The world is changing fast. With the automation of so many jobs and the shackles of corporate life, it's only logical for skilled individuals to consider a way to cultivate their own income and employment options.
If you're contemplating ditching the 9 to 5 routine in favour of the autonomy of consultancy work, then you've undoubtedly been asking yourself some key questions. After all, leaving behind the holiday pay and guaranteed salary in favour of a venture into the unknown needs to be weighed in the balance appropriately. How shall I budget? What about my family? How much time can I commit? These are all questions that you need to closely evaluate before making the jump from being an employee to being your own boss.
Don’t limit yourself
When working on your own, your productivity directly determines your pay cheque. A wise person once said that entrepreneurs should charge the most for doing what they find easiest because that tends to be what they are extremely good at. Know your strengths. No-one hits 100% in all areas when self-employed. If public speaking doesn't come naturally, then don't set yourself up to fail. If you are great at budgeting, marketing or sales, then play to your strengths whilst studying your weaknesses to progress towards more rounded efficiency. People may be hired for one niche skill set and adapt to offer so much more. Don't limit yourself.
Do you prefer simplicity or a challenge?
If you prefer simplicity, security and control over your work life, then you may be better off remaining an employee rather than taking the step into self-employment. But be careful not to underestimate your own value and self-awareness, assuming you require a routine because you've never known any different. Perhaps with foresight, you could afford less rigid financials. You don't need to immediately invest in office space, logos, websites and branding material. That can come after a couple of completed projects. It may be that you simply need to build confidence or have support whilst making the transition.
Play to your strengths
To be considering a move from industry to consultancy, you will already have many highly-sought after and transferable skills: a deep industry knowledge, proven analytical skills and first-hand experience of exercising these. Some people assume you must have many years of work experience to qualify as a consultant. Depending on your industry and focus, this can be true. But if you have either very strong natural consulting skills or specialised expertise, you can still flourish in a consulting role, even if you can count the number of years you've been in the workforce on one hand.
Take your time
The route into consulting is not set in stone, but there are two well-trodden paths that lead to it. The first is to go all-in: quit your job and charge full steam ahead to work on growing your consulting business. The second approach is the slow transition: keep your current job whilst running one or two projects on the side until you gain more experience and thereby more income from your consulting practice. This eventually allows you to shift away from your corporate job once and for all.
Adopt the mindset
Either way, a key component of the transition into consultancy is adapting to be an advisor. This requires a change in mindset where one needs to be seen as a problem-solver who advises people of the best options and then works collaboratively to achieve their objectives. One thing you should bear in mind is that asking questions is crucial, if you ask the right questions then you’ll always have the upper hand with your clients.
Values are another crucial piece of the jigsaw when considering career changes. What do you gain from your work? What kind of life do you want to lead? Remember that you are now both brand and business. Freedom and autonomy can be great, as long as you remember that everything hinges on you. If you're not clear on what you can offer and what you want to achieve, you'll end up putting in long hours doing work you don't want to do, ultimately undermining the purpose of being your own boss.
Do the sums
The standard for consulting is to set aside a three-month allowance so that you have no need to worry about finances whilst busy securing contracts. Often people are unsettled at the thought of life without a regular salary but do the sums correctly and you may find you could survive several months. Know what you require to live on and how much you have in your budget to avoid unnecessary panic and financial anxiety.
Once you've left corporate life, you choose what's next. When you do, it's important to remember to sell value, not hours. Consider the total value of a project to the client before setting your price. But remember this has little to do with the number of hours involved. There is a good reason experienced lawyers cost far more than their junior counterparts. When you have a 15-minute discussion with a senior partner you are getting 40 years of wisdom and knowledge. You are not paying for a few minutes of time, but for the 40 years of experience and the expertise that comes with it, and it's usually worth the money.
At one of our recent networking events, Niall Foster of Sterling Development said: “Have a price and be proud of your price. Never underestimate your worth as a Consultant.” However, you may want to consider offering an introductory rate to land your first contract. Let them know you're trying to build your reputation through good references and are willing to offer a special deal to get started. Match your expertise to what they need and provide an incentive for them to take a risk on you.
Take your personal brand seriously
Reputation is everything in this world and building a good one takes skill. Consider your online branding. The first thing a prospective client will do is google you, so your online profile should match your offline presence. Ensure all your social media profiles are up-to-date and consider developing a mobile-friendly website to further boost your brand. It's table stakes in the consulting game.
Be confident and take control
Developing a consulting career is as much art as it is science. These guidelines should be helpful in considering taking the next step forward to build your own independent brand. Take control of your employment and more importantly your work-life balance. Independent consulting is not for everyone. It requires an entrepreneurial mindset and comfort with the inherent risks.
If you really want to become a consultant, don't overthink it: start moving in that direction. The sooner you take the first step, the quicker you will reach your destination. Start building connections, utilise training and arrange face-to-face meetings with both potential clients and fellow consultants. The best way to become a successful consultant is to start consulting. So, prepare properly and go forth unafraid. If you’ve got something they want to buy, you’re going to have no trouble selling it.