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Consulting (dopeboy.github.io)
328 points by dopeboy 939 days ago | hide | past | web | 101 comments | favorite



A friend of mine said that working at a corporation gives you the illusion of stability, and working as a freelancer gives you the illusion of freedom.

I found that to be very true. Working freelance basically means that each client is a new boss. Each boss will want things from you and they don't know or care about the other bosses! So you have to be really good at juggling projects.


Freelancing != Consulting. I think this is a huge issue with the article posted.

Freelancing = Not so great jobs where clients dictate what they want (low pay)

Consulting = Excellent jobs with clients that want you for your knowledge (much much higher pay)

Making the leap is the difference between "building websites" and "building websites for a particular industry with a very specific technology that only a handful of people really know".


In reality, I don't think the difference is as big as you're making out. In many practical senses, a consultant in an IT field is just a freelancer or agency staffer in an IT field who also understands marketing.

Consultants pitch based on their general capability and the value it offers to a client. They probably take ownership of a whole project so the client can just set out their expectations and then give occasional feedback as things progress. You hire a consultant to solve a problem, and what you're paying for is a solution that meets your needs.

Technical freelancers, the kind of people who describe themselves as "$language programmer" or "web designer", pitch based on their ability to do things like hacking in $language or producing mock-ups of the appearance of a web site. However, these things have no direct benefit to a client. They only have value when put in context and combined with the work of others under some implied level of management. You hire this kind of freelancer to build a thing, and what you're paying for is the asset they build, and it's your responsibility to figure out what to do with it and how to make it valuable.

Although consultants may also specialise more, for example preferring to work in a specific niche market, I don't think that is really the defining factor. Most consultants are still just freelancers or small agencies. They just have enough business savvy not to describe themselves as such, because someone who can solve a problem is typically much more valuable to a prospective client than someone who can build a thing.


I really think you are downplaying just how important the ability to pitch "your general capability and the value it offer to a client" is. If this ability is something that can triple freelancers' incomes and completely change their view of the market that they operate in, it results in a huge difference, even if the actions that led up to it seem simple.


It can do a lot more than triple your income in some parts of the industry, and certainly it does fundamentally change your view about the work you're doing and how you see your clients.

My point was more that freelancers and consultants aren't some sort of mutually exclusive categories or different steps on a ladder. A lot of consultants who mostly work alone are freelancers, creating a significant overlap in the groups, but neither group is a subset of the other.


My 5 cents of consulting vs freelancing from my own experiences in Business Intelligence and Mobile/Web development.

With consulting, you are not necessarily responsible for execution. Your job is primarily to make recommendations. That said, much of my consulting work has also been comprised of executing on my recommendations.

With freelancing, the work tends to be either in reality consulting or in most scenarios executing on a spec, or under another developer's guidance.

If I were to put it simply, consulting stems from offering recommendations and direction from a place of knowledge and experience related to your skillset, whereas freelancing tends to be more the application of your skillset.


What you say is true, but there are shades of gray too. For example, I was brought on board a job because of my front-end ASP.NET MVC skills for a company that primarily consisted of data guys. I'm expected to do "consulting" in the sense that I'm supposed to show them best practices and how to organize front-end work, but I'm far from "particular industry with a very specific technology that only a handful of people really know".


> "building websites for a particular industry with a very specific technology that only a handful of people really know".

Do you have an example of that in action? It would be interesting if we could see a freelancer's landing page vs consultant's landing page.

A side by side comparison of what the differences are.


Sure thing (note: some of these are consulting firms vs. agencies - which are really just scaled versions of consultants vs. freelancers):

- consulting: http://www.nngroup.com/

- agency: http://www.akqa.com/

- consulting: http://www.cooper.com/

- agency: http://www.elpassion.com/

- consultant: http://andrewhinton.com/

- consultant: http://jessicahische.is/

- freelancer: http://www.danielaa.me/

- freelancer: http://owltastic.com/

You'll see with the examples above that both the agencies (freelancers) and consulting firms (consultants) offer similar services. However the consultants are mostly focused on a small set of skills (research, UX, etc.) whereas the agencies keep it broader.


From the links, it seems like consulting is primarily focused on UX, and agencies are responsible for the implementation. As a developer, I'm really hoping this isn't the case.

Edit: another thing I notices is that consultant firms seem to deliver intangibles like teaching clients best practices or ideas gleaned from cutting-edge research, while agencies are just focused on delivering the tangible product.


> From the links, it seems like consulting is primarily focused on UX, and agencies are responsible for the implementation

I would say that's mostly true. A lot of the "pure" consulting I've done has been in the form of teaching, critiquing and building reports/style guides that other designers and developers use internally to build products.

