As an independent consultant, it’s vital that you convey professionalism at every step if you want to get hired at a great rate. Details matter, particularly when you’re making an initial impression. That’s why having a professional email address is a must, as is an eye-catching, effective email signature.Read More
Advice and Insight
Negotiating is typically hard for everyone, but it’s especially tough for consultants. It’s our nature to make the client happy, so negotiating for a higher rate feels awkward. But when you’re self-employed, even the smallest increase in your rate can translate to big bucks, particularly if the rate is for a long project, or if you’re working with an ongoing client.
I recently discovered a series of practical tips on Instagram, of all places, by following Johanna Voss, owner of a boutique talent agency for female influencers and keynote speakers. With her permission, here are her three essential negotiation tips that every consultant should know.Read More
Generally, the more experience you have as an independent consultant, the more likely you should move from billing by the hour to a fixed fee. At some point you’ll master your specialty and work much more efficiently than others. This means to earn what your services are truly worth, you’ll have to keep raising your hourly rates. But at some point, you’ll reach an invisible rate ceiling when clients think you’re too expensive, even if it takes you half the time to do the work.
When you reach this point, it’s time to start thinking about billing for your services by the project instead of by the hour or day. The idea is to price the project as if you’re going to do it from scratch, even though you know you’re going to adapt plans and materials from prior projects. By doing so, you’ll boost your income per hour.
Here’s an example…Read More
The easiest time to raise your rate is on the cusp of something new — a new year, a new project, a new client. With the new year just a few weeks away, now might be the time. This article offers ideas of how to do this, as well as some sample language to use when notifying your clients.
How to determine your new rate
Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all formula. Instead, I suggest triangulating on a rate that seems fair. Look at several different numbers and then decide. Here are four suggestions.
First, make a ballpark guess of what you think your new rate should be. For example, if your rate is now $150 an hour, what do you think is a logical next step? $175? $165? Jot it down.
Second, calculate a percentage increase. The amount might be 3% or 5% annually. Or maybe you need to make up for two or three years without a rate increase, and a 10% or 15% increase seems appropriate. Do the math a few different ways and see how these numbers play out. In my example of $150 hourly, a 5% annual increase works out to $157.50 for year one, $165 for year two, and $172.50 for year three.Read More
It was bound to happen. After 15 years and hundreds of contracts, I finally had a client that didn’t pay, and didn’t pay, and didn’t pay. For six months there was one lame update after another. “We’re working on it,” or “We’ve switched to a new process.”
Yesterday, my bank finally received the wire transfer. Here’s my story, what I learned along the way, and steps you can take if you find yourself in the same situation.Read More
As a self-employed consultant do you really need a website?
I’m asked this a lot, particularly if a consultant gets most business from referrals or they contract through agencies or boutique firms. Besides, it’s highly unlikely that a prospective client is going to stumble upon your website and decide to hire you. Surely creating a website is a waste of time and money, right?
I used to say that if you had a really strong LinkedIn profile and you keep your network warm, you probably didn’t need a website. Indeed, I know dozens of independent consultants making six-figure incomes without one.
Now, however, my answer is, yes, absolutely, you need to have a business website. Here’s why:Read More
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
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
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
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?
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
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:
- 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?
- 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.)
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
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
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
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
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