Joining the rank of the independent or staff consultant can be exhilarating and boost your career both financially and in professional development potential. The sections that follow describe just some of the benefits associated with consulting.
Good consultants are treated with respect. Of this, there is little doubt. However, please understand that excesses in the industry have created a healthy skepticism in business' attitude toward consultants.
During the short-lived dot-com craze, it seemed everyone was a consultant. Individuals who had little experience or practical knowledge were put on projects that failed, and the bitter taste is still impacting the industry.
I view this as a positive to the technology industry in general and to the consulting field in particular. It weeded out those who did not actually produce, leaving the industry healthier for those remaining.
The respect you gain from consulting comes from providing a business with tangible benefits from your advice or technical skills. In many respects, good technology consultants garner the same type of mystical respect that was formerly reserved for doctors. You perform tasks that others simply do not understand.
I recommend a book titled Dangerous Company, by Charles Madigan and James O'Shea. The book is geared toward the management consulting industry, but the message applies to technology consulting, too. The authors discuss the largely misguided trust that many businesses place in their consultants—leading to failed and costly projects and, in some cases, failed businesses.
You should take very seriously the stake that a business owner or management places in your work. Good advice can help build a business. Bad advice can be devastating.
I mentioned already the perspective that consultants make their own hours. After you're in the field, you will understand how untrue this is in practice. However, there certainly is a degree of freedom that you gain in the consulting profession. Ultimately, you will have to work many hours to be profitable.
However, you do get to determine the projects you take on and the hours you use to complete them. If you're disciplined and like working in the evening, you can do some of your work then. If early morning is your optimal production time, as is the case with me, you can perform your work then.
This can leave time for you to take care of other matters during the day. Of course, if your clients need you during prime working hours, the relative freedom of your schedule is affected.
It is important that you schedule appropriate gaps during working hours. If you don't, even small emergencies or setbacks with one client can suddenly have you overloaded and unable to complete your day's work.
One phenomenon that I find interesting is the stake that management places in a consultant's advice. In many cases, I advocate ideas that the in-house IT staff has already suggested, but because I am a consultant—one who advises for a living—my advice is more readily heeded.
This also leads me to more exciting projects. Many IT departments, burdened with the daily upkeep of company technology, cannot undertake new projects. Their current workload is spent maintaining existing technology. Consultants are often brought in for the initial thrust in new technologies.
The by-product is that consultants often have the privilege of working with the latest and most innovative technologies. This becomes a self-perpetuating advantage in professional development. As you complete one project and gain that experience, you become more valuable to the next prospective client hoping to do the same.
It is not always that your talent is superior to the in-house staff; it is simply that you have the opportunity to apply your talent to the newest technologies.
Although the pay for consultants and contractors has fallen off a bit in recent years, the fact remains that good technical consultants are still landing profitable projects. In fact, my rate after the boom has risen on average. This is in part because of a greater understanding by clients of the need for proven experience.
In addition, I market myself to niche technologies wherever possible. I look to capitalize on those things I do extremely well that are often overlooked.
The compensation for consulting can certainly lead to a six figure income. However, to develop that type of income, you must be extremely effective at both project work and personal marketing.