So You Want to Become a Consultant

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Should you strike out on your own and become a consultant? According to Dice’s most recent Salary Survey, there are some good monetary reasons why you should consider it: consultants averaged $120,822 in annual salary in 2015, up 8.9 percent from the previous year. (Independent contractors earned an average of $70.26 per hour last year, up 5.3 percent year-over-year.)

Compare that to full-time tech workers, who earned an average of $93,902 in 2015 (up 7.0 percent from 2014), and it’s clear that consulting can be the right choice for those with the right combination of experience and skills.

But the typical consultant’s life comes with trade-offs that may or may not appeal to you, depending on your temperament. Here are some points to consider if you’re thinking of trading your full-time job for a consulting gig:

Handling Your Own Infrastructure

The good thing about working full-time for a company is that you generally have an administrative staff that handles everything from your health insurance to your 401(k), leaving you to tackle your actual job.

When you’re an independent contractor, however, you must handle many of those functions yourself. Are you ready to negotiate for your own health insurance? How about fighting with clients to pay you on-time? Do you have the discipline to sock away enough for retirement every month, without a corporation automatically deducting a certain percentage from your paycheck?

The rise of sophisticated accounting and management software has expedited the handling of many back-office functions, especially for small shops and independent contractors. Nonetheless, be aware that dealing with administrative tasks will take up a fair amount of time as a contractor, especially if you subcontract out tasks to other workers.

Gig to Gig

With full-time employment, you probably rotate between projects on a regular basis; once you finish up one thing, there’s another series of tasks waiting for you. With contracting, once you’re completed a gig, it’s up to you to find the next one. (The exception is when you’re on retainer with a particular company, in which case you’re probably engaged and paid in a fashion more in keeping with full-time work.)

While some contractors revel in that sort of flexibility, others are nervous at the prospect of hunting for the next gig. For those just starting out in contracting, some nervousness is inevitable, and sometimes fades quickly; but for others, that anxiety never really goes away, and raises questions of whether they’re truly cut out for the contracting life.

In order to mitigate some of the pains that come with always scrounging up another job, it pays to network. The broader your connections, the better your chances of having another gig lined up before your current one finishes up. Check out Dice’s networking tips.

Flexibility

Not all consulting jobs are created equal. Depending on your skill-set and the client’s needs, your own job parameters may shift on a month-to-month—or even week-to-week—basis. Let’s say you’re a mobile-app developer who specializes in Android. One job might ask you to tweak an app that’s 90-percent built; your next might ask you to build such an app from scratch, on a tight deadline.

As with jumping from gig-to-gig, some contractors are fine with wildly shifting job parameters; but full-time workers who prefer routine and rigid processes might find their stress levels shooting through the proverbial roof. Before jumping into contracting, ask yourself whether that sort of plasticity appeals to you.

Conclusion

Last year, research firm IDC and the Application Developers Alliance conducted a survey that suggested roughly a third of working developers are freelancers. There’s clearly a market for those workers who’ve decided to strike out on their own; but it’s also not necessarily for everyone. Take some time to decide before leaping into the market.

Image Credit: Pressmaster/Shutterstock.com

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