What an independent IT consultant does, how to participate and how much you can earn

Who is an IT consultant

An IT consultant is a specialist who helps companies carry out IT projects. If you need, for example, to implement a CRM system, create a website, conduct an information security audit, develop an accounting system, select equipment or create a computer network plan, but there is no specialist on the staff, then the company can hire a consultant for this work.

He will analyze the client’s request, select the appropriate solution, select the contractors, control the work performance and evaluate the quality of the final product.

He can take on projects in one or several directions. Peter Rogov, for example, specializes mainly in software development. This can be either the creation of a website or a turnkey information system, from an idea to a finished product, or an audit or search for an answer to a specific question.

The first task of the consultant is to identify the problem. Most often, this is the most important and most difficult of all: the client feels that something is wrong with him, but he cannot explain what exactly. This needs to be figured out.

And only after that – choose a solution that suits the customer, taking into account the specifics of the business, the financial and technical components of the project, justify it, and, in most cases, help in implementation.

How did you come to the profession?

Pyotr Rogov was born in the Tver region. He started programming at school, participated in regional Olympiads.

In 2004, he entered the Tver Polytechnic University, majoring in IT. As a student, he was engaged in scientific activities: he wrote articles, participated in conferences, lectured, helped to conduct programming competitions, and taught classes.

At this time, he met and began to communicate with employees of the Ministry of Education of the Tver region. Towards the end of his studies, he began to be invited to some projects that the Ministry was involved in in the region. Then he had his first experience in IT consulting.

After graduating from the university, Rogov continued to work on the projects of the Ministry of Education in Tver for some time, and then moved to St. Petersburg and became the head of IT projects in the scientific department of the Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University (Peter the Great SPbPU).

Peter the Great’s SPbPU is a very large organization with various internal processes. Several internal business systems were required for accounting for scientific activities, finance, and information. These are the projects I was involved in.

Peter’s tasks were diverse and not all were directly related to IT. For example:

  • Analyze business processes.
  • Select and monitor performers.
  • Justify economic efficiency.
  • Design solutions, discuss them with all stakeholders, collect opinions and obtain approval.
  • Thinking about how to transfer the existing structure to digital management tools.
  • Implement solutions.

He was also involved in software development, but for the most part, he attracted other companies for projects and coordinated external teams. His tasks were at the intersection of analysis and project management.

While Rogov worked at Peter the Great’s SPbPU, he simultaneously received a diploma from the presidential program for training management personnel in the direction of “Management”. The specialist says that this name hides a mini-MBA.

He worked for seven years as an employee in Tver and St. Petersburg and built a portfolio of projects. After that, he moved into the IT personal consulting market.

What the consultant does

All projects of an IT consultant are different, there is no standard template. Tasks and budgets can vary greatly. Here is some of them:

  • Application and CRM system for helicopter rental in St. Petersburg. Then it was necessary to help with the formulation of the task, the selection of the development team, the control of execution, and the evaluation of the finished product. The total project budget in 2016 was approximately 5 million rubles.
  • City telecom operator in South Africa. The consultant was needed to help at the stage of market research: he developed a technical project, drew up a development plan with terms and cost, described the company’s work processes, calculated the economics of the project, and selected partners and personnel. At the rate of 2018, the project was estimated at $ 600 thousand.
  • Information system for a UN unit.The World Food Program (WFP) needed to create an information system for monitoring school feeding in Zambia, this project was ordered on a turnkey basis:from problem statement to implementation and commissioning of the system. According to Rogov, the WFP spent about $ 500,000 on the project.
  • Audit for an investment company in Moscow. It was necessary to work with the technical team, study and audit the product, correlate it with the goals of the investment company, describe the possible risks, and give a set of recommendations. The work of an audit consultant, in this case, will cost $ 5-10 thousand (it is not finished yet).

