So you want to be a software test consultant?

Today, I’ m handing out some pointers that may or may not help you on your path to becoming a software test consultant. Some of these I’ve gained through bitter experience, others are more hindsight on things I ought to have done.

So, without  further ado, here are my tips.

1) Dreams are not goals

Its easy to have a dream about setting up a test consultancy, and actually, it’s really easy to setup a company, print some business cards and your dream is realised!  But unless you have short and long term goals, your business won’t go far. I set quarterly and yearly goals for myself and my business.

2) What does success mean to you?


I think this is essential to understand. What is driving you to run your own business? Money, freedom of choice in your work, flexibility? Knowing what will make you happy when you achieve your goals and dreams is essential to having a successful business. For me, my initial goal was to work for myself and not have to answer to anyone! It has changed over the years to include flexibility to spend time with my younger children. At times, this has meant my business has not been highly profitable, but it has always been successful.

3) Know your market and your products.

Who are you targeting your testing at? Any particular sector? Any particular size of company?  Ask yourself what products/packages would they be interested in? Ask your market what products/services they would be interested in? All this ought to be in your business plan. In my view a business plan is the equivalent of your testing strategy and approach, and its a very personal document. It helps you through knowing your market and your products, your rates etc.

4) How much should I charge?

There is no easy answer to this, which is why spending hours googling websites like mine is not going to help you. The general advise is that you should charge enough to cover your expenses and how much you need to live on. So, if you estimate on working 40 weeks of the year, and you need a salary of $100,000 yr to live on, you have company expenses of $20,000 /yr  then you will need an hourly rate of $75.  This may not be the final rate you charge, but you know its your minimum rate. That’s helpful to know if a client is trying to offer a lower rate.

I went for a tender recently and lost out. I asked why and they mentioned that my rate was to high. I was dissapointed naturally, but I knew that I had offered the right rate for me and I would not have lowered my rate just to get this piece of work, the risks were too high.

There’s a whole other heap of things that contribute to your daily rate, such as knowing who your market is, and what they will take. Bear in mind rates are very fluid, and in times like recessions they often move down very quickly.

Personally, I think you just have to go out there and try out a few numbers with potential clients. You will soon learn what’s acceptable and what’s not.  So, get off your butt, find a customer and charge a rate. If you don’t get the work, ask them why? Was the rate too high?

No-one said this was going to be easy!

5) Marketing Yourself

I have to mention something about marketing etc, because a) its so important, and b) it can be very time consuming. What are the best methods to promote yourself? Like any good tester, I’m going to say it depends!  There many ways to promote yourself on-line and off-line. I have gotten work from both online and through knowing people. Each country differs in what works best. For example, in Australia, a lot of my work came through the internet, so having a good online presence was essential. In Ireland though, it’s more who you know and going out and meeting people is more important.

Be very careful how much time your spending on the internet twittering, blogging etc, your time may be better spent meeting people or speaking to people on the phone. This is a big trap and one I constantly fall into!

Writing articles and speaking at presentations are other ways of promoting yourself and its a good way to start seeing yourself as a provider and not a consumer.

6) The baby years.

Realise that though you may plan to work 40 hours a week, you may end up working less than that, especially in the first couple of years. So what do you do?  Either you need a little nest egg which you can rely on for two years, or else you are going to have to supplement your business through short term contract work.

In fact, I think its a good way to transition from permanent to running your own business as it helps you learn about other consultancy type skills such as understanding the tax system, raising invoices, working by the hour, dealing with clients and learning market rates. These are all skills which you may not have come across in your permanent role and will be helpful in running your own business. At the same time, you are still assured of an income.

7) Always be on the look out for new clients.

This is a real challenge when it comes to working for yourself and I think is one of the biggest challenges to running your own business. Marketing and selling your work to new clients is essential if you want to keep the work coming in and takes an enormous amount of effort. But how do you fit this in when working for a client five days a week?

I don’t have any easy answers to this and I still struggle with balancing my sales activities with my paid work. Paid work has to come first, potentially leaving only evenings and weekends for marketing and sales type activities.