I will say that finding consulting work like that is exponentially harder than finding your typical freelancing gigs (which is expected).


Thanks for that! I'm definitely seeing a pattern here. The consultants pages I immediately get a sense of the business value, there's a lot of focus on value that people can easily understand while the agencies and freelancer websites are specific languages, technologies, 'hire us', labor for money.

It would be interesting to know if you gave an agency, freelancer, consultant the same project, what they would do different, what they would charge differently, what the output would be and the time frame.

Is UX = User Experience? How do you self proclaim yourself that you are a UX/UI expert? What do these consultants do that is different from what a freelancer would do (ex. fixing UI, creating UI, using template UI, split testing).

Is there value in using vague languages vs specific activity (ex. user experience optimization vs use a javascript library to split test and measure optimizations)?

Agency vs Consultants is also an interesting comparison. Agencies seem much like Freelancer websites, fancy, artsy, will-do-anything-for-money while the consultants page seem more sane, narrowly focused and use much more business speak.

For developers and freelancers, it would be nice if we can work with a business vocabulary. I think any freelancer can whip up a page like nngroup.com and present themselves as a consultant, or is there more to it than just the surface?

So essentially it's a sales technique.

On one end of the spectrum, highly technical, frameworks, languages, stuff technical people understand, solves technical labor, the value is reduced cost.

On the other end of the spectrum, non technical, business centric, stuff non technical people understand and most technical people shun as 'bullshit' is actually aims to solve business problem or provide business values in a word they can understand and measure.

It reminds me sort of like selling to different market segments with SaaS. On the lower end, you sell to the small guys, with small needs, price sensitive. On the enterprise end, you sell to large guys, with bigger needs, people's career depend on the success of the project, bigger pockets.

So is it safe to conclude that becoming a 'consultant' is essentially you are now selling to people with money, people with business problems or needs, people who don't speak tech, thus the higher command in pay?

I think it would be very helpful for technical people if we could learn the business linguo and training to speak client's language. I understand that not everyone is cut out for this but for those of that are, it would be extremely valuable to be able to speak and write in such manner.


> For developers and freelancers, it would be nice if we > can work with a business vocabulary. I think any > freelancer can whip up a page like nngroup.com and > present themselves as a consultant, or is there more > to it than just the surface?

> So essentially it's a sales technique.

I've worked as a freelancer and with consultants and I think your problem is that you're focusing on the website. These businesses receive Zero (0) inbounds from their websites. The reason why they even have a website is because, well, it's 2015. It might be a window into how the business works but changing your freelance website to look like a consultancy would make no difference whatsoever.

What divides the two is their professional networks: where they find business, who they're working for, and why. Freelancers try to drum up business by going to meetups, following up on weak leads ("I hear Jim needs a new website") subcontracting through agencies. Their value proposition is that they do an hour's work for an hours pay and they're in business for themselves most likely cause they're just trying to escape the cube farm.

A consultant got into her business because she's realized that she's reached the peak of what she can make as an "individual contributor". She has a big book of business before she even hangs out her shingle and perhaps decided to start consulting because she had too many people wanting to give her money and didn't want to commit to one. Her client list grows organically through referrals being made through her huge professional network. When she enters into sales negotiations the impetus is on the client to sale the gig to her rather than the other way around.

I would like to work for myself again but not as a freelancer. That's a dead-end world. My goal now is to either develop my career to the point where I can be a proper consultant or (even better) develop a SaaS product.


There is another aspect I would like to add to what your wrote. The minimum effort required to win new business and the resources required to do business.

I give you a specific example, I think it makes the point: a graphic designer who went from consultant to freelancer.

When he maintained the consultancy, he also had to keep an office and act as a project manager when third parties got involved. He also had to present for the whole project team. He also had to have a marketing and sales process going and he had to talk to non-technical people.

As a freelancer: none of that, just a laptop and a portfolio website. Of course he had to advertise in his network to get new work and he had to work more for to make the same amount of money. But he had a lot less responsibilities now, which for some is just the better life.


I think any freelancer can whip up a page like nngroup.com and present themselves as a consultant, or is there more to it than just the surface?

In a practical sense, that is true. Any half-decent web hacker could produce the sites these consultancies use.

However, the point is that it would never occur to most of them to do so, any more than for example they would think to hire someone who speaks the language of their prospective client base to do their copywriting.

There are two distinct skill sets in play here. A technical freelancer might have better technical skills than a consultant when it comes to, say, designing a web site or unit testing a module in a software project. But the consultant understands how to speak the client's language, understand the client's needs, and translate that into technical work that will solve that client's problem. This skill set is much more about various types of management and marketing activities, and it's a world that most geeks never think to enter, and where there's no guarantee that just because you're good at technical work you'll also be good at the other side.

