Are you ready to be a consultant?
Consulting can seem like a natural progression, but it’s not always the right step. These questions can help you with your decision.
As you become a more senior player in your career, you may have considered jumping off the company payroll to take on consulting jobs in your specialty. Anyone familiar with the gig economy could tell you that going out on your own is a growing trend, and while some consultants form or join a consulting company, 70% of consultants have no employees, according to a survey from Consulting Success.
As you’re trying to determine if consulting is the right career path for you, the following questions can help you decide.
Are you looking for something flexible?
The primary reason people started their own consulting business was the opportunity to be their own boss, according to the survey. While it’s reasonable to think consulting jobs will afford you a more flexible schedule, you’re essentially moving from one boss to however many clients you have on your roster.
“If you get sick or you want to take vacation, you have to work around existing projects,” says Suzanne Smith, founder and CEO of Social Impact Architects in Dallas. “At the big consulting firms, there are people who can take up the slack, but even then, you’re 100% dedicated to the success of your client. You have to be there for your client, which to me means sometimes having less flexibility.”
Are you offering something that people want?
In general, you should base your consulting business around what you’re good at, not what you’re passionate about. “Don’t fall into the trap of pursuing consulting in a field that you love, because, often, markets for your passion won’t exist,” says Jason Patel, founder of college- and career-prep firm Transizion.
If you’re not sure about your target market, speak to potential clients and find out what they need. “Literature on your target market may exist, but you want to think outside the box and find a value proposition that makes your consulting special,” Patel says. “If you talk to your prospective customers, you’ll get special insights that you can integrate into your products and offerings.”
You must have something to offer that is unique from what companies already have in their workplace. Frequently, this will be in a profession that has become very outsourced, like human resources.
“For example, there might be somebody who shuffles the paperwork where you work, but you don’t have anybody looking at development of your culture or looking at your internal pay equity,” says Susan Hosage, senior consultant and executive coach with OneSource HR Solutions. “A lot of companies don’t need me every day, they just need me when something’s not going right, or they need a perspective they’re not getting from inside the company.”
Are you a generalist?
You may be a whizbang doer of the thing that you do, but if that thing is super-specific, it may be hard to roll that into a consulting gig, which often requires a wide range of know-how.
“I sometimes joke that I’m half mechanic, half therapist,” Smith says. “One of the reasons clients hire me is that I’ve looked under the hood of hundreds of cars. You want someone who’s seen multiple experiences and has a pretty good understanding of not only what the problem is but also what some of the different solutions are and their ability to create change within the organization.”
In other words, if you’ve worked primarily for one company or only a couple of companies in your career, you may not have the breadth of experience that’s needed. If possible, consider doing some consulting on the side to add depth to your portfolio and to make sure you like it.
Can you manage people?
Not every problem that comes your way is going to hit square in the middle of your area of expertise—and some problems require analysis more than anything else.
“Sometimes the problem isn’t fixable by creating a deliverable or throwing a bunch of data at your client,” Smith says. “That’s where the therapy part comes in. You really need to get underneath the hood, but also understand why they haven’t moved already and what’s holding them back. You need to be skilled at change management.”
That is, you must be able to take a client from Point A to Point B and eventually to Point Z, which they may initially think is impossible or overwhelming. And you also must be comfortable with the fact that in the end, you’re not the one making the final decisions—you’re just advising a course of action. “Ultimately, the client makes the decision,” Smith says. “A number of people who have apprenticed with me don’t like that fact.”
Can you sell yourself?
A third of consultants struggle with marketing, and another quarter say they struggle with sales, according to the Consulting Success survey. Being a consultant requires not only that you have a skill to sell, but that you can sell it too.
“A lot of people aren’t good at that,” Hosage says. “They’re not good at tooting their own horn, they’re not good at asking for the sale, and some of them aren’t good at pricing their services.”
Sales and marketing are crucial to your success, and you can’t do it halfway. “Differentiating yourself in the market is critical,” Patel says, “so form a marketing plan and have a funnel for speaking to and onboarding clients.”
Are you choosing or defaulting?
“Too many professionals become consultants by default, rather than through a thoughtful, researched decision,” says Mike Black, CEO of Inciting Marketing Solutions in Colorado. “They are laid off and the job search goes longer than they expected, so they start pursuing consulting jobs as a means of bringing in some income.”
Ask yourself whether this is a true passion or whether your circumstances are pushing you to consider the option. “If it’s the happenstance that you can’t find work, and you’ve always had this passion, this might be your opportunity,” Black says. “But if you’re not in that position, you may be better off just hiring a coach to help you get a job.”
See what’s out there
You know you’re good at what you do, and you know you could be of value to companies out there. The trick is finding where the opportunities are hiding. Need some help with that? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to the types of consulting jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. Additionally, you can get job alerts sent directly to your inbox to cut down on time spent looking through ads. Those are two quick and easy ways Monster can help you get on the path to consulting success.