If you like that session, you’ll probably enjoy my past blog posts on consulting & contracting.
You get paid for work that falls into one of these four boxes:
1. Not urgent, mild or no business pain
- “I’m curious and I just wondered something.”
- “I want to know best practices for ___.”
- “Fragmentation is high, and I want help fixing it.”
To solve these kinds of pains, build blog posts, YouTube videos, or other self-help resources that people can consume on their own time. Expect to get a lot of “just curious” questions from the readers.
But don’t expect any direct revenue.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t build it – building solutions for these non-urgent, mild pains is a great way to build your brand over time. Pinal Dave’s SQLauthority.com is a great example of this – everybody in the SQL Server business knows who he is, but he can’t charge access directly on that site. (He can, however, run ads for other companies.)
2. Urgent, but mild or no business pains
- “My restore from production to development is taking forever. Why?”
- “A long-running query is rolling back. What do I do?”
- “I’m building a new server. How should I configure TempDB?”
There’s urgency, but note that the urgency is coming from the person asking the question – not necessarily from the business users who control the checkbook.
To solve these pains in your spare time, answer questions on StackOverflow.com and watch #SQLhelp on Twitter.
To solve these pains for a living and get paid for it, get a database support job at Microsoft, an application vendor, or a large company.
In both cases, though, expect to work with under-trained people who never seem to get better. The world is full of people who are doing these tasks for the first time and have no budget, and they’re always going to seem urgent. This can get exhausting.
3. Not urgent but severe business pains
- “Our reports take forever to run, and it’s slowing down our decision-making processes. We need to build a data warehouse.”
- “The SAN is really slow, and we need to figure out how to make it go faster, but we don’t want to make changes to it while it’s running.”
The business wants to improve something, but they’re afraid, and they know it’s a big project. Woohoo, finally some direct payments, right? Well, these are long paid engagements that involve budgets, approvals, committees, multiple staff positions (could be full time employees or contractors), vendors, and long sales cycles (months or years.)
You can make a living doing this kind of work, but typically you need to be part of a larger firm. Companies rarely hire a lone gunman to design and build an entire data warehouse from scratch – and if they do, it’s as a full time employee, not as a lone contractor. After all, if this person gets hit by a bus mid-project, you don’t want to start again from scratch.
Note that these issues pop up online, too, like “I need to build a data warehouse – how do I do it?” The person asking this kind of question online likely doesn’t have any budgetary approval – they’ve already been hired to do the task, and they’re in over their head. They’re getting you to do their job, they’ll never stop asking questions, and they won’t pay you a dime.
4. Urgent, severe business pains
- “Our database server fails every time we run a national sale, and these outages are costing us millions of dollars.”
- “The database is corrupt, and business has stopped.”
The business needs help desperately, money is less of a concern, and sales cycles are very short (hours to days).
When these kinds of pains pop up at large companies, they’ll usually have a full time team of experts to deal with these challenges, or they’ll call hardware/software vendors for support, or they’ll have a relationship with a large consulting company with a full time team of experts. To make money doing this with large companies, you’ll need to get a job in one of those categories.
When these pains pop up at small companies, on the other hand, it’s different: small companies can’t afford to keep a team of full time experts on hand to manage these issues because they rarely show up. (The pains, not the experts.) To get pain relieving these pains, you need an online presence and reputation so that when the small business has the pain, they can find you quickly.
This explains who pays you, and for what.
This simple grid helps you understand how you’re going to get paid, and by who:
If you’re focusing on mild business pains, you’re not going to make a lot of money directly for the pain relief. You’re going to have to sell ads on free content, or sell training material that people can use to gradually up their skills over time.
If you’re focusing on severe business pains, you want to understand the sales cycle. The more urgent the pain, the shorter the sales cycle – and the more likely you can make it as an independent. The less urgent the pain, the longer the sales cycle, and the more work you’re going to have to invest in doing sales. (Or, take a full time job – but know that you’re going to be working at a larger company, or a consulting company.)