This is why I sometimes disagree with HN posters who advocate becoming more of a consultant to boost your income if you're an independent developer: most geeks don't have the skill set to do that, and plenty won't want to learn the rest and change the type of work they do, or they simply don't have the aptitude for it anyway. However, those other posters are right that the consulting side can command much higher rates for those willing and able to make the jump, simply because it's a more valuable proposition from the client's perspective.


Agreed that the comparisons are excellent. To this question:

   > How do you self proclaim yourself that you are a 
   > UX/UI expert?
The answer is you just state it, the client will either believe you or not but you can't control that. Some folks will argue that only a PhD in HCI can make you a UX/UI expert but generally the people who say that are the ones with the PhD :-)


UX and UI aren't always the same thing. For example, you can a very pretty looking button - that's good UI. However, if no one knows what happens if they press the button before they've pressed it, that's bad UX.

It is extremely rare to find someone who can make good UX right off the bat for a new problem, so I would say that a UX expert is someone who can iterate efficiently and constantly improve user experience (and, indirectly, business metrics) and a UI expert is someone who can make things look exactly like they were supposed to (in their heads or their clients' heads or in the mockups).


In my view, freelancing is a subset of consulting. Consultants design, and in many but not all cases, implement solutions to business problems. Freelancers implement solutions already designed by others.

Consulting generally pays more because the value lies in creating the solution to the problem, not in commoditized coding time. Clients typically know the problem they have before they call in a consultant. It is less common for them to have the solution completely mapped out.


No. You've mistaken freelancers with contractors.

A contractor is a replaceable cog that does what they're told (though might be an expensive cog). What you're incorrectly calling a freelancer. They get hired at a daily rate and turn up at work and told what to build.

A freelancer will usually have complete autonomy on the tech side, but no say in the business side. A freelancer is not always expensive. Freelancers are sometimes cheap consultants. A guy who builds WordPress sites for mom & pops is a freelancer. They were asked for a website, not a WordPress one. Bit also a guy who makes mobile apps is a freelancer, but it's his choice to choose swift or not.

A consultant is there to bring specific knowledge about a specific business problem or metric. They are always expensive.


In many cases, freelance jobs meet your definition of a contractor. I suppose that is the problem with this whole argument, as these definitions are somewhat subjective, and the lines between them are crossed all the time depending on how desperate for work the consultant/freelancer/contractor is. That's why I prefaced my comment with "in my view". The only real consensus is that consultants are at the top of this particular food chain.


The difference is you can fire clients. It's hard to fire bosses. Plus you should be seeking multiple revenue streams.

The stability of a "job" comes from a regular paycheck and not having to do the work in addition to sales. Roughly 50% of the time working as a independent developer should be spent (IMO) working to add new clients and/or expand your revenue stream. If it gets to be too much work, you've now got a consulting company with people working under you (and the nightmare expands).


I don't consult anymore, I have a SaaS company now. But when I was consulting I got to the point where I had a small, loyal group of clients who always needed work every month and always paid their bills without complaint. I would pick up new clients very selectively. I also employed a few developers and had payroll to meet.

Of course I could fire any of my clients at any time, but it would have only been harmful to my business. They were great clients and I wanted nothing but to keep them happy. Thus the "illusion" of freedom as I mentioned.


I was in very much your situation a year ago or so.

An "illusion of freedom" would imply that you think you're free, but in reality you are shackled. However, you not firing your clients was a choice. And I guess it wouldn't have been so bad for your business as much as it would have forced you to look for new clients with whom to create new relationships from the beginning.

To turn this into a potentially idiotic analogy, let's put it in terms of a romantic relationship: If not being married gives you the freedom to easily move onto a different relationship, it doesn't become an "illusion" just because you don't break up. You're still free to do it, you just need to justify it to yourself.


The problem I've run into with terminating clients is that most of them feel that if the project was not 100% complete for what they paid, then nothing was done, so you end up in a huge mess of keeping the money they paid you already but suddenly feel entitled to.


Try breaking up projects into several milestones, where each milestone has a concrete deliverable that would be useful if they took it to another contractor.

That way, they have valuable deliverables that they can take to another developer if you end up firing the client.


This is why you have a work product that's got weekly deliverables you have them sign off on. Also you have them pay as frequently as you can get. Typically with contracts I have it done weekly. Tried monthly but that can get annoying.


None of that matters to some. Nobody wants just a bunch of half working files they don't know what to do with.


A certain video comes to mind: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVkLVRt6c1U


to add on top of it:

"working at a startup gives you the illusion of ownership"


I cannot agree. Not every freelancer work with one boss at the time.

