5 Tips for working as a consultant!

Many of the jobs in today's economy are consultant or contractor positions. In 2019, consulting services specifically were "estimated to be between $130B and $150B annually". The most common way to work as a consultant is with a big consulting firm, but you can also work as an independent consultant. In today's blog, we share five tips for working as an independent consultant in addition to your full-time job.

Taking on an independent consultant position might seem unconventional or not worthwhile, but we like to think of consulting as just another option within the entrepreneurship arsenal. Many Millennials are eager to become entrepreneurs, but entrepreneurship doesn't always need to be the creation of a novel business idea; sometimes, it can be as simple as seeking independent opportunities within your career field. More established independent consultants have LLCs for their work, but when starting off as an independent consultant it is not necessary (although you will NEED to report the income on your taxes).

Below are 5 tips for taking on a consultant position in addition to your 9 to 5!

1. A consultant position is a great way to gain more income without letting go of your full-time job. Depending on the customer, sometimes consulting rates, when calculated out, can be higher than the annual salary you receive from your 9 to 5.

  • Tip: When starting out, have different rates for different customers. In other words, don’t charge a non-profit a market-rate consulting fee. If you need help determining your rate for a non-profit, I would suggest doing a simple Google search of the company’s annual operating budget/revenue. From there you can make an educated guess on the salaries within that organization and adjust based on what is reasonable but still worthwhile for the consultant position. As you grow in the consulting business and your name begins to proceed you, then you might be able to set an across the board fee for every customer, but again always be flexible. You can also search the market rate value for the consultant role as if it were a full time position within that company or a similar one and set your rate based on the salaries listed. We recommend PayScale for salary estimates, and we recommend this article for more information about setting a consultant rate.

2. A consultant position is one of many ways to set yourself apart as an expert on a topic

  • Tip: Aside from a no-cost low-investment activity like blogging on LinkedIn, being a consultant is another surefire way to be seen and respected as an expert. International Affairs has so many fields, sub-fields and niche topics, take advantage of this by honing in on 1-3 topics within the field. If you choose more than one topic, make sure the additional topics are still related or overlap in some capacity and then apply to consultant positions that highlight the areas where you have significant research, academic, and work experience.

3. Consultant positions are usually short-term projects that can actually be fun and interesting!

  • Tip: The length of consultant projects, typically 6-12 weeks with part-time and flexible work hours, means that you can easily pencil the project into your daily and weekly schedule. If the consulting role is consuming your life, then you are doing it wrong. Additionally, many times companies enlist the help of a consultant with a basic outline of what they want/how they want the project completed. In other words, there is some room for you to get creative and think outside the box with consultant positions, but be realistic with your ideas so that you are able to finish the project on the agreed upon timeframe.

4. You are usually paid based on deliverables produced or hours worked

  • Tip: This will differ by company and project, which is why you need to know your rate for the project in advance of the applying for the role. When projects are paid based on deliverables, you can set a flat rate fee and work with the company to receive payment per major deliverable. When the projects are paid hourly, you need to have a good estimate on how much time it will take to complete each major deliverable and then determine your hourly rate from there. Even when you are working on a project that is paid by deliverables, still keep track of your hours worked per each task, because if another customer only pays hourly you will have a reference point to offer a reasonably accurate hourly fee based on the project.

5. Work hours are flexible

  • Tip: If your 9 to 5 is full-time with benefits don’t be afraid to take 2-3 hours of leave to work on the project during business hours. In that sense, you’re still paid from your full-time job + fulfilling your consulting responsibilities. When you apply for the consulting role, list your current full-time position on your resume. Before the interview, already have in mind how you will incorporate the project into your schedule, because the company will ask. So, estimate how many hours during the work week are you willing and able to allot to the project especially if one of the deliverables necessitates that you work during business hours. The general understanding, however, with many independent consulting roles is that much of the work will and can be completed during non-business hours especially if they are aware that you have a full-time job.

Overall, 10/10 highly recommend consulting roles in addition to a 9 to 5, and we say in addition to, because consulting positions do not come with benefits.

Have you worked as an independent consultant before? How was your experience? Share below, tips and advice for the BWINTAF community!

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