Outsourcing

Consultants, how independent are you?

For each consultant, there is an acceptable range of independence. Let us know where you are in this range by answering six poll questions about your number of clients, scheduling, decision making, the work process, contract terms, and finding work.

 Many of us call ourselves independent consultants, but how independent are we? I can think of at least six measures of consulting independence.

Number of clients: If you only have one client at a time or only one big client and several other little jobs, then you're dependent on that one client for a significant share of your revenue. The fortunes of your business become yoked to theirs, and if they drop off the map, then you need to do a full restart. If, on the other hand, you keep a few (or several) significant clients going all the time, then if one drops out, your business doesn't change all that much. Scheduling: Do you get to determine your own hours, or are you required to do certain things at certain times? Sometimes clients need to have activities synchronized, and emergencies require immediate attention. But beyond that, if your client is dictating your time clock, then aren't you more like an employee? Decision making: Our ability to make work decisions can never be 100% independent of our clients, nor should it be; after all, it's our job to provide what they want. But behind the "public interface" to your work, do you get to decide how it's designed and implemented internally, or does your client specify what methodologies and tools you must use? The work: Do you generally work alone or on a team? If you work on a team, how often do you communicate with team members? How often do you step on each other's feet? How independent from the rest of a project is your little piece of it? It can be a very good thing to work closely with a team, but it does limit your freedom. Contract terms: Did you (and your lawyer) write your contract, or did your client require that you sign their contract? If it's somewhere in the middle, how close is the contract to the terms you wanted? Finding work: Do you work through a consulting agency or service, or do you find business on your own? If it's the former, how much say do you have in what work you'll accept or refuse?

As I've suggested, it's not a simple equation of more independence = better. If we were 100% independent, then we wouldn't have any clients. Different engagements may offer varying levels of independence.

For each consultant, there is an acceptable range of independence, and there's probably also a sweet spot that feels just right. I lean towards the more independent end of each of the six factors mentioned above. How about you? Answer the following poll questions to let us know where you are in the range.

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About

Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant b...

14 comments
reisen55
reisen55

I have recently picked up a part-time job doing consulting for another company and my schedule has been ripped apart. Essentially, and in an hour I have a conference call that may end this farce, the expectations of my "employer" is that I be available 24/7 for work when I am only a part-time person, 20 hours per week which means that there will be 50% of the time when I am DAMN WELL NOT AVAILABLE. I am also not compensated for mileage and this job makes me drive some distance on occasion. Financially, a cushion these days but I am still sending out resumes for other work. I have come home feeling that this job has hijacked my life entirely. I manage my time with my clients and enjoy control. Not happy.

jck
jck

I guess I'm pretty independent as a consultant ...given, it's not my only means of income. Number of clients? A full-time employer plus consult to several people who need advice or support for their home usage. Scheduling? I set my own hours in independent work. I have to because of my full-time position. Decision making? I am told what they need me to tell them, teach them, or fix for them. How I do it is always my call when I work independently. The work? In contracting, I always work alone (save for ordering parts from NewEgg or something). Contract terms? I never let a business dictate what the work terms will be on the job if I don't approve of them all as a consultant. Finding work? Almost all my work is because of word-of-mouth. People tell others about me, and I get calls.

Capt_Skippy
Capt_Skippy

I'm independent right now, but my goal is to break away from that and expand. Being independent is fun, but when you get enough clients you'll realise that you can't keep up the Han Solo life.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Independence comes at the cost of responsibility -- the more freedom you have, the more you have to take care of for yourself. But it's an interesting measurement of how you do business. Do you agree?

ReddySS
ReddySS

If you feel you're being "made to do" something that you seriously take issue with then you are not an employee or a contractor or anything else short of a doormat. Independence should equal Freedom. If you like the work but the short leash is just too much then make the client pay for that aspect of the position - it's very common and called a retainer. If the position is strictly part-time then that's fine - but if the schedule is unknown and they need you "on call", so to speak, 24/7 then they need to pay you for that service. Even when you aren't doing billable work for the client you are still providing a service - being on call. Good luck!

erik.courtney
erik.courtney

I consider some of my work to be done on my terms but it's actually such a large enterprise that, well, I cannot even bounce a server without a change order being approved. This isn't because of lack of the clients judgement of my ability to make good decisions. This happenes because, well, a small change might affect so many other employee's work at the agency. They all need to be notified days in advance.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I've often considered expanding, but then I'd have to take on more of a management role, which was one of the reasons I left the corporate workplace to begin with.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Agreed -- you need better terms, reisen55, or you need to cut 'em loose. Some clients are not worth the hassle, but maybe you can deliver an ultimatum that will turn them around.

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

The problem is that this article is written from the viewpoint of small business clients rather than big business. Some of us are big business focused. The rules are different in a big business. It doesn't take long for a big business to realize they need standardization to keep control. And that they need to worry about co-ordination. Something a small business doesn't -- "Hey, I'm shutting down the server to install something" works great when everyone is within the sound of your voice but not so great when that server services 1000 people on 6 continents and one messload of time zones. The other side is that not all of us are coders/doers. Working in (with) teams has a different meaning for a management consultant. I'm very independent but I work with teams all the time -- as manager. Some of us even deal with different clients with different rules (some I work from home, and some I work on-site). A lot of it is just a matter of working within the client's cultural tolerances. But at least the article gets us thinking ... which is what Chip's articles tend to be meant to do. Glen Ford, PMP http://www.TrainingNOW.ca http://apps.LearningCreators.com/blog

steve.forward
steve.forward

I chose to be an "independent consultant" as a lifestyle choice. I didn't want to be another lemming in a big organisation nor did I want the responsibility of managing people. Rightly or wrongly I feel like I have more control this way. Expanding would defeat my purpose.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

That was my main goal. As i said in the article, it's not always a simple "more independent == better". It depends on the individual situation. I have worked with some big companies, and they do impose some restrictions. That's one reason why I prefer smaller, more agile organizations. Don't get me wrong, though -- sometimes a group within a large, slow company can act small and fast.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... means that I can often get some fairly abstract projects that don;t require a lot of interaction with a team. When I do interact, it's mostly at the design level, not project management.

gmen200
gmen200

This statement makes me ask the question, how involved are you in the "project"? Do you "consult" to managers within the company to provide direction? Do you "do the work" and answer to the client? From what i know there comes a point where you are able to charge so much you can work one "project at a time" and afford time off (no work, no pay) or you get so many job request you have to get help. At what point does the line blur between independence, money, not wanting to manage.....?

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Yep -- I could probably double my annual income if I wanted to take on all of the management headaches of expanding my consultancy. But I'd rather live a long and happy life instead.