Consulting 101

Today I was interviewed by Jason Thompson, a Senior Analytics Consultant at Keystone Solutions, for his “10 Questions with …” series on his blog EmptyMind.

The interview was focused on my life as an independent consultant. One thing I want to add what I already talked about in that interview is the fact that I have been extremely lucky. Most consultants take short-term projects here and there, but I was able to land a long-term contract with an advertising agency as my client. They are not my exclusive client by any means but they are my primary source of projects currently.

Having a set-up like this is absolutely ideal – they get an analyst who works for them whenever they happen to need it, and doesn’t when they don’t. They pay me a fair hourly rate, but they don’t need to worry about benefits, tax with-holdings or severance. For me, I get a flexible work-from-home schedule and a relatively steady rate of projects.

It really is crucial, as I stated, when starting out as an independent consultant to make sure you have enough capital on hand while you first shop for clients. Many folks do work on the side and try and establish themselves before quitting their “day-jobs”. This isn’t always possible due to no-compete clauses and NDAs that folks sign when working for certain corporations.

It took me about 5 months to find my first real client after going independent in November 2008 but I was lucky that I had received a generous severance package and was able to draw upon unemployment during those first 5 lean months. I had the opportunity to work on an 8-month long project for a major financial services company before handing over the reins to their internal resources.

After my first project came to a close I faced another 5 even leaner months (this time no severance, but I did have unclaimed unemployment I was able to receive).  Just as my unemployment was running out I signed a couple of small local businesses as clients and was able to earn a small wage doing some small projects for them. Then came along the opportunity to work remotely for this ad agency as a consultant on a per-project basis.

They took a risk on me after having been burned by their previous analyst, so I was determined to show them that I could do everything I advertised and more. Now nearly 7 months later and they are still providing me with projects.

However I am not one to rest on my laurels and I keep networking and looking for additional clients and projects to ensure I have enough capital on hand in case I find myself facing more lean months again. That is probably the biggest challenge of being and independent consultant – just making sure you can survive during low periods.

If you can make independent consulting work for you, however, the rewards far outweigh the risks.

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