Take Steps Now to Protect Your Independent Status!

Take Steps Now to Protect Your Independent Status!

About two months ago, the California Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in the case Dynamex Operations West Inc. v. Superior Court that is likely to result in it being harder to qualify as an independent contractor.

More than ever, it’s critical that you take steps now to maximum your chances of passing what is likely to become a stricter vendor compliance process. Otherwise, it’s very likely that companies will demand that you do the work as a W-2 employee hired through a staffing agency. (Related video, “Friends Don’t Let Friends W-2”*)

Although this court decision directly affects only California companies, other states are likely to follow suit and use this ruling as a reference.  At the very least, it’s likely to make employers in other States more cautious when hiring consultants as independent contractors.

Read More

How I Became a Millionaire as an Independent Consultant

How I Became a Millionaire as an Independent Consultant

Recently I logged into my retirement accounts and was surprised (and pleased!) to see that I had crossed the million-dollar mark. I don’t consider myself rich. In fact, money is usually tight at the end of the month. Yet my bank account says I’m a millionaire.

How did I do this? How can other self-employed consultants become wealthy too? Reflecting on my years as an independent consultant, I’ve boiled it down to five keys to success. (Sidebar: People define success differently. To me, having a million bucks in retirement savings is only one part of my total wealth. I also have a comfortable home, I’m healthy, and I have terrific relationships with family and friends. But I digress.)

Read More

Consulting's Secret Club

Consulting's Secret Club

Last August I wrote a blog post about how labels matter, specifically that you should make more money by calling yourself a consultant instead of a contractor. But it’s not just about labels and language. It’s not enough to simply replace contractor with consultant on your résumé and LinkedIn profile.

I’ve been studying the LinkedIn profiles of various contractors and consultants I know and reflecting on how they usually get their work. What differentiates the well-paid rock stars of consulting from the plug-n-play contractors? Several variables affect the person’s brand. They include prior work experience (internal with a company vs an external consultant with a firm), their consulting niche, and how they market themselves, but the real difference is how they find and frame their work. 

Contractors find work through agencies or staffing firms while consultants are more likely to find work on their own, usually as a result of their professional network.

Read More

How to Figure Out Your Consulting Bill Rate

How to Figure Out Your Consulting Bill Rate

Dear Liz, 

I have a quick question. I know a consultant who is going to do some work designing a company’s program for high-potential employees. The consultant has talent but not much experience. What hourly rate would you consider low, fair, too high? Can you ballpark this for me?

- Louis

Although the question is brief, a helpful answer is not. Pricing consulting services is notoriously difficult, particularly for self-employed consultants. You need to consider the real and perceived value of your services, expertise, and experience, as well as geography and market conditions. Several factors need to be considered:

Read More

How Tax Reform Affects Independent Consultants

How Tax Reform Affects Independent Consultants

Everyone has questions about the sweeping tax reform that became law at the end of last year. As a coach and champion for independent consultants, I went on a fact-finding mission to answer two important questions: 

  1. Are self-employed consultants still better off being paid on a 1099 tax basis as a business or on a W-2 tax basis through a third party?
  2. Is there a tax advantage to how independent consultants structure their businesses — as a sole proprietor, LLC, S corp or C corp?

Here’s what I learned after too many hours of research and talking with two CPAs and a lawyer. (Disclaimer: I am neither an accountant nor a tax lawyer, so I’m not qualified to give tax or legal advice. I’m simply trying to help self-employed consultants understand how the changes in tax law may affect them, so they — you — can have a more productive conversation with your tax professional.)

Key Findings

A. The answer to my first question is yes. It’s still better to be paid on a 1099 tax basis because you can still take business-owner tax deductions, possibly in addition to the new 20% deduction (more on that below), and you can still take advantage of better retirement options like a SEP-IRA to lower your taxable income. (See “Friends Don’t Let Friends W-2”TM for more information.)

Read More

20 Qualities of a Consulting Rock Star

20 Qualities of a Consulting Rock Star

As we close out the year, I’m reprising one of my most commented on LinkedIn articles. First published January 12, 2015, it’s just as relevant today as it was then. I’ve also expanded the original list of qualities from 19 to an even 20, and updated a few other things based the LinkedIn comments. Here’s to a prosperous 2018!

