With part-time and consulting work continuing to be seen as "the holy grail" of work/life balance, more and more women are asking how they can make the switch from being an employee to a contractor or consultant. Fortunately for those interested in making this change, more and more companies are open to engaging people, especially former employees, on this basis. This is particularly true today, when many employers need to cut back on FTEs (full time equivalents), but still have work that needs to get done. Readers recently queried us about the ins and outs of building sustainable consulting businesses.
Q. How do I transition myself from a full-time job to a consulting job working part time and still make a decent paycheck?
A. You can't expect to make the same amount right off the bat, unless you're considered a hot shot and already have a backlog of clients interested in hiring you for projects. Start by talking with your current supervisor(s) about ways you might cut back on your hours and still stay engaged by them. In other words, try to turn them into your first client. In terms of pricing, if you're good at estimating the time it takes you to finish a project, you may do better financially by offering your services on a project basis, rather than an hourly basis. It makes it more difficult for clients to chip away at your pricing if you don't talk in terms of rates and time estimates. Set your prices based on what the client would have to pay someone else to do the same job. Or demonstrate how much money your work will save the client and make your pricing a percentage of those savings. In Back on the Career Track we have a section on consulting pricing which goes into these options in more detail. To build your client list, do the same sort of networking you would do for a job - contacting old work and school acquaintances, etc.
Q. As a contractor paid hourly, when is an appropriate time to ask for a raise? Since I am at home and there is little face time, can I do this over the phone or should I go into the office to ask?
A. After servicing an account for a year, we think you could ask for a raise. We suggest you e-mail your supervisor/contact saying you'd like to schedule a time to come in and discuss on-going arrangements. Ideally, you should approach your client just before or during their budget-planning season. Then you can talk about the raise in the context of what their anticipated workload is for you, the kind of work, etc. Don't feel you have to get them to agree to what you want in one meeting. If they express hesitation and say they have to discuss it with higher-ups, don't automatically drop to a compromise position. Let the negotiations take their course and hopefully you'll end up where you want to be.
Q. I have one great client, but I want to grow my business, and I'm also worried that they might drop me. What should I do?
A. To cement your relationship with this client, try to develop relationships throughout the firm, so that you're not dependent on one good contact. That way, if your primary contact leaves or is eclipsed, you have other supporters. Also, be proactive about soliciting assignments. Don't just wait until they call you. Knowing their business as well as you must, periodically suggest projects or tasks you can take on that you think need to be done.
To expand beyond this one client, turn this client into your secret weapon. Don't be shy about asking your current client contacts to introduce you to noncompetitive companies you've identified where they have relationships. If you have a good relationship with your current client contacts, and you assure them that you'll continue to give their account top priority, they should be willing to recommend you to other firms.