I am a freelancer, but I sell my services to multiple buyers (few dozens) each month. I then outsource some of it to my team. I am able to keep prices low, but not low enough to start getting cheap demanding customers (you need to really work on your pricing to snatch mostly wealthy customers, that see your price like a discount, not cheap and that if anything goes wrong wont give you hard time about it). I don't mind if I lose 1 or even 10 customers and I tend to "fire customers" every month or two. That's freedom.

And just to clarify - I am no a company - I still work a lot and I do the most important jobs myself. I also never blame my employees for delays etc - as employer expects me to deliver, not my employees.

imo freedom is achievable as a freelancer only if you can fire your customers without going bankrupt and affecting your future finances to much.


If you have a team, you're no longer a freelancer, you're a business owner running an agency.


While you mention freelancing, I have found this sentiment very true of consulting as well. You have multiple clients, all likely without knowledge or consideration of the others.It becomes very difficult to manage deadlines and expectations. It becomes an art of estimation and project management as well as consulting, which makes the work in my opinion very interesting.


For years I worked as a concierge programmer, and it was the most fun that I ever had, mostly because of the one-to-one relationship I had with my clients. All of them were in the same circumstance, which is that they had inherited a large amount of money, and they had an idea for a website. I was able to offer 2 different skills: my skill as a programmer, and my experience in the world of startups. In all such cases my clients were non-technical and inexperienced in the world of startups. They had no interest in being angel investors, instead they wanted to dive in and use their own creativity to find out how hard it was to build a business around software. They tended to be reasonably interesting people, and I enjoyed working with them, and I enjoyed shaping their vision into something that could exist in the real world. All of the projects eventually grew (for a time) into something larger, at which point I would help put together a team of what was needed (typically some mix of backenders, frontenders, QA, writers, and customer service support).

I did make good money during those years (2002 to 2009) but what I recall most fondly is how much fun all of it was.

I think that world has now largely died out, as even the earliest stage startups now belong to a scene that is somewhat professionalizing. But the earlier web was unprofessional, and that was the best thing about it.

Still I find, even now, even in New York City, there is some of the same energy among those dreaming about doing very early stage startups. Certainly the creativity and excitement is still there. The problem I've run into lately is the large number of people who are so sure that their idea will someday be worth billions that they do not want to pay cash right now, they only want to pay in equity. And that kills all of the fun for me.


For years I worked as a concierge programmer, and it was the most fun that I ever had, mostly because of the one-to-one relationship I had with my clients.

I still do this sort of work, and still love it (London though, not NYC). As you say it can be a lot of fun if your clients have interesting problems and rely on you to clarify and reify their ideas. I can confirm that world has not died out, and I suspect it won't, because there will always be a stage where people have some money to spend but not enough to take a risky bet on an untested idea and start hiring employees, which is a huge fixed cost - consultants will always be better for that sort of work.

When they're spending other people's money, of course companies are more willing to take on employees and fixed costs even at the start, so in some ways VC funding does distort this market.

The problem I've run into lately is the large number of people who are so sure that their idea will someday be worth billions that they do not want to pay cash right now, they only want to pay in equity. And that kills all of the fun for me.

If they were sure their idea would someday be worth billions, they wouldn't want to give any percentage of that away... IMO the reason they want to pay in equity is to spread some of the risk that this idea won't work - it's all upside for them if you are not paid in money now but in hypothetical money which they only have to pay if things go incredibly well.


As someone in a somewhat similar situation, this is the first time I've heard the phrase "concierge programmer" and Google doesn't turn up any interesting matches for the phrase either. What a great concept!

Totally agreed on the equity vs. cash thing. I think most of us know enough about the last dotcom boom to be wary of going down that path.


> people who are so sure that their idea will someday be worth billions that they do not want to pay cash

I think the opposite is more likely true. If you really believed your idea was worth billions you would want to keep all that equity for yourself. I don't consider equity-only offers worth the paper they're printed on.


I've more than once encountered people who genuinely seem convinced that they are "billionaires-in-waiting" and that everything in between is just a few formalities, and that even if they were to give away a sizeable chunk of equity they'll still be swimming in cash, and so giving away equity is no big deal.

In that kind of situation there is a subset of people that can hardly wait to start spending the money on their lifestyle, and conversely would rather not spend their cash on their business if they can spend equity instead.

In my experience these are the same type of people who go into a casino expecting to win because they feel lucky today.

At the same time, they can be so blinkered that they don't get it when someone else don't see it as an amazing chance when offered equity over cash, often at inflated valuations. Sometimes people take personal offence, because rejecting their equity offer means rejecting an idea they're extremely deeply emotionally invested in.


