For the right person, working as an independent consultant can have many advantages, including setting one's own schedule and priorities, working with a variety of clients, and developing a wide range of personal skills and experience.
Ready to start your own consulting business? Find out now!
Watch our free video, "Is Consulting Your Next Calling?" Whether you're a new or aspiring consultant or a senior nonprofit executive looking for a new way to share your expertise, this 90-minute training helps set you up for success. Veteran consultants Susan Schaefer and Don Tebbee share share tips about the motivations, traits and skills you'll need, components of your work and professional development steps to chart before you start.
Like any start-up, a consulting business involves some financial risk and a great deal of personal commitment. Working independently often provides for greater personal freedom, but the workload can be inconsistent and income unpredictable.
Consultants must be well-organized and self-disciplined in order to effectively manage their time and resources while meeting the demands of several different clients. Some other considerations:
- Experience/credentials: As a consultant, you are the product. Nonprofit organizations select consultants based on their experience, education, and other credentials, as well as personal referrals. Before setting out on your own, you will need to consider whether or not you have the experience needed to advise different types of nonprofits on a wide variety of topics. You may also want to consider certification, such as CFRE, or even graduate or professional education to build your knowledge base.
- Contracts/fees: Consultants must know how to develop effective contracts with clients. You will also need to research other consultants' fees and develop your own fee system. Will you charge by the hour, or on an annual or project basis?
- Specialization: Nonprofit consultants may begin as generalists, but most will eventually focus on one or a few aspects of fundraising, management, or grant writing. Know your preferred areas as well as those in which you do not wish to consult.
- Physical space: On the more practical side, you must determine where to set up your workspace. Working from home may seem comforting, but it can be distracting or tiresome. Having an office outside the home can help provide focus and a routine, but you probably will need to pay rent.
- Lack of benefits: Consultants often earn more, but this advantage can be offset by the loss of insurance coverage, retirement funds, and other benefits associated with institutional employment.
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