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Consulting ? Is it in YOUR Career Future?

#1
Consulting – Is it in YOUR Career Future?

Note (Jan 23, 2009): I have "bumped" this thread because it seems VERY pertinent in today's economy.
Consulting – Is it in YOUR career future?

(see also this companion thread:
Contracting/Temping - Viable Alternates in Tough Times)

In my experience over the last forty years, every time there is a downturn in the economy and full-time jobs seem to become scarce, a lot of folks think they can easily join the ranks of those “high paid consultants” they hear about and occasionally see as shadowy figures talking and dealing with top managers at their organization.

Reason for this thread:
Many of my colleagues and associates around the world actually ARE those high paid consultants who deal with the top managers at organizations. When we talk and correspond, one of the main topics that comes up almost every time are the folks who hold themselves out to be “consultants,” but the only thing “consultant” about them is the title they put on a business card. Often we say, “What a shame this guy is so clueless about how to be a REAL consultant.” And then we jump to another topic and mentally dismiss the person from further consideration. On a few occasions, we say, “Wow! That guy is a menace to the profession. He’s so bad, his stink rubs off on the rest of us!” But again, we do nothing, because our “professional ethics” prevent us from bad mouthing a competitor in public, even a stumblebum who gives the word “consultant” a bad taste in anyone’s mouth who crosses his path.

Just this week, we started on another “insider talk” about such “consultants” and I finally said, “Maybe we need a school on how to be a consultant. Then we could just suggest to these guys that they go to school.”

“Yeah!” they laughed. “You create the school and we’ll refer them! Ha! Ha!”

Well, I can’t create a school, but I can create a thread that folks can read and do a little self-assessment and gap analysis to see where they stand on the road to being a successful full-time consultant in ANY field, not just the Quality profession.

Basics
First, we need just a few important definitions. Many folks confuse the terms “consultant” and ”contractor” and often use them interchangeably. Most folks I consider “consultants” probably will agree on the following definitions (If you do NOT agree, feel free to write a post detailing your reasoning.):

Consultant: An independent business person (or member of a firm of such business persons) whose primary value given is ADVICE or EDUCATION. This would include, but not be limited to, folks who advise about mergers and acquisitions and whether to add or delete product lines or enter new markets. It would also include on-site and off-site trainers of employees of an organization who come in to teach something not readily available from experts within the organization (Hazmat processes and procedures, English as a second language, etc.)
Contractor. In the sense we use here, a contractor may be completely independent or work for an agency, but he is essentially a temporary worker performing a job which would be handled by a full-time employee at an organization, but for a number of reasons which have nothing to do with this discussion (perhaps another thread?), the organization prefers the temporary status of the person fulfilling the function. Such temporary contractors include folks working as technical writers, inspectors, assemblers, internal auditors, statisticians, accountants, bookkeepers, typists, clerks, even at supervisor levels, like crew chiefs, quality managers, design engineers, process engineers, etc.

The primary difference for the purpose of this discussion is the contractor is bringing technical skill to the table, but rarely is he giving advice in planning or strategy or spending time training folks to do a task or learn a skill so he can move on to the next organization.

A secondary difference, but often blurred, is that most consultants get paid a fee for accomplishment that rarely has a direct connection to the number of hours worked or the number of pieces inspected or the number of documents written. Blurring may occur when trainers get paid according to the number of students who successfully pass a class. A consultant who comes in to help an organization achieve registration to ISO 9001:2000 may get a flat fee for educating and training the staff to be ready for a third party audit, with a bonus paid when the organization actually gets the certificate of registration. Such a consultant helps select the proper registrar, helps organization personnel write manuals and procedures, trains organization personnel to conduct a gap analysis and become internal auditors for continuing evaluation of the operations against the organization plan.

If the guy just comes in and grinds out a manual and a pile of procedures by himself in a little room, then turns them over to the organization without training the organization folks to do it themselves, the guy is really only a contractor – a technical writer for hire!

The business aspect
Make no mistake, the business of being a consultant is as important as the technical skill and understanding of the subject material the consultant works with. When a guy is loaded with technical knowledge about a topic, but makes a mish mash of the consulting techniques of imparting that knowledge to the client so the client can use it in an efficient and profitable manner is the time when we folks already successful in the consulting business say, “What a shame this guy is so clueless about how to be a REAL consultant.” We recognize the guy knows the subject matter, he’s just clueless about getting assignments and then following through to a successful conclusion. Most often, these are guys who, as employees of various sized organizations were able to fulfill the task, but they didn’t have to worry about the business side of paying for everything like travel, business cards, phones, computers, temporary housing away from home, health insurance, next week’s or next month’s or next year’s assignment and income.

I suggest folks who either already call themselves consultants or who think they want to become consultants give themselves a basic reality check by looking at the Small Business Administration (http://sba.gov/) suggestions for planning and operating a small business and performing a gap analysis between their own ideas and those offered by the combined experience of thousands of small businesses.

