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I currently have a full time job and I don't really like it. That said, I love my career choice. I've been a software engineer for over 5 years. I think my forte is that I care about clean code and doing things the right way. I've had other coworkers tell me they've never seen someone write code as fast as I do that's as clean as it is. I recently read this great article on becoming a consultant and it really inspired me.

The scariest part about becoming a consultant is I don't know what the migration path should be. I don't want to quit my day job then start looking for consulting work (especially because I don't even know where to look). But, for all I know that's the best way to do it.

Can anyone give me advice on how to gradually become a full time consultant?

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Hi user, welcome to the Workplace SE, the site for navigating the professional workplace. Thanks for posting an awesome first question! We hope to see you around on the site. If you have questions about how this site works, I encourage you to take a peek at our faq. Again, welcome! :) –  jmort253 Dec 14 '12 at 7:14

3 Answers 3

As a full time employee, I've met people. I meet people I work with, vendors, clients, and I run into people through colleagues at work who are in need of people with my skills.

Some employees have left companies I've worked with to begin new adventures, and because they've worked with me, they've sometimes approached me for consulting/contracting gigs, and as long as I know the work is serious, will get paid for it, and that my employer wouldn't have a problem with it, I'll likely take on the work.

I've no plans to move into consulting full time, as I enjoy the perks of a stable career, but if you want to move into consulting, you should already have a potential client base or referral network. If you don't, then you'll first need to build one up. Here are some ways you can do this:

  • First and foremost, let people know you're looking for side work. Be vocal about this. However, don't say, "I hate my job and want to move into consulting", but do make it clear you want to work on side projects outside of your normal work hours. This will help them remember you in the future when they need help. Also, someone might have a friend who needs help with a project.

  • Make sure your employer is okay with you doing outside work. If they are, then it makes it that much easier to build a network. If they aren't okay with it, then some of these steps may not apply.

  • Always be positive and friendly with everyone you work with. If someone has a problem and you can help them without detracting from your own work, help out! (Just don't get sucked in by help vampires). This will help them remember you as the go-to person if they ever have a project that reminds them of you.

  • If someone you work with is leaving the company, make sure you stay in touch. You just may find a former employee contacts you for help on a project.

  • Be patient. Building up a network of potential clients takes time, and it involves you proving yourself to be a valuable expert in your field. This doesn't happen overnight, and it involves reputation. (Er, not Stack Overflow reputation, but real life reputation)

  • Don't violate your agreement with your employer or do anything that might raise red flags. For instance, you might not want to do work for employees who left the company on negative terms. You don't want to associate yourself with anyone who might make your boss cringe.

  • For the same reasons, you might want to stay away from clients of your employer. This is a very serious ethical issue and could also set you up for a legal issue.

  • Get out of debt and save money. Save up an emergency fund, and save up enough money to pay your bills for 8 to 12 months. Read Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover. As a consultant/contractor, your pay will not be guaranteed or regular, so you want to make sure you have a nice cushion to fall back on, one that is not debt as debt is the currency of slaves... You'll need a good financial cushion for the final step...

  • Start actually doing side projects for money. In fact, working full time and doing consulting is a great way to build up that income replacement you'll need in the final step.

  • Again, I've not taken this step, the final one, but if you get enough work to where you're busy, and you have more people seeking your skills as a consultant, and you have enough money saved up to replace your income for the next 8 to 12 months, then you could give your 2 weeks notice, leave your full time job, and start taking on more contract work.

Lastly, I recommend you listen to the archives of the podcast Tweak! The Podcast for the Creative Entrepreneur. I found it very extremely when I started doing consulting work. These podcasts were authored by one of my awesome colleagues.

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Great answer! Just wanted to add that as a consultant, the customers expect more value from the consultants as the cost for them is high compared to normal full time employees. A consultant is usually charged by the hour and that too at a high rate so a lot of discipline is needed when one goes for consulting gigs where every hour of work has to count. I am not saying that normal full time employees are not accountable for their work hours, but a consultant's high hourly rate usually gets more focus from the customer to check whether they are really getting their moneys worth. –  seeknew Dec 14 '12 at 10:44
    
+1, except for making sure the employer is "okay with you doing outside work". As long as you're not violating the stuff in the employment agreement like poaching clients, using company resources, competing, or taking too much time off, it is probably OK. Asking for permission in advance may only prompt a reflexive "no" in order to avoid even the most remote possibility of future problems. –  Angelo Dec 14 '12 at 14:29
    
@Angelo - For the most part, I think that varies from person to person and is really what you're comfortable with. I'd say skipping that step is indeed okay. However, there are employers who put in the employment agreement that you won't do outside work. So maybe this just falls into the "don't violate the agreement" clause. ;) Thanks for pointing this out. –  jmort253 Dec 14 '12 at 20:58

There's more considerations to be had if you are doing consulting. I just got out of consulting because I didn't want to worry about the business side of things, doing taxes etc.

That being said. I didn't follow any of the steps listed in the other answers, and instead registered a corporation and started taking short term contracts from recruiters.

The hardest part is knowing what you're worth. Don't short yourself because you have to pay your own taxes, employment insurance, vacation, sick pay, etc depending on your country and/or state laws. For example, If you're currently getting paid around CAD $20/hr in your full time job, charge around CAD $50/hr consulting for the same income after your corporation taxes, payroll taxes, employment insurance, CPP, and whatever other expenses you may incur.

Just remember you don't get paid for stat holidays, vacations, or sick days in most situations, so have a rainy day fund for when work is dry. You are a business providing a service when you're consulting, and you'll find that commands a lot more respect than the standard employee, as well as higher expectations.

In summary: Meet with some recruiters in your area to talk about contracts and build a network. Quit your job once you've lined up a dependable recruiter who can keep work flowing, and increase your rate with each new contract.

Good luck in whatever you decide to do!

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I don't see the connection between writing clean code and being a consultant. I guess it's an indication you are very good, so think it will be easier to be a consultant?

There are some small consultant-like things you can do at your current job to see if you have what it takes (You're going to have to communicate with people before they'll look at your code (Even then, most don't bother.:

  1. Ask for a raise. People don't just give consultants money; they have to ask for it.
  2. Ask to work from home. This will be good practice to show you can get things done without being supervised directly. Start with a day or two and then work up to doing it full time.
  3. Ask to convert from a full-time employee to a consultant. This is part of the natural progression.

These tasks are not to see if you are "good enough" but more about fitting your personality. I don't think a lot of programmers are as cut-out for this as they may think. You don't want to jeapardize your current job, but if you are reluctant to do any of them or they make you extremely uncomfortable, you should stick with a job. You fight through an inteview for a fiew hours and then you don't have to go through this until the annual evaluation or your next job.

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