You might have seen external consultants visiting your office, spending few hours and billing exorbitant amounts. This post does an analysis of pros and cons of working as an independent consultant vis-à-vis working as a full time employee.
Note: By consultant I do not mean having some “Consultant” in your designation. I mean working as an independent consultant, not being on payroll of any company. Most of the doctors,lawyers,Architects who do not work for any specific company/hospital and run independent practice can be called as consultants. Hope you got the difference.
It is not easy to brand your self as an independent consultant. You ought to be highly specialized and sought after person in your area of specialization, whatever it is. You have to be confident that you’ll be in a position to find enough customers on your own to keep you engaged throughout the year and in return you can enjoy a premium billing, only fraction of which you otherwise would have got if you were to work as a full time employee for any other company.
Advantages of working as a consultant:
1. Tax soaps: Consultants get a huge tax advantage as they’re allowed to exclude all administrative expenses from their income. Salary paid to office assistants (even if the “assistant” is home maid or other domestic servants), money spent on petrol (even if it was spent while driving your car to a shopping mall located in other part of the town), expenses on computer (though it is used mainly by your son to play games) or printer (which your daughter used to print her project reports) and several other expenses everyone incur in daily life are passed off as administrative expenses and no tax is paid.
2.Consultants charge a premium amount. You get much more money than what you otherwise would have got as a full time employee, for the same work. (This is because your employer retains a bulk of income earned from you to meet several other expenses incurred)
3. You own your life. As a consultant you have the liberty to choose your customer, what assignment you want to work on, how much you want to bill them…as a regular employee you won’t have these options.
4. Better exposure: As a consultant you get direct exposure with clients and other people and this adds a lot to your communication skills and business skills. This much interaction will not be there for an employer who reports to a manager instead.
5. Full credit/Blame If you succeed in your work as a consultant you will get full credit and if you fail you will have to take the entire blame. In a salary job, credit and blame will generally be shared among the team and other stake holders.
A consultant’s life is not always that easy.
1. No support system: If you work for a company you can take advantage of several support departments which focus on certain specialized tasks so that you will be able to focus on your core activity (like HR department to aid you in recruitment and addressing concerns, a marketing department to take care of pre sales, billing etc, travel department to coordinate your VISA, air tickets etc). But as an independent consultant you will have to take care of all these tasks on your own, from winning a contract to arranging your travel to billing realization (or hire an external agency who will charge a premium)
2. No guaranteed income:If you work on a salaried job, you have assurance of a regular monthly income. You won’t be fired after a project completion. Even if there’s no immediate work you will be paid. But consultants will be released from their duties the moment management feels their service is no more needed. This is because consultants are hired for a very specific task for a short duration and paid on an hourly or daily basis.
3. No backing: When you are on a payroll of a company you can easily claim experience and can use the brand name of your employer. As a consultant you need to struggle really hard to build up reputation credibility and your own identity in the market.
4. Competition : If you have learnt a specific skill (say Java programming language) and managed to secure a job, you need not be worried that another million people have enrolled into various training institutes to learn Java. As long as you meet the expectations at work and continuously build up your experience and skills, your job will be more or less secure. But as consultant, your demand or billing rate will go down if the skills you have are available abundantly in market.
5. Investments: If you work for a company you can take advantages of huge investments the company has made in infrastructure and other things (A video conferencing facility or a projector etc for example. Companies can afford to spend on these as thousands of employees benefit from them). When you are on your own you might not be in a position to invest in few items.
Above are few pros and cons I can think of. Which one do you prefer? A safe and secure salary job or a challenging but fruitful task of an independent consultant?
Also working as an independent consultant will be your first step before you gather up enough courage and money to start your own company.