OpenBSD Journal

Commercial Support

Contributed by jose on from the dot-com dept.

bards asks:
"I'm in the middle of setting up a consulting company (just me at this stage) to provide professional installation and support of OpenBSD firewalls, VPNs etc. Its in the early stages and I was wondering if you people were aware of any pitfalls or tips for this line of work. I'm an 18 years of experience IT person (12+ unix) so I'm confident it can be done I just want to know if there are any gotchas. I'm going be targetting SMEs who dont want to fork out tens of thousands of dollars for 'real' firewalls. I'm thinking of standardising on X86 hardware for obvious reasons.

Any help thoughts or comments would be greatly appreciated."

Anyone have any startup stories they want to share?

(Comments are closed)


Comments
  1. By Not Really Anonymous () on

    I would say first and foremost, either use an outside accountant, hire one or make sure you keep a real close eye on your money. Also, make the money work for you by either getting a savings account or an interest checking account. Try GnuCash, it has the ability to do double entry accounting and also has great reporting features.

    Second, join your local chamber of commerce. Normally members of the chamber are small companies who need firewall/vpn solutions, but don't have the money for the more expensive commercial ones. Plus it's a great networking resource. I paid around $250/yr. to join.

    Third, market/sell yourself until there is no tomorrow. If you don't have an existing client base, then you need to build one up quick. I had made the mistake of thinking that I could use the existing client base I had until, I could really market my company. But, the economy didn't hold up to well and neither did my clients.

    I know the tips I gave are not technical, but these are some of the things that could have keep my company open.

  2. By Tom Vu () tvu@enterprise.com on mailto:tvu@enterprise.com

    Anyone can start a company. Do you have clients? Can you sell? Believe it or not the best technology does not always win in the end.

  3. By Steve Case () scase@aol.com on mailto:scase@aol.com

    The bottom line is services. Don't constrain yourself by description to any one platform/solution.

    Also don't forget, the fees for services should be the same no matter what you are deploying or in the end you will regret your income level. The services fees are based on the value of your expertise in the field you are in. Whether you deploy $100k in a pair of Sun boxes with Checkpoint or a pair of PC's with OBSD on them you should be charging the same hourly for your services.

    In the end, the cost of the licensing and hardware is merely incidental to the cost of the services for the architecture/scope/execution/documentation of the total project.

    Between the lines this is 'don't cheapen the market'. If you don't own a home or have a family to feed now, you may someday and will regret doing $500 firewall jobs when you realize you can't eat doing them.

    Comments
    1. By Anonymous Coward () on

      What is the going rate for this type of work he's considering doing? I'm just curious. And in U$ or Canadian funds?

      Comments
      1. By Dom De Vitto () dom@devitto.com on mailto:dom@devitto.com

        Uk rates are 500/day as a "sole" contractor, but if you can hoodwink them into thinking your a bigger (>1 man!) operation, then you can ask for the big boy fees - 1000 to 1500 a day :-)

        *don't*

      2. By Dom De Vitto () dom@devitto.com on mailto:dom@devitto.com

        Uk rates are 500/day as a "sole" contractor, but if you can hoodwink them into thinking your a bigger (>1 man!) operation, then you can ask for the big boy fees - 1000 to 1500 a day :-)

        *don't* think that the big consultancies are "better", My boss recently sat watching an Integralis (biggest security vendor in europe?) consultant read the book in front of him, at around 190/hour :-(
        In the end my boss and another guy worked out the bits that the book missed out (which is why we wanted a "consultant"!!!).

        I did a contract onceto fix a checkpoint firewall, but didn't want to travel so did it all remote and charged 125/hour (weekend rate). 4 hours later the client was nearly crying with happyness - email hadnt worked for over a week, and his job was serously on the line. He wrote a personal letter of thanks to me and my contracting agency!

        The best bit was that for 2 of those hours I was on the train home from London, GSM dialed in, so I got 520+VAT-taxes for 2 hours of lost drinking time on a Friday night :-)

        Good luck!

      3. By Steve Case () scase@aol.com on mailto:scase@aol.com

        It will vary regionally of course, but in the NYC marketplace it's common for $125-$150/hr for a full on deployment. I wouldn't do anything less than $100/hr.

        For anyone that hasn't looked into this carefully another thing to keep in mind is the fact that your tax bracket is 40% in the US once you form a corporation. Add to that that family insurance coverage runs about $1200/month pretty commonly for a decent plan.

        Now consider that you only get paid _while_you_are_billing. Always do your economic projections based on say 8mos of work a year at the _most_. Now, I wouldn't bank on that at all, and that is why I'm still FTE myself ;-).

        8 * 100 = $800 one day
        $800 * .60 = $480 one day after taxes
        $1200 / 20 = $60 per working day for insurance
        ( I think the benefits are a tax break somewhat...not even sure)

        Now you're down to $420/day or $52.50/hr

        It never comes out anywhere near as much as it seems once everyone gets paid. This is leaving out the critical part of having enough time to develop client relationships for the next job. A lot of friends have advised whenever possible leave one day a week to yourself for business development, paying the bills, taxes, etc..

