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专栏 - 向Anne提问

独立顾问收费标准:考虑专业知识 按小时收费是成本两倍

Anne Fisher 2014年06月13日

Anne Fisher为《财富》杂志《向Anne提问》的专栏作者,这个职场专栏始于1996年,帮助读者适应经济的兴衰起落、行业转换,以及工作中面临的各种困惑。
顾问的收费标准往往存在很大的差异,具体要取决于专业知识、市场需求和其他因素。但通行的经验告诉我们,如果按小时收费,费率应该是成本的两倍。

    亲爱的安妮:有位朋友给我递来你那篇讨论自由职业者如何才能确保获得报酬的专栏文章,我一直收藏着,以防哪一天我也碰到这类问题。但我的职业生涯目前还没有发展到那个阶段。我现在拥有一份全职工作,这几年辗转多家雇主之后,我已经在一个高度专业化的IT领域建立起了善于解决各种疑难杂症的声誉,其他公司现在常常给我打电话,想了解我能否利用业余时间为他们做一些项目。所以,我正考虑出去单干。问题是,我不知道如何确定收费方式和标准。按小时,按天,还是按项目?顾问究竟应该如何确定收费标准(比如每小时收多少钱)?——一位来自奥斯丁的焦虑者

    亲爱的焦虑者:正如凯特•温德尔顿所言,“收费标准无穷无尽,”这也难怪你毫无头绪。身为全国职业咨询网络“五点钟俱乐部”(The Five O'Clock Club)总裁的温德尔顿这些年来既雇佣过许多顾问和自由职业者,也指导过不少自立门户的专业人士。她说:“收费结构的变体几乎是无限的。”

    例如,在一些领域,公司支付的是“成功费”(也就是说,“如果相关项目运转良好,你会获得一大笔报酬,但如果项目搞砸了,你就没有任何报酬,”温德尔顿说)或者某种修改版本,比如,有一种成功费有最低酬劳保证,无论结果如何。“如果你正在与一家初创公司合作,你或许会同意收取以股票形式支付的报酬,”温德尔顿说。“其他常见的报酬安排包括预付聘金,佣金,销售额提成。如果你的工作是主持研讨会,那就可以按人头计算。当然还可以按小时,按天计算酬劳,或者采用上述方式的某种组合。”

    听起来很复杂,但决定服务价格的基本因素通常只有两个。首先是市场的承受能力,尤其是当你只是刚刚起步的时候。为避免要价过低或者提出超过客户愿意支付额度的要价,温德尔顿建议,“最好先了解一下,在你所在的行业,像你这种专业水准通常收取多少费用。”

    如果你在IT顾问圈内没有熟人,没办法打听行情,你可以问问你所在公司的同事,甚至可以向老同事询问相关信息。你还可以在商务社交网站 LinkedIn上搜寻IT咨询费用的大致范围以及典型的收费结构。温德尔顿建议,尤其有必要向你所在领域那些经常聘请顾问的经理人讨教,了解他们通常采用的付费方式和标准。

    你需要弄清楚的第二件事情是你自己的开销,即你需要赚取多少顾问费才能收回成本。温德尔顿列举了这样一道数学题:先用你目前的工资加上奖金(为了举例方便起见,我们假定你每年的工资加奖金为5万美元),再加上这一数字的20%——这是你目前的雇主为你支付的医疗保险和工资税。用计算结果(6万美元)除以你合理预期的年均工作小时。每年需要剔除包括节日在内的10个休息日,以及4周的假期和病休时间,所以温德尔顿建议把每年的有效工作时间确定为1,600小时。

    然后用6万美元除以1,600小时,计算出时薪为37.50美元。这就是你的开销。温德尔顿指出,这一数值仅仅与你目前的收入持平。但你的计算还没完。你不仅有可能无法全部完成这1,600小时的工作时间,而且必须运营你自己的办公室,购买你自己的医疗保险,全额支付社保金,积攒一些度假开销,充实退休计划资金储备,还需支付目前由你的雇主承担的其他费用。

    这就是为什么温德尔顿认为,“确定短期咨询费的经验法则是,你的小时费率应该是成本的两倍。”就我们正在讨论的这个例子而言,小时费率应该是37.50美元的两倍,即75.00美元。一旦你计算好你的小时费率,你就可以用它作为基准来设定你的收费额度。例如,一位潜在客户有一个估计需要花费你120个小时的项目。如果按照小时费率75.00美元来计算,你的要价将是9000美元。

    “请记住,有人会判定你是否值这个价,但其中有很大的灵活性,”温德尔顿说。“如果还有许多人能够以更低的收费完成你的工作,招聘经理就会从中随便挑选一位。另一方面,如果你的技能独一无二,而且很受欢迎,特别是如果你是某一领域的知名专家,客户往往愿意支付高于现行市价的报酬。”

