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Why do so many people think consulting is easy? May 2, 2011

Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.

For what seems like the millionth time, I read something that mentions consulting as a way to fill your time and wallet between jobs. An article called “Survival Skills” in the April 18th issue of Chemical and Engineering News touts it as a possible temporary panacea for those now jobless and between jobs. Several points have to be made to counter this insidious and dumb mentality.

First, companies or other paying customers do not just throw out their money. They buy expertise. It is pure capitalism. You have a supply of something they need and want. If not, you will not be sought out and paid for your thinking. Period. If your expertise is not somewhat rare, you will have a very, very hard time selling it.

Second, customers are not as numerous as ants on a huge anthill. They are scarce and farflung. If they are willing to pay yo, they are not all too common. If they are willing to pay you a nice fee, then they are keeping themselves under wraps and selective in who they choose.

Third, if you are not making yourself visible through a ton of networking and some advertising, you are invisible to these clients. Just occasionally putting in a little effort at letting others know that you can consult will result in zip, zero, zilch. Full-time consultants or those doing it as real part-time work spend almost as much time networking as they do consulting.

Fourth, if you are spending that much effort in getting consulting work, then you are not really looking for another job because you have no time. Both efforts takes hours and hours and hours each and every week. You have to decide which you can do.

(I did both, but only at the start because my former company had several unfinished projects for me to do.)

In fact, the two are almost mutually exclusive in today’s economic climate. If you are skilled enough to ask for $100, $200, $300 or more per hour, then most companies shy away from you as an emloyee. In my jobseeking time, I was turned down numerous times because I was too over-qualified. One company even turned me down with one hand and gave me a consulting contract with the other. High-level scientists warp salary guidelines and pay-per-performance structures.

Consulting can be lucrative if you have a widely-known and high reputation in areas that companies want to pay you for help in. Those are not low-level criteria. They are a long time in developing, either in the high-level of expertise or the widespread reputation.

So, focus on your job searching and do not consider consulting unless a company that already knows of you contacts you and makes that offer.



1. Quagmire - May 3, 2011

Thanks for pointing these things out. I know a guy who does consulting, it’s not easy and is definitely not a time filler like the scientific community seems to keep believing. Without a wide network and lots of experience, it’s not even remotely a viable way to make money for most scientists. And like you said, the customers are few and far between.

2. cocoon bobbins - November 4, 2011

Very infomative post. I was not familiar with consulting and so just learned some valuable information, thanks.

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