Consulting. Is it a force for good or evil in the professional world?
Your answer to this probably depends on whether you are doing the consulting or receiving the consulting. All joking aside, Consultants fulfill a very important role: they do something that your company either cannot do (for reasons of time, money, etc) or doesn’t want to do.
Having been on both sides of the equation (being a consultant and enduring consultants), I feel that there is no straight answer. There are definite benefits to consulting, both on a personal and company-wide level.
As a company, a consultant is someone who you pay a flat fee/hourly rate, much like interns or non-salaried workers, occasionally they might get thrown some stock, but very, very rarely do they get any benefits. This means that the company doesn’t have to a) do paperwork to add them to the myriad benefit plans (dental, vision, medical, etc) and perhaps more importantly, b) the consultant’s sticker price is what they get paid.
Benefits often get ignored or played down when most people consider what they are making. Very few people (most of them in HR) actually realize what their benefits are worth. As a non-married, dependent-free male, my benefits only affect me, and comparatively aren’t monetarily worth as much as a married person or someone with dependents (assuming both are covered by said benefits).
The downside, on a company level, to hiring consultants is that they generally do not have a vested interest (assuming they are not one of those rare cases that receive stock). Additionally, they realize that they are only onboard for a very specific time period, so they may not feel the need to work and play well with others, particularly towards the end of their contract. This seems to be especially true when they feel that there is no chance for repeat business or an extension to the contract.
Working as a consultant can be difficult. As mentioned above, you don’t get benefits, which means you have to raise your price to cover the cost of handling your own insurance (unless you happen to have certain regenerative powers…) and then there’s the cost of advertising yourself. It can be extremely difficult to get yourself setup, which is why it is much better to work full time (with benefits) for a company and have them hire you out as a consultant. The sacrifice in cash flow potential is well worth it for the benefits and the free advertising.
As a consultant, you may get the opportunity to travel. Take it! Most places like to meet their consultants, at least initially, to put a face to a name. This is a huge opportunity to get to know your employers, personally. Making a good connection at the meeting(s) and you will make your consulting life so much easier. Additionally, having “connected” with these people will make it easier to add them to your list of friendly contacts, those people who you may eventually need to hit up for a job offer at some point in your future (/plug LinkedIn is absolutely wonderful for this, and no I don’t work for them).
One other downside I would like to mention is that you will generally only be able to bill/get paid for 8 hours a day and/or 40 hours per week. Very few consulting deals allow for any sort of overages. This can cause problems if you are dealing with an unrealistic deadline, or when a project with a previously reasonable deadline gets infected with scope creep (more about that hideous disease next week).
In summary, if you are a consultant, don’t throw a tantrum and start burning bridges at the end (or any point really) of your contract. That sort of thing has a tendency to bite you in the ass. If you are working with a consultant, bear in mind that they likely only get paid for 8 hours a day and/or 40 hours a week, so they probably won’t be as receptive to burning the midnight oil.
What are your takes on Consultants and Consulting in general? Post your tales, evil or otherwise in the comments.