Today we are continuing our series with talking to consultants who have worked both as an independent contractor and for consulting firms so that they can share their opinions and experiences to educate our listeners on future decisions as it relates to consulting. I’m really excited about our guest today, James Hill. He’s someone with a great reputation within his niche market. James has been in health IT for fourteen years and has spent twelve of those years as a consultant, eight of which have been as an independent consultant. He has diverse experience having worked for a firm, vendor as well as an independent consultant. James works primarily with Cerner clients across the country specializing in medication processes and meds integration.
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What originally attracted you to consulting?
So what attracted me to the consulting world was the flexibility and the chance to move from client to client. Staying in one place and being with the same people constantly I found to be very boring so for my personality being able to go from site to site monthly and do something different was really exciting for me.
When you first got into consulting why did you feel like joining a firm was the best thing for you?
Initially it had a lot to do with the financial gain. I had heard of consulting firms but had never really thought about joining one and really didn’t know anyone who had worked for a consulting firm. So it was just by happenstance that I got a call while working as an analyst for a software company. Initially I turned it down but then got another call shortly thereafter and that’s what really piqued my interest and I began talking with them. After another firm called I was hooked. The two things that attracted me from these interactions were the financial gain as well as a sense of freedom. I felt like I was going to have the ability to spread out.
What were the factors that lead to your decision?
I would have to say it was the salary increase but I also spoke to some colleagues about their opinions on what it really means to go into consulting, a lot of them actually felt like it weren’t consistent. Being a consultant meant that you could work and do well for short periods of time but long-term it just wasn’t going to be consistent. That made me take a step back but it was still something I wanted to take a chance on. It still sounded really exciting to me with the chance to go from client to client, have so many different opportunities, go different places and learn different things. It really drew me in and the fear of it not being consistent wasn’t a problem. I spoke with a lot of the firms about coming on a s full time employee so of course they had a lot of benefits like salary and what we call ‘bench time’ which means that if they don’t have a client available then I would be home but they would continue to pay me until they got me back on a client site. That made it easier for me. Two years later I decided to move forward as an independent and that was purely out of logic. I had someone who had taken me under their wing and I considered them to be my mentor and the reason I got into the independent world. One of the things he said to me while working on a project was that there was nothing that a firm or company could do for me that I could not do for myself even better. Over a six month period of working with him it made sense to me once I began to look at it from a business perspective.
Knowing what you know now do you recommend people to start with a consulting firm the way you did? Yes or no why or why not?
That advice would be heavily dependent on whom I was speaking to in terms of age, professional experience, maturity level and where they are in their lives but for the most part what I will say is I’m a firm believer in people paying their dues. You have to crawl before you can walk and walk before you can run. I would say for most individuals, starting with a consulting firm and getting your feet wet would be my suggestion but for someone with professional experience and discipline I refer back to my mentor in that there is nothing a firm can do for you that you can’t do better yourself.
What general advice would you have for someone who's thinking about becoming an independent consultant?
First have a good financial advisor and CTA. The second thing I would say is to try and connect with other consultants or people that they know who have been in the industry that have a proven track record of doing it and doing well. Have a conversation with them and ask as many questions as you need to. The third thing that I would say is to sit down and have a plan. You absolutely have to have a plan on budget, paying yourself and saving. Obviously with vacation time, bench time, insurance and all that you can do for yourself. Have a plan on how to allocate your funds and take vacation because you can still do that and you can still give yourself bench time but you have to really plan and think about it.