> I've made life long friends with some of my clients. That, more than anything else on this list, has made consulting special to me.

Hah, I had the exact opposite experience freelancing straight out of college, and this was why I stopped and sought full-time employment.

Most of the people I was interacting with (clients, etc) were significantly older than me, and it was brutally isolating after awhile. Even barring the age barrier, there was always a definitive client/vendor line that seemed to prevent any meaningful relationship from developing.

I even tried a coworking space, but it was never quite the same for me since people were there to work mostly, and it's not like you were ever going to work together aside from some rare cases.

I did it for about a year and then resolved never to do it as a full-time thing ever again. The freedom attracted me, but (for me at least) the isolation was overwhelming.

Disclaimer: blah blah blah, my own experience and not yours necessarily, etc.


It always saddens me to read about coworking spaces like that. I think it's probably rare and takes a lot of effort, but coworking that builds real and lasting relationships does exist. It's not common and I think your experience is the norm, which is what disappoints me about this 'coworking revolution.'


>I get asked a lot about what software consulting (aka freelancing) is like.

Are consulting and freelancing synonyms now? In my world, most "consultants" work for small or big (Accenture, one of the French corps, Deloitte...) consulting companies and don't have many of the problems mentioned in this blog post (but also likely have lower earning potential).


I work as a consultant, and at least for my work it is like this:

Consultants are brought in to "consult", ie they have knowledge and expertise that the client does not have and that the client needs access to. For example, many of my clients have aging skillsets and development practices, and need to rapidly retool their team and organization.

I don't often hear the term freelancer used, but I often hear "contractor". A contractor is brought on to augment the client's existing staff and/or create a specific deliverable. For example, contracting a web designer to implement the desired look and feel of a web page.

Basically, contractors are a lot like employees with higher hourly rates and temporary employment. Consultants are brought in to help a client change their business.


Consultants work on objectives, contractors work on specifications or requirements, is how I like to think about it.

'Solve this problem' vs 'Take these actions and produce this deliverable'.


In my book, different but overlapping terms. A consultant can be a freelancer or can work for either a consulting firm or a product company that has a consulting arm. In IT, "consultant" tends to suggest on-site work though that certainly doesn't have to be the case. And a freelancer can include consultants and programmers but also includes, for example, many writers.


Similar and overlapping as others have said.

But I often liken "consulting" to mean the product you are selling is yourself. Where as "freelance" means the product you are selling is some output (app, website, code, etc.).

It's a lot harder to grow a consulting business beyond 30 to 40 hours a week because a human can only sell so much of his time. But if the value you are providing is an output, you can scale by hiring others to help offload your work. Much more difficult when you have sold yourself as a consultant and the client is expecting YOU.


> It's a lot harder to grow a consulting business beyond 30 to 40 hours a week because a human can only sell so much of his time.

Good consultants sells access to their knowledge, not their time. A consultant who's selling their time is not going to go far, for two reasons:

1 - You can't sell more time than you have (as you mentioned).

2 - Selling time means billing time (hourly or daily). That means the cost of your services will be compared against other hourly work, like design, data entry, and legal services. That comparison never works out in your favor.


That's a good goal and when I worked as an IT industry analyst we tried very hard to steer clients away from time-based engagements/deliverables. That said, if the engagement is something like "meet with our team for a day and give us feedback on XYZ initiative" it's hard not to have some linkage between hours and deliverable. (Though we would also throw in reports/follow-up/etc. to blur the linkage to some degree.) Ditto for giving a presentation. Funnily enough though, these types of engagements were actually the ones that brought in the most money per hour spent because they involved high value in-person interactions rather than just creating a written document.

EDIT: And sometimes, billing has to be done per hour for various reasons. The time I worked on an expert witness report, we had to bill per hour because that's how the lawyers worked. (Which was fine given that the pay was good and it would have been very hard for us to estimate the time in advance.)


This is great! I've always equated consulting with freelancing, in the sense that say if you were consulting as a data scientist, you actually do the model building for the client, but this changes everything!


If regular people are selling their data.

Or programmers are selling information.

And consultants sell knowledge.

Who sells wisdom? ;)


The terms are somewhat interchangeable to me, and you can refer to yourself either way if you are doing contract work. But I think freelance has a more individual aspect to it - you are working as a solo person (ie Joe Smith). When you start calling yourself a consultant, you might be working under a business name ("ABC Corp" for example) even if it's still just a one-person company. That might also involve how you invoice your clients as well.

Of course these are just my own impressions, there's no firm rules as far as I know for calling yourself one vs the other.


