By Donna Cardillo, RN, MA
Have you ever dreamed of being self-employed, working from home, or having a flexible work schedule? Would you like the creative freedom to do things your own way in your own style? Could you use supplemental income in addition to your regular job? Would you like to get paid well for your specialized knowledge and experience? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then consulting may be a good option for you.
What exactly is a consultant? Generally speaking, a consultant is someone who has certain expertise and is willing to provide a service for another on an independent basis, rather than as an employee. Consultants usually get paid by the hour for the work they do or on a contractual basis for services rendered. Many people consult on a full-time basis. Others have full-time or part-time jobs and do some consulting on the side. Note: Don’t confuse an independent consultant with an employee who has the job title of consultant.
Can anyone call himself or herself a consultant? Technically speaking, yes. There are no specific degrees or credentials required. The term consultant is merely a statement of your employment status, a description of how you work. You’re hired for your expertise, knowledge, or know-how. You’re the product that you’re selling.
What type of consulting might I do? Consulting is as varied as personality types. Some education consultants conduct CPR training for hospitals, schools, and public servants. Others consult on regulatory issues and help healthcare facilities comply with Joint Commission standards and Department of Health guidelines and/or get their physician credentialing up to date. Some do medical-legal consulting or consult with day care centers on infection control and child safety guidelines, while others consult with healthcare facilities on staffing and recruiting issues. The possibilities are endless.
How do I start a consulting practice? Begin by having business cards printed. They don’t have to be fancy. They just need to contain your contact information, credentials, and the nature of your consulting work, e.g., “Education Consultant” or “Long-Term Care Consultant.” Then let the world know what you’re doing. How? Through networking, publicity, and marketing. If this is something you plan to do full-time or regularly, then it’s advisable to also get a separate phone line with answering machine installed. Using your home phone for business is not professional.
Do I need to register my consulting practice as a business? That depends on the volume and scope of your consulting work. When starting any type of business venture, including a part-time consulting practice, it’s a good idea to talk to a small business accountant who can advise what, if anything, you need to do in your city, county, and state to get a business or consulting practice going. An accountant will also explain your tax liability, show you how to keep your books, and inform you of important issues related to sales tax, business deductions and expenses, etc. And it’s not a bad idea to consult an attorney (particularly a nurse attorney) about contracts and other legal issues.
Is this something I can do while I’m employed elsewhere? Absolutely, as long as the consulting work you’re doing doesn’t violate any employment contracts you have, directly compete with your employer, or otherwise create a conflict of interest. For example, if you work as an educator for a local hospital and do some educational consulting on the side, it would be inappropriate for you to solicit business for your consulting practice while conducting hospital business. It’s also important to note that you should not be doing your own consulting work on company time.
How much can I charge as a consultant? Minimum hourly rates for any type of consulting work are between $60/hour and $150/hour, but they vary greatly depending on the type of work you do and who your clients are. Keep in mind that as a consultant, you’re working as an independent agent and are not getting any benefits. So the hourly rate reflects your overhead expenses, such as telephone charges, office equipment, use of your car, stationery supplies, and health insurance, if applicable.
How can I learn more about being a consultant? You’ll find lots of good books in the public library on the subject. Consulting basics are the same whether you’re a business consultant or a healthcare consultant. There are also many organizations that will support you in this endeavor, such as the National Nurses in Business Association and the National Association of Women Business Owners. Other organizations, such as the Small Business Administration and its various divisions, offer education, counseling, and support services for consultants and business owners. Likewise there are many associations specific to a particular type of consulting such as the American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants.
Whether looking to break out on your own or to just expand your horizons, consulting can offer you the creative freedom and flexibility, not to mention the income, that you desire and deserve.
Copyright Nursing Spectrum Career Fitness(sm) Online (www.nursingspectrum.com), All rights reserved. Used with permission.