approaching my employer about consulting for them on top of my regular job

A reader writes:

Two months ago, I started a part-time job at a small company. My duties include typical front desk and reception duties and I enjoy working there.

When I am not working there, I am spending my time preparing to launch my own marketing and social media business on a part-time basis. 

I believe the company can benefit from my skills with marketing and social media and I would like to offer my services as a consultant (at a significantly higher rate than my front desk job). 

Currently, my employer does not know about my background and skills in marketing and social media and it is not part of my job. However, I am concerned that if I mention my skills in this area, those tasks may fall to me during the coming slow season under the typical “other duties as assigned” clause (though I do not have a formal written job description).

What is the best way to offer my services as a consultant and grow my business (while benefiting their business) but also make sure that they don’t want me to take on these tasks as part of my normal workload?

You can’t ensure that. You’re absolutely right that if you offer to take on that kind of work, they may add it to your normal workload, particularly during your slow season. And this is especially likely since social media often falls to admin positions in companies that don’t have anywhere else to put it.

If you’re not willing to risk that, then don’t attempt to get them as a client — because once that particular cat is out of the bag, it’s probably not going back in.

(Plus lots of employers won’t be willing to pay someone two different rates of pay … or to pay them partly as an employee and partly as a contractor, since that’s at a minimum an administrative mess and at worst a lawsuit.)

But I think that you should consider approaching them about doing the work anyway, and not worry if they try to fold it into your normal duties at your normal rate of pay — because it will provide experience and accomplishments that you’ll be able to use to make yourself a more attractive prospect to other clients … which is important when you’re trying to launch your own business in a crowded and competitive field.

{ 42 comments… read them below }

  1. ThatHRGirl

    There are definite FLSA implications of having someone work more than 40 hours a week – since it’s not the same job, are you not going to pay them OT? (spoiler alert – you’d have to)

    We have this issue in my company with someone wanting to work PT in two stores (different brands), or have a PT job in a store and PT in the Fulfillment Center. It doesn’t work – my HRIS system would explode (metaphorically) if I tried to put someone under multiple job codes & pay rates…

    1. Anonymous

      OP here. If I were an independent contractor for the project work, would that make a difference? Or if I billed on a project basis (instead of hourly)? I imagine that might change the implications. I’d love any information you might have on that. Thank you!

      1. Anony Mouse

        Are you incorporated? Technically, your company could pay you as an employee, and also purchase services from a company that you also own. There may be some conflict-of-interest things here that violate your company’s policies, but there is nothing legally that prevents that.

        If you are not incorporated, then you are suggesting that they pay you as an employee and also on a 1099. I can not imagine that the IRS would look favorably upon that in any way. The IRS does not have hard-and-fast rules about this stuff, but it is probably too big of a risk for any company to even go near.

        There are all sorts of other issues around things like insurance. If you hurt yourself while working for the company, are you eligible for worker’s comp? Let’s say you injure someone else. Are you covered by the company’s GL insurance? What about E&O?

        It’s pretty much just a disaster to try and work this both ways.

  2. Soni

    One thing to consider if you do marketing for them is conflict of interest. If you’re marketing for them, what happens if someone else in the same field wants to hire you. From their point of view, your businesses other clients could appear to them to be competition that you are helping (and since you have inside knowledge of the company you work for, they may be concerned about how that affects what you do for other clients).

    If you do bring up the idea of adding marketing to your duties, for experience and whatnot, I’d make it clear up front that you do this as a separate business. That way they know *going into it* that you have and will continue to have other clients that you do the same work for, and are in a position to make an informed decision on whether they want someone with those clients handling their marketing.

  3. Anony Mouse

    Many companies have policies that prevent someone from contracting for them for a set period of time after they leave, as well.

    1. Jamie

      This is another area where IT is a different animal. It’s actually pretty common to negotiate a contracting agreement during an amicable employee separation. It’s incentive to keep you on call for a little while, so the replacement has a contact for environment specific questions.

      It’s not universal, by any means, but I’ve seen it happen more often than not.

      1. Anony Mouse

        The idea is to prevent people from quitting and then getting paid more as a contractor. Like any policy, it can ultimately be waived, but it’s one more hurdle she may have to clear.

        1. Jamie

          That makes a lot of sense. It’s probably waived for IT because of all the weird one-off institutional knowledge held hostage in the departing employee’s head.