I've always considered consultants to be more on-site, but maybe that's because I didn't hear of freelancing much before the Internet and remote working.


There were plenty of freelancers before remote working and the Internet - in many fields other than software. They were probably just not that visible to the average person - precisely due to lack of Internet and later social media.


In London us DevOps consultants make only £60k yearly, but £500 daily as consultants (contractors), which is twice as much after taxes.

It seems in the United States salaries for permanent employees are higher, but that contractors don't get paid double.


Contractors are usually double what you would pay a salary person in the US too. It is because contractors have less reliable work and pay more taxes than salaried employees.


>Contractors are usually double what you would pay a salary person in the US too. It is because contractors have less reliable work and pay more taxes than salaried employees.

an employer might pay double for a contractor, but the vast majority of contractors go through middlemen who take a big cut. In my experience, this means that I (the contractor) end up getting about 30% more than I would have gotten as an employee (after equalizing for taxes and benefits.)

I have been able to get independent jobs as a "contractor" where a middleman wasn't involved, but in my experience? those jobs almost always require more work/responsibility for less pay.

Yes, I know, this means I haven't found the right kind of client. I'm just relaying my own experiences. In my own experience, high-paying contract jobs through an agency are really easy to get, but only undesirable clients are willing to go direct with me.

I've spent some time on it... and, for example, have (or have had, at various times) all the required insurance; but there's something else I'm missing.


In the UK, taxes are generally better for self employed people when trading through a personal service company, because you can control the flow of dividend payouts.

Contractors (on a 6-12 month contract) actually do get paid better significantly than permanent employee counterparts.


I find that it's similar in the US. Contractors do pay a tax that's paid by an employer (half of the Social Security and Medicare Tax, about 7.5%), but they can also claim more deductions.

With long term contracts that provide reliable work, contracting pays well. But without benefits.


Right. But who cares about the benefits when the difference is $4-6k per month? Most of those benefits (tech books and conferences, laptop, smartphones, software, etc) are valid tax deductions for software developers. I'll happily pay for those.

The UK, and many other EU countries, also have excellent ‘free’ healthcare.


In the U.S. it's a bit different because the category "benefits" often includes things that in other countries are part of the social system, such as health insurance, childcare, maternity/paternity leave, continuing education, etc.

That can all admittedly be solved with money, given enough of a pay difference, though in some cases it would have to be a quite large pay difference. The stickiest part used to be the health-insurance part, which was hard to buy outside an employee risk pool if you had preexisting medical issues, but that's mostly been fixed (or at least papered over for now).


The benefits often include things like stock schemes, pension payments, life insurance policies and so on. It does add up.

I won't argue that contractors will probably take home more even taking benefits into account, and the tradeoff is then between more stable employment and a bigger paycheque.


The benefits that companies provide to salaried employees (healthcare, etc.) end up being more than 40% of the pay they actually see anyways. So in the end, the pay is comparable.


> It seems in the United States salaries for permanent employees are higher, but that contractors don't get paid double.

My experience hasn't been the same (I'm a consultant), but I can only speak for myself.


That sounds like a lot! What sort of firms are offering these positions?


You get what people think you will take; agents don't bother offering me low-paid jobs because they know I won't take them and they save the big rates for me.


One of the best things I learned during my time consulting was an acute sense for the value of my time.

Spending a half hour goofing off or taking a longer lunch translated directly into a lower paycheck. Realizing that altered the way I work and how I focus on what needs to get done. It made me more productive.


Finding gigs gets tough when you want to break out of web dev, to e.g. C++/systems/desktop stuff.. And also add REMOTE constraint to that.

Network[ing] gets mentioned quite a lot, but, from my experience, if you truly want to work on really different project/domain, you have to search elsewhere.


I'd be interested to hear where. I'd like to try freelancing, but my skills are in embedded, so I figured I'd need to get good at web? Where are you finding your customers?


You mean in web dev? It's been many years since I left this domain, but you can find a lot of remote/freelance postings in HN hiring threads, and other similar sources.


I was part of a mobile dev boutique "shop" for a few years. We had maybe 10 projects a year, and the majority of the projects were your run of the mill projects (ie, me-too projects, simple apps,..etc) . It became just like any other job except that you had 10 bosses instead of 1. Everyone's experience is different. But my takeaway was that it's better to define your own passion projects and make it work than to be someone else's mercenary.


I agree with you which is why I stopped consulting after five years. I started to feel like I couldn't focus on anything because I always had 5-6 projects going on at once.

Another thing is that you really begin to feel the pressure of having all time on the computer being billable time - in order to pay your bills (or in my case meet payroll for employees). So that leads to not being able to do much exploration of new technologies. For example I would stress out if spending a week learning something new because that would be a week that I would have no revenue.


