Entries in Consulting (2)


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.


Is Consulting for You?

I love to take photographs.  Where ever I travel, I always carry my camera with me, and take pictures of everything – Masai warriors, Haitian shanties, Jamaican beaches, and  Serengeti wildlife.  There’s a real joy for me in taking the pictures, and that joy comes through in the pictures themselves.  So when a friend asked me to take the pictures for her wedding, I leapt at the chance. 

But when I started photographing the event, a funny thing happened.   Usually when I’m taking pictures, I lose myself in the process, shooting intuitively without conscious thought, creating photographs with a strong sense of composition and content.  Now that I was taking pictures for someone else, I was constantly worried about what my friend wanted, as if there was another person looking over my shoulder through the camera’s viewfinder.  The resulting pictures lacked my usual joy and spontaneity, and in the end pleased neither me nor, I suspect, my friend (though she was too polite to say so).  I learned that just because I’m good at something in one context doesn’t mean that I’ll be as good (or as happy) using the skill in a different context.

The same principle applies to business.  Many successful business people decide to take their considerable business skills and become consultants, making their skills available to a variety of clients.  For some, becoming a consultant is exactly the right decision, as it constantly exposes them to new challenges (and can be quite lucrative).  But others aren’t cut out to be consultants, and soon become dissatisfied with their careers.  As with my photography, the problem usually isn’t that they don’t have the necessary skills to be consultants.  Rather, being a consultant forces them to use those skills in a different context, one they don’t find as satisfying.

Clients bring in consultants when they have a business problem, and once the consultant has provided a solution, that’s often the end of the consultant’s involvement.  The client may shelve the consultant’s solution in favor of an inferior one, or may implement only half of it, or may implement it fully.  In any case, it’s out of the consultant’s hands.  Some people aren’t bothered by this lack of involvement and control, but for others, who are used to following through and overseeing the implementation of their ideas, it can be a rude shock.

If you are a person who likes to see your ideas carried through to their successful conclusion, consulting may not be for you.

I had one client at Core Allies, LLC who had been the CEO of a successful start-up.  Looking for new challenges, she decided to try consulting.  However, she was unhappy with her first couple of projects as a consultant.  At first, she thought the problem might be that the subject areas of the projects were outside her previous experience, or that she didn’t have quite the right set of skills.  But in going over the projects with her, and also looking at what had made her happy as a CEO, we discovered that a key ingredient for her was seeing her ideas come to fruition.  Not having that ability as a consultant was incredibly frustrating for her, and resulted in her dissatisfaction with consulting, and it wasn’t going to change if she could just find the “right” project.  So instead, she started a new venture, where she is successful and happy.