    有时候会获得高得多的报酬:温德尔顿认识一对独立顾问,他们每人都有两个大客户,每周为每家公司工作两天,每年向每家公司收取10万美元的固定报酬。这两位顾问“都在各自的领域耕耘多年,拥有丰富的经验,完全配得上这笔酬劳的每一分钱,”她补充说。“如果你自己的职业生涯能够发展到这个程度,那倒不失为一种不错的谋生方式。”

    反馈:如果你已经开始独立从事顾问工作,你怎样确定收费标准?请在下面留言评论。(财富中文网)

    译者:叶寒

    Dear Annie: A friend sent me your column about how to make sure you get paid if you're freelance, and I'm holding on to it just in case that becomes an issue. But I'm not quite at that stage yet. Right now, I have a full-time job but, after several years moving around among a few different employers, I've built a reputation as a troubleshooter in a highly specialized area of IT, to the point where people at other companies now are calling me to see if I would do projects for them on the side. So I'm thinking about going out on my own as a consultant. The thing is, I have no idea how or what to charge for my services. By the hour, by the day, or per project? And how do consultants decide how much to charge (per hour, for example)? -- Antsy in Austin

    Dear A.A.: It's no wonder you're in the dark about this since "the variety is endless," says Kate Wendleton. As head of national career-counseling network the Five O'Clock Club, Wendleton has both hired her share of consultants and freelancers over the years and coached people who have put out their own shingles. "There are almost infinite variations on fee structures," she notes.

    For instance, in some fields, companies pay a "success fee" (where, "if the project works, you get a big payday -- but if it doesn't, you don't," Wendleton says), or a modified version, like a success fee with a guaranteed minimum you earn regardless of the outcome. "If you're working with a startup, you might agree to be paid in stock," says Wendleton. "Other common arrangements are retainer, commission, percent of sales, per head if you're running seminars, or, of course, per hour or per day -- or some combination of the above."

    As complicated as that sounds, two basic factors will determine how you price your services. The first is what the market will bear, especially when you're just starting out. To avoid either underpricing yourself or charging more than clients are willing to pay, "find out what the standard fees are in your industry, at your level of expertise," Wendleton suggests.

    If you don't know any IT consultants well enough to inquire about this, you might ask around at your own company, and maybe even in the places where you've worked before. You could also ask people on LinkedIn for a general range of IT consulting fees and how they're typically structured. In particular, Wendleton advises, find out from managers in your field who routinely hire consultants what, and how, they typically pay them.

    The second thing you need to figure out is your own overhead, or how much you'd need to earn as a consultant in order to cover your costs. Wendleton lays out the math like this: Take your current salary plus bonus, which we'll say just for the sake of this example is $50,000 per year, and add about 20% for the health insurance and payroll taxes your employer now pays. Then take that $60,000 and divide it by the number of hours you can reasonably expect to work in a year. To figure in 10 days off, including holidays, and four weeks of vacation and sick time annually, Wendleton recommends using 1,600 hours as your guideline.

    Next, divide $60,000 by 1,600, and you arrive at an hourly figure of $37.50. That's your overhead, which Wendleton notes is what it will take just to stay even with what you're now making. But you're not finished yet. Not only is it possible you won't work every one of those 1,600 hours, but you still have to run your own office, buy your own health insurance, pay 100% of your Social Security, put money aside for vacations, fund your own retirement plan, and cover any other costs your employer now bears.

    That's why, Wendleton says, "the rule of thumb for short-term consulting fees is, your hourly rate should be twice your cost" -- in the example we're using, two times $37.50, or $75.00. Once you've arrived at your hourly rate, you can use it as a benchmark to set your fees. Let's say, for instance, that a prospective client has a project you think will take 120 hours to complete. Your fee for that project, at $75.00 per hour, would be $9,000.

    "Remember that someone will be deciding whether or not you're worth it, and there is a lot of flexibility," Wendleton says. "If lots of other people can do what you do for less, hiring managers will just pick someone else. On the other hand, if your skills are unique and in demand, especially if you're a known expert in something, clients will often pay more than the going rate."

    Sometimes much more: Wendleton knows a couple of solo consultants who each have two big clients, work for each company two days a week, and bill each one a flat $100,000 a year. Both consultants "had paid their dues in their respective fields and are worth every dime," she adds. "If you can get to that point in your own career, it's not a bad way to make a living."

    Talkback: If you've worked as an independent consultant, how did you determine what fees to charge clients? Leave a comment below.

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