Over the years we have represented an extremely large number of CRA Consultants. Because of this experience, we have gained significant insight into the pros and cons of being an independent CRA consultant. After all, choosing between independent consulting and being an employee is an important decision, as moving into consulting isn’t for everyone.
Since the decision to move into a CRA consultant role shouldn’t be made lightly, we have pulled together some thoughts for you to consider. Our goal is to arm you with enough information so that you can make the decision that will be best for you and your loved ones.
Assumption: Becoming a CRA consultant will enable me to maintain a better work/life balance.
Reality: Like to be off on Fridays? Want to be able to select which Sponsor and/or Project to work on? Want to explore a different therapeutic or indication? Prefer to be part time in order to catch the kiddo’s soccer matches?
While being an independent consultant does offer flexibility in terms of schedule and assignments, the reality is that for many independent clinical research consultants, maintaining a work-life balance can become blurred.
Solution: Ensure you have established some level of structure such as a defined, but ‘loose’, work schedule. Having such an established ‘loose’ work schedule will make you feel like you have permission to take time off and enable you to set boundaries in order to protect yourself from overcommitting.
You will also want to set aside time to actually run your business. Don’t underestimate how much time the administrative, financial and marketing tasks take. Even if you hire someone to take care of the books and administration, it is still important to have set times where you are networking for new contract CRA positions and performing other tasks required to grow your business.
Assumption: Permanent employment means higher job security
Reality: Absolutely.Not.True. While you may not have a ‘set end date’ like CRA consultants do, permanent employment doesn’t translate to job security.
Today’s market is volatile, with large quantities of companies being acquired, undergoing a merger or business model change…or unfortunately, completely shutting down.
Being laid off, having your hours reduced or having to face that your benefits have been dropped, is the new reality. The bottom line is that you are not in control when you are employed by someone else.
Solution: Explore. Often an independent clinical research consultant will earn more and we can help you do the math so you can decide if becoming a contract CRA is best for you. What do you have to lose by having a discussion with one of our Clinical Recruiters?
Assumption: But what about benefits? Don’t I lose my benefits as a CRA consultant?
Reality: Benefits aren’t a problem. In today’s market, we are seeing companies dropping or reducing benefits, so being a permanent employee doesn’t guarantee you will receive them. Additionally, we have found that permanent positions don’t always offer the best benefits; the reality is that employees often don’t have great choices when considering what benefits their employer is providing.
Solution: You can still get the benefits you want, and the ones that best fit you and your family’s needs. Often the third-party company you are contracting with will offer benefit packages; but even as an independent clinical research consultant it is extremely easy to cover yourself and your family through your own company. Your contract CRA hourly rate should reflect the cost of your benefits and the value-add is that you will be able to customize your benefits program to better fit your personal situation.
Assumption: Independent clinical research consultants have an irregular pay schedule, meaning less financial stability.
Reality: Irregular pay schedules should only happen if you have engaged with the wrong recruitment agency.
Solution: Check the reputation of the recruitment agency you have chosen to work with. Ask for references if you are unfamiliar with the agency’s brand. Ensure you enter into a clinical research consultant agreement which a) defines the payment timeline and process and b) has ‘teeth’ in the agreement for non-payment.
Also be sure to select an agency that always has contract CRA positions available so that you can work at your desired utilization level.
Assumption: Independent CRAs must invest in their own retirement as well as withhold their own federal, state, and local taxes.
Reality: This is a true assumption, but it isn’t a bad thing.
Solution: Robert Kiyosaki quotes ‘It’s not how much money you make, but how much money you keep…’ As an independent consultant, you can write off everything considered to be a business expense. This can include non-reimbursed travel expenses, home office equipment and supplies, home office space, internet and telephone services, health insurance for your family, etc.
So yes, you do have to withhold your own taxes, but this doesn’t mean you pay more taxes. Actually, due to your new business deductions, you should expect to pay less.
Along those same lines, it is extremely easy to set up your own retirement plans. Establishing a 401k or Defined Benefit program will not only prepare you for the future, but will also further reduce your current tax burden.
The Real Answer
Assumption: I can earn more money as a CRA consultant.
Reality: Absolutely true.
Solution: Typically, independent consultants can earn higher hourly rates because the company engaging the consultant will incur less overhead and burden costs than if they hired a perm.
The other earnings benefit: you are paid for every hour you work. This can be a draw back too, as you no longer have paid time off. However, if you are organized and have a strong relationship with a reputable recruitment agency, you will be able to stay at your desired utilization level while likely earning more money than you did as a perm.
Imagine, making it to the kiddo’s soccer matches while earning more…hmmm.
In a Nutshell
As you can see, there are plenty of benefits as well as drawbacks to being an independent clinical research professional. In order to make the right decision, evaluate what’s most important to you in terms of both your professional and personal lives. And, if you have questions? Ask the team here, and we will be happy to help.
The schedule flexibility was nice, and I’m using past tense because of late many clients are demanding even their consultants agree to 3-4 overnights per WEEK. The money is nice, but that makes for monitors too exhausted to do their jobs well, and that makes for a very poor work product.
Helen, Your comment is on point. However, it does not matter if you are independent or a company employee. Sponsors need to recognize all the down sides of the CRA position and become more creative. Some of the more creative staffing can be more part-time positions. Sponors need to realize that part-time is not just working 2 or 3 days/week, quite the contrary in this field, it means you manage 5 to 7 sites. Lots of the traditional paradigms need to change. Many of the senior monitors are leaving because of the lack of flexibility and demands which can be better managed.
Hi Helen – Great Article. I have been a W2 CRA in the past, and am considering becoming a 1099 consultant for at least a short while. I have received an general agreement from the CRO and am reviewing it. I have never been responsible for obtaining my own disability insurance, med insurance (although, I can extend COBRA to the limit) and liability insurance. I realize that I would need to prepare quarterly filings, etc. Are there any members out there who might be able to offer some advice for someone new becoming independent? Is it a good idea to form an LLC?
JJ, I would definitely speak to an attorney regarding becoming incorporated (either S-Corp or LLC) versus working as a Sole Proprietor. I would imagine most will tell you it is a good idea to form a corporation because this will completely separate you as an individual from you as a business both financially and from a liability standpoint. Most initial discussions with attorneys are free so definitely seek some advice here.
Also, some recruiting agencies will only work with you as a 1099 if you are incorporated. So by working under your S-Corp or LLC you will open more doors.
An accountant can also tell you if you have better tax shelters as a corporation – so I would speak to an accountant too.
I hope this helps!