> But my takeaway was that it's better to define your own passion projects and make it work than to be someone else's mercenary.

That's the beauty of being able to set your own price! You can increase your hourly rate/project estimates until some clients will decline, and then spend the free time to work on your own project. It took me some getting used to it, though, because losing out on a project feels like a defeat, even when it isn't.


I like how you say "boutique shop", that has to be one of the most american redundantisms I've seen in a while.


Although, "being your own boss" seems a very pleasing thing but quite possibly, you could have a steady line of work after investing some time in building relationships, one of the aspect which seems a little daunting is - boredom due to grunt work.

Most of the non-technical people would want to build a simple site with simple functionality and after sometime it is bound to get repetitive. Pay could be one of the motivating factor but would it be motivating enough to continue it for many years? Certainly, such complains can also be made about startup jobs but there are certain problems related to scaling and optimization that always give excitement and satisfaction.

There are a few very successful consultants whose skill-sets are just too awesome for a full time job and they have a steady line exciting work but probably, that would require knowledge of the deepest sort in certain fields like scaling, or statistics.


having to do grunt work is an effect of a lack of automation in most cases. one of the things he mentions is getting very tight and efficient with his tool chain, to eliminate wasted time.

also, you outsource the things you're bad at yourself, or you create a relationship with another contractor to trade work. typically this split is "designer & coder".


For me, consulting was mostly fire fighter work.

"A dev got sick, but we got to ship on monday! We gonna pay you mad monies to come over the weekend and safe our ass"

Paid good money, but was boring work. But I would recommend it anyone before starting to work for an "agency".

Product development > Freelancing > Unemployment > Working for an agency


I disagree. Apparently, you have had one set of bad experiences with an Agency. I have had a rather good experience.

At an Agency, I am usually brought in for green field projects that larger companies don't feel their team either has the time of expertise for. This is awesome.

Also, at an Agency, I get paid for every hour I work. This is not usually the case in Product Development, where salaries are more common. The caveat, would be if you have equity. Equity can beat being paid for every hour you work, but obviously this is not always the case.

Freelancing also means you usually get paid for every hour you work. However, you also have to spend mad time marketing and looking for clients, as well as managing taxes, heath care and other housekeeping items. I dislike this, and would rather have someone else do it for me.


Oh you're right, the projects you get at an agency can be rather nice, but they don't differ much from the projects you could get as a freelancer.

But as a freelancer YOU can chose them, not your boss and as a freelancer YOU get paid for them and you don't have to feed your boss too.

I'm just saying, your better of as a freelancer who sticks with other freelancers, than a agency employee :)


Agencies have a horrible reputation. I know this because almost anyone I talk to chances are they are looking for a way out.

An agency is like a freelancer but with more mouths to feed, you don't want to be another mouth to feed because the food is limited, they compete based on price.


True, that is one way to look at it, but another is that they are a family providing for each other. It really depends on the agency. As with all things in life, there are good and bad examples. Again, I have had one set of experiences and you another.


Why the stigma against agencies? I'm actually finding agency work more rewarding however I am a strategist working directly with multiple clients on how they can grow their business.

Is it the pay/workload/clientel?


Agency work is just soul sucking from a clientele stand point. Most of the companies you work for are massive consumer facing businesses and all you're doing is helping them feed their shit to the public.

This type of work isn't necessarily confined to agencies. The same could be said for several tech companies building products (social networks come to mind).

If you're a technical person there are just far better things you could be working on than agency projects.


You are talking about (philosophical) values. This is a value judgement:

> them feed their shit to the public

A solution to this would be to work for an agency whose leadership and positioning is compatible with your values.

For instance an agency that focuses on clients who sell outdoor equipment for hikers, bikers, gliders and so on would be compatible with the values of someone who thinks it is a good thing when someone goes on a hike.


I'm doing consulting on the side and loving it. Besides the money, I'm able to really hone some front-end skills that went a little stale because of the project I'm on at my full-time job.

My experience is different than the OPs though. Although we live in the same town, almost all of our interaction is by phone. And I've been fortunate that my contacts are typically technical.

Of course the only downside is time. When you've got a full-time job and then doing it on the side, every minute is precious, but I'd probably be goofing off anyway.


Awesome post. Couldn't agree more that the satisfaction is much higher than the working for a big company.


I'm curious to know something: how do you meet these non-technical people?


A bit breezy, but well worth reading: http://www.dorsethouse.com/books/soc.html


> Being a consultant means I am my own boss.

... or so are your delusive dreams. In reality you trade one kind of dependency for another.


Q: What's the difference between a consultant and a contractor?