Here’s just a brief item I see omitted by many would-be “independent consultants:”

The SBA has a “readiness assessment tool”:

Note the link to the SBA assessment tool is now behind an SBA firewall which requires FREE registration for access ( http://www.sba.gov/user )"
 
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Gert Sorensen

Forum Moderator
Moderator
#2
Re: Consulting – Is it in YOUR Career Future?

Thanks Wes, for taking the time to explain this to us. I does help to get the terms clarified, and the challenges highlighted.

I have been suggested becoming a consultant a number of times, but frankly, I have prefered the "security" of employment instead. However, my wife is independent and I think I will relate the links to her as inspiration. :)
 
S

silentrunning

#3
Re: Consulting – Is it in YOUR Career Future?

Thank you very much Wes. I have been requested to do "pre-audits" by both our vendors and customers. My knowledge is limited in comparison to most on this forum, but I take a practical view and am not afraid to ask questions of people on this forum and my mentor who schooled me in internal auditing. It seems that there is a lack of people willing to tune up companies prior to a third party audit. I will make it a point to reread your post prior to each "pre-audit" I do.

Many thanks,
Doug
 
K

km214

#4
Re: Consulting – Is it in YOUR Career Future?

Wes,
although this post was started years ago, I find it is very applicable for me after suffering through the multiple lay offs over the past 6 years. It seems as if in today's quality arena that companies are more and more frequently turning to consultants to accomplish their quality objectives and then being done with them until they need a specific task accomplish with regard to their QMS. sad to say in the small to mid size companies quality is becoming an outsourced resource. With all the lay offs I have suffered, my desire to commit myself to one company has all but disappeared. I am finding that although I lack security (a flase sense I held in being hired permanent) I feel that my ability to distance myself from the internal politics has increased dramatically and I am better able to focus on the true meaning of quality. I am not free to do as I choose as a consultant but in time expect to be able to work within my own schedule over time. I am presently seeking a consulting firm to join in order to keep a flow going to my projects. I am very self motivated and am very capable of working from home so I am looking for consultant work that would afford me this opportunity. I am focusing my professional goals toward consulting instead of working for one company.
Thank You for your input....and thanks for sharing!
Katherine McKay
 
#5
Re: Consulting – Is it in YOUR Career Future?

Wes,
although this post was started years ago, I find it is very applicable for me after suffering through the multiple lay offs over the past 6 years. It seems as if in today's quality arena that companies are more and more frequently turning to consultants to accomplish their quality objectives and then being done with them until they need a specific task accomplish with regard to their QMS. sad to say in the small to mid size companies quality is becoming an outsourced resource. With all the lay offs I have suffered, my desire to commit myself to one company has all but disappeared. I am finding that although I lack security (a flase sense I held in being hired permanent) I feel that my ability to distance myself from the internal politics has increased dramatically and I am better able to focus on the true meaning of quality. I am not free to do as I choose as a consultant but in time expect to be able to work within my own schedule over time. I am presently seeking a consulting firm to join in order to keep a flow going to my projects. I am very self motivated and am very capable of working from home so I am looking for consultant work that would afford me this opportunity. I am focusing my professional goals toward consulting instead of working for one company.
Thank You for your input....and thanks for sharing!
Katherine McKay
Thanks for reading this thread and posting.

I think you misread my date of registering with the Cove (2003) with the date of this thread (November 2007)

I want to be sure folks don't get the idea I am disparaging contract work - it can be lucrative and is often more steady and "sure" than consulting work. The point is: working as a third party auditor or conducting "gap analyses" or writing quality system documents is NOT consulting. It is meaningful work and necessary for organizations who cannot afford to maintain folks on a full-time payroll for essentially part-time work.

If I don't make any other point clear, consulting almost always requires face to face contact with top management in an organization, most often on-site. Where the consultant establishes his office (home or fancy office building) is immaterial. Some types of consulting can be performed in a relatively small geographic area for an entire career while others may travel the entire world.

I am aware some folks are trying to perform consulting and training via the internet. I hope they find enough clients who are technologically savvy enough to sign up and pay for such service. I fear the bulk of the folks who are in need of a consultant or trainer may not have reached that stage of sophistication. Alas, true pioneers are valuable in showing the way, but seldom do the pioneers reap the full value of their contribution. It is almost always the developers and others who come later who derive the most income from exploiting the new territory opened up by the pioneer. The guys who created Google have made a lot more money than the guys who invented Mosaic, the forerunner which makes the internet so interactive.

I hope all folks contemplating consulting as a career choice understand they need to plan how they will get clients on a continuous basis (marketing) and how they will support themselves during the low income startup period in establishing a consulting business.

Some would-be consultants find it hard to SELL their services and promote themselves in marketing efforts. They feel it is somehow unprofessional to do so. Let me tell you it is that it is the very SELLING and SELF-PROMOTING which is the hallmark of the true professional versus the wannabe or dilettante who is technically proficient in the subject matter, but woefully lacking in the business savvy of being a consultant, regardless of the subject matter.

