Making the case for experimental programming as a consultant
Or Finding good reasons to build an unprofitable SaaS business as a Consultant
When I started my consulting business almost a decade ago, I thought it was a means to an end. I would sell my skills and in parallel I would develop and sell a software subscription product (or SaaS). Over time I would transition to working exclusively on the SaaS business.
The plan changed. I'd be lying if I said it was a thoughtful and strategic transition. But – the work has been fun! And I launched Tap, which has become an integral part of my practice as a consultant. For reasons beyond the scope of this post, my product development took on a more experimental approach. As the product became more experimental it became more difficult to market and sell (oops) but it also had the effect of bolstering my consulting practice. What I now realize is: my experimental work with Tap is foundational to my consulting practice.
First of all, it gives me credibility as a developer. Tap is a complicated system, and it’s a complete functioning business. It involves software development related to many aspects of running a business online.
And because I’ve developed all aspects of Tap myself, I have evaluated hundreds of different services and software components. I use that knowledge I’ve accumulated to help others make decisions about their applications. Often, the service I’m recommending is one I use myself. I don’t have any incentive to recommend it other than my belief that it’s the right choice for a client and I want them to be happy.
Developing software alongside consulting also gives me a higher degree of confidence. I know I’m making good recommendations, and I’m making them faster.
When it comes to working quickly, there's nothing faster than using something I've already built. In a couple cases I’ve even been able to license specific parts of the software developed for Tap.
In the end, the most important part of consulting is building trust with the client. My product development work with Tap helps me relate to the problem at hand, and by extension, the client. Being able to cite relevant and recent first-hand experience goes a long way to establishing a common understanding and credibility. In other words, it builds trust.
When I tell a client: here’s what I think you should do, and it’s exactly what I’ve done for Tap – it’s convincing. There is a clear connection between the recommendation and the experience that led to it.
I think there are many ways one could develop experiences to bolster their consulting practice. Building a SaaS is what I happened to stumble into, mostly by accident. While the product, Tap, continues to be useful for my consulting practice and management of the consulting business, I will keep working on it.
If I was starting from scratch today, I probably wouldn't build a SaaS product first. The SaaS market is insane and there is so much annoying work that probably doesn't benefit my consulting. It's hard to say.
But, I think building experimental software is fun! If I didn't think it was fun I would have a hard time sticking to it.