Category Archives: Career Management

Can You be an Independent Consultant and Work for a Firm?

Independent Consultant
Independent Consultant

Although there are many ways to categorize consulting, one major difference is whether someone works as an independent consultant, or as a consultant working for a consulting firm.

Firm consultants vs independent consultants

Independent consultants generally have a large network of clients and potential clients. They either do their own marketing to sell projects to people in that network, or they partner with a firm that helps them identify work.

An independent consultant often does short gigs for clients, usually working alone to perform a study or tightly defined task.

Conversely, a consultant working for a firm often works with a team of people. The team can be a combination of fellow employees of their firm, employees of the client, and other consultants.

These rules are not set in stone. Consultants from a firm can work alone and independent consultants can be part of a large team on a long-term project.

A consultant with a firm will be charged the going hourly rate to the client based on that individual’s skills and experience. That consultant is paid a salary that is often a fraction of the rate billed. That consultant generally receives a full benefits such as health insurance, a 401(k), and paid vacation time. Although firm consultants are responsible for developing new business, they have less responsibility for finding their next job. The firm generally has a sales team that finds the work for them.

Independent consultants are responsible for finding their work. They get to keep most of their billings after taxes, but are responsible for their own health insurance and retirement savings. If they want to take vacation time off, they don’t get paid.

Consultants that are risk averse often stay affiliated with a firm that will do the heavy lifting of sales for them. They can do the work of a consultant and not worry so much where their next job is coming from.

Some consultants work for a firm until they can develop a good Rolodex of clients before they set out on their own. Sometimes, just because they have consulting experience, they may get an opportunity to do some independent work for a client gig.

Conflict of interest

There is nothing wrong with a firm consultant doing a one-off gig or even transitioning to becoming an independent on a full-time basis. The critical consideration is to avoid any conflict of interest.

Consider if you work for a client for your firm, and that client offers to pay you separately to do additional, independent work for them on your own time. If your firm provides the same service the client is asking you to do – even if it is not your role, you could be competing with your own firm.

Whether there is any question of competing or not, it would be advisable to meet with your manager at your firm and get their opinion. If they have any reservation, it may be a conflict of interest. On the rare occasion that they don’t have a problem, make sure that the time you work on the independent work never interferes with the work you are doing with the firm.

If a completely separate client asks you to do independent work on your own time, this may be a more palatable set up for your firm. You still need to ensure that the time you spend on your independent client doesn’t interfere with the time you spend for your firm.

Your firm may require you to bill a minimum number of hours to the client to justify your salary. Working fewer hours in order to serve your independent client creates a conflict of interest. Obviously, billing both clients for the same hours is also a serious breach in ethics.

Finally, always ensure that you don’t use any of your firm’s resources to serve your independent client. This includes office supplies, email accounts, and intellectual property.

Conclusion

Many consultants use employment with a consulting firm as a stepping stone to becoming an independent consultant. During that transition, it is important to maintain ethical practices to ensure that there are no conflicts of interest with your independent practice and your firm.

How have you made the transition from a firm to independent consultant?

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com

Image courtesy of StuartMiles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Using a client laptop

Client laptop
Using a client laptop

I heard a consultant talking the other day about a client experience he had. He had a client laptop issued to him. He carried it home with him every night in case he needed to do any work off hours.

One Saturday night he had a few friends over. He powered up the client-issued laptop and started playing music on it. Later in the evening, he was in another room, not paying attention to the laptop. When he walked back into the room, he saw that some of his friends were viewing porn on the client-issued laptop.
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Constant Renewal for Success

Constant Renewal
Constant Renewal

I remember when my wife and I had just graduated from college and were beginning our careers. I was a consultant and she was a middle school teacher. We were both filled with optimism and enthusiasm. We had the potential to change the world.

As a teacher, she was learning new approaches to education and couldn’t wait to start applying them.  We went to my home town for the weekend to visit my parents around that time. At my parents’ church, we ran into one of my teachers from middle school who was near retirement. He and my wife got into a conversation about these new teaching approaches.

He flippantly laughed them off. “Oh, every few years or so, they come up with newfangled techniques to teaching. But they never last long.”
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Effectively Reporting to the Client Executive

Reporting to the Client Executive
Reporting to the Client Executive

For any consultant, reporting to the client executive can be difficult. Clients don’t always specify what they want and how it should be reported. Even when things are agreed upon early on, it sometimes takes time to refine status and other reporting to a point where it satisfies the client.

Although it takes some time and effort, the more you learn about the client, the clearer your reporting becomes. You also eventually develop a better relationship with the client.

Understand what she wants when she makes a request

Clients, especially busy executives, often give what I like to call iceberg instructions. They expose just a little bit of what they want. They can envision the entire thing – at least to some degree. But the consultant listening to these directions only can see what is provided.
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Managing the Transitioning to Your Successor

transitioning to your successor
Transitioning to your successor

Today, we observe a phenomenon that makes the United States unique and special. We will observe the peaceful transition of power of the United States presidency. Regardless of your politics or whether your candidate won, this is a process that has gone smoothly for over 200 years.

The outgoing president works closely with the newly elected president to facilitate a smooth transition of power. I’ve always been impressed by this. Even when the successor defeated the incumbent (which has happened ten times in our history), the two work together in the greater interest of the nation.

Although it rarely matches the levels of significance and national security, I’ve seen this occur in consulting environments many times. A team member on a project is to be replaced by another. When this happens, the incumbent team member is expected to transition his or her work to the incoming person.

Transitioning to your successor

One of the great things about consulting is the variety. Consultants thrive on moving from project to project. Some even like to have a variety of clients. After some time on a project, they are ready to move on. This can be a pleasant process in these situations. The incoming consultant is excited about the new assignment. The outgoing one is just as excited to start something new.