Statement of the problem and audit

The first meetings with the customer, when the stage of acquaintance takes place and the collection of information is often similar. The specialist says that it is not always easy to understand what kind of help is needed, what problem the client is trying to solve, and for what purpose.

At the start of the project with WFP, the wording of the problem that I was approached with was something like this: “We need a system to monitor school meals throughout the country.” And that’s it, no more details were known.

The first, and sometimes the only, task of the IT consultant is to help the customer understand what exactly he needs to do to solve the problem.

At this stage, any information can be useful. Rogov says that it is important not to work according to templates, but to be attentive to details and trifles and focus on specific conditions and people. In each case, there will be nuances.

The system for WPF had to be designed so that in the future the Ministry of Education of Zambia could support it on its own, and users with a low level of computer literacy could use it without problems. This greatly influenced the choice of solutions and the final look of the product.

Further, the actions of the IT consultant differ depending on his task. If the goal was to conduct an audit or create a project plan, then the specialist draws up a report, which will be the result of the work. It should contain the answer to the customer’s request and recommendations.

Development of technical specifications, construction of a work plan

If the project involves more than just an audit, then the consultant should propose a plan for further action.

At this stage, he can deal with the following issues:

  • Make a technical project, select the optimal technology and equipment. Draw up a technical assignment for performers.
  • Prepare requirements for employees (number, qualifications), infrastructure and premises, if the project involves their presence.
  • Describe key business processes.
  • Select software for implementation, justify the decision.
  • Draw up a step-by-step development plan with terms and estimated cost. It is important to consider the budgets and goals of the customer.

Most often, in any project, the consultant offers several options. If the customer is given only one, even if the specialist is confident in him, it will be difficult for the customer to believe and agree that this is indeed the optimal solution. Moreover, the customer often better understands the specifics of his business, and his choice can be more justified.

You need to be able to maintain an open mind. The consultant cannot afford to make recommendations based solely on personal preference.

Personally, as a developer, I don’t like the Python programming language. But if the customer already has a team of Python developers, then I will not dissuade them and offer to switch to something else just because I do not like this technology.

Also at this stage, the consultant can draw the client’s attention to features not directly related to IT that the client might not have thought about.

When developing a network plan for a city operator, customers wanted to start right away with the fiber. I drew their attention to that this may require permission from local authorities. We hired lawyers and realized that due to the country’s legislation, laying fiber-optic cable is an expensive and time-consuming procedure.

Therefore, I found partners in Russia who offered and helped to calculate how much it would cost to build a partially wireless network, which could greatly reduce the time to market and the cost of the project.

Implementation of the project

At this stage, the consultant:

  • Selects a team of performers.
  • Supervises the work, at each stage acts as a link between the management and the technical team.
  • Conducts an audit of ready-made solutions.
  • Helps the customer to implement the development. Sometimes he conducts educational training among employees.

In some cases, an IT consultant writes code and participates in development.

I did the project for WFP completely independently – both consulting and technical parts. Requirements changed constantly and very quickly, it was necessary to work in the mode of “trial and error” with intensive interaction with the customer. In addition, WFP is a large and complex organization, with its characteristics and requirements for performers, so it would be very difficult to attract an external team.

Often after the launch of a project, the work of an IT consultant ends, but it happens that cooperation continues after – clients need help with support and further development of the solution.

Expenses

Rogov works alone, either from home or at customers’ premises. An IT consultant can work completely remotely, without being tied to a specific location. It all depends on the situation and the project.

The main expenses are subscriptions, licenses, office suites, design applications. For example, every year Rogov pays for the following services:

  • GitHub — $50.
  • Adobe Creative Cloud — $600.
  • MS Office 365 — $50.
  • Zoom — $150.
  • Cloud servers, domain names, and more – $ 350.
  • VPN and various small paid software – up to $ 300 on average.
  • Stock photos, presentation templates, and more – up to $ 150.

In addition, there are hardware costs.

Since I am not a full-time employee of the company, no one will buy me a new laptop or repair a broken one. All equipment (computers, phones, tablets) must be purchased and serviced by yourself.