Let’s face it, not all consultants are created equal. Some can seemingly do anything with grace, style, and ease while others struggle to make anything happen. Over the last 20 years I’ve interacted with probably a thousand management consultants, from local independent practitioners to global “big four” advisors. Some are rock stars and some never will be, regardless of their education or what consulting firm they work for.

In a nutshell, a consulting rock star is someone who loves helping clients succeed, does whatever it takes to do so, keeps their word, effectively manages expectations, and produces A-quality work. They make the right things happen. They are smart, professional yet personable, excellent listeners with self-confidence, and possess deep expertise yet little-to-no ego. Bottom line, they are emotionally intelligent and engender trust through their character and competencies.

Read More

How Diligent Biz Dev Led to a Six-Figure Consulting Project

How Diligent Biz Dev Led to a Six-Figure Consulting Project

Recently I helped a consultant land a $420,000 consulting contract. That’s not a typo. It’s an 11-month project for one consultant: $320k in consulting fees and another $100k for travel expenses. I’ve excluded my company’s agency fee in these numbers; the actual budget was a bit larger.

Clearly this was a big win for the consultant. The client was pleased too since a global consulting firm working with his company quoted $660,000 for the same project. (See my related article, “Quote Your Rate with Confidence.”)

A project this big doesn’t just fall out of the sky. Why did the client contact me for help? The short answer: business development. The long answer: diligent business development that built a relationship over time. Rather than any one particular thing I did, it was simple actions over the course of five years. Those actions cultivated a trusting relationship with the client and, as a result, he was comfortable reaching out to me for help.

Read More

See Something, Say Something: 3 Three-Word Tips

See Something, Say Something: 3 Three-Word Tips

As consultants, it’s our job to help our clients solve problems and operate at their best. Sometimes this is easy, particularly when the needed correction is related to a process or operational improvement. For example, “You can decrease your product return rate by moving the quality checks upstream in the process.” Frequently, however, the advice is harder to deliver because it’s more personal, like when a business leader needs to change a behavior or a team member is acting inappropriately. In these situations, we may think about saying something, but it’s too awkward so we don’t. We wimp out and, in doing so, we do a disservice to the company that hired us. We’re not being our best.

Over the years I’ve discovered three, three-word tricks to make delivering difficult observations and advice easier — and more effective.

Read More

Using Online Platforms to Boost Your Billings

Using Online Platforms to Boost Your Billings

Independent consultants face the constant challenge of finding their next project. My last article discussed working with consulting agencies to supplement your business development efforts. This article offers tips for finding work through online platforms or marketplaces like Catalant, SpareHire, and TalMix. 

Consulting agencies and online platforms are similar in that they exist to bring consultants and clients together, but they go about it in different ways and charge different fees. Agencies involve people in the matching process and, typically, to oversee projects and “manage the client relationship.” (I roll my eyes at the last phrase because good consultants can do this on their own.) Agencies usually charge about 30-35%, which nearly always comes out of your pay. Online platforms, on the other hand, charge 20-25%, which may or may not come out of your pay, and they don’t involve people as middlemen. Instead they rely on their technology to match consultants to client projects. 

Read More

Supplementing Your Pipeline with Consulting Agencies

Supplementing Your Pipeline with Consulting Agencies

Perhaps the hardest thing for an independent consultant is not knowing where your next project is coming from, or when. While nurturing your own network is usually the best way to find work (see tips in my article), many consultants also supplement their business development efforts by affiliating with agencies and, increasingly, online platforms or marketplaces. This article summarizes the pros and cons of these options, gives you questions for starting your research, and introduces you to some of the better-known consulting agencies. 

First, let’s clarify what I mean by “consulting agency.”  

By “agency” I mean a company that matches independent consultants with client projects, like a talent agency. An agency is different than a consulting firm because agencies usually place one person at a time, and they assume consultants are bringing their own methodology and tools. Agencies don’t dictate the approach or oversee the work like a consulting firm does, although sometimes they require status reports or check-ins. To me, consulting agencies and consulting firms are both different than staffing agencies that provide tactical staff augmentation services, not consultants who diagnose and solve problems. This article is about affiliating with consulting agencies, not consulting firms or staffing agencies. 