Sometimes, a client will change contracts with their preferred vendors, needing to transition knowledge from one firm’s consultants to another. This can be based on cost savings or an effort to consolidate work to fewer firms.

A transition like this is comparable to an incumbent president losing the race, required to transition to his opponent. While the outgoing firm may resent being replaced, they must do the professional thing. They need to provide the knowledge transfer necessary to make their replacement successful.

This should not be confused with the story in 2016 regarding Disney employees training replacement workers. That was about permanent employees losing their jobs because cheaper consultants were replacing them. A consultant-for-consultant swap is much more common and more acceptable. Consultants expect to be temporary and to move on to another temporary assignment.

Interviewing your replacement

I’ve been in the situation where, as part of my transition off of a project, I was to interview candidates to take my position. On one hand, that is an almost ideal person to do the interviewing. No one knows the position like the incumbent.

There could be a potential conflict of interest, even if the consultant is leaving willingly. He could fear a newcomer showing him up. He could focus on hiring someone less qualified to make his previous work appear better in comparison.

But like the incumbent president focusing on a smooth transition of power, a consultant needs to think of the client and their project. Sabotaging the project, no matter how subtle, will tarnish the reputation of the consultant and his firm.

Handing off the work

Once the new consultant has been identified and brought in for the transition, it can be awkward. The replacement may feel uncomfortable taking the place of the outgoing guy. The new consultant may be present when people say their goodbyes and show their disappointment to see the old guy go.

It is up to the outgoing consultant, regardless of the purpose of the staffing change, to make the process go smoothly. All documentation should be shared and authorized access provided to the new consultant.

Key stakeholders should be introduced in person, if that is possible. Contact information should be shared and background on each individual’s role and responsibilities. The ultimate goal should be that your replacement is never heard saying, “My predecessor never mentioned anything about that.”

It’s just how it works in consulting

Some people may find it bad form to require someone to train their replacement. The Disney scenario is extreme because permanent employees had to transition to their replacements before their firing took place. Because of the temporary nature of consulting, transitioning to your successor is a fairly common occurrence. It may create uncertainty for the outgoing consultant, but it’s just the way consulting works.

Have you ever been replaced by another consultant?

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com

Image courtesy of Xura at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When your leader can’t lead

When your leader can't lead
When your leader can’t lead

I’ve had the good fortune to work for some great leaders during my career. Some have been better than others. But most were very good from one aspect or another. I learned from the best and the mediocre. I once had the misfortune to work for someone who was put in a leadership position without any leadership skills whatsoever. I decided quickly that I had made a big career mistake. I then had to determine my back-out plan.

The realization: This leader can’t lead

Having spent most of my career in consulting delivery, I decided to make a change that took me outside of my comfort zone. I accepted a position with a small but growing firm in the hopes of learning a new aspect of consulting. It took only one interview and the quick decision for an offer was made. That should have been a warning sign. It was only after I joined that I learned that my predecessor walked out without a notice.
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3 Signs Your Consulting Firm will fail

your consulting firm will fail
Signs your consulting firm will fail

One of the greatest fears anyone can have in their career is an impending layoff. It usually starts as a rumor.

“Hey did you hear they’re planning layoffs?” There is always that person who seems to always have the inside track. Sometimes the rumor comes to fruition. Sometimes it ends up being just that – a rumor.

Everybody needs to try to be aware of how things are going with the financial health of the organization they work for. It’s even more important in the consulting industry.

Every industry has its own indicators that things may not be going well. It is the employee’s responsibility to follow those trends and to decide whether to stick with the organization and ride out the storm, or to find a firm that is in more stable condition.
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Please the Client or Please the Boss

Please the client
Please the client

Successful consultants know that there are two critical success factors to consulting: Provide quality service and sell more of it. It is hard to sell more services if the ones you deliver are of poor quality. But providing top quality does not guarantee additional consulting business at that client.

Selling more business at an existing client is a skill all by itself. On top of providing high quality work, the consultant needs to keep her eyes open for other opportunities. Growing an existing account is important for consultants at every level

Consultants should think about what is best for the client and not the consulting firm. If the consultant reaches that pinnacle – being the client’s trusted advisor, he may not have to worry about selling. The client will come to the consultant with issues to solve without any need for the consultant to go into sales mode.
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Process and Consistency – Not Always the Same

Process and consistency
Process and consistency

I once worked for a man that had a defined process for everything. He tracked everything with a spreadsheet. Everyone was expected to follow all of his processes to the letter. People became so bogged down following process that they got little else done.

It was also a drain on morale. They did so much mindless administrative work that their brains never really got a chance to create anything meaningful.

At another time in my career, I had another boss who went to the other extreme. He didn’t believe in process at all. He thought that if we establish core principles, people should be enabled to make decisions on their own.

The problem was that nobody knew what anyone else was doing. Duplicate tasks would be completed by two people because neither one knew the other was working on it. Some tasks fell through the cracks because everyone assumed someone else was doing it.
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The Boss’s Unreasonably High Expectations

High Expectations
The Boss’s Unreasonably High Expectations

The movie “Eight Men Out” is about the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal in which several members of the Chicago White Sox fixed the World Series by losing games on purpose. They did this based on an agreement with two gamblers who promised to pay them more for losing than they would have gained by winning the World Series.

Eddie Cicotte was a pitcher on that team and had a $10,000 bonus clause in his contract if he won 30 games. When Cicotte reached 29 wins, White Sox owner Charles Comiskey ordered the manager to bench him for the remaining two weeks of the season.

And such is the world of business. People are provided incentives to reach milestones that can be manipulated, preventing them from being reached. In other situations, the carrot is set so far out of reach that few, if anyone on the team can reach them.
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