LDC: By the way, where were you born and how do you like living in the tech hub of San Francisco now?
AR: I love San Francisco because of the sheer positive “can do” attitude of the people. Here you get the vibe that people are interested in trying new things. They’re also very collaborative and helpful. The food, the culture, the weather, the events and of course the technology! What isn’t there to like? Oh yes, the cost of living! It’s much higher than most cities in the US and is akin to living in New York City.
LDC: So when did you start your consulting firm in SF and what challenges do you have in getting your clients?
AR: I started consulting in 2006. I had been working at an ISP and after many failed attempts to initiate change with a focus on customer satisfaction, I decided I could do a better job on my own and left. I didn’t have many clients when I got started and that was scary. Not having a steady paycheck can freak out a lot of people. I’ve only been unemployed once and that was for less than two months in 2002.
I realized I needed to do two things to get clients: network with other people and have an online presence. I reached out to a lot of local consulting firms to see if I could help supplement their larger clients and provide cover during the holidays. I worked to understand what it took to brand myself and make clear my service offerings. I looked for opportunities to partner with companies that provided complimentary services, such as a database administrator who didn’t do SEO but had clients that needed that as a service.
The next challenging part was bookkeeping, mileage and receipts, finding the right solutions to add to my toolkit and of course, finding clients! Over time, I found some great resources for attracting and selecting clients including CJ Hayden’s book, “Get Clients Now” and Michael Port’s “Book Yourself Solid”. These books talked about strategies to raise awareness about your service offerings as well as how to identify and seek clients that I enjoyed working with. Most of my business today is word of mouth and via my website. Potential clients read my blog posts, watch my videos or see me speak at a conference and feel I understand their business problems. Which I do! It’s been a blessing to be able to work with amazing companies and make a difference in their business productivity throughout the years.
LDC: Please describe a typical day, if such a thing exists?
AR: A typical day for me as a business technology consultant starts with a solid, high protein breakfast that usually involves bacon, yoga, a review of my yearly goals and then a review and prioritization of my tasks for the day. Mondays are when I focus on strategy for my business and look for opportunities. I followup with leads and proposals. Tuesday through Thursday are usually work days where I move from project to project, completing a task and then updating the client with the next step. Towards the end of the week, I focus on networking with people either over coffee, at an event or catching up on the phone. It’s really important for me that I have a work / life balance but some weeks sneak away with my time and like many consultants and freelancers, I catch myself working past 6pm or on weekends. My goal is not to make it a habit. One way I do this is to not communicate with clients in the evenings or the weekends. This sets boundaries and expectations. Of course I love the freedom of my schedule but sometimes there are those weeks where I’m grinding away on several projects. San Francisco is a great place to live because I can step away from my desk and find a variety of interesting events to attend and relax with friends!
LDC: What suggestions do you have for women thinking about taking the plunge and working for themselves as consultants?
AR: Before you get started, do your research. Conduct informational interviews with companies who would be interested in your services. Find out as much as you can about how they currently work, what organizational issues they face and how they’re currently addressing them. This will give you great insight into the market. Also make sure to do these sort of interviews with your peers. I reached out to people who were not in my geographic location to ask them about their consulting services; one fellow in Australia was very helpful and provided me feedback on my website and we’re still friends to this day!
LDC: What’s a consistent challenge you have to overcome as a Black woman in technology?
AR: Stereotypes. There are actually two sides of the coin here. Technology is rapidly evolving and people are in need of solutions so my experience has been they are willing to look past their stereotypes because they just need the job done. This has been a boon for me because everything for the company is new and they just don’t have time to judge people based on their race and gender. On the other hand, when it comes to joining up to established organizations or projects, people lean towards what they know and this means asking friends, coworkers and peers for recommendations; and this is why networking is so important – If you’re not out there connecting with people, you won’t be in their mind. So it’s not so much of there being blatant racism but rather if you’re not at the holiday party or out on the golf course (or in the case of the Bay area, on the ski and snowboard slopes) you’ll be left out of decision based discussions and opportunities. I still encounter people who don’t believe I am a competent, experienced technology professional. Also with the growing popularity of social media, I find more and more women are being relegated to “social media experts” when they are actually experienced programmers, engineers or consultants like myself.
LDC: Speaking of all this, w hat did you think of the whole Arrington/Black in America back-and-forth regarding the recent CNN docu on Blacks in tech?
AR: It was not a surprise that CNN took advantage of the situation and portrayed the footage they collected in such a way as to make the NewMe Accelerator look like a reality show. It was not a surprise that Michael Arrington made an outrageous comment. What was amazing is that due to the documentary, thousands of Black people across America became aware of the great Black technology migration going on in Silicon Valley. I personally knew many of the people participating in the NewMe program as well as the founders. I’m excited to see for 2012 that Google will be sponsoring and hosting the program! I wrote a blog post outlining my thoughts.
LDC: What’s your biggest hope for the future of your position in the industry?
AR: One of the challenges with being a consultant is that you wear many hats. This can make it hard for people to understand what you do. While that may sound discouraging, I am excited everyday by the amazing opportunities I have to work with companies of all sizes. I touch all verticals from service based professionals including accountants and auto repair shops to construction, technology startups, educational organizations, marketing and PR firms, health and holistic medicine, vacation and travel, consumer electronics, print media, nonprofits and faith based organizations. All companies have a business lifecycle with their customers that looks like this: awareness, lead generation, acquisition, sale, support, onboarding, training, support, customer maintenance, feedback, referrals and then the process repeats itself. All of these companies need help solving business problems with technology solutions. It can mean migrating them to Google Apps for hosted email and shared calendars, introducing them to a customer relationship management (CRM) solution like 37Signals Highrise or training them how to use Techsmith’s Camtasia Studio to make videos that engage and educate their customers.
As technology in the workplace merges with the cloud, the value of knowledge workers who understand the world of technology instead of a small slice will increase.
So there you have it! Adria Richards, inspiring and lighting the way for others. To stay up on tech developments and more, follow me on Twitter @mediaempress. And don’t forget to watch for the next hot profile!
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