How to be an Information Consultant

Income & Billing

There's really no set pricing for information consultants. Figuring out what to charge is something you'll get a feel for with time, but even then you'll occasionally underbid a job and have to work your butt off for less than your services are worth or overbid a job and not get it at all. As you gain more experience, you'll eventually reach a point where these situations will occur less frequently.

Joining an organization like the AIIP can be a tremendous help in figuring out how much your work is worth because becoming a member gives you access to consultants who have years of experience. Depending on your skills as a researcher and your knowledge of the field you'll be serving, you may decide to work as a subcontractor while you get a feel for how much to charge. That disclaimer aside, we'll hazard some estimates of what the pay is like by profiling information consultants at different skill levels:

  • $25 to 30 per hour. You're just starting out and haven't worked in an information-gathering field before. You're either working part time while you hold on to your day job or you have some other means of financial support. You've picked up some of the research skills you need by taking classes, or you're using skills you have from previous jobs. You feel comfortable searching for information on the Web but aren't an expert. You're primarily looking for subcontracting jobs where you're doing work for someone who's already established in the field.
  • $50 per hour. You've become an expert at conducting web searches and are comfortable but not yet an expert at finding information using online databases. You've proven yourself by subcontracting work from others and are beginning to get work on your own. If you were doing information consulting part time, you're now getting enough work to quit your day job. This pay rate is also the starting point for consultants who have worked as librarians or researchers but are just beginning to work independently.
  • $75 per hour. You're now getting enough work on your own that you are doing little or no subcontracting unless it's because you are being hired by other consultants for your knowledge in a specific field--and then only accepting projects when you can make close to your standard pay rate. You're comfortable with Web searching, database searching and telephone interviews, or you know your own skills well enough to begin subcontracting work outside your area of expertise to others. You haven't had to seek out work in six months to a year, and you have more than one regular client.
  • $100 per hour. Besides the skills you had at the previous pay level, you are becoming well-known as an expert in the industry you serve. You're probably being asked to speak at conventions and write articles for magazines. You have enough work to confidently subcontract certain tasks to others--mostly because you've worked with enough subcontractors to know whom to trust.
  • $150 and up. You're an expert in the field you serve as well as an expert in information consulting. You're being asked to not only find information for clients, but to consult with them to help them figure out what questions they need answers to and why. You're a frequent speaker at conventions, contributor to magazines, or author of books, either about the subject you specialize in or about information consulting itself. You may be training others or giving seminars about the skills you've gained as an information consultant. You probably analyze the data you gather for your clients and may even go on site to present the information.

All of the hourly rates we've listed are estimates and can be affected by many factors. Maybe you were already working as a researcher for a large corporation and left your job while continuing to serve that corporation as an independent consultant. Or maybe you're already an expert in a particular field and will be looking for clients among people who already have a lot of respect for your skills. Perhaps you were a librarian. Any of these factors will increase the amount you should be charging for your services. The amount you earn will be affected not only by your skills, but also by what the market will bear in the field you serve.

Billing

Here's the fun part--payday. You can bill the client immediately after the work is completed to their satisfaction. Be sure to charge for online database access, long distance phone calls on the client's behalf, and your hourly or flat rate. Your monthly ISP charge is counted as one of your business expenses because you also use it for e-mail and personal web access. Putting a note on the invoice that says the payment is due in a specific number of days gives you a set time after which to call the client if you haven't received your payment.

Other scenarios will require you to make financial arrangements with the client before starting the job. For example, if a job is going to continue for an extended period of time, you may want to make arrangements to send the client an invoice once a month. Some information consultants also work on a retainer fee just like lawyers. They're paid once a month to be available to the client for a specified maximum number of hours, whether or not they actually do any work. In this case, you may not even need to send an invoice, depending on your agreement or contract.

Expected Annual Income

An information consultant in the $50-per-hour range can make about $40,000 a year. The top salaries will be earned by those who are considered experts in their information fields--those who write articles, speak at conferences and consult. These experts bring in $100,000 a year or more, depending on the length of time they've they've worked as information consultants and the size of their client base.

One more thing to keep in mind before multiplying your hourly rate by 40 hours a week is that a lot of the work you do, including bookkeeping, studying, attending conferences and looking for work, is stuff you don't get paid for--and that's pretty time-consuming, to boot. Being an information consultant takes a lot of work. The work is rewarding and pays well, but it's definitely not for those looking for a get-rich-quick scheme.

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