Considering consulting? Ask these questions first: Don't leap into consulting without doing your homework.

Author:Berk, Beth A.
 
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If you've been considering consulting as the next stage in your career, you're not alone. Many CPAs become part-time or full-time consultants prior to retirement. Others choose consulting because they want greater flexibility and control over their schedules. Some consult between full-time jobs, or on the side while working full time.

Opportunities for accounting consultants are high right now. "It's a consultant's market," said Don Plato, vice president at Robert Half Management Resources. According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for accountants and auditors was 1.7% in the third quarter of 2018, well below the national unemployment rate of 3.7%.

Since so few accountants are unemployed, open positions are going vacant for longer, and organizations are likely to consider hiring consultants on a short-term basis, said Maureen Hoersten, COO at Chicago-based staffing firm LaSalle Network. It can take three to four months to fill a high-level vacancy, such as a CFO or controller position, and organizations may hire a consultant in the meantime. They may also seek consultants because they are expanding or relocating and need someone to assist during a transition or to help implement software.

If you're thinking of becoming a consultant, however, there are some things you need to know about the consulting landscape first, and some vital questions to ask yourself.

REGISTER WITH A STAFFING FIRM OR GO INDEPENDENT?

Probably the most important decision you will need to make is whether to be an independent consultant or work as a contractor for a staffing or consulting services firm, two of the main avenues for consulting, though not the only options. Each approach has its pros and cons.

When working with a staffing or consulting services firm, you register and are interviewed and onboarded, and the firm will match you with potential employment opportunities. The firm will also take a percentage of your pay in exchange for this and other services. The advantage to working for a firm, though, is that you won't need to find clients or market yourself.

Registering with a staffing or consulting services firm is usually fairly straightforward: You call or register on the company's website, submit a resume, and conduct an interview with a recruiter, which may take place over video call. Many firms review and offer advice on candidates' resumes as part of the onboarding process (see the sidebar "Is Your Resume Specific Enough?"). Firms often have a high volume of open positions and are able to place accountants fairly quickly, in some cases within 24 hours, Hoersten said.

Another advantage to working for a staffing or consulting services firm is that they offer benefits, such as health insurance, vacation time, bonus pay, and, in some cases, even free CPE. Independent consultants would need to secure health insurance and similar benefits on their own.

When working as an independent consultant, however, you may enjoy more freedom to choose your clients and the hours you work (see the sidebar "From Controller to Consultant"). You can work out any problems or issues with your client directly without involving a third party. You would also receive your entire fee from your clients and don't need to give a cut to a staffing firm. To gauge whether you would be successful as an independent consultant, ask yourself whether you would be self-motivated enough to find work, enjoy the networking necessary to find clients, and be comfortable not knowing exactly where your next paycheck is coming from.

KEY QUESTIONS TO ASK BEFORE YOU BEGIN CONSULTING

Do you have the right attitude?

Consultants should be proficient in the skills their prospective employer needs and be able to quickly adapt to the processes...

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