Earlier this week, I was speaking with a friend who is in the process of going out on his own as a FileMaker consultant. He wanted to “pick my brain” about what’s involved, get some advice that I have based on my experience, and get answers to some of his questions. And while it feels a little strange to be writing about FileMaker again (especially considering that I no longer “do” FileMaker work myself), I thought I’d share some of our conversation - because I get asked these questions often, by both new and established consultants.
Can you make a living as a FileMaker consultant?
Yes, absolutely! And I’m living proof of that.
When I first went out on my own, I had doubts as to whether FileMaker consulting was a viable business or not. My only goal was to generate enough income to provide for my family. And while I suspected that there was a lot of pent-up demand for FileMaker-related services, I had no idea how large that demand was.
I’m not going to share exact income numbers here, but I will say that in my first year I pulled in a very nice 6-figure income. Within 5 years, I had worked with well over 50 clients, and in my highest grossing year I made just shy of $400k. That’s not a typo, and I’m not sharing that number to impress you. There’s a nasty story behind it that includes working an unhealthy and insane number of hours, crashing hard from the inevitable burnout, and more. Instead, I’m sharing it because I want to impress upon you that you can make a very good living as a FileMaker consultant.
I’m a good FileMaker developer, but I’m not great. Is that okay?
You don’t need to be a great FileMaker developer to make it as a consultant, but the sharper your skills are, the better.
Here’s the deal: You need to know FileMaker very well, and by that I mean as much of the FileMaker platform as possible. But equally important are business, communication, and organizational skills. You might be the best FileMaker developer that the world has ever seen, but if you don’t have a good head for business, the ability to communicate well, and the discipline to organize yourself and your work, then you’ll very likely fail as a consultant. (And I believe that’s as true of FileMaker consulting as any other form of consulting.)
Do I need to be certified?
This is a question that I used to ask the FileMaker developers that I interviewed on the FileMaker Addict blog, and their answers were mixed. Some felt very strongly about getting certified, while others didn’t see it as being necessary.
I believe that certification is important, and here’s why. First, it shows both existing and potential clients that you are serious about what you do and that you “know your stuff.” That’s always helpful, as it helps you sell yourself and your skills.
But another benefit of certification - and one that I didn’t expect - is that in the process of preparing for the certification exam, you will likely discover gaps in your FileMaker knowledge and techniques that you aren’t familiar with. Preparing for certification exposes you to all aspects of the platform - not just development, but to FileMaker Server, integration, security, and more.
To summarize, I think that process of getting certified makes you a better, more well-rounded developer. And that never hurts.
Should I join the FBA (FileMaker Business Alliance)?
Yes, and I say that for a few reasons. First, it’s a good, steady source of leads. I landed a few really good clients who found me through my FBA listing on the FileMaker site. Second, it’s yet another way to show existing and potential clients that you’re serious about your business. (Think of it as instant credibility.) And finally, there are some other benefits of the program (such as early access to new releases, special FBA events, product discounts, etc) that you will likely find helpful.
Keep this in mind: While the FBA is a potentially good source of leads, it should never be your only source of leads. In order to get a steady stream of prospects, you’re going to need to market yourself in other ways.
What are the more lucrative FileMaker opportunities?
I’ve been saying this for years, and I still think it’s true: The best opportunities are in integration. That includes integrating FileMaker with the Web, with other databases (MySQL, SQL Server, etc), with APIs, and so on. In all of my years as a FileMaker consultant, it was the projects that involved some sort of integration that really brought in the “big money.” They also happened to be some of the most enjoyable projects that I worked on.
So my advice is to experiment and learn. Start by working with the FileMaker API for PHP and see what it is capable of. Then try integrating FileMaker with APIs. There are a lot of great resources available online that make all of this easier than ever.
The conversation that I had earlier this week was quite long. We discussed a number of topics - from positioning, to pricing, and more. I’ll try to write about those at some point in the future. In the meantime, if you have a question that you think I can answer, feel free to ask it below.