What to charge as a communications consultant
May 25, 2012 6:48 AM   Subscribe

What to charge as a communications consultant working with scientists?...

On behalf of Mrs. Verdant:

I want to make the move from a university professor in the humanities to a consultant who helps scientists communicate better in interpersonal, public, and interdisciplinary situations. So far I have been funded to do this work through the NSF. I have, however, been invited to name my price as a consultant for a VERY large initiative. The lead scientist tells me that my off hand quote of $10,000.00 is too little to: (1) Get familiar with the initiative and its communications problems (2) Meet with his committee to develop objectives for a 30-100 person meeting, (3) meet with the lead scientist to refine those objectives and develop an evaluation tool for the meeting (4) Help conduct the workshops at the meetings including bringing my expertise in helping scientists build collaborations (5) complete an evaluation of the meeting, develop a "lessons learned" document to be used for the next meeting in six months.

So - I know $10,000.00 is too little, but I don't know what is too much. Please help this lady who is used to a humanities salary name her price.

Secondarily, I am only allowed to make a certain percentage of my university income in consulting (about 15,000.00). I think this is stupid as I will be earning this money during a time when I am not on contract with the university (I have a ten month contract) -what can the university do to me if I ignore the rule? My hope is that this gig will help me to launch myself out of the university and into full-time consulting in the next two years. I am untenured, however, and tenure is my back-up plan
posted by Verdant to Work & Money (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
As with anyone starting out in any sort of consulting or other form of self employment, you need to first look at the hourly rate you want to achieve. Take into account the additional taxes you will be responsible for since there will be no tax withholding, you will need to pay self-employment tax, etc. If you plan to do this full time, estimate the number of hours per year you could reasonably expect to bill once you are established and factor that in as well to allow you to estimate your yearly "salary". It is important to start with realistic rates because once you establish a client base you risk losing clients every time you need to raise your rates.

Once you have decided the hourly rate you are comfortable with, per project estimate the number of hours you will need to spend in order to complete it. Then pad it a bit to account for the unexpected. Separately, come up with an estimate for your expenses: material, travel, etc.

Take your hourly rate, multiply it by your estimate hours plus contingency and there is your fee. When starting out, in order to fit into your client's budget, or in order to adhere to your University's policy on consulting income, you may want to discount it. But make sure you let them know they are getting a discounted rate, and by how much. Generally it's good to lead off your fees section with your un-discounted fee on your proposal or statement of work, then apply the discount as a percentage directly below where you provide the final total. Also explicitly state your payment terms: 50% up-front, 50% at completion? all up front? all at completion? A different percentage breakdown? Based on certain concrete milestones? Just make it explicit when payment is expected and how long the client has to pay up.

Also explicitly note that you will be billing expenses separately, and the period at which you do so. Generally you will also need to note that you will seek prior approval before incurring expenses. You'd request approval for a specific or not-to-exceed amount for airfare and hotel. You'd note a daily cap on food and entertainment. And local transportation such as taxi, ferry, etc. at whatever the local going rates are. Some of the above might be covered directly by your client, particularly in an academic setting, so tailor it to your situation.
posted by rocketpup at 7:14 AM on May 25, 2012


I think it might depend on how much of a rigorous science background you have. A communication consultant without a science background is easy to find and there are agencies that specialize in communications re health and even non-life sciences. In fact, part of places like NASA's problems involve having communications people who don't have enough of a science background to properly explain nuances to the media.

So I wouldn't say that just having a PhD would involve markup unless you really have experience and knowledge that would be helpful. Google around for how much agencies charge and figure out a rate including any "overhead costs, expectations, agreements on final product and draft delivery, etc."
posted by discopolo at 7:17 AM on May 25, 2012


Sorry, forgot to note that it may turn out that the rate you need to earn isn't supported by the market which is a pretty good indication that you need to look more closely at your Plan B.
posted by rocketpup at 7:24 AM on May 25, 2012


Be careful you are not getting in over your head. $10000 seems very low to me given the tasks they have specified. Sit down and make a list of things you will need to do as a part of the effort and the time involved for each. Without such a detailed specification, it's hard to give an estimate as to the right or max amount.

If you run into a max for the amount you can make, think about bringing in an assistant to manage some of the less difficult but time consuming tasks This is certainly how a real consultant would function...I'm sure you could find some students eager to get some experience...
posted by NoDef at 8:13 AM on May 25, 2012


Secondarily, I am only allowed to make a certain percentage of my university income in consulting (about 15,000.00). I think this is stupid as I will be earning this money during a time when I am not on contract with the university (I have a ten month contract) -what can the university do to me if I ignore the rule?

Follow up with your university about what this means. IANAL, but it doesn't make sense that they restrict the amount of money you can make when you are not working for the university.

Also, what rocketpup said. I can only add that you should talk to some senior faculty in their field to ask them what their rates are for this kind of thing.
posted by deanc at 8:14 AM on May 25, 2012


The Bureau of Labor Statistics said the median salary for a public relations manager was $91,810 in 2010. That's $44.13/h (52 weeks × 40 h/week). At least double that for a consulting gig, so you should bill at least $89/h. Assuming that rate, $10,000 is 112 h or 2.8 weeks of work. This looks like more than 2.8 weeks of work for me. It seems like it should be relatively straightforward to come up with estimates in weeks or hours for each objective above. Multiply it times your hourly rate and you're done.
posted by grouse at 8:31 AM on May 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I agree with deanc. Are the people paying you doing it through the university, or are you moonlighting? Unless your contract says you can't moonlight, if you're being paid outside the university system, you should be fine.

If they want to process your payment dept to dept, then you may not have enough of your time available.
posted by vitabellosi at 10:04 AM on May 25, 2012


I agree with deanc. Are the people paying you doing it through the university, or are you moonlighting? Unless your contract says you can't moonlight, if you're being paid outside the university system, you should be fine.

Lots of universities have restrictions on the amount you can make moonlight/consulting, but the OP indicates that she is not a university employee for 2 months (presumably during the summer), in which case I don't understand how her employer can claim that she is limited to making $7500/month for the 2 months out of the year she's not under contract.
posted by deanc at 11:10 AM on May 25, 2012


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