This blog post explains IT Infrastructure Freelancing which can be a lucrative career option for the technically inclined. This freelancing category is most suitable for electronic, telecom, IT engineers and technicians.
When I started my IT journey more than 25 years ago, our office had IBM PC ATs with MS-DOS and just 2 or 3 other software applications including the programming language BASIC. The only other peripheral that was common was the dot matrix printer. These PCs were kept in air-conditioned sections of the office where even footwear was not allowed! Those days IT infrastructure was handled by the programmers who used it. No one had separate IT infrastructure management team/s as there are now.
For a few years now, IT infrastructure became a separate vertical in an organization’s technology domain and includes IT hardware, software and facilities. To manage them there are teams with different specialization like server administrators, network specialists, HVAC engineers and so on.
Effect of Tech Advancement on IT Infrastructure Specialist Career
Recent advancements like cloud computing, containers etc have made IT infrastructure management even easier. Furthermore, use of automation tools have reduced mundane administration tasks leading to smaller teams of specialists. DataCenterKnowledge.com has blog posts suggesting that each Google and Facebook admin manages anywhere between 130 and 220 servers! This implies that they have deployed top-of-the-line of automation technology to reduce expensive skilled manpower.
We know of other benefits of tech advancements – lower expenses, higher productivity and so on. But what does it mean for the career of IT Infrastructure engineers and technicians? Rapid strides in infrastructure technology means that today it is easier to manage IT infrastructure given the right tools in the hands of skilled people. So much so, that a skilled person can deploy, configure and manage large IT setups single-handedly as seen in the previous paragraph.
This has given rise to IT infrastructure freelancing – a one man technical army if you please. So if you have the skills in IT infrastructure and are unemployed or need a career change, freelancing is an excellent option for you. It can be a step towards that start-up that you dreamt of having or perhaps a better position and role at your dream company.
Let us explore what IT infrastructure services you can provide as a freelancer.
IT Infrastructure Freelancing Service Offerings
Desktops and Laptops Support
This includes all kinds of desktop computers, laptops, thin clients, zero clients etc. Some organizations can also include mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets in this category. These computing devices are the bare minimum required for any digitization in an organization. Large businesses and conglomerates have their IT infrastructure teams to manage this entire range of hardware. Some of them outsource it to third party vendors thus cutting the number of employees. But, small and medium businesses (SMB) and non-profit organizations may not have the luxury of maintaining such staff on their payroll. This is where as a freelancer you step in and can offer your services. You can provide services like installation, configuration and maintenance including repair or upgrading of components. Start by contacting local schools, clinics, SMBs and offer them these services.
Commonly asked for services are:
- Setup of new computers. This will include installation and configuration of OS (Operating System), other software applications and utilities like anti-virus etc. Many organizations have UAT (User Acceptance Testing) for IT hardware also (besides software applications). Freelancers can help them in testing against the given benchmarks.
- Maintenance service. Maintenance includes repair of components like hard disk (HDD), RAM etc or even upgrading / replacing them. It will also include resolving issues like slow performance of computers, software problems, malware infection etc.
- AMC (Annual Maintenance Service). An extension of the last point and an excellent source of additional revenue is AMC. Persuade clients to hire you for AMC wherein you visit their location periodically, say every quarter (3 months) and check their systems. Use this opportunity to get new contracts and also up-sell or cross-sell other IT products and services.
IT Peripherals Support
This category includes printers, scanners, projectors, UPS, keyboards, mice, speakers etc. Most organizations will require them and need their installation and maintenance. You can reach out to them directly or through other marketing methods (given below) and offer your services.
Servers can be as simple as a tower server in a school or clustered blade servers in a major university. The services for servers are also same viz installation, configuration and maintenance.
But, the difference with desktop / laptop computers is that server management requires a much advanced skill set. Which implies a steeper learning curve, but also higher pay for your services. Let me explain this further – let us say a school awards you a contract for provision of an e-Learning solution at a low cost. You setup a LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) server, then install an open source LMS (Learning Management System) called Moodle and other related applications. Your low cost solution is then accessible by teachers and students on the school’s private network.
This requires knowledge of not only the OS (Linux) administration but also the LAMP stack’s other components. This does not mean that IT infrastructure freelancing requires you to be an expert in various programming languages. You need to know the basics at least so that setting up and configuration can be done.
