22 jstark

Jonathan Stark Mobile Consultant

Jonathan ditched hourly billing in favor of mobile consulting for credit unions. He now wants to rid the earth of hourly billing.

What’s your background and what type of services do you offer to clients?

I help credit unions increase member (i.e., customer) engagement. My specialty is mobile, so I do this with a range of mobile-related advisory services like:

  • Mobile Redesign Coaching
  • Mobile Strategy Workshop
  • Mobile Advisory Retainer

What led you to choosing credit unions as your niche?

I just picked them out of a hat. I had a couple of recent clients in the credit union space so I had a little experience and a few contacts. I could have just as easily picked mainstream media brands, the photography businesses, or the travel industry. I have a fair amount of experience in those as well.

Credit unions have a unique combination of attributes that swung me in their direction:

  • I like the type of employees that credit unions tend to attract
  • I have a strong interest in the intersection of money and technology
  • They know that they are on the cusp being disrupted, like newspapers and taxis
  • The regulatory environment offers some interesting constraints
  • Their numbers are public

What motivated you to start your freelance career?

I was the VP of a boutique software development firm in the early 2000’s. One day I had an epiphany. I realized in a flash that billing by the hour for our development services was causing big problems for us and our clients. I went solo to escape from the hourly trap.

Hourly billing is like a cancer on professional services. It’s bad for you and it’s bad for your clients. I consider it my mission in life to rid the earth of hourly billing.

How do you find and attract clients?

Speaking at industry conferences and writing books have been the two best sources of high quality clients.

How has your business changed from when you first started to now?

When I first started, I offered almost exclusively dev services. Over time, I transitioned to pure consulting work. A couple years ago I stopped coding for money completely and my profits have never been higher.

I imagine that there are a lot of freelance developers that would like to stop coding for money. How did you make that transition from coding to consulting?

It takes time but if folks want to transition away from coding, here’s my advice:

Keep track of the non-coding activities that clients ask you for during the course of a normal coding project. Stuff like:

  • “Hey we’re thinking of hiring a new lead dev. Would you mind taking a look at his resume? I trust your opinion on this sort of thing.”
  • “Would you mind sitting in on a meeting with the CEO? We have a new project in the works and would like to get your take on the security aspects.”
  • “After the site is up, can we talk about putting together a disaster recovery plan?”

Really, anything that qualifies a “picking your brain”. These are the kinds of things freelancers usually do for free in hopes of getting more coding work. But you can create discrete services out of any of them, or bundle them together into an advisory retainer.

What was the biggest challenge you’ve faced while growing your business?

Learning how to attract bigger and better clients. My marketing skills were pretty rough at the outset.

What advice would you offer other freelancers that are just starting out? Any online resources/services/apps/tools, books, or courses you would recommend?

General advice:

  • Stop trading time for money. Get away from hourly billing as fast as you possibly can.
  • Focus your marketing materials on a specific target market. It’s counterintuitive but I promise you that you’ll attract more clients but narrowing your focus.
  • Methodically build your reputation as the “go to” guy or gal in a particular area of expertise. This will differentiate you from your competitors, which allows you to stop competing on price.

Recommended podcasts:

More resources for freelancers:

jonathan stark expensive problem book

Where can we go to find out more about you and your business?

My mobile consulting business is at jonathanstark.com. I also have a site devoted to helping people ditch hourly billing at expensiveproblem.com.