Q: How do I determine my fee?

Q: I have eight years experience working as a school library media specialist at both elementary and secondary levels. I was recently asked to help a private school get their library up to standard (weeding, acquisitions, cataloging, etc.). I have offered to act as a library consultant to the school for at least the next year, possibly long term. How do I determine my fee? How do I determine how many hours of service I would provide? Can I do this and continue working for the public school system? I have had difficulty finding resources online for setting up a school library consulting service.

TA: There are quite a few factors to consider, some of which I may be able to help with, and others you may need to resolve on your own – such as coordinating with your current employer. Before proceeding with your consulting work, you’ll need to check to see if it’s permitted in your contract, and that it doesn’t present any conflicts of interest with your current job. If you’re clear to begin, I hope you’ll find the following advice helpful: First, some things you need to consider while pulling together your consultant business plan, and secondly, several online resources to help answer some of your questions.

First things first: Congrats on the offer of work with this private school. One of my favorite sayings is, “The reward for good work is more work.” Most often, it truly is a reward. You’ve clearly done a good job, and garnered a great deal of respect for your work — so much so that others are seeking you out for your wisdom and expertise.

So, now that you have an offer to help get this school’s library up to standard. Where do you start? A logical place to begin might be with an initial consultation and survey of the materials. Try to size up the type of work that will need to be done and estimate how long it will take. Be sure to make a comprehensive list of the work required, and an accurate and honest appraisal of the time required. Just as with any other project, you’ll want to know the guidelines and framework before starting.

Once you have a reasonable idea of what needs to be done, you want to think about your billing structure. Will you be charging by the hour, or will you charge on a project basis? It seems natural to charge on an hourly basis, especially since your work may continue past this original project, but first consider all the factors. To get a sense of what to charge, I would suggest a review of the market. Look at the pricing models of similar businesses in the local area or region. You may be able to get some assistance with identifying peers from your local business bureau, chamber of commerce, or even ALA. Also, when setting your fee, don’t forget about the costs that are usually assumed by the employer when working in a larger organization, such as fringe benefits (health insurance, retirement) and the overhead costs of doing business (equipment, office supplies, postage). Factor these relevant costs into your hourly rate.

Next, review the project proposal with the client. Go over the details of the work to be done, the method of billing, and the expectations for payment. Will you receive payment at the end of the project, or be paid in installments? Be sure you have their complete buy-in on the work to be done and rate of pay before proceeding.

I would also recommend that you check for any small business development centers or business incubators in your area. (A business incubator provides support to entrepreneurs through services like coaching, networking, and capital.) You may also want to check out your local public library. The Spokane Public Library has an amazing online resource for freelancers and consultants (see Additional Resources) and your public library may offer similar services and expertise.

Best of luck with your work. I hope it is a successful and enjoyable venture.

Additional Resources

Spokane Public Library, Research, Subject Guide: Start Your Own Business
Excellent site that covers print and online resources on a number of topics related to starting your own consultant services. Also includes information on federal agencies and national organizations for freelancers and consultants.

How to Start a Consulting Business
Pay particular attention to the “Income and Billing” section.

Working Solo: The information source for independent entrepreneurs and companies serving the SOHO (Small Office/Home Office) market
If you decide to do more someday with your new consultant business, lots of resources here…

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