As managing partner of a healthcare IT consulting/staff augmentation firm, I’m always having conversations with people who are looking to enter the consulting marketplace.
Many of the people with whom I speak are employees of hospital IT or informatics organizations, and are considering transitioning from full-time to consulting. See our past blog post.
One of their main concerns is trying to figure out what’s in their best interest: joining a consulting firm as an employee or becoming and independent/contract consultant (being paid an hourly rate for their work).
For many people, joining a consulting firm and being part of an organization just “feels” like a safer step. Most hospital employees are used to receiving a salary. Having the salary and bench time that comes with joining a consulting firm provides many of them with a sense of security while going through a major career change. Since financial security is a very important factor, this route typically strikes them as a smart way to enter the world of consulting.
But along with money, here are a few other reasons why you might, or should, consider joining a consulting firm as a first step in your consulting career. Once you’ve gotten these aspects figured out, it might be a bit easier for you to venture into the world of contract consulting.
Establish credibility as an outsider.
Most people have heard the saying “you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.” In consulting, your first impression is critical. But more importantly, how you interact with your new client in the first week or two of a new project can be tied to how successful you’ll be on the project. By extension, being part of an organization that can assist you in learning how to set things up properly can be critical to your career as a consultant.
Know when you’re at a client site to “consult” and when you’re there for “staff augmentation.”
Clients hire consultants for many reasons. Sometimes they’re brought in to share their experience when dealing with similar projects. A consultant’s experience can help shape the direction of many of the projects in which he or she will participate. However, there will be times when project direction has already been established. In these circumstances, you’ve been brought in not because of your sharable experience, but due to your specific skill set. When this happens, it’s critical not only that you understand expectations beforehand, but also that you’re able to stay on task once the project begins. There are certainly ways a consulting firm can help you evaluate new situations and understand the role you’re actually being brought in to perform.
Understanding those things for which you can and cannot reasonably bill your client.
Knowing those things for which you can and cannot reasonably charge clients will impact your reputation with those clients. Not only do you need the right judgment during the assignment, but you also have to make sure that things are set up correctly before walking in the door. It’s important to learn where to set expectations before becoming a contract consultant. Gaining this knowledge while you’re a consulting firm employee can be a big advantage.
Understanding when a project really does require a cohesive team.
There are some projects on which you’ll be the only outside resource. There will be other projects on which you’ll be among other people who are brought in. In some cases, each person may be part of a team, but each has his/her own tasks to perform without much interaction with, or dependency upon, the next person. However, there will certainly be projects involving a critical amount of interaction and interdependence. In these cases, it helps to be brought in as a part of a team with members who have previously worked together — which has a much higher likelihood of happening if you’re part of a consulting firm.
In each of the areas above, evaluate your knowledge and experience. Doing so will help you determine if you’re ready to become a contract consultant, or if you can benefit from the knowledge and experience that can be obtained by being part of a firm.
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