Consulting Kickstart: 5 Critical Questions to Answer

Consulting Kickstart: 5 Critical Questions to Answer

If you are considering a career in Learning and Development (L&D), consulting might be a good fit. Before you begin looking for work as an L&D Consultant, it is good to understand the ins and outs of the field.

With many ways to be successful, this information will help you develop a plan before taking action.

How will I be paid as a contractor?

After you have decided to become a freelancer or contractor, you will need to figure out what types of compensation are best suited for you. There are a lot of different possibilities. Most job listings will let you know upfront the type of compensation being offered. If it does not, make that the first question you ask when contacting the recruiter or employer.

For example, you will find opportunities that run the gamut from contract-to-perm to 1099 to salaried or full-time. Each type of compensation has its own rules and tax liabilities. The state where you live may also have special rules or tax filing requirements that you must meet.

How you are classified and how you are paid by an employer determines whether you receive a W2 or 1099 for tax purposes at the end of the year. What’s the difference? Working as a 1099 contractor means you are a true freelance consultant in business for yourself. You are also in charge of paying your own taxes. A W2 contractor has less control over their own work schedule and how work is completed. An accountant can offer more detail and explain the pros and cons of each based on your personal situation.

Above all else, it is critical to understand your legal and tax responsibilities before applying and accepting any position. That is why it is also highly recommended to consult an accountant to clearly understand your tax liability. Laws and tax rules constantly change, so it is never a good idea to just “Google” it and read whatever pops up.

Ultimately the type of compensation offered for a specific position is an important aspect of working as a consultant. It is up to you what types of jobs you apply for, so know the pros and cons of each.

What type of L&D role matches my skillset?

There are a lot of specialized consulting roles in the L&D industry, and the need for different skills depends entirely on the organization. Finding a position that aligns with your skillset is an important choice. You can always add new skills, but deciding on one area will help focus your job search at the beginning.

Look back at past experiences and identify the roles you did well. Considering transferable skills you’ve already developed can also help you find a starting point. Even though you may be confident in your abilities, hiring managers want to be sure you have the skills they need.

Certification courses and advanced degrees can also help you become proficient in the area you choose. Reviewing your strengths before you begin applying for jobs can help you find the right consulting role to fit your current expertise.

Stepping into the L&D industry as a consultant is an exciting opportunity. Taking time to highlight relevant experience or obtaining degrees and certifications will give you the credibility to pursue your ideal position.

As a consultant, who pays for all of my tools and subscriptions?

If you’ve ever been a W2 employee, you may have gotten a little spoiled. As a traditional employee, your computer and other tools are the company’s property. When new updates become available, updating and troubleshooting tasks are done by someone else on the team.

Membership subscriptions and professional development might also be covered. After lobbying to justify other expenses, your employer may reimburse you in addition to your regular pay as a W2 employee. I’ve even been in situations where my supervisor has handed over the corporate credit card beforehand, so I didn’t have to spend my own money.

As a contract consultant, it is your responsibility to buy the computer, purchase the tools, and pay for the updates. There is a seemingly never-ending list of tools for L&D professionals. Not all of them are necessary, but many will help you deliver excellent learning experiences. When consulting, the cost of professional development, membership subscriptions, and conference expenses, the numbers can get huge.

Consider these expenses carefully when deciding if you prefer to be self-employed or receive a W2 at the end of the year. Overall the cost of doing business as a 1099 employee is high and not an area you should overlook.

Do I get insurance and benefits as a consultant?

Health insurance and other benefits like retirement savings accounts get included in most traditional employees’ compensation plans. However, when working in a consulting contract situation, these things are left up to you.

Finding health insurance is essential and ensures you have access to resources to keep you healthy at an affordable price. It can be a little intimidating if it is your first time, but there are many resources available to help you through the process. Do your research and choose the options best for you.

As a W2 employee, company-provided retirement savings accounts are a perk you might also take for granted. The process for contributing to these retirement savings plans can be as simple as checking a box. Then all you need to do is determine what percentage of your salary to set aside.

As an independent contractor, you decide how much to save and determine where those funds will go. There are tons of philosophies and resources focused on how individuals can prepare for retirement.

If you are thinking through health insurance or retirement planning as a 1099 employee, your existing network is a great place to start when looking for advice. Asking a friend for a referral is a great way to get professional help in these areas.

What happens when my consulting contract ends?

The short answer is, you find a new one. Sometimes finding a new contract is a task easier said than done.

Some L&D consultants prefer to operate in a structured environment and forgo the need to find more work after the current project ends. Others like to bounce from contract to contract, filling temporary positions, or jumping during a company’s busy season.

As a traditional employee finishing one assignment, you can be reassigned to a new project, asked to help out in other departments or spend time on professional development. Regardless of what your day-to-day activities look like, you can count on the same paycheck every two weeks (or whenever your company does payroll).

As a self-employed consultant, there may be periods between contracts when you aren’t working; this means you don’t get paid. Yikes!

The stress of not getting a consistent paycheck can be a deal-breaker for many individuals. If you don’t mind the potential inconsistency, make sure to have a solid process for finding work between contracts.

Whether you choose to network and meet potential clients, advertise your services via social media, or partner with a talent agency, find what works best for you.

Final Thoughts

There are many reasons you could be considering L&D consulting as the next step in your career. Both traditional employment and contracting can help you create the life you want, but the choice is yours.

Starting down the path of contract consulting does not mean you can never go back to traditional employment. Those decisions are entirely up to you.

The important questions to ask before taking action and applying for jobs are:

  • What roles do you want to pursue?
  • What are the true costs of being self-employed?
  • Who is providing your insurance and other benefits?
  • Are you willing to consistently look for new contracts?

Finding consulting work in the L&D industry is possible. Taking the time to answer these questions and learn the ins and outs of consulting will start you off with a solid foundation.

What other decisions did you need to make before starting your first consulting gig? Your experience matters; share your thoughts with me!
Originally published May 5, 2021, updated May 12, 2021.

Calvin Dantley

Calvin Dantley

Calvin Dantley is a big fan of deep dish pizza and winter sports. Over the past 16 years he has enjoyed developing sales enablement tools and facilitating leadership development workshops. Calvin loves a good campfire and his favorite color is green.

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Calvin Dantley is a big fan of deep dish pizza and winter sports. Over the past 16 years he has enjoyed developing sales enablement tools and facilitating leadership development workshops. Calvin loves a good campfire and his favorite color is green.

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