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SO Careers is a great way to turn your reputation as a contributer into job prospects. But what if you're not looking for a job, you're just looking for customers?

Many people come to SO and SF looking or assistance with specific problems. They post questions and get answers, but often even a perfect answer doesn't help them. They want their problem to be solved, and they don't have the skills to solve it.

Many of us make our living offering this type of help to others. Maybe its our day job, maybe we do it after hours to pay for a new computer. We clean off viruses, configure webservers, set up Beowulf clusters, etc., on-demand for people who don't know how to do it themselves.

And many times that kind of assistance is exactly what people are looking for.

Still, it wouldn't be appropriate to include a shameless self-promotion to your answers, or say something like "What you're trying to do is really hard, give me a call and I'll help you." This is a place for answers, not plugs.

It would be nice if there were some unintrusive but visible way to indicate that you are willing to offer personal assistance in solving specific problems. I already include some basic contact info in my about me section, but most people won't know to look there.

I'm not sure the best way to make this work, but I would suggest something in the user's badge that indicates something like "willing to help", or "direct assistance available", or something like that. Perhaps it could be tied to a for-pay SO referral program. I know I would certainly be willing to pay SO a referral fee for people who find me because of my answers.

EDIT
Perhaps to limit the potential for abuse, I'd recommend putting in a minimum reputation score in the several thousand range before you can apply for the "Consultant" badge annotation. If you're not good at helping people, it would be difficult to rack up a significant reputation score.

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I think you just need to change your gravatar image to your company logo. :-) People will click it if they interest it. –  YOU Apr 26 '11 at 3:56
    
@YOU: To a certain degree, yes. But that's a bit hackish and not necessarily obvious. I think some officially sanctioned mechanism would get better results for everyone. –  tylerl Apr 26 '11 at 7:09
    
You might want to check Mike on Wordpress Answers to see how he does it. –  phwd Apr 26 '11 at 7:12
    
Related: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/86915 –  Pëkka Apr 26 '11 at 7:35
    
Also, note that it's trivially easy for users to get someone else's attention: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/53406/… so there's really no pressing need for a formalized way to do this. –  Adam Davis Apr 26 '11 at 11:48

2 Answers 2

This is a tough one. On one hand, I'd love to be able to have a tiny "consultant" badge next to my name and avatar. On the same hand, though, I can do so right now merely by editing my gravatar or changing my username slightly. When someone clicks on my name, they go to my profile where they can find my contact information.

On the other hand, if we make this an intended feature of the site, we may end up becoming a magnet for consulting companies, or worse - bad consulting companies - who provide just-good-enough answers so that their services are advertised with the little consulting badge/icon/artwork.

Further, adding a distinct profit-motive to the answers will change the dynamic of the website in many ways, most of which are incompatible with the primary function and design of the site and format.

Further, it would encourage consultants to give half answers - enough that experts would understand and agree, but not enough for beginners to implement, thus encouraging them to employ the consultant. I think it would actually drag the quality of Stack Overflow down.

I really don't think there's a way to add this feature without hurting Stack Overflow.

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I agree that this would need to be done cautiously. But whats nice is that the "bad consulting company" thing is largely self-limiting. That is, your reputation and answer quality would be the primary differentiator between you and anyone else. "Bad" consulting companies wouldn't have the experience to generate sufficient reputation. –  tylerl Apr 26 '11 at 7:01
    
@tylerl: I beg to differ. Users with thousands of bad-to-mediocre posts, amassing somewhere around 0.3 upvote per post (what with pity upvotes and whatnot), are becoming somewhat common. –  Piskvor Apr 26 '11 at 8:19
    
@Pan- I'm sure that someone offering a large quantity of relatively poor answers could amass a decent numeric score. But if there was a way to look for people with the "Consultant" badge that are active in a particular tag, it should be relatively easy for someone willing to pay money for help to differentiate the wheat from the chaff. If you're amassing a score based on quantity rather than quality, I wouldn't expect to drum up a lot of business. –  Justin Cave Apr 26 '11 at 8:51

As said in a related question, I don't think this needs a specific feature. Just put it big and fat note into your profile that you are available for paid assistance. Everybody in need of help (and, important, willing to pay for it) will look at your profile when they interact with you, or see you answering one of their questions.

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Everybody? There may be some people who take that initiative, but unless they expect to find something by clicking your name, they generally won't. My suggestion is to seed that expectation. –  tylerl Apr 26 '11 at 23:40
    
@tylerl a "consultant badge" of some sort wouldn't feel appropriate to me - it would somehow suggest that SO/SE is endorsing consultants, which would bring a plethora of other problems. I stand by it - somebody eager for help and willing to pay, will check out the profiles of those helping them out on SO. I've been on SO for one and a half years, and my profile has been looked at almost 12,000 times. –  Pëkka Apr 27 '11 at 20:43

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