  4. Jamie

    I’m just trying to imagine my boss if I came in and told him I knew a way I could add value to the business, but I wanted to do it on my time at a higher rate of pay with a different employment classification. And that I didn’t want to do it during slow times at work, for which I’m already drawing a salary.

    I’m sure only the sound of HR weeping would break the silence.

    All kidding aside, I’m not entirely sure I understand the question. If you haven’t even launched this business yet, why wouldn’t you want to do it as part of your job to gain the experience…which you can then use to sell yourself to other clients, down the road.

    If you haven’t done this kind of work before professionally I would think it would be easier to cut your teeth in the more forgiving venue of your part time job, rather than a client. Clients tend to be intolerant of mistakes since they assume that if you started your own business you have the professional expertise to back it up.

    To me you’re missing a great opportunity to gain some professional expertise at your job – that is assuming they would be open to you taking on the responsibilities.

    1. Anonymous

      OP here. I have done this type of work before for other companies and I do have experience so I’m not new to this type of work. I’m new to doing it on a consultant basis instead of an employee basis. Gaining more experience (and references and portfolio examples) is always a good thing, but I’d like to branch out and try and make my employer into a client as well.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Thanks for the additional context. You really probably can’t make them into a client, for all the reasons already discussed here. You can offer to do the work for them, but it’s probably not going to be as a consultant.

      2. Jamie

        Not to be a Debbie Downer, but I’ve seen it enough that I would feel remiss if I didn’t mention that I would be very careful about making sure you never work your side business on company time.

        Once they know you have a side business (whether it’s because you try to land them as a client or some other way) most companies start monitoring things like internet usage and time a lot more carefully.

        There are many scrupulous people who would never think of using an employer’s resources to advance their own business – but there are many who don’t think twice about it and end up losing their day jobs.

        Just a caveat – be prepared for additional scrutiny once they know.

      3. Malissa

        In that case if you do the work for your employer now, as an employee, you’ll be more likely to be able to pick them up as a client as part of your separation agreement when you leave to do business full-time. Also they might be inclined to increase your overall rate of pay if you bring your extra skills to the table now.

        1. Jamie

          This is really good advice.

          Malissa, if I ever leave my job I totally want you as my agent during the separation agreement.

          Actually, if you’re not doing anything when I have my next performance review perhaps you’d like to come along to my yearly lunch with my boss? You know, if you’re not busy :).

          1. Malissa

            Free lunch? Count me in! Oh wait….I have a little fuel software program to solve first. Can I hire you as a contractor for a week? I’m sure that’s all it would take to get the stinking program running properly again.

        2. Piper

          What Jamie and Malissa said. Just try to pick up the additional work and leverage your additional skills and contributions to try for more compensation. Then work on your side business. There’s no guarantees that your company will continue to use you as a contractor after you leave, but if you make their lives easier now, they may be more inclined to help you out later.

      4. Anony Mouse

        This really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Why are you working a low-wage front-desk job if you are worth a ton more doing marketing and social media?

        1. Piper

          As someone who works in the digital marketing field, I can say that the field is tight and crowded. Even with experience, it’s hard to nail down a good job, especially in geographic areas where there isn’t much opportunity. Perhaps the OP suffered a job loss and needed income, or something similar. And of course, it’s ideal to remain in your field, even you take a job at a lower level than the one you lost, but sometimes even those lower level jobs aren’t available.

          1. OP

            My story is pretty much exactly what Piper said. I was laid off, this opportunity came along, and I’m using my spare time to plan for my own business. I do live in a rural area and most jobs here are seasonal and in the tourist industry so I’m grateful for what I have right now.

          2. Anony Mouse

            Okay, but one reason that consultants command high pay is that they don’t get any of the benefits of employment. This employer is indeed paying those benefits.

            1. Piper

              Correct, but I’m not sure why it’s related to the fact that the OP took a lower level job. Independent contracting/running a business/starting a business isn’t something you just up and do overnight. You have to build clientele first.

              1. Anony Mouse

                You are right; my comment was fairly non-sequiter now that I re-read it. I was trying to make the point that either you get the big bucks paid to consultants for the extra risk they take on, or you get the security of a full-time job; you don’t generally get both.

            2. OP

              My employer is paying social security and taxes, but I do not receive any kind of health insurance, retirement or paid time off. I just receive an hourly wage for the hours that I work. I’m not sure I would consider it to be a situation where my employer is “indeed paying those benefits”

              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                They’re paying overhead (office space, equipment, etc.) and they’re paying the payroll taxes on your salary (as a consultant, you pay that portion of taxes yourself).