Sales and marketing boils down to these four things:
- A product – in this case, your skills
- A brand – what you want people to think of when they think of your product
- Marketing – getting people to think what you want them to think
- Sales – getting them to fork over money for your product
When most people enter the job market, they only have a product – but no brand or marketing. As a result, their sales effort is hard as hell. With every single sales attempt, you have to convince the hiring managers that your product is the best, and simultaneously the most affordable.
Branding and marketing make getting a job way easier.
Branding: What People Think Of Your Product
When I say these names, what 3-4 words come to mind:
- Red Bull
Those companies have worked really hard to build up an image. In some cases, they’re even working hard to overcome a bad image. (Thank goodness you don’t have that problem!)
When someone says your name, what 10-15 words do you want to come to mind? These words can describe what you do, who you do it for, quality, cost, accessibility, availability, your place in the market, where you live, your hobbies, family, pets, you name it.
Marketing: Getting People to Think Those Words
When I say “marketing,” you probably think outbound marketing: designing an ad campaign, and then buying a whole bunch of ad space on TV, billboards, magazines, product placement, etc. It’s very expensive, which means it’s not really a good fit for you and me.
Instead, think inbound marketing: building really good material that people actually want to consume.
Examples include blog posts, white papers, presentations, webcasts, podcasts, and books. Build the material that shows you know what you’re talking about, and include your branding inside that material. For example, with my own work, I try to show that I’m experienced, thought-provoking, and good at relieving specific business pains.
Then, Sales is Easy.
People beat a path to your door. They sign up for your blog updates, attend your webcasts, and they get real value out of their interactions with you. By the time they want to hire someone to solve a specific business pain, it’s not a question of you proving your worth to them – it’s a question of when you’re available.
The concepts are simple.
The execution is what’s difficult.
It takes long, hard work to build up a lot of blog posts, presentations, etc that serve as your inbound marketing material. But if you want to be a independent consultant and have people come to your door looking for help, there’s no easy button: you’ve got to figure it out.
Growing up, when I heard “dress for the job you want,” I thought they meant everybody should aspire to wear suits and ties. After all, that’s what the supposedly powerful executives have, right?
Nope. It means that if you don’t want a suit job, don’t wear a suit.
It took me years to realize that I wanted to be surrounded by coworkers I like and respect. People who accept their coworkers for who they are – regardless of clothes, college diploma, car/motorcycle/bike, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.
I’d long figured it out by the time Jeremiah, Kendra, and I started our company, but still, we were a little bit worried about image. Would people really want to hire tattooed database experts? Turns out they do.
Sure, we miss out on gigs where guys are told to wear Rolexes and women told to wear skirts. But then again, those don’t sound like a lot of fun – and we’re all about balancing work with fun.
You don’t have to sell your soul to have a job you love. Come to terms with who you are, and then dress for the job you want. When you attend user groups, do presentations, or just network with job prospects, wear exactly what you want to wear to work. (And if you want to work in a suit, that’s completely okay too! Just know that if you’re not a suit person, there’s still jobs out there for the real you.)
Today is the day you stop being afraid.
For a long time, you’ve been telling yourself, “Yeah, I should probably start blogging one of these days,” but you’re afraid. Afraid someone else has already written about a topic. Afraid that your writing isn’t impressive enough. Afraid nobody will leave a comment.
Well, Ed Leighton-Dick is calling your bluff. His #SQLNewBlogger Challenge is a dare to publish one new post per week, every Tuesday in April.
If you’re a new blogger, here’s how I’d do it:
- Sign up for a blog at WordPress. Use your name as the site name, and during the signup process, they’ll ask if you want to use a custom domain name. You do, because yourname.com is a better long term bet than yourname.wordpress.com. It will cost you $99/year, plus the cost of the domain name registration. Do it.
- Ignore the look/feel/theme. Stick with the defaults this month – focus on the content.
- Pick 1 topic you’re going to write about. Pick a topic you already know well, something that you believe is completely boring to you, something you think everybody already knows. You’re wrong.
- Write down 4 facts about that topic. Jot down 4 simple sentences with a fact. These are going to become your blog post titles.
