Derik Whittaker



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Things to think about if you want to be a consultant

I was chatting a buddy recently and he was thinking about making the jump to the consulting world (not solo, through a consulting firm).  As he has never been a consultant I gave him my 2cents on questions to ask during the interview as well as things he has to accept before making the jump.

Questions to ask the consulting firm

  • What percent of travel is the norm?
    This is very important to know up front.  Because if you don't want to travel much and they tell you they are 100% travel, then move on. 

    One thing you need to keep in mind, is that they can give you a number, that number is NOT in stone.  It can/will change from client to client.  In my 5 years of consulting, I never left the greater Chicago area.  And for 2+ years I worked out of our home office.

  • What is your bench policy?
    Ask what the policy is for being on the bench?  More importantly ask the billable % expectation is for a consultant.  This can be important because if they expect you to be billable 90% of the year then they may not be able to handle any rough patches.  However, if they expect you to be billable for only 80% then they should be better set for rough patches.

    I also found that if a company has higher expectations about billable %, they may not be willing to provide non-billable training as it eats into the bottom line.

    If you are on the bench, do they have something for you to do?  Can you go to training during that time?  Or can you simply stay home and collect a check (i wish)?

  • What is your training policy?
    Ask what type of training they budget for?  Do they pay for conferences, weekly training classes?  Do they EXPECT you to take some sort of training. 

    A good firm will have a defined budged that will allow for adequate training of all there consultants.  Actually, it is in their best interest to keep you trained as you become more marketable.

  • What is the 'standard' number of billable hours you expect?
    What is the standard number of hours do they expect you to bill for in a giving year?  Is it 1800, is it 2000?  This makes a difference because if they tell you 2000+ then are telling you they EXPECT you to work over time (more on that below).

    A full year with no time off is 2080 hours (52 weeks * 40 hours).  But if you get 2 weeks vacation and 10 paid holidays you are only at 1920 (48 weeks * 40 hours). 

    Again, now keep in mind that the 'standard' number is just a rule of thumb, but it is good to know.  The higher the number, the less room in the budget they may have for when times get tough. 

    Also, keep in mind that during my 5 years consulting, my average work week was about 45-50 hours.  So if you are looking for the 40 hours and go home, you may not want to do consulting.

  • How are bonuses/raises calculated?
    Do they give bonuses/raises?  Are they based on billable hours?  If they are based on billable hours, that can be good and bad. 

    Example.  My old firm would give a flat bonus, but if you worked 200 extra hours a year you got a bump, if you worked 300 you got an extra bump, etc.

    This is good because i knew that the more i billed, the larger my bonus. 
    This was bad because i only got a sliver of the extra billable hours and in the long run did not pay off in the end.

  • How does overtime work?
    Some firms don't do anything special for overtime (as is the case in most salary positions).  However, some will actually pay you extra for your overtime (these places typically don't give bonuses).  Other places bank your overtime and build that into your vacation (worked out well for my buddy).

    But i would say that most common is that nothing happens with your overtime, except the companies profits increase at your expense.

Thing you have to accept as part of the job

  • The tech/environment will change with every new client
    With every new client/project your environment along with the technology will change.  For some people this is a show stopper, for others it is just another chance to learn.

    Keep in mind that if you work on site at the client you will be expected to follow ALL their rules.  So if they are business formal, you will be expected to dress in business formal.  If they say you cannot come in till 9 and must stay till 6, then that is what you must do.

    If you are not willing to accept this, then consulting may not be for you.

  • You may not always be working on 'cool/fun' tech
    Since each project may change technology you may not always be working on 'fun, cool' stuff.  You may go from doing cutting edge development on project to doing report writing on the next one. 

    If you are not willing to accept this, then consulting may not be for you.

  • You are the '***' of the client, at their mercy
    Since you are a 'hired gun' you are the mercy of the client.  Don't expect to have the same treatment as full timers (a lot of places today treat their consultants as part of the family, but not all).  Don't expect to get subsidized meals (if offered) or gym memberships, etc.

    Also, be ready to work in some of the worst spaces you can think of.  On place i worked the consultants all sat in a single 15-20 office.  They basically lined up desks along the wall and filled it with 6 people.  I felt bad for them :).

  • The people you will meet
    The coolest part is the people you will meet, the connections you will make.  This is great because networking is the best way to move ahead in this business.  I have meet some great people and have made some great contacts.

This was my 2cents to him.

Did I miss anything?  Am I wrong?  Let me know

Till next time,

Posted 01-02-2008 3:26 PM by Derik Whittaker
Filed under: ,



consulting » Blog Archive » Things to think about if you want to be a consultant wrote consulting » Blog Archive » Things to think about if you want to be a consultant
on 01-02-2008 8:04 PM

Pingback from  consulting  » Blog Archive   » Things to think about if you want to be a consultant

sergiopereira wrote re: Things to think about if you want to be a consultant
on 01-02-2008 8:39 PM

on the plus side, changing clients is a much lighter process than changing employers. It's not unusual for a consultant to realize he doesn't like the project or that it was "a trap" and ask the consulting company to find him another client and be replaced. I've seen consultants find other clients on their own, get transferred to the new client, and on top of everything get a bonus for adding a new client for the company.

Derik Whittaker wrote re: Things to think about if you want to be a consultant
on 01-02-2008 9:43 PM


All good points.

But you make it sound as if simply asking to switch projects means it will happen.  I can say from personal experience, that was not the case at my old firm.   But I also worked for a smaller company.

Christopher Steen wrote Link Listing - January 2, 2008
on 01-03-2008 12:49 AM

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PartialClass wrote re: Things to think about if you want to be a consultant
on 01-05-2008 4:00 AM

another good post from derik. it has shown me the reaility :)

Finds of the Week - January 6, 2008 » Chinh Do wrote Finds of the Week - January 6, 2008 » Chinh Do
on 01-07-2008 1:37 AM

Pingback from  Finds of the Week - January 6, 2008 » Chinh Do

kevin Mocha wrote Things to think about if you want to be a consultant
on 01-07-2008 5:27 PM
Click Here For Glutathione wrote Click Here For Glutathione
on 02-06-2008 3:04 AM

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