
Only when you’re fairly confident should you make that quote. Then play hard to negotiate and clinch, so the client understands you really mean business.
Congratulations! You’ve just clinched your contract. Now complete it.
I’m surprised how many independent professionals neglect this part. So many projects are messed up, or end up in “development-hell”, or are shoddily developed, and many are just abandoned. So grit your teeth, and successfully complete your project. Completion is the only thing that establishes your credentials, and opens the door for you to win further orders. In this business, your reputation is everything.
These tips may sound rather facile, but search for the websites, and the LinkedIn and “About us” profiles of your favourite FOSS professionals in India. You might be just as shocked as I was, at what you find. Let’s mature from flag-waving FOSS enthusiasts to professionals who bring tremendous value to business and society, through the freedoms of FOSS.