One Easy Step to a Professional Image

  By Liz Steblay, PICA Chief Advocate

When you’re a self-employed consultant, conveying a professional image is critical to maximizing pay and profit.

Consultants who present a professional image as a stand-alone business can charge more for their services. It’s all about perception. If you look like you are doing consulting on the side or between jobs, clients won’t take you as seriously as someone who is a dedicated professional.

You will pay less in taxes—possibly a lot less—if you take advantage of business-owner tax deductions and contribute to your own retirement plan. To do this you should be paid on a 1099 tax basis instead of on a W-2 basis like a temp worker. (Be sure to read “1099 vs W-2 Tax Status”.) 

To be paid on a 1099 or business-to-business basis, you will likely need to show that you are an established business. There are dozens of ways to be professional and show the world that you’re a business, but let’s keep this simple and pinpoint just one thing: your email address.

Are you or are you

It seems like a small thing but it’s so very, very important.

Look at it from your potential client’s point of view or that of a contractor-compliance manager. A professional email address will make a difference in how they perceive you.

It makes a difference to me. I’ve corresponded with hundreds of self-employed people. The first thing I notice is their email address. This gives me an immediate impression of how serious they are about their business.

Additionally, my first business (before PICA) has handled hundreds of contracts for independent consultants and contractors. When I look at our accounting records I see that the contractors who use a personal email address tend to charge a lower rate than the consultants with a professional email address. (Granted there are additional differences between consultants and contractors, but that’s another topic covered elsewhere on PICA’s website.)

Recently I reread an article about contractor compliance (i.e., whether or not to pay a consultant on a 1099 tax basis or on a W-2 tax basis like a temporary employee) and these words jumped out at me:

“The worker is customarily engaged in an independent trade, occupation, profession or business.”

I admit there are more significant factors in determining contractor compliance, such as who controls the work, the worker’s financial investment, and the relationship between the parties. (See PICA’s section on Vendor Compliance.) But fitting the image of being an independent business owner does indeed factor into the equation.

Having a professional email address is a fast, easy, inexpensive way to show that you are customarily engaged in an independent profession. You can have your own business email set up within 30 minutes for as little as $5 per month. Yes, just $60 a year, and tax deductible. I always wonder why people don’t do this – I figure they're too cheap or they don’t care. Either way it’s not good.

Note: you do not need to have a website to create a professional email account. You will need to buy your domain name (the “” part), but this can cost as little as $5 a year, and it is part of the email sign up process.

Among many options, here are two easy ones:

Gmail for Work from Google: You can get delivered to your existing Gmail inbox, or you can set up a new account. It includes 30GB of inbox storage and is compatible with Microsoft Outlook and other email clients. It's ad-free with 24/7 support.  

Professional Email from GoDaddy: All plans include world-class data security and spam filtering, an Outlook web application (for your mobile device too), guaranteed 99.9% up-time, and a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Bottom line: If you are serious about your career as an independent consultant, get a professional email address. As an independent consultant, you want to be treated as a business owner, not just a worker with a string of gigs. If you want your clients to recognize you as a business, take the first step to look like one.