Independent consultants help businesses overcome obstacles and achieve market goals. Consultants work in most industries, and they often have expertise in areas of business, technology or communication. Consultant education requirements vary, and can include college degrees or certifications. Many independent consultants earn a comfortable income, while also enjoying the freedom of self-employment.
What Is an Independent Consultant?
Independent workers hold many titles and perform many functions that keep industries moving forward. Independent workers are self-employed. They receive fees instead of salaries. Their clients do not offer them benefits packages and the Internal Revenue Service defines them as business owners, not employees.
An independent consultant typically performs one or more tasks for a client. For example, the management of a new café might hire a freelance interior designer to design the layout and décor of the business.
Contractors usually perform work projects for their clients for specific time periods, which could be weeks, months or years, depending on the terms of the contract. For instance, an online retailer might hire a freelance network architect to design and install a network during that retailer's first year in business.
Companies hire consultants to help solve strategic, operational or technical problems in an existing business model. For example, a large corporation might hire a corporate communications consultant to help the company resolve a history of disputes between management and employees. The consultant might help the company implement fair treatment procedures which ensures that management hears employees’ concerns and then corrects workplace problems.
Independent Consultant Job Description
A definitive consultant job profile does not exist, because consultants work in a variety of industries, in which they address a broad spectrum of problems. Business consultants, information technology consultants, financial consultants, human resources consultants and supply chain management consultants deal with issues that correspond with their area of expertise. Nonetheless, consulting jobs have some common duties and responsibilities.
Consultants research and analyze problems and write reports about how to resolve the issues. They often interview employees, managers and groups to hear their firsthand experiences.
Some consulting jobs require market analysis or an evaluation of specific competitors. Consultants must stay abreast of current business models and trends in order to make effective recommendations.
Consultants often recommend long-term goals that can improve efficiency or cut costs. In some instances, consultants travel to a client’s satellite offices to ensure that changes take place across the board.
Independent Consultant Education
Typically, independent consultants must earn the same types of degrees as people in the industries they advise do. For example, environmental consultants need at least a bachelor’s degree in a subject such as environmental engineering or environmental science.
Specialized training, licenses and certifications can help consultants add credibility to their services. For example, an accounting consultant should hold a Certified Public Accountant license. A database administration consultant can obtain credentials such as Oracle Certified Professional or MySQL Database Administrator.
Effective consultants are experts in their fields. Many seasoned professionals become consultants late in their careers, or even after retirement, because their experience is a valuable commodity in their field.
Independent Consultant Salary
Consultants negotiate fees on a client-by-client basis. Some clients need help with a single problem, while others retain a consultant for months or years, paying them a monthly or quarterly fee.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides data about specific careers, including salaries. However, the BLS does not offer information about consultant salaries. Nonetheless, if you research BLS salary data for the industry in which you plan to consult, you can get an idea of how much money to charge clients. For example, in 2017, computer network architects made $58,000 to $162,000. During the same period, financial analysts took home 52,000 to $165,000, while environmental specialists earned $41,000 to $122,000.
Another way to research independent consultant incomes is to look at the salaries of consultants in consulting firms. The Consulting website offers some insight into the types of pay consultants earn. For example, Deloitte, an accounting consulting firm, pays its analysts around $88,000 per year, plus performance bonuses up to $13,000 and signing bonuses of more than $12,000.
Independent Consultant Job Outlook
Although the BLS does not offer employment outlook data for consultants, industry job projections can provide insight into consultant opportunities.
For instance, from now until 2026, computer network professionals should see a 6 percent increase in job opportunities. During the same period, the BLS expects financial analyst jobs to grow by 11 percent, and the BLS projects a 9 percent increase in human resource management jobs.
Industry projections do not always reflect the success or failure of consultants. After all, some consultants might see an uptick in business when their clients are at a low point. However, when industries thrive, the consultants who support them typically reap rewards, too.