Machine Learning Consulting Rates: What to Expect?

One of the issues that remain 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 to do this cost-effectively is to use machine learning or data science consultants.

This means you’ll not have to worry about hiring a whole new team internally. You could hire freelance consultants (also known as independent contractors) or companies that provide consulting services. But how much would this cost in comparison to hiring a full-time data scientist or machine learning engineer?

Given our intimate knowledge of this field and the number of questions we’ve received just along the lines of cost, we’ve put together some rough estimates. We also highlight several things you should watch out for.

First things first

The first thing to keep in mind is that machine learning and data science consulting rates typically depend on a few variables:

  1. The type of solution. What do you need?
    • Implementation of an MVP?
    • Setting up metrics
    • Guidance around how to implement the MVP
    • Training
    • Or something else?
  2. 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 tend to 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, if you’re hiring a freelancer or an independent consultant the fees can significantly vary between countries. The rate difference amongst companies focused on serving an international market however 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

Machine Learning Freelancer Rates

If you’re hiring a top-notch freelancer or Ph.D. level consultants, rates can be anywhere north of $200 per hour. I’ve seen rates as high as $1000 per hour but that’s more for pure consultation work. Considering expertise, these high-end consultants are going to be spending less time on the project. But, they generally deliver more value on the whole as they can educate and at the same time produce high-quality work. 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 a 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 seem like they had relevant experience was at $50 per hour. Some interesting rate info:

  • Starting rate where candidates start to look experienced enough – $50 per hour
  • The highest rate is $200 per hour (~$300 when you use other keywords)
  • The average is about $100 per hour.
machine learning consulting rates,
Machine learning consulting rates from UpWork for top-ranked candidates. Names have been greyed out.

How much would a small machine learning project cost?

Now, let’s try to estimate how much you’d be spending on a small project.

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 make the following assumptions for this small project:

  • The expected number of hours 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 or machine learning engineer in the United States. But, remember you’re also paying for expertise here. So it’s still a good deal compared to hiring a full-time data scientist + benefits.

machine learning consulting rates, data science consulting rates,
data scientist consulting hourly rate
Cost comparison for 1 week of machine learning consulting with a two day padding for delays
machine learning consulting rates and data scientist consulting hourly rates
Average annual income for full-time machine learning engineers in the United States. Source: Glassdoor.

Download Spreadsheet to Compute ML Consulting Rates Yourself

machine learning consulting rates,
machine learning consultant hourly rate
Average annual income for full-time data scientists in the United States. Source: Glassdoor.

Machine Learning Consulting Company Rates

When it comes to consulting companies, there are specialized machine learning consulting companies and then there are software development companies that offer machine learning and data science services. Although machine learning development requires some level of software engineering, 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. Many have a starting rate between $10,000-$25,000 USD. Newer companies may not have this hard limit, but you’d have to ask.

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 be aware of:

  1. Some of these companies charge an hourly rate, some use fixed-fee pricing.
  2. Fixed rates are easier to work with as you’re not worried about a running meter. You’re fully focused on the success of the project rather than trying to control costs.
  3. 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.
  4. Some of these companies may be software development companies offering machine learning services and the skillset may not be as specialized. So, ensure that there’s a good fit.

Summary

As we discussed in this article, machine learning consulting rates can vary based on several factors 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 or machine learning engineer. The price goes up from there if you want more established consultants. Agencies that provide machine learning services often have a hard minimum project size and this can start at $5000 at the minimum.

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