There are situations when it is necessary to purchase something for a project, for example, once Rogov created for a client a small Arduino-based device that collects data from sensors and stores it in the cloud. To assemble the prototype, the consultant ordered the components at his own expense.

The main expense that happens on projects is hiring other performers. For example, a consultant organizes software development and needs to think about how the new product will look like. Then he hires a designer and pays him himself unless otherwise agreed with the customer.

Sometimes business trips are necessary for work. In most projects, the customer company organizes trips at its own expense, but sometimes tickets and accommodation have to be paid for independently.

Income

The salary of an individual IT consultant depends on his efforts and capabilities. When working independently, there is no ceiling, says Peter Rogov.

In the United States, an IT consultant on the staff of a company receives a salary comparable to a senior developer – $ 110-150 thousand per year. In some cases, he takes on the role of project manager, and then the average rate increases by 5-10%. Experienced and sought-after specialists receive up to 2-3 times these numbers.
In Russia, the salary of an IT consultant in the company’s staff is significantly less – $ 40-75 thousand per year.

Experienced professionals receive about $ 100 thousand per year.

In the project environment, the difference between the foreign and Russian markets is not that big. At the same time, it is often much more profitable for a company to attract an external consultant than to hire a full-time employee or a large outsourcing company. Especially for relatively short-term projects.

Most often, even for a small business, the services of a consultant will cost from several thousand dollars for a small project – short-term consulting, audit, preparation of documentation. For large projects, there is no general rule. We can talk about hundreds of thousands of dollars if the task is long-term and difficult enough.

Since the activity is project-based, the salary may differ from month to month. On average, Pyotr Rogov earns about $ 65,000 per year before taxes.

But this is not the limit, I know independent consultants who receive significantly more – up to several hundred thousand dollars a year. It all depends on specific customers, projects, budgets, and the complexity of the task.

Sometimes it happens that a consultant in a week of his work can save a multimillion-dollar project from collapse – then the remuneration will be higher.

Clients

In a broad sense, an IT consultant’s clients are always business. It can be almost any company or government agency.

Probably, only IT companies, especially those specializing in software development, will not need an external consultant. They have enough of this competence and rarely need an external expert.

In 2021, there is no well-defined market for independent IT consultants. Most of the people in this profession work as full-time employees in large companies, consulting firms. In this role, they do not have to search for and attract customers. But the independent consultant must do that too.

The most effective way to find new customers is through word of mouth. Therefore, networking is very important when looking for clients. Often, participation in events can play a decisive role: specialized conferences, exhibitions, professional meetings.

A personal website or social media profile can be useful as a digital portfolio. Most often, a specialist is invited based on recommendations, but first, they carefully study the available information and work experience.

It is very important for some customers that a specialist has a certain set of professional certifications, for example, PMP, industry certificates, or educational diplomas, but these are rare cases.

Initial projects can be developed as a full-time consultant or project manager in a company, as well as as an owner of an IT product. It is difficult to look for clients without a portfolio, because the work is largely based on the customer’s trust, and this, in turn, is achieved due to two factors:

  • To what extent the experience of a specialist gives the impression that he knows how to do his job and meets the needs of the customer.
  • How comfortable the client is with the consultant as a person.

I think that at the first meetings, regardless of the agreements and prospects, it is necessary to give input recommendations, feedback on the customer’s problem – valuable, which he can use in any case, even if cooperation does not work out.

Most often at this stage, if the client is comfortable with the consultant, and he sees that this person understands his topic, task, and problem, then the importance of diplomas goes not even second, but third.

Command

If we are talking about an individual consultant, then a permanent team is not needed. Petr Rogov, for example, has no people on the staff. But the network of partners is very important.

For example, I do not specialize in interface design, this is not my forte. In all my projects where there is a question of UI design, I transfer these tasks to my colleagues, with whom I have worked many times.

