Earlier this year, a former co-worker wanted to talk to me about becoming an independent consultant and leaving the consulting company that we both used to work for. I wanted to take some time to talk about what I believe are the pros and cons of working for yourself versus working for someone else, in particular, a big company.
In 2017, I decided to leave the consulting company I was working for and work for myself. I did Corp to Corp work for about 2 years before deciding to join Microsoft in November of 2018. In this blog, I want to share some of the advice I gave my friend and former co-worker as he undertakes his journey into the independent consulting world.
I will first talk about what I perceive as the positives of being an independent consultant and then I will delve into what I perceive to be some of the negative aspects of being an independent consultant. I can definitely appreciate how big of a decision it is to go the independent consulting route, so much so, that even when I joined Microsoft, I kept my LLC because I was not sure if I was making the right decision.
Being My Own Boss
One of the main reasons I decided to go the Corp to Corp route is because I wanted to have more freedom and be my own boss. I wanted to have a lot more say in who I worked for and what kind of projects that I worked on. Also, when I didn’t have a client, I wanted to spend time working on side projects that I liked as opposed to an employer giving me “busy” work until another client became available.
When I became my own boss, I became even more disciplined, I started to view things from an “employer’s” perspective and I became incredibly knowledgeable about taxes, payroll and how to run a small business.
Limited Exposure to Politics
Another reason why I decided to work for myself was because of Corporate Politics. Let’s be honest, if you are going to deal with people, you will deal with politics, that is just the nature of the beast. However, when you work as an independent consultant, your exposure to politics is a lot less because your client is not your boss, they are just paying you for your expertise for a limited amount of time.
You will not have to attend any of their corporate meetings, you will not have to do monthly or quarterly reviews, you won’t have to worry about promotions, titles, wage increases or getting a new supervisor.
When I was my own boss, it felt really good to not have to worry about any of the politics at the client and just focus solely on the tasks that I was brought in for.
One of the aspects of my professional life that has always bothered me is that there aren’t a lot of people in positions of influence that look like me ie a Black Males. When I decided to work for myself, I found that this lack of diversity bothered me less and less because I now work for myself and I didn’t have to worry about any “bias” in who got promotions, raises or the best projects
Also, due to Federal guidelines, your client had limitations on how much control that have over how and where you do your work. When I was working for myself, I was 100% remote and I no longer had to go into my consulting company’s office to do remote work for their client located in California. Working remotely greatly reduces the impact Corporate Politics can have on a person’s mental health and personal wellbeing because you are simply not physically present when a lot of it occurs.
Another great aspects of being an independent consultant is, quite frankly, from a money standpoint, the sky’s the limit. As an independent consulting, you will negotiate your bill rate and you get paid for every “unit” (ie 15, 30 or 60 minutes) you work.
I remember telling people that immediately after I started working for myself, many activities I didn’t really enjoy as a full time employee, I started to hope for as an independent consultant. For example, at the consulting company I worked for before I went independent, we use to have “brown bags” where we would give talks about a new technology or methodology and I found that if you wanted them to be good, it took quite a bit of time. As an independent consultant, I would now bill for those hours because it was work I was doing for the client.
Also, when most people start out on their own, they will typically have to go through a 3rd party to find work. The 3rd party, typically a recruiting company or consulting company will take a percentage off the top as a finder’s fee. If someone becomes quite skilled, they can find clients directly and get an even higher bill rate as the 3rd party middleman is no longer needed.
One of the major negative assets to being your own boss is that you are constantly in “hustle” mode. You never know when your client is going to terminate the project you are working on and many times, clients will only sign a 6 month contract with you, so you are always looking for the next “meal”.
Also, you become very aware of how budgets work and when most companies typically run out of money. When I went independent, I always tried to make sure that I had a project during the months of October through January. What I found was that most companies typically had already used their budget for the year and decision makers were already in “vacation” mode during those months. Also, when your client is slashing budgets, consultants are typically the first ones out the door.
Furthermore, when you are always hustling, that means you are typically interviewing constantly, unless you have built up a very good reputation in your industry. In my blog The Broken Technical Interview Process, I talk about how I feel the Technical Interview Process is broken and how much I loathe interviewing.
When I decided to go Corp to Corp, I learned a lot about running a business and part of that is paperwork. One of the reasons I why I always hesitated to go independent was I was very fearful about looking for an honest CPA who would ensure that I didn’t get in any trouble with the IRS.
I had to spend a lot of time trying to find a good name for my LLC, filling out the paperwork, interviewing CPAs, learning software like Quickbooks, the Texas Workforce Commission, Payroll Taxes, Insurance, Contract verbiage and end of the year taxes.
Also, no matter how honest you think your CPA is, you always want to consistently double check their work to ensure taxing entities are getting paid the right amount and on time because at the end of the day, when something is not paid on time, Uncle Sam is not going to accept the excuse of “Well, I didn’t pay you because my CPA messed up”!
The deal I struck with my CPA (who is fantastic) is that he would handle my tax filings and I would do the day to day bookkeeping entries.
On the flip side, there is a negative aspect of money when you go the independent route. Now, when I decided to take a vacation or there was a corporate holiday, I didn’t get paid for those days. If a person is smart, they will bake holidays, vacations and time without a client into their bill rate to ensure they have enough money to maintain their standard of living.
Also, not to preach, but money isn’t everything but if you end up working with a client on a Death March project, sure you will make a lot of money but you may also get burnt out and work-life balance will be greatly diminished.
As I have tried to explain, there are pros and cons to going independent versus working for large companies. Personally, I feel that every person should at least attempt to try to start their own business at least once for the educational value alone.
I learned quite a bit when I was running my own ship and definitely miss a lot of aspects of being my own boss. However, working for a large companies definitely has some positives but ultimately, one has to make a decision for themselves about what is best for them and their family.