5 reasons why technology professionals become consultants

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The classic goal of getting a job, a career and a pension has been knocked on its head. Every year, employers of all sizes are taking advantage of new technology and relying on contracted workers. According to a recent Marist poll, within ten years contractors and freelancers could make up half the American workforce.

Many companies are now choosing to hire consultants, contractors and freelancers as part of a dynamic workforce – hiring as and when they need, rather than investing in full-time employees.

In this article we’ll discuss 5 reasons why this increasingly popular career path could be an attractive alternative. We’ll also share what you might want to consider before taking the leap.

First, let’s look at the options.

Contractor or Freelancer?

Let’s get something clear first – Contract technology consulting is not the same as freelancing.

Freelancers tend to charge an hourly rate or a rate per piece and will generally work on multiple client projects at a time. Freelancers are usually hired for a specific project goal, such as software implementation.

Contract consulting typically involves working for one client at a time – often at their location. The contractor is immersed in the client’s working environment – just as an employee, but for a set period of time.

The work of a technology contractor could be more strategic than that of a freelancer, such as identifying problems and advising to senior management.

Enlisting the services of an experienced contractor is typically a longer recruitment process, involving more scrutiny, interviews, reference checks and more complex contracts.

Do you have the right stuff?

You might assume that IT consulting is attractive only to more seasoned professionals with many years of career experience who are now seeking part-time employment.

That’s not always the case.

With the right blend of natural consulting skills and specialized expertise, IT consulting might be right for someone early on in their career. Some of the considerations include:

  • Are you an expert in a specific technological area?
  • Are you willing to be wrong and take advice?
  • Would you consider yourself a good teacher?
  • Are you comfortable building your network and asking for work?
  • Are you ready to manage your own business, including finding clients, paying taxes, invoicing, hiring subcontractors, etc?

IT consulting isn’t the right choice for everyone—some find themselves going from being a consultant back to a full-time employee. While the lack of career structure and stability is too much of a risk, other’s miss having work stability and a community to work with.

At the end of the day, it comes down to the individual, their careers goals, and their stage in life.

There are good reasons why professionals choose to move away from full-time employment and into contract technology consulting. We’ve listed five of the top reasons:

1. It pays well 

If your skills are in demand and you are willing to work hard – often juggling multiple contracts – you can command a higher gross income, compared to career employees. In fact, the only limit to your income could be the hours you can bill and how much you can subcontract.

Consultants tend to gravitate to specific areas of expertise. At the start of their consulting career, there may be a fear of over specializing and limiting opportunities. In fact the opposite is often true. Technology specialists can be more in demand, charge more and have greater control over the contracts they accept.

Consider this example:

Is a company migrating to a new (and very expensive) software platform going to hire a generic software consultant, or one who might charge twice as much, but specializes in exactly that system?

2. Get off the corporate ladder

The lure of climbing the corporate ladder has lost some of its glitter. As the hard working Boomers move to retirement, succession planning may take on a new design. Younger generations have already earned a reputation of valuing freedom and options and lifestyle over a lifetime of 9-5 (or 7-7?) grinding it out on your way to the “top”.

As a contractor, you no longer need to put in years proving yourself—you’ve skipped the line. By default, you’re already the CEO of your career and fully in charge.

For the right person, the trade off of losing employment security, training, resources – even a pension – for having earning and employment freedom – could be a surprisingly easy one to make.

3. Expand your professional network

The nature of consulting means you get to build a network of professionals. Every contract can bring you exposure to new industries, challenges and professionals. It can also open doors.

As a professional consultant your network is your road to the next contract. Referral business opportunities will always outweigh advertising or any other means of soliciting work.

The bonus is you are also learning from other experts. Every contract exposes you to new talent and skill sets and new approaches to problem solving.

4. Do the work you love

If you love problem solving, implementing new processes, and increasing corporate efficiencies – consulting could be for you. Ultimately, consulting should mean you get to do the work you love – most of the time.

As they advance their career, tech professionals take on more responsibility, often managing teams, dealing with recruitment, retention and other employee issues. All good stuff, if that’s what you like. Sometimes, all you really want is to get your hands dirty, dig into the systems and operations, and get to the root of problems.

Contracting can mean you choose the work you do and the level of engagement you take on.

5. See the world

It might not be why you became a contractor, but travelling to distant job sites could be a nice perk. Often it’s the developing countries that need the most technology help.

If you have a love of travel and don’t mind living out of a suitcase, contracting your IT services could lead you to some unique locations. In fact, your ability to pack up and move for extended contracts could be a selling point.

Inuvik anyone?

It’s called work for a reason

As attractive as contract employment can first appear, it’s still work.

New contractors need to build their network, lose as many bids and they win, work long hours and sometimes take on less attractive contracts (or less attractive fees) just to pay the bills. Being the boss is not always going to be easy or even supply the income
security you’d hoped for.

Building your reputation and resume of successful projects will take time. Just like every startup, the journey will not be a straight path or necessarily an easy one. As long as you choose this road less traveled for the right reasons, it can be a rewarding one.


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