                1. Piper

                  Yeah, but most employees don’t consider a “free” desk, some electricity, and a computer at work to be a true benefit. That’s just what an employer provides to employees as a cost of doing business (which I understand you’re saying is a cost you’d incur yourself as an independent contractor).

                  However, I’ve never seen such things listed under benefits packages, which typically include health insurance, paid time off, 401K, and other perks.

                2. Anony Mouse

                  Also, the company pays unemployment insurance. It is a benefit of employment that you can collect unemployment if you are laid off. Contractors have no such security; when a contract is up, it’s just over.

                  Also, general liability, E&O, etc. are taken care of by your employer.

                  My point here is that the primary reason contractors get compensated at a higher rate because they are taking bigger risks and incurring more expenses than employees. It’s a trade-off.

          1. Rana

            (Whoops. Just read the OP’s response. But it is a consideration for a lot of people I know.)

  5. Nev

    My two cents to the OP are as it follows:
    1. Try to pitch to your boss that you take over the social media activities of the company as part of your duties but for only as many hours as you are willing to commit (and they to pay you for).
    2. If you do a good job, in three months you can: 1. put it in your resume; 2. ask your boss for a title change (I wouldn’t hire a social media contractor if she had never held a social media related title working for a company, or if she didn’t have a very impressive record of happy customers & projects); 3. ask your boss for a raise (based on your results and new skills employed).
    3. If you’re going to have a partner in your new company, introduce the partner to your boss, and let the partner close the deal for you, without disclosing your stake in the company. HOWEVER, please consult this with an attorney – there might be a conflict of interests (I am not a attorney, neither an HR, so this is my personal suggestion, not a legal advice).

  6. Jamie

    “If you’re going to have a partner in your new company, introduce the partner to your boss, and let the partner close the deal for you, without disclosing your stake in the company.”

    I am not an attorney, either – but any place I’ve ever worked this would get you an immediate dismissal and permanent place on the “not eligible for rehire” list.

    Do not lie about this.

    1. Anony Mouse

      THIS. It has nothing to do with the law, and everything to do with the company’s policy. Grounds for termination, no doubt.

    2. Nev

      Out of curiosity (as I said I am not aware of the legal implications of my advice, and I am sorry if it is bad advice) – what do you think such actions would be based upon – a law, the employee contract or most companies’ internal rules?

      And if the OP discloses her ownership in the company, but says that she is not an active partner, could it be OK for a company to hire the other partner?

  7. Nonprofit Staffer

    I would recommend targeting nonprofits as potential clients. Social media and marketing is an area of great need/demand in the nonprofit “marketplace” and an area where a skills gap exists (social services / nonprofits tend to be low on funding for IT infrastructure and training so often they haven’t grown this skill set “in house” but can certainly budget/afford a consultant on an hourly basis). A good place to source potential client leads would be by looking at who’s recruiting for these kind of employees in your area and through the national / state’s nonprofit association.

  8. Anonymous

    Wait, wait. So you think this person should ask the boss for additional contract work while currently employed by him, but you think bad breath is too awkward to bring up?

  9. JohnQPublic

    OP it sounds like you don’t want to get paid your current wage by your employer for your media skills. I can see how you’d value that differently, and I’d compare it to someone who also has a photography business on the weekends, or a massage therapy license. Those are skills that employers might want to use, but are certainly out-of-bounds for what you were hired for.
    If you do find your employer wanting to use your skills, you may want to work out a project based bonus system. Similar to executives performance bonuses, your bonus should have as much spelled out as possible, including when the work gets done (regular shift hours allowed or not?), who you report to for the project, metrics for measuring success, resources provided by the company and by yourself, and how much you get for each milestone achieved and each benchmark of a particular quality the company is interested in improving (more followers on twitter? More page views on website? More sales in a month? Higher pagerank on search engines?). You are an hourly employee, so whatever your bonus will be should account for the fact that you’re also getting a paycheck from them. Which really makes this the big complicated matter that you’ve been warned away from in the comments above. This can blow up in your face if your boss or the powers that be at your company don’t like the mail room guy telling their VP-Marketing how to do his job. For instance :). So since you’re the one in the hot seat, do a cost benefit analysis and let us know what happens.

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