Do you have what it takes to jump into the world of consulting?
From the outside looking in, what could be easier than consulting?: You provide clients with strategic recommendations, you get to be your own boss and there is plenty of work-life flexibility.
If only it was that easy!
After getting approached by another person looking to make the leap to consulting from the corporate world, I thought it might be a good idea to offer a “do you have what it takes?” checklist.
Do you have a talent or skill that clients need? When my daughters were younger, they read a series of books called “Rainbow Magic” that featured fairies with a particular talent. Florence, for example, is the “friendship fairy”. In the consulting world, you need to be Rainbow Fairy-like by selling a specific product. It is a skill that defines what you do in a market teeming with consultants. In my case, I help startups tell better stories. It took awhile before I could articulate my “talent”, but it has let me establish a brand presence. Before this happened, I told potential clients I could do everything – messaging, press releases, videos, copyediting, and the list went on. Rather than informing people, it confused them because they couldn’t figure out how I could help them. Lesson: It is important to be focused so it easy to understand what you do. Of course, you can offer other services but they can be part of a secondary pitch once you learn about a client’s need.
Can you sell? For many people, this is the most challenging part of being a consultant. It requires you to be pumping the funnel at all times. There can be no breaks or pauses because the pipeline can dry up quickly. For many people, the problem is selling makes them uncomfortable. It is not something they have done professionally so it is not natural behavior. The bottom line, however, is if you can’t sell, it is difficult, if not impossible, to make a living from consulting (obvious statement, right!). The good news is easy to sell a product that you believe in (aka your services). It makes sales personal and, hopefully, authentic. As important, selling doesn’t need to be a formal process. In many cases, it is simply a matter of listening to what clients need to solve a problem or make things happen. Lesson: As Alec Baldwin says in Glengarry Glen Ross, “Never stop closing”.
Are you willing to work all the time? Consulting is not a Monday to Friday, nine to five proposition. To attract business and serve clients, it means working every day. It is difficult to completely take a day off because the business always needs to be tended. If I haven’t scared you, there is an upside. Some days, you work 10 to 12 hours; some days, you work one or two hours. It depends on how much your clients need and when work needs to be completed. After awhile, working seven days a week becomes “normal” and fluid, rather a rigid structure. The flexibility gives you the freedom to often when and where you want, which is probably one of the biggest benefits of doing your own thing. Lesson: Consulting is an always-on proposition.
Can you handle the financial ups and downs? One of the biggest differences between running your own company and having a full-time gig is the unpredictability. There is rarely a steady flow of business, unless you have monthly retainers. Often, it’s a matter of being really busy or not being busy at all. When you’re busy, there is so much to do but not enough time. When it is slow, there is too much time but not enough to do. It is a challenge but handling the ups and downs involves pragmatic optimism. Unless the economy crumbles, business will come along as long as you’re being pro-active, rather than sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring or the inbox to fill up. Lesson: Stability and consistency are nonexistent. Instead, it’s volatility and a boom-bust cycle.
Can avoid the temptation to take a full-time gig? One of the biggest dangers in becoming a consultant is throwing in the towel by going back to the corporate cubicle. A full-time job offers a regular paycheck, co-workers, benefits, and not having to worry about attracting business (unless you’re in sales). Many new consultants lose their nerve when a full-time offer materializes. It is an understandable reaction, but it does mean surrendering your entrepreneurial spirit and independence. In many ways, a full-time job offer is a good test to see if you have what it takes to be a consultant. Being able to say, “no, thanks” means you’re willing to chase the dream.
After seven years of consulting, I can honest say it has been a rewarding professional journey. Although I would never say never, I can’t imagine going back to the cubicle – life is too good on the other side.
If you’re looking to jump-start your startup marketing, I can help you make it happen – every from messaging and brand positioning to strategic planning and content development. I published a book, Storytelling for Startups, that provides strategic and tactical guidance to entrepreneurs looking to embrace the power of story-driven marketing.