I was participating in a Facebook Group today about project management. Someone responded to a comment I had made about being a consultant. She asked me, “I’m currently working full-time as a PM and thinking about going back into consulting bc the pay is much better. But there are pros and cons, especially w benefits and job assignments ending. Can you give me tips on how you’ve managed successfully over the years?”
Here was my reply:
There are definitely pros & cons! But…for tips on how to remain successful, here goes:
- Financially, plan on ~40 weeks employment per year. Everything else is awesome. Save it for a rainy day or use it intentionally – it can be the difference between your current salary and where you want to be!
- Financially, remember that insurance is part of your monthly expenses (mainly medical) if your partner doesn’t carry it.
- Plan vacation weeks…and take them! It’s more difficult to take vacation as a consultant because if you’re ending 1 project you want the next to start asap! So plan your time off and schedule it during an engagement (non-milestone time, of course)
- Maintain a relationship with your recruiters. They may not have something for you now, but if you find a good one, keeping in touch can pay off
- Get good at ramping up quickly. As a consultant, you’re always “the new guy”. Use it to your advantage by asking a lot of questions – about the company, stakeholders, expectations, to get to know your team…the new person is forgiven for asking questions
- Track your hours! One of the reasons for jumping to consulting is to be paid “more per hour” than an FTE. If you give your clients extra time each day/week, your hourly rate essentially goes down. So be careful. After 1 or 2 contracts you’ll have a better sense of how many hours something will take and you’ll be able to estimate your contract with more accuracy.
- Truly enjoy moving around. I wouldn’t go back to being an employee if you doubled my salary. I love going from company to company, learning about different products and getting to know new teams. And when I’ve done what I set out to do? I get to move on to the next adventure!
- Believe you can help – that’s why they’re hiring you! I can’t overstate this one. We all feel more comfortable working with people who have a “can do” attitude. But as a consultant, it’s doubly important. We have a resume of past clients, but each new company requires we prove ourselves to a new group of stakeholders.
- Put your client first. This final tip may seem obvious and something any good employee would do. Along with believing you can help your client, your focus on their needs increases their trust in you. This begins a virtuous cycle of trust -> responsiveness -> success. Putting my clients first has led to follow-on projects (and job offers) after all of my contracts.
If you’re a consultant, or are thinking of joining our ranks, let me know which of these nine tips impacted you the most. What’s your biggest takeaway?