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How to work as a consultant - Subcontractor versus employee

How do we choose the best option for us? Among other things, we asked Zsolt Janovszki, an agile consultant who set up his first independent consultancy 17 years ago.

Before choosing a new job, it is worth considering several aspects: what is your main reason for wanting to change, what you are looking for in a different/better solution, what kind of work you want to do, what kind of career development opportunities you are looking for, what kind of employment you want, and whether you want to work in a consultancy or a company? How do we choose the best option for us? Among other things, we asked Zsolt Janovszki, an agile consultant who set up his first independent consultancy 17 years ago.  

What are the basic differences between an agile role on the corporate side and an agile role on the consultancy side? 

 "The roles are not really different in any way, but there are huge differences in what you can achieve in a given role, what kind of change you can initiate and then implement in the organisation", says Zsolt Janovszki, co-founder of RI Consulting - "A corporate employee has a boss, while a consultant has a sponsor. The corporate employee is more likely to have to accept predefined boundaries, while the consultant is often tasked with pushing them. In Lyssa Adkins's book namely Coaching Agile Teams, you can read that leading agile teams requires three things: love, compassion and uncompromisingness. Very few corporate employees can do this because they have much less freedom and autonomy within the organisation than an external consultant." 

Are there also significant differences in terms of professional development paths? 

A survey conducted by the Business Agility Institute shows that entrepreneurial and freelance coaches spend an average of three or more days per month in training. The same time for employed coaches is less than two days. 

The above result contradicts the assumption that employees have more opportunity to spend time on professional development, which Zsolt supports - "Of course there are large companies that provide a great environment for personal development, but the number of these is very small and the development available there usually has a single purpose: to enable the employee to contribute better and more effectively to the organisation. In this way, the employee learns tried and tested techniques and tools that worked well in that organisation, but is not given the chance to assess how their knowledge can be used elsewhere. In contrast, the more different companies the external consultant works on a project, the more widely validated knowledge he or she will gain, as each company will have to implement different practices.

In the consultancy sector, what are the most common pros and cons between being an employee and being an external professional? 

The security factor: one of the biggest differences between the two types of employment is security, since the employee has a fixed place in an organisation, while the freelancer acquires projects through different channels. The following are the most likely channels of employment, in line with the employment types: consultants (on assignment) through their sales team, employees through public job fairs, and through recruitment agencies. In turn, linkage channels such as RI ensure that consultants are assigned to the right projects that are most satisfactory for them.  

The diversity factor: as in all professions, the daily life of a freelance professional is much more diverse than that of an employee. In addition to the fact that, through a regular consultancy, the freelance consultant only takes on projects that she/he really enjoys doing and cannot be forced into projects to which she/he feels no commitment at all, the variety of projects also adds colour to her/his working day. As we wrote earlier in this article, as a freelance consultant has to develop and master different practices everywhere, there is a constant professional freshness to his work.  

The salary factor: the income levels of the two forms differ and typically two operations are encountered. One is where the amount that can be earned in 5 working days per week as an employee is earned in 3-4 working days per week by the consultant and the remaining time is spent on self-development, family or perhaps hobbies. The other is where a higher level of income is achieved by a similar commitment to being an employee (5 working days per week). It is an individual preference and highly life situation dependent on who has what more important in their life at the moment and the consultancy function gives this kind of flexibility to tailor it accordingly. "For me personally, this was very important when I became an entrepreneurial consultant and I make it a priority in my current companies, because an overworked agile consultant who is not balanced and happy will not be able to perform well, which will either entail investing more hours in the project or the client will be dissatisfied,"  - says Zsolt, who has been working as an external consultant for more than ten years for companies such as Wizzair, EGIS and NN Insurance.  

Consulting firms often subcontract their professionals. What exactly does this mean and what does it entail? 

In practice, if a professional is subcontracted to a consultancy firm, this means that they are bound by a contract of engagement instead of an employment contract. Depending on the individual preferences of the professional, he or she can be linked in different ways: as a sole trader or even through a limited liability company. In this case, the basis for cooperation is the Civil Code instead of the Labour Code. Subcontracted professionals work with their own work equipment, with greater autonomy.  

What should someone who wants to switch to consultancy consider? 

​​"Being a consultant is an exciting and varied career opportunity. You can develop more professionally in the same period of time than in an employee position, because you meet more clients, situations, challenges and teams. Of course, the projects don't change every week, but over a 3-year timeframe, the formula is certainly justified.", says Zsolt - "Those who prefer stability, working/operating according to well-established trajectories may not feel comfortable in a consultancy role in the long run. As consultants, we have greater flexibility in what and how much work we take on, but this also requires greater discipline, planning and attention, especially when working freelance. This can be avoided by working as a partner in one of the consultancies, as we do not have to do the work ourselves. In addition, we also get a strong professional community/background, as like-minded professionals are linked together as consultancy professionals. Here at RI Consulting, this kind of professionalism is specifically seen as one of the greatest values by our team members. In addition to mentoring and training opportunities, there is always someone to turn to, to discuss any stumbling blocks or just to have a good chat with knowledgeable people.  

I you are interested about our work, working culture and open positions please check out our website. 


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