My last full-time job was Senior Managing Consultant at Deloitte and I quit to become an independent consultant. My plan was to charge double my daily income at Deloitte so I could take half my time off to do more creative things. In the end I quadrupled my daily income (earning over £1,100/day) and only needed to work a quarter of the year.
How did I do this? Or more importantly, how can you do this?
Here are 9 counter-intuitive keys:
- Specialise. I went into technology for broadcast as my first job out of college because it was the area that most interested me. I moved into internet technologies (still focussing on video) when that started looking more interesting. The end result was I found I had ten years’ experience in media technology making me an expert. Don’t be afraid to specialise in what you find most exciting and has the most potential (but note point 3 below).
- Position yourself as an expert. By specialising in something I found particularly interesting (creative technology), I ended up with a CV/résumé that supported my focus in consulting. If you, however, want to consult in a new area you can still do this – by pointing at aspects of your previous work that are transferrable to your new focus.
- Enter a growing market. If you got made redundant from your job because your industry is shrinking, becoming a consultant will be a challenge and ultimately only a stop-gap move. I entered a new area of technology that was generating a lot of buzz but people were reluctant to pay the rates of a large consultancy for such early stage stuff. That made it ideal for me to get work as a (relatively) cheaper independent consultant. Which field excites you that is on the rise?
- Choose something that excites you. It’s going to take a lot of networking and conferences and selling to get your first consultancy gig so you’d better pick something you have genuine enthusiasm for. When my enthusiasm left me, I quit consultancy (and should have done much sooner in fact). Often you’ll find the work drys up anyway!
- Throw everything you’ve got at getting your first gig. No one’s going to hand you a consultancy contract. You need to use your creativity and imagination and enthusiasm to go win it. It’s a very different experience from job hunting.
- Know what people hire you for. Get clear the problems that you solve for the people who hire you. It was years before I realised I solved a very particular problem for the large consultancies who hired me to work on their projects (bringing broadcast expertise to a team that didn’t have any). Once I knew that, selling and marketing myself became far easier.
- Ask for a good rate. Apart from the reasons above, one of the primary reasons I ended up getting paid so well (sometimes twice what other consultants were getting) was because I asked for it. When I knew my specialist expertise was needed on a big ticket project and they didn’t have many other options, I knew I could charge a great rate. And when it came to negotiating, I had a strong personal motivation (buying time off) to drive me.
- Be firm on not taking a job. When you meet a company that really needs you there is a good chance they will ask you take a job instead of consulting – that’s because it saves them money! If you show any ambivalence about this they will remain focussed on their job offer. But if you are firm and say you are only considering consulting projects the conversation will change.
- Be good to work with. Never underestimate the value of being a nice, reliable person who turns up and does what they promise. And although my industry expertise allowed me to understand the complex projects I worked on, the work was often common sense. I interviewed people in the company, asked them what was going wrong, asked them what they thought should happen, and the conclusion was usually pretty obvious. I then wrote it all up along with my own thoughts in a report. The answers to an organisation’s problems are usually right there within the company itself. The job of an external consultant is often to say what everyone knows they should do but is afraid to put into action.
Despite the lure of high daily rates (yes, rolling off a one month project with enough money to buy a new car, in cash, is quite a buzz!), never go into consultancy purely for the money. If you do, it probably won’t work and even if it did, you’d be miserable. You must choose something you have genuine excitement for.
If you’re considering consultancy as a stop-gap to doing what you really want to do, this can work to give you breathing space but do stop and think a moment: would you better off taking the leap and trying to find a way to get paid for what you really enjoy as soon as possible?
Consultancy varies hugely by industry and role so my experience may differ wildly from yours – but let me know in the comments…
Let me know how you get on.
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PS. If you want to position yourself as unique solution (and therefore charge the highest rates) in the consulting world and win your first lucrative project then check out The Pioneer Programme to make it a reality.