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I've spent my career roughly half and half consulting and as a full time employee, and while it is possible to earn more as a consultant it requires a lot of extra effort (plus taxes, insurance, etc.), so in the end feels like a wash. As a rule of thumb I'd say $1 billed as a consultant ~= $.75 of salary (or $150K salary ~= $200k consulting).

Base salaries above $200K/yr are extremely rare, even for high-level managers in substantial companies. In my experience as an employee at companies both large and small moving beyond $150K/yr base salary in a non-executive role is quite unusual. That doesn't mean you can't or won't earn more than that--it's just that once you get to top levels as either an individual contributor or as a manager companies generally want to align as much of your compensation with the company's performance as possible, whether as bonuses, profit-sharing, or stock.

In my experience as a independent consultant $100/hour or more is readily achievable if you have a reasonably rare expertise (e.g. data warehousing/business intelligence) and a track record of delivering high quality results. I generally prefer charging by the day rather than the hour and have billed as high as $1000/day. While there have been many months I've billed $20,000, I've never billed over $200K in a year, work at that level just isn't that easy to find (at least if you're not willing to fly around the world).

I believe that there is a strong political interplay between these two modes of employment. As a consultant I have more than once been the highest paid person at a company--sometimes making more even than the executives. For short periods of time this doesn't seem to be a problem, but pretty consistently around 5-6 months customers become a lot more conscious of the dichotomy--I'm often working alongside people who earn less than half of what I'm billing. I've had more than one case where I've worked for a customer on an initial 2-3 month contract, had it extended on a rolling basis for another 2-3 months, and then found them very serious about finding a full-time engineer to take over my duties (they often offer me the job but usually it's not a great deal). It's also common for them to call me back for additional stints, including cleaning up problems introduced by my replacement. Even though it would probably just be better to have just kept me around they hit a wall with accepting the pay differential.




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