How to Make More Money in Consulting


The “Jack of All Trades, Master of None” Consultant. This is the consultant that can write some C# code, do a bit of SQL, understand basic database design, code up a web page, knows how to build a basic web service and understands how to do this in .NET and Java and perhaps a little PHP thrown in as well. They can do just about anything, but cannot do anything very well.  They can apply for almost any development job but will always be the weak player on the team and poorest paid.  They are not a defined expert in anything.

You can look across the world as to what different cultures think of  knowing a little about a lot. In China you may hear “equipped with many knives, none are sharp” as a description of the multi-discipline consultant. Visit Argentina and you may be told “He who embraces too much, has a weak grasp of the job”  or they may comment on the consultant’s “ocean of knowledge an inch deep”. In Vietnam  and Lithuania they say it’s 9 talents, in Russia 10 talents and in Korea 12 talents but they all agree there is always 1 more talent attributed to the multi-talented consultant, a talent for starvation.

In my blog post  just because you are necessary does that make you valuable? I described some of the value differentiators that make consultants worth more to their clients. They included:

  • quality
  • productivity
  • domain expertise
  • track record
  • intellectual property
  • organizational depth & other backup resources
  • analytical and design capabilities
  • consistency 
  • familiarity with tools and processes

Now ask yourself these questions

  • How do you consistently produce the highest quality deliverables with the fewest errors and the least rework required?
  • How do you attain the highest productivity levels?
  • How do your learn not just about the basics but the nuances of an industry and apply those learning’s to better designs?
  • How do you develop a constantly improving track-record of success, productivity and quality?
  • How do bring with you both your own and knowledge of appropriate external IP to apply to your client’s solution?
  • How do you develop a network of other experts in both the technical and business domain that are there to help you out and provide insights?
  • How do you know which patterns work best for a client solution?
  • How do you develop true consistency in process and deliverables?
  • How is that you can be familiar with the development environment, requirements environments, QA environment,  Build environment, Promotion models etc.?

The answer is: You Specialize.

When you specialize , your value goes up after each engagement for the reasons above. When your quality is outstanding, it costs your client less in rework. They can afford to pay you a portion of that savings. When you can do the job at twice the speed, your client is paying 50% less than other resources. They will have a net benefit to pay more for you than the other resources.  When you know the domain, the time invested to ramp you in the industry is not required. It will not be weeks before you are productive, you are productive on day 1. The client will pay more for that advantage. When you have a track record of success in role and in projects of this type, you reduce the client’s risk. They don’t need as much governance and oversight, they can have a wider resource to PM ratio and they spend less time pulling you away from productive work to communicate process or standards. The time saved is true value to the client and you are worth more to them because of it.  When you bring your own IP or access to proven IP you act as a catalyst and accelerator to the project. Not only do you go faster, but you enable those around you to be more productive, produce higher quality outcomes and have less rework. This is of extreme value to your client. You can expedite the delivery of the project. They will gladly pay extra for this capability. No project likes surprises, when a team member delivers consistently, the risk profile is reduced and costs are avoided. It is extra value to the client. When you are familiar with  the tools, you not only avoid training time  and the productivity ramp; you are giving the client a turbo boost on day 1.

If you are a $50 or $75 per hour consultant in the North American market, you are a commodity. The client assumes:

  • your quality will be average
  • your productivity will be average
  • you don’t have specific domain expertise
  • your track record is not clear
  • you do not bring proven intellectual property to the project to share
  • you have no network of experts that can help you out if you get into trouble 
  • you have average analytical and design capabilities
  • you have average consistency
  • you will need to be trained and ramped with tools and processes

In summary, you don’t bring the required additional value to command a higher rate. The more value you bring, the more valuable you are to the client. When you specialize all of these differentiators have intrinsic value to the client. Let’s take a shot at monetizing them.

  • highest quality deliverables with the fewest errors and the least rework required – if you produce 50% less errors in a year this would result in a 12.5% FTE savings in QA.
  • highest productivity levels – if you produce at 8 Hrs/FP (expert) versus 16 Hrs/FP (average) you create a 50% FTE savings on development
  • industry knowledge and better designs – perhaps saving 1 full iteration in a design cycle – 25% FTE
  • Track record – Reduced governance from 20% overhead to 5%  overhead – 15% FTE
  • IP to apply –  Easily could impact 1 FTE to N FTE’s annually.
  • Network of other experts – Assumed that it saves 4 weeks per year in churn – 8% FTE
  • Design Pattern knowledge – easily could impact 1 FTE to N FTE annually
  • Consistency – Reduced QA governance from 20% overhead to 5% overhead – 15% FTE
  • Familiar with the environment – 2 weeks training and 3 months at 50% productivity savings – 16% FTE

So now let’s look at the net benefit to your client.  It calculates to 3.4 FTE.  At $50 an hour before, any rate below $220 / hour now is a net benefit to your client.  If  you negotiated a rate of $175 per hour, your client can pay that rate and still have a $45 per hour additional benefit advantage.

$50 an hour is $104,000 per year earnings full time. $175 per hour is $364,000 or $260,000 per year more.  Why does a client pay $260,000 a year more for you a 350% premium?

One of the main reasons is that you have specialized.

  • A commodity consultant spends his or her entire life learning less and less about more and more, until eventually he or she knows nothing about everything.
  • A premium consultant spends his or her entire life learning more and more about less and less, until eventually he or she knows everything about nothing.
  • An Architect spends his or her entire life learning more and more about more and more, until eventually he or she knows everything about everything and then writes a blog about it.
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1 Response to How to Make More Money in Consulting

  1. shravan Iyer says:

    Extremely insightful! Thank you for sharing.

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