I have been in the IT world for over 15 years, as both a full-time employee (FTE) and as a consultant. I have worked for a major IT consulting firm, local contracting companies, and fly-by-night operators. Recently I had the opportunity to go independent so my wife and I formed an S-Corp, hired an accountant, and dove in.
As I discuss consulting opportunities with head hunters and potential clients I continue to hear the siren song of coming back into the fold and being an FTE – either for a client or as a W-2 employee of someone else’s consulting company. As you might imagine this has created a great deal of soul searching and a desire to settle the issue once and for all. I began to ponder the question “Why am I a consultant?” Answers to follow.
“Consultants make more money” – In general I believe this is true but there are two things to consider. First, consultants take a larger risk so it’s only reasonable they should reap a greater reward. Second, companies pay far more for FTEs than simply their salaries – Social Security taxes, healthcare insurance, other insurance, etc. All these expenses are borne by the consultant out of their higher hourly rate. I’m not saying consultants don’t make more, only that the difference is not as great as one might think. Further, if time is money, then the amount of time my sainted wife has spent dealing with the government’s ridiculous administrivia needs to be taken into account. I may make a little more but it comes at a cost – there are easier ways to make a living.
“Consultants are their own boss” – What exactly do you mean “boss”? Do you mean I set my own hours? No more than anyone else in the organization I am working in. If everyone else has flex-time I probably have it as well. If the rules are 8-5 with an hour for lunch, guess what my hours are? If the pressure is on for a major release the boss is every bit as likely to bite my head off as the FTE in the next cubicle – maybe more so. I do have the choice to accept a contract or not but that is no more than the right to starve. Besides, every FTE has the same freedom to say “no” – they just have to find a new gig but they can always say “no”.
“Consultants don’t have to deal with politics” – Some do, some don’t. In my own case this has usually been true but I’m sure there are plenty of horror stories on that subject.
For me, the one major reason I am and want to remain a consultant is…
“Being a consultant is fun” – The constant pressure of making and keeping myself marketable keeps me studying and exploring in my field. I know from experience that as an FTE I get fat, dumb, and lazy and I fight a tendency to coast and complain. I am not saying this is the case for all FTEs, I speak only for myself. Some FTEs are fat, dumb, lazy, and dishonest – just like some consultants. Those are character issues that are independent of whether or not you get a W-2 or a 1099. Because I am concerned with staying marketable I learn new things – which I enjoy. When I enjoy what I’m doing I look forward to the challenges and to new opportunities to learn. It’s a synergistic cycle that makes me happier at work and happier at home. I want to be the best I can be at what I do – to take care of my family and to find pleasure in my work. For me, for now, a consultant is what I am and what I want to remain.