Thursday, July 6, 2006

Why not be a consultant?

I realise that I left a few things out of last week's post on being a consultant - the main reasons why you wouldn't want to be a consultant!

The obvious one is that there's no assurance you can find the amount of work that you want, at the rate that you want. This was certainly an issue for me back in 2001-2003, just after I'd come back to Australia. I'd promised myself that I would only work with agile development teams, and back then that really meant either training or consulting, since there were few (if any) agile teams on the ground in Australia. Thoughtworks was about the only option, but it was a small business and Derek rtgacould only afford to hire one more person. Forced to choose between a sales person and me, he (rightly) chose the salesperson. Quite a contrast to today!

At the moment I don't think there is any shortage of work, but even I have my moments of doubt. I think that reflects my lack of confidence, even though that doesn't really stand up to rational analysis very well - your own psychology is an important part of whether to be a consultant or not! You should also bear in mind that it's never true that "there's no work" - the worst that statement means is that "there's no work at the rate I want to charge", since you can do as much open source development as you like *s*. Being the mathematician part of me to the surface for a few minutes, it's clear that there are two extreme points where you don't earn any money - 100% employment at $0 per hour, and 0% employment at $10,000 per hour (if your reading this blog, the upper limit probably applies to you as well). In between there's a function with non-zero values and your job, from an economic perspective, is to find the rate per hour that maximises your total income. If we knew what the function was, it would be a simple optimisation exercise. I think that I tend to set my rates too low, since I don't like people saying "no" to me - that's another weakness. If you're a potential client reading this, know that I'm trying to get better at that!

The other reason you might not want to be a consultant is that in principle employees should be getting the best work ahead of you - that should be one of the benefits of the employer-employee relationship. You'll be brought in when you have a particular skill set, usually not when the client already has someone who could do the job. Sometimes you're brought in to meet a temporary need for more staff, in which case you'll almost certainly get the less attractive work, but for me that's less common.

Although I'm trying to blog at least once a week, there probably won't be anything from me for a few weeks, as I need to take some leave.

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