SO YOU WANT TO BE A CONSULTANT?
Working as a coach with executives and managers from a wide range of different industries who are facing significant decisions about their careers, I regularly find my clients are keen to explore the idea of becoming a consultant. So, is this a good move? How do you decide if it’s right for you ? Do you know what you’re getting yourself into, and do you have what it takes? I can’t cover every aspect of consulting in a short article like this so here are some thoughts to stimulate your thinking.
The first step here must be to ask yourself why you want to do this. Check your motivation. It can be tough to get a consulting business off the ground so you will need the commitment and resilience to see yourself through plenty of ups and downs. If you are considering this as a result of being impacted by restructure and redundancy, make sure your primary reason is not that you’re still hurting a bit from the way you feel your employer has treated you. It will be important to be in a strong and resilient state of mind with no baggage or bitterness holding you back.
There seem to be several common reasons why people get interested in moving into consulting. For many, there is the desire to focus on the type of work they love most, without the complications and politics of corporate employment. For others, there is the attraction of a flexible work-life, with the freedom to manage time and location. If your main reason is that you are “over” the corporate life, figure out whether that is real or if it would just be better to look for an employer with an organisation culture that is a better fit for you. Or perhaps you are just long overdue for a holiday that would help you to get that energy and focus back?
Can you sell?
If it sounds as if I am trying to discourage you from looking at consulting as an option, that is partly true. I believe that to make it work, you really need to be solidly committed towards consulting for well thought-out reasons, not using it as an escape away from something else.
The next most critical factor is how you will source new business. Many new consultants start with an assignment from their former employer or someone in their network who knows them well. How will you maintain a steady pipeline of new billable work? You will have to sell your services or get someone else to do that for you. As a rule of thumb, you could expect to have to spend around 40% of your time on marketing and sales activity, 10-20% on administration, leaving at most 50% available for the exciting and interesting work you really want to do – andyou won’t always have enough work to fill this 50%.
5 Key Questions:
- You are good at what you do, right? Do you have a clearly articulated value proposition that sets you apart from other consultants with similar skills and experience? What is your USP (unique selling proposition)? Can you articulate this in 15-25 words? If you can’t, there’s a fair chance your prospective clients won’t get it.
- Do you have market credibility? Why would anyone buy from you?
- Do you have the resources for your start-up period? A typical consulting sales cycle can easily be between 3 and 5 months from lead generation to closing the sale. And then you can only bill some time after that and may have to wait for your client to pay. Can you afford to go for the first 6 to 12 months with no income while investing in launching your business?
- Do you love networking?
- How will you sustain a good flow of new and profitable billable assignments?
- If you really want to do this, consider hunting for a role with an existing consulting firm where you can “learn the trade” without taking all the risk at this stage. You will also have an established brand behind you and the experience you build up this way will be very valuable if/when you eventually decide to launch out on your own. This wouldn’t be right for everyone, of course, but it is worth exploring especially if you have some doubts raised by the 5 Key Questions I mentioned earlier.
Consulting can be extremely rewarding in terms of the work you do, the freedom and flexibility you can achieve, and if you get it right, it can be very lucrative.
If you have:
- thought through how your life will change on a day to day basis
- a strong differentiated value proposition
- a disciplined work ethic (you won’t have all the support resources you were used to in the corporate world)
- a robust business plan that accounts for “bumpy” revenue
- a resilient spirit with a long term view so that you don’t give up if the first year or two are hard, which they probably will be
- a love of love selling or have a good plan in place for sourcing new clients…..
……then go for it with passion and enthusiasm. Don’t get to 60, look back and wonder why you never tried!