A: A contractor knows the difference.


YMMV, but in my time consulting has tended to be when customers ask for strategic, architectural and design input more than Contractors, who often are more focussed on implementing a plan that is a bit more formed.


Why is not this comment next to first (instead of first as it is now)? ;)


Consulting would be perfect except when the lights go out you don't own anything.


one main thing about consulting is you will be doing work nobody wants to do.


Here's an actionable question.

Take a look at my "freelance" website http://appsonify.com

Tell me how I can turn it into a "consultant".

I don't want to be a freelancer getting paid low canadian dollars per hour. I want to be a consultant getting paid lots of money.

Based on what everyone described and this article says, the differences are subtle.

So what can I do to change how I present myself as a consultant rather than a freelancer? What changes can I make on my freelancer website? Where can I find my first consultant client? Why would a client use an expensive consultant vs odesk (based on some customer's words not mine)? How can you avoid running into these type of cost reducing customers?

These are the tough questions I think anyone curious about becoming a consultant would care about.


Your website doesn't really matter. If you want to improve the quality of clients, try:

Give them quotes per project or part of project, not per day, or heaven forfend by the hour.

Don't find clients on odesk, find them anywhere else (referrals and contacts is the best way, you've already done some work, so work those contacts).

Don't do work and then walk away - build meaningful relationships and trust with clients over years, and keep delivering for them (and being paid). Trust is key. So don't drop clients unless they are toxic - aim to build up a stable of good clients with repeat work and income. You've probably already met your first consulting client.

Do drop clients who don't trust you or insist on lower prices. If they don't trust you, you can't work for them.

Don't talk technology to them unless necessary or requested. Your client doesn't care if you use odoo with git or poo with tigger, they care about what you can deliver. They won't even know what OpenERP is (I didn't either). You can do a lot of work for clients without them knowing or caring what tech is used as long as what you build is solid and solves the problem.

Discuss requirements with them first in an in-depth way, don't wait for them to give you a list of things that need done, have a discussion, and come back with a quote which details ways to improve their business (efficiencies, new features, new markets etc). Think of yourself and present yourself as a partner, not someone contracted to do some odd jobs.

PS Since you asked about your site, it is a little topsy turvy, it starts from top to bottom with stuff you care about, and only reaches stuff clients will care about at the bottom - consider instead having a set of case studies at the top with projects you have been paid for (just 3 is fine), and quotes from happy customers. Your clients are usually focussed on their business and making money for that business more efficiently. Your personal views, your favourite technologies, and even the types of work you do, come secondary to that.


> Give them quotes per project or part of project, not per day, or heaven forfend by the hour.

But if you do this, definitely have a strategy for when the project explodes, or when a client keeps asking for "just one more little fix" for months. I tend to summarise every new project (usually discussed over the phone) in an email, so that I can refer to what is and what isn't part of the quote later. I wonder if it comes across as lawyer-y, though.


I give them a written spec, I don't think it's lawyerly at all, just professional - it clarifies exactly what to expect and lets you control scope.


I strongly disagree with the sibling comment. Your website _does_ matter. At least in so far as it represents how you are positioning yourself to your clients.

Your website is all about what kind of software you can build. Your clients don't care about that. They want to know what kind of business value you can deliver. What kind of results can you achieve?

As a business owner, I don't want to see example websites, I want to see a case study about how you increased revenue by 20% with a new user onboarding process. I want to see how you saved 100 hrs per month in staff time (i.e. expenses) with the new set of automation features you developed.

If you don't have this data from past projects, then start collecting it. Start framing all of your conversations this way from now on. If a client is working toward a business objective, help them achieve it and make sure you put mechanisms in place to measure success and assign a real dollar value to what you helped them achieve.


> As a business owner...

Yeah, but what if your contact at the client is not a stake holder in the company but an employe?


Then, basically, you have the wrong contact.

Don't misunderstand me here -- contacts to a employee are not bad per se, but in my experience, those contacts usually care about their problems, but do not have the budget to have the work done properly.

OTOH, if you have a contact that is higher up in the chain, those tend to have a broader view and you can discuss prices not in terms of effort on your side but in terms of business value for them.


You might want to change your profile picture. That negative black & white photo looks unprofessional.


so the question everyone here wants to know is.

How do you get a coffee with a real estate realtor or someone like that?

Craigslist?

PPC? what keywords do you target?

Landing page? How does it differ from a freelancer's portfolio?

How did you find out what he quotes he was getting? Did you match it or underprice it somewhat?


In the article didn't he clearly state he was working in the same space? To put it in a more generalized context, he was meeting people in real life (and he also mentioned how real life connections were important).




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