        Comments
        1. By Ted Turner () tturner@aol.com on cnn.com

          FYI, the above post is spot on. Big consulting companies look for 70+% utilization rates ideally = just over 8 months of full work a year. Taxes, insurance and business costs explain the high hourly fees.

        2. By Not Really Anonymous () on

          He doesn't have to go with a corporation at first. He can start off with a LLC, which would give him some form of limited liability with lower taxes.

          Also, I don't think you are required by law to provide insurance unless you have someone working under you. So for example if he has a wife who has insurance at another job, she might be able to place him under the same insurance.

        3. By Brian () on

          Add to that that family insurance coverage runs about $1200/month pretty commonly for a decent plan.


          I pay about 1/4 that for a family of four...but, I also have an $8000 deductible (yes, it's really meant to be insurance against a catastrophe...standard $500/$1000 deductibles are way out of my range), but the routine doctor visits are $30, and the insurance companies strike all kinds of deals with health providers. Check out BCBS for some affordable rates.


          More importantly: Make sure you can qualify for private health insurance! It's nearly impossible to get private health insurance if you have a significant health issue. The younger you are, the easier it will be. Being able to obtain health insurance is probably one of the biggest factors in whether or not to strike out on your own.

  4. By Anonymous Coward () on

    While I congratulate you for wanting to start consulting, I would strongly advise to hold back from doing so, until the economy improves. Unless you employ a genius marketer fulltime, your going to have a very hard time at the moment finding enough clients to pay the bills.

    I don't know when a good time to start is, but I do know that about the most important thing next to client satisfaction is to "feel the market". As to what metrics you use for this, I could'nt say, i've not come ascross a definitive algorithm, not studied economics.

    Make sure you have some savings for emergency's before starting out on this venture too, in case things don't work, and you have to goto a fallback plan.

    Comments
    1. By Dom De Vitto () dom@devitto.com on mailto:dom@devitto.com

      Good advice, again, but I would say that you may be able to work "part time" as a consultant and test the water.

      Dom

    2. By Anonymous Coward () on

      Unless he markets with some slogan: "Affordable security, with no compromises - even in this time of hardship" blahblah.

      Consultants (regardless of industry) are recommended to charge a rate of double what they would hope to make so as to break even (e.g. if you want to make $50,000year - charge $50/hr since you won't be working 100% of the time so $25/hr will leave you closer to $25,000year).

      Now is probably a really really bad time to start consulting though - even folks I know who have been consulting for a long time with a large base of established customers are having a lot of trouble making ends meet. Finding new customers is a no, and keeping old customers interested in more services is quite tough since they're all tightening their belts. I hear of a lot of folks thinking about finding other trades.

      Realistically, there is a deeper bust ahead than what folks have been experiencing so far I'd say. And while initially it will feel like it's just a lashback from the tech .com fuckups - it's going to extend into a lot of other industries (and has already started to).

  5. By Shant () askshant@alloyant.com on mailto:askshant@alloyant.com

    First of all, good luck with your plan.
    Consultancy and security services are a good venture, and believe it or not even in a down economy this business stays afloat. The most important advice I learned by experience is that you must inspire confidence. The main thing all clients want is someone they can trust and outsource all their worries to. Once you make that trustworthy impression - you've got the client for the next 20 years to come. Godspeed!


  6. By David Neal () on

    As others have mentioned, you don't want to limit yourself;
    don't be the cheapest guy and don't dicate
    the technology.

    As a good firewall consultant, of course you are doing your client a favor by suggesting openbsd,
    it is after all an incredibly useful firewall
    tool.

    But it is not the only one... and if you pitch only to price sensitive customers, you'll
    be dumped as soon as that client finds someone
    $5/hr cheaper.

    Instead, show them what value you bring (yes, an overused buzzword, sorry). I.E. Sure you pay
    me $50/$100/$150/hr but here's WHY I'M BETTER THAN EVERYONE ELSE (sorry to shout, hehe).

    Not to brag, but I've been a consultant since 1989 and good contacts and good relationships are more important to getting the job.
    Good technology helps you when it is time to deliver, since if you don't the contacts and
    relationships vanish. lol.

    Check out C. E. Weekly and guru.com for other contracting resources.


  7. By Clay Dowling () clay@lazarusid.com on http://www.lazarusid.com

    When I started out I spent a lot of time mailing out fliers to every local business I could find. What I found was that I could have been using that time much more productively talking with people in the local coffee shop, volunteering at my church, or writing articles for various magazines & online journals.

    My fliers and cold calls never netted me a client. It's people I meet and talk to casually that wind up sending business my way.

    Also, make sure you have the right mindset for running your own business. I found that while I enjoy some parts of it, I don't really have what it takes. I'm now happily working a day job, and taking the occasional client in my free time.

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