In my last commentary, I discussed opportunities that you can pursue if you find yourself without a job during slow economic times. This week, let's consider an option that I overlooked—working for yourself. With so many recent layoffs, the ranks of the independent consultants have swelled.

A career as an independent consultant offers several advantages:

  • You can set your hours.
  • You can set your rate structure. If you don't like a particular task, you can charge more to perform it. Carrying computers becomes much more pleasant when you're receiving $75 per hour to do it.
  • Telecommuting becomes more feasible. Independent consultants often field questions and solve problems over the phone and troubleshoot client servers and workstations remotely.
  • Independent consulting isn't boring. You'll no longer be trudging off to the loathsome cubical day in and day out. Each day can offer a new challenge.
  • When you're self-employed, you can take advantage of several home-office tax deductions. You can no longer seek reimbursement from an employer for your lab equipment and study guides, but you can deduct many of those expenses.

Of course, working as an independent consultant has its disadvantages:

  • You won't have benefits—no paid healthcare premiums, no paid time off, and no training reimbursements.
  • You might miss the companionship that an office job offers. You'll no longer have colleagues to turn to when an OS installation becomes buggy.
  • You must handle your own taxes, receivables, accounting, and marketing. If you think installing a Microsoft Exchange server is tough, try designing effective business cards and brochures!

What are the qualities of a successful independent consultant? You must be flexible—if a client has a network-outage emergency while you're installing a server at another client's location, you must be able to adjust your schedule and address the problem quickly. You must also have great communication skills. You'll be the head of sales and the contracts negotiator. If you can't sell yourself, how can you land clients? Finally, organization and attention to detail are essential. You must send out invoices, pay bills and taxes, keep appointments, and balance accounts—or you'll find yourself out of business.

If you're still interested in becoming an independent consultant, you have some reading to do. To get started, see Matthew Strebe, et al, "From Serf to Surfer: Becoming a Network Consultant" (Sybex, 2000), and Harry M. Brelsford, "MCSE Consulting Bible" (IDG, 2000).

I also recommend that you consult CertTutor.net Live! Many relevant threads are in progress (for example, this thread.)

If you want more information, don't hesitate to ask any of the professionals who participate regularly at CertTutor.net Live! Good luck!