Try before you buy

Can’t stand your boss?  Tired of all the hoops you have to go through to get anything done at work – the office politics, the bureaucracy, and the endless meetings?  Then you, like many other dissatisfied workers, may be considering quitting and striking out on your own as a consultant, selling your skills directly to the clients who need them and cutting out the middleman:  your employer, who is holding you back rather than helping you move forward.

And you may very well be right – for some people, becoming a self-employed consultant does allow them to create a more satisfying career.  But if you think consulting may be right for you, rather than trying to make the change all at once by quitting your job and becoming a full-time consultant, you may be better of if you ease into it gradually by consulting part-time on nights and weekends while keeping your current job.

This gradual approach to becoming a consultant has several advantages.  It allows you to find out if you actually enjoy consulting as much as you had hoped (see Newsletter #2: Is Consulting for You?), before you have invested too much in the change.  It allows you to find out if you are willing and able to do the work involved in finding new clients.  And it allows you to start building up your contacts and client base while you still have a steady income – it usually takes even successful consultants a minimum of 3 years to build their business to the point where they match their previous income as an employee.

Try before you buy:  if possible, start a new consulting business part-time while staying at your current job.

Of course, not everyone can follow this advice, for a variety of reasons.  You will need to review any non-competition or other contract you signed with your employer to make sure there is no limitation on your outside work, and if you feel comfortable doing so, you should discuss your plans with your employer.  Some people just don’t have any free time to take on an additional part-time job, and some types of consulting just aren’t compatible with a regular job.

But if you can take the gradual approach, it can have great benefits.  One of my clients was tired of his job working at a non-profit organization, and decided to transfer his skills into a new field as a professional organizer.  He started doing the organizing on weekends, and at first business was slow, so he was really glad he still had a paycheck coming in from his regular job.  But gradually, as he impressed clients with his work and word-of-mouth about him spread, he found it easier and easier to find new clients, and eventually he was in a position to quit his old job, and he is now entirely self-employed, and much happier in his work.

Another client had lots of experience working as a general manager and CEO at companies, finding funding and creating and implementing business plans.  She was attracted to the idea of selling her skills as a consultant, but on my advice started slowly with a few part-time contracts.  She soon found that she was dissatisfied as a consultant – after she helped a company come up with a business plan and find funding, she couldn’t bear to turn over the implementation to others; she much preferred to be in charge of the entire process from first to last.  Though she failed to find satisfaction as a consultant, at least she made the discovery before she was relying on it for her entire income.

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