The Human Capital Magazine published an interesting article this month on ‘Contracting – is it the Kiss of Death?‘ The article highlights some of the pros of cons of contracting and/or consulting and is a most worthwhile read. But I would also like to offer my own experience and thoughts on the matter. At aCE talentNET we are often approached by clients and associates who are considering becoming an independent consultant either through immediate circumstance (ie job restructure) or a general discontent with working the 9-5pm (or should I say 7am-8pm!) grind in the corporate jungle. For many, the appeal of becoming an independent consultant is enticing but most do not know how to go about it. My advice to these aspiring ‘independents’ or ‘free agents’! is as follows:
Build your Network! It is essential that when starting out as a consultant you have as wide a network as possible on which to draw, including past colleagues, associates, managers across a range of companies and associations. Many can get bogged down in day to day activities and decline or opt out of opportunities to expand their network. So when next considering whether to attend that networking opportunity or stay at work to write that report… the report can wait another day – go network!!!!
Be clear about your consulting specialties or preferences. When starting out as a consultant it is enticing to accept any project that comes along… all too often you can then find yourself gaining consulting and project experience in an area that is not your preference – making it difficult to then get opportunities in other specialties as too much time has elapsed since you last had tangible experience. Do not be afraid to say no to a client and recommend them to another consultant that can help them (not forgetting aCE talentNET of course!!!).
Be prepared to DO the work! All too often I hear from consultants that they want to be strategists, identifying the problem, researching the solution and making the recommendations to address. Unfortunately in many cases companies aCE work with are quite capable of doing this work themselves, what they need are the resources to implement the identified solutions. So be prepared to be the DOER!
Be strategic about building your client base and what you commit to. It is always understandable to commit to a 1-2 ongoing consulting engaging with a client (very useful for regular cashflow) however be aware that this can work against you when other full-time opportunities come available. In many cases, aCE talentNET clients require consulting full-time resources for projects ranging from 2 weeks to 3 months – consultants who do not have availability of at least 4 days per week are generally not able to be considered for these interesting and lucrative projects.
Be smart about how you use your time. If working with clients is why you want to be a consultant, then it doesn’t make sense trying to do all the others parts associated with running your own small business. Think about finding alternative arrangements for doing the administrivia around bookkeeping, invoicing and follow up, BAS, tax returns for example, and subscribe to key web sites and blogs etc which will in turn not only keep you current but also can help build your networks. Always ask the question – do I need to be doing this or can someone else?
Be realistic when rate setting. Research consultants or contractors that you know or have worked with to get a good feel for the ‘market rate’ for consultants with your skill set. But be realistic and consider too, the length of time and experience these consultants have had in the market place. Consultants who have years of experience and multiple project experiences in their CV are worth a higher premium in the marketplace. Corporate experience in 2-3 organisations over 10+ years does not translate necessarily to charging daily rates of $1200+ from the outset. Again, be realistic!
Maintain and grow your Network. I know networking has been mentioned already, but this is also important once you become a consultant, particularly if you are a very busy one! It is essential that you join relevant associations, attend seminars (many are free these days and only take 1-2 hours of your time) and keep in touch with your original network… you just never know when you will need them!
Don’t forget your Professional Development. Even as a fledgling consultant it is important that you have a strategy to keep up to date with professional development in your field. As mentioned above, you don’t need to invest a lot of money, but you do need to make it a priority to attend as many events as possible. But the best way to keep up to date is to read, read, read! This is not hard, there are a plethora of professional development forums that you can subscribe to that will keep you updated on a daily or monthly basis (including aCE talentNET!!!).
Manage the Pipeline! When times are good and you are nice and busy and earning money, it’s easy to forget about what is happening next month. But any consultant will tell you that you need to prepare for lean times as they happen to everyone! Make sure you put funds aside for when this happens but also ensure you maintain that network and manage lead generation as much as possible. Even if it is dashing off an email or two to stay in touch with potential projects/client to let them know what you’re doing and when you will be available to work with them. If this something that you really don’t want to be doing yourself, then tap into corporate talent agents such as aCE talentNET, to help do this for you.
And finally, it’s OK if consulting is not for you! It’s not for everyone… some find it too stressful to manage the pipeline on an ongoing basis or some just get too lonely and miss the daily camaraderie that comes with being a full-time employee. And that’s OK! In fact, many of our most successful consultants enter in and out of the consultant market as a way to keep themselves and their careers invigorated.
Anyway, that’s enough from me for this month. I hope the above hints are useful for those of you considering a career change to an Independent Consultant. And like my Dad always says…FEEL THE FEAR AND DO IT ANYWAY!!!
Have a great month!
Corporate Talent Agent