If you value you family life, you can try working 4 day weeks and leaving one day (or 1/2 day)  for admin activities.

Another idea I had, but I haven’t tried is to outsource your marketing and sales to another freelancer. I don’t know if this approach works, but sometimes I’ve been sorely tempted to try something like this out!

8 Use your network.

Everyone knows that in order to find clients you have to network. I remember being a bit overwhelmed at the thought of having to find this ‘network’ of people to source work from. How in the hell to I meet these ‘people’ who had work?

I realised after a while, that I didn’t have to look anywhere as I already had a network! My network was my family, friends and people I had worked previously for. So, when I started looking for work, I turned to these people first.  Let them know you have started working for yourself and could they pass the word that you are available? It doesn’t matter if they are non IT people, you just never know where your next piece of work is going to come from. Also, ask them if they know of someone who may be able to help or give advice? (People love giving advice!). The key is to start talking to people you know, and people who your network knows.

A great place to start is with companies you’ve worked with. These people know you, and what you can do. You also have the advantage of knowing their systems etc. Don’t be afraid to go back and ask for any work they may have. If you can make it part time even better as that way you can focus on building your business. One of my first jobs came this way.

9) Work smart

I will let you in on a little secret. I have a business mentor. I suggest you go out and find one yourself. A mentor is an excellent way of guiding you through some of the pitfalls in starting up your own business and can help you with the all important and essential business plan.  I got my business mentor through an enterprise network, look around your local area and see if there is something equivalent.

Footnote. I am not offering any business mentoring, so please don’t ask.

and finally

10) Its your path.

It’s good to get advice and ask for help. However, no-one is going to give you a template or process for success. You are going to have to make it up as it goes along. That’s half the fun of running a business. I liken it to raising kids. It doesn’t matter how many self help books you read on how to raise your children, in the end, they are only guidelines. You are the one who is going to make to decision on what to do. Are you prepared for that?  If you want it all mapped out for you, stick to your permanent job.

That’s about it!

I’ve listed some related articles I’ve written on the topic below:

Presentation: It includes some stats on where I get work etc

Article I wrote for the STC On being a successful consultant

I could go on, but I think I’ve addressed the main points. If you have any more questions on this  topic, feel free to ask in the comments below. If you think you’d be interested in this topic  at a conference let me know that too!

Please don’t post asking for work, that you will have to find on your own!

Good luck on your venture.

It’s time to grow up and ditch the security blanket

One of the hardest parts of working as a software tester is keeping on top of new technologies, techniques in testing and development and software testing tools.  I can sometimes feel quite intimidated at the amount of information that I need to absorb in order to keep on top of the game.

Gavin Davies writes about this feeling of intimidation in his post Software Development: Doing It Scared and how we naturally are tempted to retreat to a place of safety. As he points out though, it doesn’t get the job done.

He gives some tips on overcoming these feelings, I pass them on to you here:

1)      Cut it down to size.

If you have a task that’s overwhelming, cut it down to smaller manageable tasks. I like to set these tasks to dates as it helps keep me focused.

2)      Get Help.

There are lots of places where you can go and ask for help online (my personal favourite is the softwaretestingclub).  Try and keep your questions specific and put some context in the question to help those answering it.
One word of caution though, whilst there is no such thing as a dumb question, your question may have been already asked. Do everyone a favour and search first to see if your question has already been adequately answered.
Also, ask your colleagues and team members for help.

3)      Remember your existing skills.

Remind yourself that you are already skilled in some aspects of testing. Once you have learned your new technology/skill, you will be able to quickly ramp up and apply the new skill to what you already know.  It will get easier!

There’s a bit more on what not to do in the post, which is good reading. Gavin ends with this worthwhile point:

“Software can seem overwhelming. The more we learn, the more we realise how much there is to learn – more than one person can possibly know. As software developers, we will always face fresh challenges. Nevertheless, a life worth living will take you out of your comfort zone time and time again and positive thinking, teamwork, good practise and organisation can help tackle daunting tasks.”

Happy learning!