Top 10 Reasons to be a Technical Consultant as a Minority
Alan Weiss describes a consultant as “anyone that improves a client’s condition”. If you are directing someone on how to solve a problem, then you are consulting. Consulting includes a wide spectrum of activities. On one side of the spectrum there are those individuals that do nothing but give advice. Other consultants may merely give suggestions on how to solve a problem, and then maybe implement one of many solutions. In any case, I feel that there are plenty of reasons for minorities to give consulting a try.
1) More take home pay
As a consultant, you can’t be a cost leader. This is because the people that charge the least are the people that don’t solve a problem. You are going to have more expenses than those people, so you can’t charge as little as they do. Don’t get me wrong, there isn’t anything wrong with collecting a paycheck to make ends meet. That is what most people do. You should know that there are ways to compete in a market besides being cheap though.
2) You often are already a fix-it person
If you are currently good at what you do and have survived numerous layoffs, then chances are that you already provide value by way of solving specific problems. Other employers most likely have those same problems. One counterintuitive but true aspect of being a problem solver is that you have to consider leaving your current employer in order to specialize in fixing those kinds of problems. You may feel that all of the hard work you have put into your current employer will be wasted if you leave. Something to consider is one day you might do your job so well that your employer doesn’t have that problem any more. At that point, when it’s time for layoffs you are no longer in the 20% of the 80/20 rule. This means by definition you will be competing on things that are not clearly vital to a business process. In other words, you may be competing with someone’s friend or relative, with no competitive advantage.
3) Pay lower social security/medicare
Most highly paid individuals don’t pay a lot into social security and medicare because they are incorporated and take a considerable amount of pay as dividends, which don’t pay into social security/medicare. Talk to your accountant, but one of the benefits of incorporating is taking some of your profit as dividends instead of as social security/medicare. This is complicated, so again … talk to an accountant or, if you really want to be safe, a tax attorney. How does this affect minorities? Well, given as a black male born in 1975 you are only expected to live anywhere between 62 and 67, and you can’t take social security until you are 67, it would be irrational to expect to see a return from it.
4) If you train yourself, you ought to be compensated for it
Motivated people often train themselves when there is a clear value in the training. Training can include conferences, meetup groups, more formal training such as CCNA certifications or new programming language training. When you train yourself, you might as well charge the higher rates accompanied with consulting in order to recoup that cost. Another benefit for training yourself is you can choose what you feel is beneficial, instead of picking training that forces you into employer or vendor lockin. Employers have incentive to give you firm specific training when possible (which isn’t transferrable to other employers), so it’s best to take control of your own training.
5) Force yourself to be good at what you do
When you are a consultant, your high price and high visibility (by virtue of being an outsider working on a visible problem) force you to be good at what you do. This is accompanied by the fact that it is significantly easier (legally and culturally) to let a consultant go versus a W2 employee. There are many reasons for this but at the very least the language that is spelled out in your services contract usually makes it easier to terminate a consultant’s agreement than it is to terminate a W2. Talk with your attorney for more on this subject. This may sound counterintuitive to you, but these things force you to burn your boats as a consultant. As an employee it’s usually easier to coast through the days/weeks/months/years.
6) When people have a problem, they care less about what group you are in
Some prominent economists claim discrimination has a transaction cost to the company that engages in the discrimination. The more competitive the market, the more costly the discrimination. You can look at the market as the point at which a bunch of people who can solve a specific problem, and a bunch of people who have that problem, meet. Given that definition it follows that the more expensive the problem is, the more expensive it is for an employer to avoid considering you.
7) You aren’t part of of any quota
When you are a problem solver your reason for existence is the problem, not a quota. When you can demonstrate your value by way of solving a problem, no one can tell you that you are in your position unfairly. There are no quotas for private minority employment, contrary to popular opinion (minority group quotas are implemented for government jobs and contracts only). The combination of your services agreement to do a measurable, specific task and your higher pay rate makes it unlikely that you exist for any other reason but to solve your client’s problem.
8) Since you take new positions often, you don’t have to put up with marginalization
One of the most frustrating things a person can experience is some kind of marginalization at the workplace. What makes this even worse is when one has to experience the same marginalization repeatedly. As a consultant, after you fix a problem you leave. In the meantime you have more political capital when dealing with problems. It’s very easy to bargain in the following manner: “I can fix X, but not if so-and-so continues to behave in this manner”.
9) You don’t have to be anyone’s friend
People do business with people the know and like. The social network of marginalized groups have been noted by various experts to be not as successful and well connected as other groups. This means these groups have less people that can provide opportunities who “know and like” them. If you can solve a common problem, people care less about if they like you and more about if you can solve their problem. This can give you a competitive advantage over an *average* performer that is well connected.
10) You can’t be a prophet in your own land
When consulting you often travel more. Some marginalized groups experience a huge bias when the employer/worker knows the employee is ‘from the other side of the tracks’. This can be a serious drawback to working in the same place as where you grew up if you are from one of those urban areas. You can make this location bias can work for you if you travel. People tend to have a positive view of cities that they have never traveled to, since they haven’t personally witnessed the urban areas of that city. For example, if you were to say you are from Massachusetts, people tend to think of MIT, Harvard, or the Cheers television show.
Consulting is not for everyone, but I hope these points will convince people to give it a try. For some of us, it really is the best option.