Consulting - Is It Right for You?

by Peg Bogema

Consulting can look extremely attractive—set your own schedule, earn more money, pick and choose the projects you work on… But is it right for you?

Take our (very unscientific) quiz and see how you score.

But before you do, you can read through a quick list of pros and cons.

You may already have considered some of these, but perhaps a few will be thought provoking.

Pros:

  • Freedom of schedule (both daily and vacations)
  • Variety of work including different technologies, teams and business domains
  • Taking pride in working for yourself
  • Diversification
  • More money
  • Remote work
  • Multiple projects means you can switch tasks when you get bored
  • Greater skill acquisition from exposure to different codebases and technologies. Ideas from projects can cross-pollinate and lead to higher code quality.
  • Easier to leave a project if it doesn't mesh well for you (though you need to have a good transition point to avoid leaving clients in a lurch)

Cons:

  • Marketing and sales efforts needed
  • Accounting effort like tax reporting and payment, collections and tracking expenses
  • More isolated, less a part of a team
  • Multiple clients/concurrent projects, can lead to interruptions and too much task switching
  • Need to track hours and stay productive
  • You might be the only developer + QA + business analyst + project manager on a project. You get the glory, but you have to carry all of the burdens with no safety net.
  • Clients are similar to bosses, better in some ways, but they still have the money, so have most of the power

Now take our quiz. The higher your score, the more suited you are for switching over to the consulting lifestyle.


Things to Consider

Consultants either teach themselves about new tools, technologies and domains or seek out structured ways to get trained.

Nearly all of this is done as personal, unbilled time. So if you’re not good at it or if you don’t enjoy it, you’re likely to resent the fact that you have to spend time doing it. On the other hand, if it’s in your nature to learn new things all the time, and you’re already doing it on your personal time, you already have the consultant mindset on this point.

In order to be a good consultant, you have to be a good communicator.

While it may be desirable to have requirements that are documented perfectly down to the last detail, we all know that is far from the case even in the best of circumstances. And many times business stakeholders are incapable of articulating requirements except at the very highest overview level. Your ability to elicit requirements, to ask questions when you don’t understand something or it doesn’t make sense, is extremely important.

Equally as important is your ability to tactfully push back when a requirement is ridiculous.

If you always implement exactly what you’re told to implement, you are certainly going to be able to CYA. But even if you write beautiful, elegant code, if it’s stupid code from the perspective of the end users, your reputation will suffer.

And while employees and consultants are equally likely to be able to work from their home office or work in the corporate office, if you strongly prefer the dynamic stimulation of being co-located with your team, sticking with employment may be the better option.

It is possible for consultants to land on-site engagements, but companies don’t always have enough workspace for a consultant to come in house.

The most successful consultants are usually the ones who can work on several concurrent projects.

For one thing, if a project slows down or goes away, that doesn’t mean a complete loss of work and income. For another thing, squeezing in small support and maintenance work is a great way to maintain your relationship with clients.

If you have to say no, or have to schedule the work months down the road, you are inviting your clients to engage with other consultants. Who knows…those consultants may knock you out of your most-favored-consultant status.

In order to work on multiple concurrent projects, your ability to task shift needs to be top notch.

As a consultant, you can control when you pick up the phone or respond to email, but you cannot become fully absorbed in one thing for weeks on end. At least not if you want to have a pipeline of work.

Finances are one of the main reasons people consider consulting.

It is true that many consultants earn more on an hourly basis than an employee with the same skills and seniority.

Keep in mind, however, that consultants don’t bill for the time they spend generating leads, going on sales calls, learning new tools and technologies, etc. They also don’t bill when they don’t work. And they are responsible for their health insurance, their professional insurance, their retirement savings, etc.

Don’t quit your day job and hang out a consultant shingle if you really need steady paycheck.

Hang out a consultant shingle if financial demands are low and/or you have plenty of money put by. Or keep your day job and start your consultancy on the side.

Consulting can be steadier and more secure than employment if you have a diverse base of customers.

With a job you are tied to one company—which often works in one business sector—so you may be subject to career Armageddon. A down turn in the economy or in your industry, a merger that makes you redundant, a sudden shift in strategy like outsourcing your team—there are many circumstances beyond an employee’s control that can result in the loss of a job.

A consultant who works for clients in a variety of industries, and who works on several projects concurrently, has a bit of a built in shock absorber.

It’s not a bed of roses, though. When a company needs to cut costs, cutting contractors is often their first move.

Making more money is the least important reason to become a consultant. Overall, given what a consultant has to deal with financially, there may be no net gain at first—or there may be a net loss.

Become a consultant if you love moving from project to project. If you love the freedom to turn work down because it’s boring or because you don’t like the people involved.

If you want to drive your career in a direction that employment doesn’t offer in your geographic region—like mobile development or Internet of Things (IoT).

If you are seriously considering consulting—or have already taken the plunge—you might enjoy some of our upcoming webinars or signing up to receive our technical/business articles in your inbox. 

Stout Systems is the software consulting and staffing company Fueled by the Most Powerful Technology Available: Human Intelligence®. Stout was founded in 1993 and is based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Stout has clients across the U.S. in domains including engineering, scientific, manufacturing, education, marketing, entertainment, small business and, yes, robotics. Stout provides expert level software, Web and embedded systems development consulting and staffing services along with direct-hire technical recruiting and placements. If you're looking for a job in the tech industry, visit our job board to see if you qualify for some of our positions. Best of luck to you! If you're looking to hire technical talent for your company, please contact us. This is a career advice article catered to developers, technical project managers, and other technical staff looking to improve their skills. 

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