- Write one blog post per fact. Start by looking at ProBlogger’s 52 Types of Blog Posts for inspiration. If one of those styles calls to you, use it for all 4 – but I’d recommend trying 4 different voices, 4 different styles of posts for your 4 facts. Write them all in advance, and schedule them for publication on each Tuesday.
As each one goes live, if you want feedback, email me at BrentO@BrentOzar.com and give me the URL. I’ll give short, honest feedback about what I thought, and I’ll help publicize your work.
Go do it right now. Seriously, you have nothing better to do. You’re reading my blog, for crying out loud.
I spoke at my local SQL Server user group last month. I delivered one of my very favorite presentations, and it’s got one of my favorite punch lines. I ask the attendees where SQL Server does its sorting, and someone inevitably answers TempDB. I then say, “Yes, TempDB – or as I call it….”
You have no idea what other filthy, disgusting things people are doing in TempDB. It’s a sloppy mess.
I’m quite proud of that slide, and every single time I deliver that punch line – every time – it brings the house down. The room erupts into laughter, and I’ve got the audience eating out of my hand.
Well, most of the audience. Here’s two comment cards from that night’s session:
The feedback form on the left screams at me – in all caps, no less – that TempDB is not a public toilet, and I need to lose the poop humor. (Mind you, that’s the only poop joke I used in the entire session, I never actually said the word poop.) That comment was the only negative one I received.
The feedback form on the right is more representative of the rest of the comments, most of which raved about the public toilet joke. They didn’t use all caps (well, aside from the DBCC syntax) but the fact that they even referred to one of my slides is killer.
Both Comments Are Completely Valid.
It’s easy to think about flipping the bird to the person who wrote the form at the left, but their opinion is completely valid. Some people don’t want any humor whatsoever in their educational material. They want to read things like Books Online, and they love Microsoft’s official training sessions. They want to learn what they need to learn, and then they want to get the heck out. They’re not working with databases because they have some kind of passionate love for data – they’re just cashing a check. They have lives they want to get back to, and every minute spent joking around is time lost.
It may come as a surprise to you, but these people are in the majority.
See, dear reader, you and I are somewhat unusual. We really love technology, and we have a good time with it. Doing fun things with databases makes us smile. Sharing the joy with other people makes us smile even more. We like to laugh while we learn.
I say “we” because you and I have a lot in common. You’ve already somehow stumbled into my blog, and when you get here, you kind of already know what to expect. I’m irreverent, blunt, honest, and I love sharing the fun that I’m having.
But sometimes people stumble in here without knowing what to expect, and … they’re not happy. They don’t want to waste time with non-technical details. They don’t want their databases compared with Port-A-Potties. They see technology as a serious business, and they’re offended that I would compare software to a smelly sewer. They’re not wrong – they’re just not who I’m writing for. I’m writing for people who think like me.
I Want Raving Fans.
I don’t mean that I want people to carry me out of my sessions, or that I want to do stage diving. (Although at some point at a major conference, I am determined to stage dive.) I just mean that I want to share my knowledge with people who also happen to share my sense of humor and passion for technology.
I don’t write passive, bland stuff trying not to offend.
I write raving, passionate stuff trying to excite.
Every time I present, my goal is to give everybody in the audience a “Holy Shit!” moment. (And of course, just by using that term, I’m going to offend people – the exact same people who were offended by the TempDB toilet joke.) I want to surprise and delight people by relating technology to everyday concepts that they already understand. I want to make impossibly tough concepts very easy to understand.
In making my omelets, I’m going to break a few eggs. Not everybody’s going to like what I do – but if I aimed for universal like-ability, then nobody would actually rave about me. I don’t want like – I want love, and in order for someone to love you, somebody’s gonna hate you.
Hi. I’m Brent Ozar.
I live in California with my wife Erika. I'm on an epic life quest to have fun and make a difference.
I co-founded Brent Ozar Unlimited to help make your SQL Servers faster and more reliable. I also maintain sp_Blitz® and the open source First Responder Kit repo.