One recommended start-point for getting such jobs is the leading micro-jobs marketplace fiverr.com. Here most of the jobs are posted by remote clients and don’t require face to face interaction. This is an excellent way to expand your skillset and build your business.
Further Reading: For a more detailed insight into freelancing for server administration services or support.
Network Engineering Support
Network tech support involves setting up, configuring and maintaining of routers, switches, access points etc. Here the only issue is that practice will require you to attend labs at local training centers your town or city. Since you will attend courses at a training center, my recommendation is that you should get related certifications too like CCNA.
Cabling & Facilities Support
Cabling includes OFC (Optical Fiber Cable), copper (UTP / STP) cable and even electrical cabling. You can learn and practice copper and electrical cabling at home. But OFC requires expensive joining and diagnostic devices and tools. This training will be able at a local institute in a major city. Freelancers can begin offering cabling services to network support vendors. You can also partner with system integrators and network device vendors.
Coming to IT Facilities Management – it’s objective is to manage the physical environment where the IT infrastructure is deployed. This includes electrical power, HVAC (heat, ventilation and cooling), fire protection, lightning protection etc. As a freelancer you can provide electrical earthing solutions, electrical solutions, fire retardants and device racks and railings.
Value Addition is a Win-Win
What separates you from other freelancers / vendors who offer matching services at similar pricing and quality? Go the extra mile for your clients and they will be loyal to you. Some of these value additions can be pro-bono (free / no cost). For example, help clients identify the best technical device that meets their requirement and is also within their budget.
What can you gain out of this? Firstly, you will remain their most valuable resource and the go-to guy. Which means you will be first in the reckoning to get more projects. Secondly, the client will refer you to others – an excellent means of marketing. Lastly, you can still get paid (in some instances) if you have partnered with suppliers and vendors. That is, once you help the client identify the product/s, then refer them to the vendor who will gladly pay you for the sales lead. See the next section on partnership.
Tie-ups / Partnerships
You can partner with local hardware and software distributors or vendors. With increasing competition from online marketplaces, they will be only too happy if you give them “sales leads” from your clients. That is, you are acting like a salesperson for these distributors and vendors who will compensate you for every sale facilitated by you.
Also consider tie-ups with other freelancers who offer complementing services. For example, if you are into server support freelancing, then partner with web developers or web design studios.
How to Start IT Infrastructure Freelancing?
Step 1 – Identify your Specialty / Niche
By now, you should have an idea as to what you are good at or what you can accomplish. Research more about potential freelance opportunities by going to online freelance marketplaces like freelancer.com and fiverr.com. Look for the in-demand skills, most common requirements, their payouts, the competition. Write down your observations and compare. This should enable you to decide which niche you want to start with. Note that I wrote “start with”. You can always add / switch to other niches once you get a client base and achieve your target of positive ratings and reviews.
Step 2- Gap analysis
Check for gaps in the level of service you want to provide and capabilities you have. If you fall short of skills or practice, go to portals like Udemy.com, learn and practice.
Step 3 – Register
You should register on online freelance marketplaces like freelancer.com and fiverr.com. Also, depending on local regulations, register your business with the governing authorities. In India, it is advisable to begin as a Proprietorship with GST registration. Consider registering for a PayPal account (for receiving international payments) and other payment gateways in your country.
Step 4 – Marketing
Your marketing campaign should be offline and online. And, it should never stop. Leverage offline media like newspaper ads, Yellow Pages, poster etc. Consider other direct marketing channels like cold-calling potential clients, visiting their offices and emailing them. Online marketing requires some work too. Use online classifieds like JustDial, OLX, Craigslist etc. Look into setting up an account on ‘Google My Business’, Facebook Pages and even a LinkedIn page.
Why not appear to be a professional setup by creating your website at a cost less than that of a burger??!!
Step 5 – Clinch the Deal
Marketing is just the start of your communication with potential customers. To convert it into a sale, show them what value your services bring to them. Is your service economical than others? Or more reliable (so no recurring costs to them)? Do you offer value addition that others don’t? Make it about the client delight and you will see they will keep coming to you.
I hope you have learnt how to leverage your skills for IT infrastructure freelancing and achieve your life goals. Let this be a step towards a bigger venture. Or if you want a corporate career, build an awesome CV / resume by adding on more skills and experience as you freelance. Most recruiters will take a positive note of your entrepreneurial spirit and the growth mindset. Go forth and conquer!