Any other comments from other readers?

Mosaic: see wiki at
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mosaic_(web_browser)

 
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D

Duke Okes

#6
Re: Consulting – Is it in YOUR Career Future?

You are so right about the marketing aspect being one that most never think about. It's one thing to have a product, it's another to find folks who are actually interested in it.

Consultants need to be business people, not just quality (or technology or whatever the specialty is) geeks.

P.S. And when the economy slows is exactly NOT the time to think of becoming a consultant. That's when companies look for ways to cut costs, and any external consultants/contractors are easy cuts that immediately improve cash flow.
 

harry

Super Moderator
#7
Re: Consulting – Is it in YOUR Career Future?

........................ P.S. And when the economy slows is exactly NOT the time to think of becoming a consultant. That's when companies look for ways to cut costs, and any external consultants/contractors are easy cuts that immediately improve cash flow.
I didn't plan to be a consultant but I planted the seeds during a very bad recession. Through my connections and membership in business and trade associations, social & service clubs, I gave some talks and then some free advice and 'consultations' to many who approached me.

Trust me, people who are starring at failure and possible bankruptcy readily open their ears and heart to you. Often what they need is somebody to shine a light to show the road ahead. Most of them are very experience and knowledgeable - they just need somebody who are not clouded by their predicament to be the navigator. Needless to say, I became the consultant of choice when they recovered.

Another lesson - Invest! Don't be too cost conscious. Invest for the long term. Give and you shall be rewarded with more.
 
#8
Re: Consulting – Is it in YOUR Career Future?

Most of them are very experience and knowledgeable - they just need somebody who are not clouded by their predicament to be the navigator. Needless to say, I became the consultant of choice when they recovered.

Another lesson - Invest! Don't be too cost conscious. Invest for the long term. Give and you shall be rewarded with more.
Very insightful, Harry. A lot of us use the phrase "cast your bread upon the water" in homage to an old quote about giving and being rewarded. Here's a humorous anecdote about the concept
Cast Your Bread Upon the Water and it Shall Return to Thee
Cast Your Bread Upon the Water and it Shall Return to Thee
The story (supposedly true) of a missionary who was sitting at her window when the mail arrived. She opened a letter from home and out fell a crisp new ten dollar bill. As she read the note accompanying the money, her eye was caught by the sight of a poorly dressed man on the street below. Thinking the man was probably not very well off, she placed the bill in an envelope upon which she wrote “Don’t Despair” and tossed it out the window. The man picked up the envelope, opened it, and looked up at her smiling and tipped his hat.
The next day there was a knock at the missionary’s door, opening it she found the man from the previous day holding out a handful of cash to her.
“What’s this? I don’t understand,” she said.
“Lady,” he replied, “it’s your cut. ‘Don’t Despair’ paid five to one yesterday.”
 
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Jim Wynne

Staff member
Admin
#9
Re: Consulting – Is it in YOUR Career Future?

If I don't make any other point clear, consulting almost always requires face to face contact with top management in an organization, most often on-site. Where the consultant establishes his office (home or fancy office building) is immaterial. Some types of consulting can be performed in a relatively small geographic area for an entire career while others may travel the entire world.
I think that sometimes the distinction between consultant and contractor is not as brightly circumscribed as you suggest. All consultants are contractors, but not all contractors are consultants. A consultant is a distinct type of contractor, in other words. Furthermore, when dealing with larger companies, it's fairly unusual for consultants to have any sort of direct contact with anyone above departmental managers, and in many cases the top managers might not even be aware that consultants have been brought in (although they might be aware of budgetary considerations for use of consultants).

The best way to make a distinction, if one is necessary, seems to be how contractors get paid. Most of what you are identifying as contractors are paid an hourly wage much like other company workers, while consultants are more likely to charge flat fees, or payment is based on a predetermined number of hours. Independent consultants are paid directly, while almost all contract workers are paid by the service that provides them (which may also be the case with consultants working for a consulting firm, which further blurs the distinction.

Beyond self-aggrandizement, I can't think of a good reason to make a big deal about the distinctions, as most people who pay for temporary workers of any sort understand what they're paying for.
 

gard2372

Quite Involved in Discussions
#10
Re: Consulting – Is it in YOUR Career Future?

Besides the obvious (See a CPA for advisement) can anyone tell me some of the pro's and con's of your personal experiences while working full time and having side work ie; QMS development, procedure writing etc...)

I'm wondering what the tax implications will be and I'd like some first hand feedback from fellow covers who have been down this road before.

Example,

Say I work full time with a current employer @ $50K.

I get some side work at varying rates. I know the 1040 SE tax is 15.3% of self-employed income.

How has the tax laws impacted your self employment endeavors when you're just starting out and have not really made a big commitment yet?

Thanks.
 
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