One thing that is top of mind for companies looking to implement machine learning and data science solutions is cost. You want solutions and strategies that deliver but at the same time, you don’t want to over-invest in something that is yet to show value.
One way of doing this cost-effectively without hiring an elaborate team internally is by using consultants. Either freelance or independent consultants or companies that provide consulting services. But how much does this cost?
The first thing to keep in mind is that machine learning and data science consulting rates typically depend on a few variables:
- The type of solution. What do you need?
- Implementation of an MVP
- Setting up metrics
- Guidance around how to implement the MVP
- Or something else?
- The level of expertise you’re looking for.
- Ph.D. level consultants
- Any consultant who can do the job
- A consulting company
Type of solution: Most machine learning consulting companies and freelancers offer implementation services. Other services like coaching and training are dependent on the company or freelancer. My company, for example, has helped coach teams as well as implement solutions. The coaching part is not something many companies do.
Type of expertise: For the second question, it’s important to understand that the quality of work can vary depending on the background of the consultant or the team behind the consulting company. Also, the fees can significantly vary between countries especially if you’re hiring a freelancer. However, the rate difference amongst companies focused on serving an international market is less apparent.
Let’s Get into Machine Learning Consulting Rates
In helping you estimate rates we’ll need to narrow down the scope of work and the location. So let’s do the following:
- Focus on rates related to a machine learning model implementation
- Focus primarily on the rates in the United States
Freelancers & Independent Consultants
If you’re hiring a top-notch freelancer or Ph.D. level consultants, rates can be anywhere north of $200 per hour. I’ve even seen rates as high as $1000 per hour. Considering their expertise, they are actually going to be spending less time and delivering more value on your project. In the end, the cost evens out compared to hiring consultants who are less experienced.
If you are open to a broader range of expertise and degree qualifications, then there is more of an acceptable spread in hourly rates. Let’s take UpWork for example.
UpWork provides a marketplace where you can search for potential freelancers and agencies for various types of jobs. Data science and machine learning freelancers are quite popular on this platform. The starting rate where candidates looked like they had relevant experience was at $50 per hour. Some interesting rates:
- Starting rate where candidates started to look experienced enough – $50/hour
- The highest rate was $200 an hour (~$300 when you use other keywords)
- The average is about $100 an hour.
How much would a small project cost?
Now, let’s try to estimate how much you’d be spending on an MVP.
First, it’s worth mentioning that a very small model development project from scratch can take a minimum of one week, often more. If someone tells you that a model implementation project can be done in one or two days, I would seriously question the quality and its effectiveness beyond the data it was trained on. It’s easy to just train a model, but it’s much harder to evaluate it effectively for practical use. Let’s assume the following:
Let’s assume the following:
- The number of hours spent on project: 40 (1 week)
- Padding for delays: 2 days
With $100 per hour, you’re looking at $5,600 on the project. That’s a very good deal if the solution works. If you hire an expert level consultant at $200 an hour, then you’re looking at about a one time fee of $11,200. That’s roughly one month’s salary for a full-time data scientist in the U.S. but, remember you’re also paying for expertise here.
Consulting & Software Development Companies
When it comes to consulting companies, there are specialized machine learning consulting companies and then there are software development companies that offer machine learning services. Although in developing machine learning solutions you need to write software code, coming up with good solutions that scale beyond the training data requires specialized expertise.
If the problem is well defined and you have the data, I would not be too worried. But, if you don’t have data to begin with or the problem itself is complex and yet to be framed correctly, specialized expertise can make a world of difference.
In terms of rates, both consulting companies and software development companies often have a hard project size they’re willing to work with. The lowest is $5000 USD. Many have a starting rate between $10,000-$25,000 USD.
Lowest minimum project size=$5000
Typical minimum project size=$10,000 – $25,000
Machine learning consulting rates with consulting & software development companies
Some other points to know:
- Some companies charge an hourly rate, some use a fixed-fee pricing.
- Fixed rates are easier to work with as you’re not worried about the meter running and you are fully focused on the success of the project rather than trying to control costs.
- While the hourly rates of some of these companies can seem low ($75 vs. $200 you’d pay for an expert level consultant), don’t overlook the minimum project size. Also, these companies may be software development companies offering machine learning services and the skillset may not be as specialized.
As we discussed in this article, machine learning consulting rates can vary depending on several variables including the location of the consultant, the type of help you need, and the expertise level that you’re comfortable with. A small implementation project in the United States can cost you approximately $5600 if implemented by a reasonably skilled freelance data scientist. The price goes up from there if you want more established consultants. Agencies who provide machine learning services often have a hard minimum project size and this can start at $5000 at the minimum.