Last time, I’ve contemplated upon the various aspects of being an Asterisk consultant, mainly judging these from the Asterisk/Open Source point-of-view. Today, I’d like to contemplate upon a different approach of being a consultant, mainly, the various aspects that are usually not associated with Asterisk consultancy, however, can increase your overall perception by your prospective customer.

Be Targeted, Don’t be Limited

Most Asterisk consultant tend to restrict themselves to the Asterisk arena, at best, they will expand their knowledge into the realms of SIP and networks – but never beyond that point. It is true that telephony makes for over 80% of the Asterisk consultancy world, however, Asterisk isn’t limited to telephony only. More than 40% of the people using Asterisk are utilizing it for something completely different. Ranging from simple IVR to complex Micro Payment systems, Asterisk is there. Surely you can consult about Asterisk, but imagine the benefit your customer will gain if you are able to advise about other issues as well?

You are most probably saying: “I’m an Asterisk expert, I can’t be a **** expert as well!’ – you’re not being asked be one. You are being asked to expand your horizons beyond the Asterisk realm, being asked to be able to answer preliminary questions about various subjects. Over the course of my work I’ve been asked about subjects as: Google Adwords, Business Models, possible business partners, applicability of solutions and many more. Surely, there are people more qualified than myself to answer each of these, however, being able to answer my customer in a short time yielded something interesting, my customer became more at ease consulting with me about other matters as well – sometimes surpassing the realms of VoIP and Networking. When I was unable to answer I always replied with: “I’m not an expert about this, but I can check it out”. If I had an answer I would reply: “Per the information that I have, the answer is ………., however, I do suggest talking to someone more skillful than I on these matters”. This approach yielded an interesting response from my customers, mainly, their appreciation at me being able to supply a form of preliminary answer for a question – while on the other hand admitting at the same time that I’m not the best at this field.

Subjects that are fairly close to Asterisk include: GPL compliance, programmatic approach, platform design, billing considerations, scalability and redundancy and more. Again, always target your knowledge to Asterisk and VoIP, but don’t be limited to these.

Advocate for GPL compliance

As a consultant, you’ll be asked to perform various projects – some of these will most probably clash with the GPL spirit. If you encounter such a request, turn down this project immediately. There is no use or advancement by doing a project that violates the GPL code of conduct. No matter if you’re violating GPL v1, v2, v3 or any other of the Open Source license variants, at the end of the day, it will creep up behind you and bite you in the behind.

An Asterisk consultant who doesn’t advocate for GPL compliance is an outbound liar and a con-man. Consulting for the Asterisk market is prmoting the usage of GPL and Open Source software. Performing projects that violate both put you into the position of being perceived as a consultant without any code of conduct and no personal believes. You will be perceived as only being interested in money, thus, you will attract the type of customers you don’t want to attract.

Business Partners

The business partners you choose tell much about yourself. Sometimes, the big partners, which you really want to put their logo on your website as a partner is the wrong partner for you. Since the Q4 2008, my company had been approach by multiple companies wishing to become partners with my company – many have been declined. They were declined due to a simple reason – they were the wrong partners, even if they were companies generating over 25M$ of income per year. Does it make me sound stuck up and elitist, maybe, but there is no use partnering with a company that may clash with your own business model. Just like customers, partners tend to attract one another. Team up with the wrong partners, you’ll start attracting the wrong partners all over.

A while back, John Todd from Digium, had posted an entry on the Digium blog web site, regarding how to be a successfull Asterisk consultant. While I completely agree with John’s views on the matter, from obtaining a dCAP certificate to the involvement with the community – there are a few points missing from that post, at least in my view. I will try to add some additional information here, in the hopes that it may help you build your business.

Point 1 – Stay Focused

Most of us Asterisk consultants come from diversified areas of expertise. Most of us are plain old IP sysadmins or network managers who got thrown into the Asterisk world due to a requirement – got hooked on it and simply continued onwards. Some of us are developers, some web oriented, some core oriented, but developers yet. The diversity of most Asterisk consultants skill set can easily side track them.

When I say side track, I don’t meant that they don’t know what they are doing, I mean – it’s easy to try and swallow more than they can chew at one time. For example, example a sysadmin turning into an Asterisk consultant, after installing over 200 Asterisk systems. Now, a customer comes to him and says: “Well, I’m gonna give you the work, but I want you to also take over the various IT management aspects of the system.” – If at this point you will say: “YES” you are more of less dooming your business. You are an Asterisk consultant, no matter how a talented IT sysadmin you are, going about and taking both roles on your self would render you in a situation where you, at some point, will be in a situation where you are handling an extreme IT condition at that customer, rendering completely incapable of rendering services to your other customers. Remember, stay focused on what you do, you won’t run into a situation where you will be forced to hurt a customer.

Point 2 – Earning more is sometimes loosing money

This point relates directly to the previous one. Let us imagine that I’m an Asterisk developer with a background of Web development. When confronted with a project that may include both Asterisk and Web Development – the most logical answer would be “YES” – however, web developers tend to forget that they are working autonomously. Most web developers are backed up by teams of graphic artists, database developers, database managers and IT managers. Thus, a web application is much more than the web logic involved with it. Are you an all encompassing developer, capable of cater to all aspects of a web development project and an Asterisk project? if you have your own in house DBA and other resources, you should be fine, however, if you don’t – at some point in the project – you will be forced to outsource the work to a 3rd party – thus, lowering your net income on the project. So, by taking such a project you believe you will be earning more money, while in fact, at the end of the project you may end up in debt to 3rd party sub-contractors you hired.

Point 3 – Be true with yourself

Always be true and honest with yourself and always ask yourself: “is this really a deal that will advance me? or may it actually set me back?” – failing to answer these two questions for every project you are about to take on will end up with some disappointment. Remember, you can fool all people some of the time, you can fool a few people all the time – can you can’t fool yourself! You are your own worse judge, jury and executioner. If you end up doing a project that doesn’t feel right for you, or something with the various aspects of the project troubles your no a moral ground, at some point in time, it will creep up on you and bite you back in the ass.

Point 4 – Use it, don’t abuse it

We all deal with various aspects of the Asterisk project, an Open Source project at its core. It’s very easy to become side tracked by large sums of money, in order to either violate a GPL code or doing something which is completely negated to the Open Source spirit or the Asterisk community. Sure, you will abuse Asterisk and/or other Open Source Asterisk related projects, however, at some point, it will be discovered and your name will be smudged. For example, if you integrate ViciDial to a customer, tell them it’s ViciDial and don’t change its logo to something else. Same applies to FreePBX, A2Billing or other Asterisk related packages – at some point your customer will find out you integrated Open Source – and you will be branded a cheat.

For example, 2 weeks ago I was at a call center, where one of Israel’s leading Asterisk integrator had built a dialer platform for the call center. The call center manager told me that they paid a sum of about 120,000 Israeli Shekels (approx 30,000$) for that dialer. I was really interested to see the product, while the only thing I saw was a “logo” modified “ViciDial” with a couple of hooks into FreePBX (that also had its logo changed to the company logo). The customer was sure he was getting a personalised job, while actually, the entire amount of work done can be amounted to about 12-16 hours of work. Ok, so the hardware costs about 8000USD – still, 22,000$ for installing and modifying two pages on ViciDial – you can’t say that is right – is it?


Always be true to yourself, to your customers and to the community – you’ll never loose.