A few years into my consulting business, I started getting requests from friends to get together and talk about consulting. These people were thinking about starting their own consulting practices. Over time these requests became more frequent. I started thinking more and more about what I wanted to tell them.
What Do I Love?
I love being a consultant. The advantages are freedom, flexibility, control, interesting and engaging work, good pay and sometimes equity. You rarely get caught up in company politics and nearly all of your work is direct value add.
Even before I had kids, freedom and flexibility were important to me. I clearly remember a woman who spoke at my high school for career day. She worked with computers and did it from home even in those days (pre-Internet). Freedom and flexibility were key reasons why I chose to major in Computer Science (along with Music and French). At the time, my plan was to live in Aspen, ski all day, and work at night. I always hated cubicles and especially hated sitting in one at 8:00 in the morning.
You know those three day, all day, strategic planning sessions every company seems to have? You spend all day in the sessions and then everyone goes back to their desk with a sandwich to get their “real” work done? You call home and say, “Sorry honey, I’m going to miss bed time tonight.” As a consultant, I don’t usually get invited to those. And if I do, well I’m making my daily rate so the time doesn’t seem so painful.
If I take on a client who turns out to be a flaming jerk, I don’t have to work with him/her next time around. I don’t say a word to anyone (except maybe the dog) but the next time he/she calls, I can say, “I am so sorry! My capacity is completely filled for the next 18 months!”
One thing I profoundly enjoy is having my clients take my advice. They are paying me a healthy rate to be an expert. I remember telling my Dad that I have to be careful about what I tell my clients to do because they usually do it! It is very rewarding to see the impact of my work. Of course, it better be good…
What Do I Hate?
On the minus side, there is no regular pay check, no benefits, no IT department, and no one to blame but yourself if something goes wrong.
My husband is also self-employed so our family has no benefits unless we purchase them ourselves. If you’re lucky enough to have a partner with corporate benefits, you are ahead of the game. The check I write each month for the health insurance is bigger than the check I write each month for the mortgage. But please don’t ever take the risk of going without health insurance. The leading cause of bankruptcy in the United States is medical bills.
The first time my laptop broke, I really missed the IT department. Now I buy a new laptop every few years, before the old one breaks down completely, and I keep the old one to use in an emergency. My system also backed up automatically to the cloud twice a day. There is no excuse for losing client work with all of the options available today.
One night I was sitting in my home office working and I decided I needed a red pen. I got up to head for the supply room and realized, there is no supply room, oh… I had to laugh. It wasn’t too difficult to stock up the supply cupboard. Make sure you always have an extra toner cartridge for the printer. Murphy’s Law dictates that you will run out of toner at 2:00 am when you’re preparing hand-outs for a 7:00 am board meeting.
What Do I Wish I Would Have Known?
Be Willing to Work Hard
No check goes into my bank account unless I go out and win the business. I get out the binoculars, climb the mountain, scout the herd, get out my bow and arrow, shoot it, kill it, cook it, eat it, and throw away the bones. It’s all up to me. This is a bit of a funny analogy since I’ve been a vegetarian for many years but the important point is that you have to hunt what you eat in consulting. There is no grocery store.
The hardest thing any consultant does every day is bring in the business. If you are a partner in a big consulting company, what is your top priority? Bringing in the business. Not doing the billable work. This is true for any industry that lives and dies by the billable hour and it will be true for you too.
Building a successful business is hard work. In the early days, I did the billable work and didn’t worry about the rest. I have several years of corporate experience and a fancy MBA so I have no excuse for why I didn’t treat my business like a business. Now I have a Business Plan, a Marketing Plan and a Financial Plan.
Pent Up Demand Phenomenon
Many consultants start off with a bang only to hit the doldrums two to three years in. Don’t fool yourself into thinking your business will build itself just because you have projects for the first several months. I call this the “pent up demand phenomenon”. When I first started my practice, I was fully engaged for the first few years. I thought, “Wow, this is easy.” Then I hit a long dead zone. I realized that I had been working off the pent-up demand from all the people who knew me. I have spoken to many other consultants who have this same experience. It took me several months to develop a marketing plan and fill my pipeline. Thank goodness for zero interest credit cards!
Start Marketing Day One and Never, Ever Stop!
Now that I’m 15 years in, I know that the networking, marketing and business development can never stop. If you slack off, your pipeline will show it several months down the road and it will be a nerve-racking process to build it back up. Never let a day go by without doing something toward networking, marketing and business development.
Don’t Lean In, Walk Out!
The best way to get started as a consultant is to dive in. This FREE EMAIL COURSE will walk you through three action steps to generate revenue now. If you start right away, you can be doing billable work as soon as next week. Following these three action steps gives you the best possible chance of landing a consulting project. It works for me and I see it work for others, over and over again. Take control and take the plunge!