If you crave independence and variety, IT consulting could be the perfect fit for you. It’s a challenging, but incredibly rewarding endeavor.
There are opportunities to work with diverse people, technologies, and projects. You’re also responsible for managing the overhead of a small business. There really isn’t anything better than being your own boss. Oh, and there’s the healthy profit that can come with running your own business!
We take a dive into the life of IT consulting, how you can get into the field, and some pros and cons of this growing profession.
Consult us for a definition of IT consulting
IT consultants provide clients with specialized knowledge and skills their own teams can’t deliver. Working closely with clients, IT consultants advise and assist them in leveraging technology to solve their issues and achieve their business objectives. Consultants provide recommendations and advice as independent external specialists — while assisting in the implementation of initiatives and projects.
IT consultants may start their own businesses and sell services directly to clients. Or they may work with a staffing firm that finds projects for them, placing them in companies temporarily. They may even be independent contractors working for a professional services agency.
Consultants may work from home or travel to a customer site for short or long durations. They may also work in any area of IT, often specializing in particular areas like DevOps or security. They also might work in a particular market/industry sector, such as finance or health care.
For small clients, consultants could comprise their entire IT staff. But for larger firms, a consultant may be a tiny cog contributing to a large project or a key strategic advisor to the executive team.
Some daily tasks you may face in consultancy
The day-to-day routine can be similar to that of a traditional 9-5 IT employee. Consultants may do any of the following in their day-to-day for companies:
- Writing up a project plan
- Consultants are often tasked with working on a project-by-project basis. This process often begins with the consultant writing a project plan and presenting it to the client.
- Leading a team
- During leadership transitions, clients will often hire IT consultants to temporarily lead projects.
- Analyzing data
- It’s not uncommon for a client to hire consultants before they know the actual root of their problem. In cases like this, IT consultants have to gather and analyze data in order to troubleshoot issues. Tools like Tableau will be essential for these projects.
- Installing and configuring hardware
- Despite their title, consultants can be tasked with doing hands-on work. While it’s not very common, a consultant will occasionally spend the day working with server racks and cables.
- Providing training
- A good consultant is a subject matter expert with excellent soft skills. This recipe also makes for great teachers! They may be able to help your team learn new technologies and best practices that benefit your organization.
- Consultants often find themselves working with clients who don’t just want them to lead a team but to train a team in the process.
This list might seem pretty inclusive, but consultant roles can reach further or take a whole new direction. Businesses are varied in their problems, so they could bring on consultants for practically any IT needs.
Outside-the-box consulting skills you need
Yes, to be an IT consultant, you need to know IT. But there’s a bit more to consulting than knowing the trade.
As a consultant, you must be adaptable and flexible. You need to be able to transition between clients, locations, industries, and technologies — frequently multitasking among them. For many consultants, this means lots of travel and varying schedules.
You are an advisor who guides clients on using technology to achieve their goals. You are an outside specialist. You bring a fresh perspective. You are often recommending new technologies that will help your clients achieve their goals.
Communication and soft skills are especially important for consultants. You will be writing and presenting analyses, solutions, and progress reports. All of these need to tie into business objectives and stakeholder needs. You’ll be communicating with staff at all levels, consulting with stakeholders, collaborating with in-house technology staff, and talking to end users.
Understanding the customer is another key focus for consultants. An IT consultant will support many clients. You’ll need to be able to quickly understand the nature of clients’ businesses, requirements, constraints, systems, and work practices.
IT consultants also have a broader set of responsibilities. If you don’t work for an agency or staffing firm, you are not just delivering technology. You are in charge of your business’ finances, marketing, and sales. You are managing the relationships with your clients, and handling marketing and sales.
Steps to becoming the ultimate IT consultant
You must decide what services you will offer. You may have a technical specialty or may be a generalist. Starting out as a jack-of-all-trades is fine. In the long run, finding a niche sets you apart from the competition and often pays better. Figure out what you excel at and where your IT passions lie. Think about the kind of problems you’d like to solve for clients.
Next, assemble a portfolio of high-quality examples of your work. One that’s shareable via a website is even better. Testimonials can go a long way as well.
When you’re not working for an agency or staffing firm, you are responsible for finding work. You might get a couple clients off the bat, but you can’t relax. Managing your own business development pipeline is far more crucial than the technical expertise involved with being a consultant.
You are responsible for your marketing: Understanding your potential clients and communicating the value you provide en masse to your target demographic is crucial for success. You are responsible for sales: Talking with potential clients, understanding their needs, and explaining how your services can help them with their business objectives.
Ideally, you will you reach the point where referrals from your satisfied clients bring in enough new business that you won’t be scrambling for leads. But you must never stop working on business development.
Pros and Cons of Being an IT Consultant
The first and most obvious plus of being a consultant is the independence you have. If you’ve ever dreamed about being your own boss, becoming an IT consultant is a path to owning your own business.
Consulting also offers a variety of clients and opportunities to work in many different atmospheres and industries. If you see yourself tiring of working the same gig, consulting can feed into the variety that you crave.
If you’re already at the forefront of technology trends and tracking best practices, consulting might make even more sense for you. Consultants are often tasked with introducing new technology and practices to organizations.
And dependent on the hours you put into the work, you can earn way more as a consultant than you would in a 9-5 job. This is especially true once you find your specialty or niche areas.
The independence associated with IT consulting comes with both risk and uncertainty. You have a level of security with a corporate job. That’s no guarantee when you are responsible for your own business.
To keep up with the technology you work with, you have to learn and adapt quickly. Dedicating time to keep current on the latest trends is a must for you. If you want to build trust, you must know your technology.
As a consultant, you must consider that clients’ environments will often be stressful and high-pressure. It can even be hostile when a client’s team is frustrated by the thought of bringing in a consultant as a response to failures.
And we can’t forget to mention the struggle that comes with owning and maintaining your own operation. You are fully responsible for your own benefits. Work/life balance can be a struggle. Some clients may need you to pitch in more than your negotiated hours, and as a contracted hire, you might have to comply if you want that paycheck.
Planning for long-term success
Once your consulting side hustle begins to take off, you want to regularly revisit your business plan to ensure long-term success. As your business grows, new opportunities and challenges will arise. You need to constantly to focus on business development and increase your technical skills.
What are you waiting for?
Start building your IT expertise, get some clients, and make your hustle happen!