Read More

Quote Your Consulting Billing Rate with Confidence

Quote Your Consulting Billing Rate with Confidence

It takes practice to quote your consulting billing rate with confidence. The tactics in this article will help if you bill by the hour or by the day. There are other ways to bill for your talent and expertise but those will be covered in another article.

Benchmark so you know your rate is reasonable. There are lots of ways to do this. Talk with other consultants, do a web search on typical management consulting rates in your city or state, and/or try converting your employee salary to an hourly rate. Warning: this last calculation will be quite low since it doesn’t include profit, expenses, or the time it takes to run your business; try increasing this number by 40- 50%.

It also helps to have an idea of what consulting firms charge for consultants of similar background and expertise. Although rate information is a closely guarded secret, based on my 20 years in the industry here are very rough ballpark numbers for “management consulting” (not IT consulting, project management, training development, etc.).

Read More

Contractor, Consultant, or Both: It Matters!

Contractor, Consultant, or Both: It Matters!

With the rise of the free agent nation and gig economy, there’s rampant confusion around the terms contractor, consultant, and independent contractor. If you are a self-employed consultant, you don’t want to be a contractor but do want to be an independent contractor. This article explains why.

Contractor or Consultant

How you perceive yourself matters because it influences how others perceive you. This affects how much money you can charge for your services and expertise.

Let me give you an example. Recently I met a sharp, professional woman with about 15 years of experience as a project manager and change management specialist. For the last few years, she’s been designing and implementing change management efforts for multinational companies. She’s been working through various agencies as a contractor and making anywhere from $90 to $110 an hour. Last week I recommended her to a client as a consultant with a pay rate of $135 an hour. This means that for a three-month, full-time project she’ll make about $12,000 more as a consultant. Annually, she’ll probably make $30,000 to $40,000 more as a self-employed consultant than as a contractor. (It’s hard to estimate because of unpaid time between projects.)

Read More

Why Friends Don't Let Friends W-2

Why Friends Don't Let Friends W-2

As an independent consultant, does it matter how I get paid?”

Absolutely! In the U.S., being paid on a 1099 tax basis as a business instead of on a W-2 tax basis like a temp worker makes a huge difference to your profitability for two key reasons:

  1.  You pay less tax.
  2.  You save more for retirement.

Here’s how I figured this out.

Several years ago, as an independent consultant I did my taxes two ways using TurboTax® software. The first used my legitimate tax return that showed I was paid on a 1099 basis. In other words, I had received 1099 tax statements from my clients for that tax year; I did not have any W-2 tax statements. On this tax return, I took standard business deductions (for example, for my home office, supplies, and mileage), and I factored in my retirement contribution to my SEP IRA (Simplified Employee Pension).

Read More

Shift Your Perspective to Make Business Development Easier

Shift Your Perspective to Make Business Development Easier

Most consultants I know struggle with business development, and it’s a top concern among those thinking about going independent. “I don’t know how to build a pipeline of leads” or “I’m not good at sales” are common refrains.

Most of us never had sales training so this concern is understandable, but reframing how we think about business development can turn concern into action. Read any definition of business development and you won’t find the word sales.

A shift in perspective can make a significant difference in how you approach something. For example, before you go parasailing the first time you might think, “I’m excited to try this!” or “Oh my god, I’m going to die!” You’ll have a lot more fun if you approach it with an “I’m excited” attitude instead of “I’m scared.”

Read More

Two Reflection Exercises to Help You Work Smarter

Two Reflection Exercises to Help You Work Smarter

Everyone wants to work smarter, but when you’re self-employed finding time to work on your business, not just in it, is hard. You’re already so busy doing client work, where’s the time to make improvement? It’s even harder to step back and evaluate what you’re doing, not just how you’re doing it. Working smarter is about doing the right things, not just doing tasks more efficiently. 

But how do you know if you’re doing the right things? And what does “working smarter” really mean? Most businesses measure growth rate, client retention, revenue, and profit margin. However, as an independent consultant one thing is even more important—your own satisfaction and fulfillment, or literally your “internal rate of return.” You went out on your own for a reason—how is it working out?  

Below are two simple exercises to help you assess your internal rate of return and point you to working smarter. It’s best to do one or both either while you’re on vacation or just back from one, after you’ve cleared your brain a bit and caught your breath. Another option is to use your morning run or commute to think about these questions—no music, just listen to your thoughts. 

Read More