Most often, in projects, an IT consultant needs:

  • Full-stack developers.
  • Designers.
  • Information security specialists.

Sometimes different opinions are needed, and how much the consultant has a wide network of sufficiently qualified partners also depends on his relevance.

For example, the topic of blockchain and projects based on this technology is now very popular. It is very useful to have blockchain specialists in your network to competently advise the client. The general rule is that the wider and more diverse the network of contacts, the better.

Legal Issues

In Russia, Rogov works as an individual entrepreneur with a simplified taxation system. But there are different situations.

Sometimes a consultant is hired for a project and paid a salary. This is discussed in advance, a fixed-term employment contract is concluded. And in foreign companies, sometimes they contract as an individual.

It strongly depends on the country, legal specifics, where the customer is located, where the contractor is located, in which jurisdiction he receives payment and must pay taxes, how the contract is concluded. When it is a large international or distributed business, it may be easier to hire a person to the staff as a specialist than a company, since otherwise the organization, according to internal rules, must go through a long chain of approvals and tender procedures. And this can negatively affect the timing of the project.

In a cooperation agreement, there is always a fragment describing confidentiality issues. Rogov does not have a standard contract form, since it is rather difficult to agree on his version with large customers. Usually, he works according to the form of the contract that the client offers.

In most cases, the client allows you to talk about the fact of working with him, but not about the content of the project. A specialist can share his experience in a generalized way, and it is unacceptable and legally unsafe to disclose the details of the business, since the IT consultant may have access to sufficiently sensitive information:

  • Information on business processes, company structure, strategy.
  • Working diagrams.
  • Financial information.
  • Personal data of employees or clients.
  • The source code of the software.

I try to follow the logic that no matter how the confidentiality agreement is formulated in the agreement, I do not disclose any internal information about my customers. In the best case, I can tell you the generalized essence of the work that was carried out without going into details about the processes and internal affairs.

What an IT consultant should be able to do

Education

Rogov believes that specialized IT education is a must for a person in this profession. This should be his basic education. It doesn’t have to be with a strong focus on programming – it depends on the profile of the specialist.

Since the consultant needs to work a lot with management and understand the corporate architecture, it is highly desirable to have additional education in the direction of management. It can be one of the types of MBA or mini-MBA to understand the specifics of business management, including large ones.

Required skills

To work effectively with engineers, a consultant needs:

  • Be able to write and read program code if he is engaged in software (preferably in several of the most popular languages ​​/ platforms).
  • Understand the design and development techniques of software, the features of the device, and the operation of complex information systems. Know what tools, frameworks, platforms, and their features are.
  • If the work is related to equipment, be well versed in the “hardware”, its features, and suppliers.

Pyotr Rogov says that even though he focuses on consulting, he continues to write code on his own, engage in software development, study new technologies so that knowledge does not become obsolete.

In addition to the technical side, it is also important for a consultant to understand business management and management issues. Here he must understand:

  • Business strategy.
  • Finance.
  • Marketing strategy to compare the product being developed with the goals of leaders, management.
  • Office work and corporate culture.

Pyotr Rogov believes that the consultant needs English. A huge amount of information, documentation on IT projects, new technologies, and techniques are available mainly in English.

I would say that you need to know English at the level of a confident user, not lower than B2, but better C1. Other languages ​​are welcome, but this is more likely to expand the field of activity, to communicate with customers from other countries.

According to Rogov, the most important thing for any consultant is to develop communication skills. Another consultant, by definition, reads and writes a lot, so you need the skills of fast work with documents, preparation of materials, good writing.

Often it is necessary to hold events: presentations, joint working meetings, for example, brainstorm sessions – in this case, the consultant takes on the role of the discussion moderator.

The work of an IT consultant requires extensive knowledge and allows you not only to grow professionally, but also to develop emotional intelligence, creative thinking, and effective communication skills. It is an amazing experience that is rewarding not only in work but in all areas of life.

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