My founder storyOct 29, 2022
In late 2011, I got laid off from my dream job. I'd worked at Cargill for a decade. It is one of those companies that people compete to get into and then stay for a lifetime. I thought I'd be one of those people.
But our entire group was dissolved. It wasn't personal, which softened the blow, but it was still a shock. I'd never been unemployed. I didn't have any ideas about what was next.
Thankfully the team I was a part of established a networking group. It was part therapy and part action in sharing job leads with each other. One of my colleagues shared a consulting opportunity with me. Oh how that small act of generosity changed my life (Thank you Jan!)
I hadn't considered consulting. I'd only been an employee for my 15+ years. I didn't feel qualified for the job--which was all aspects of change management, not just communications. The anxiety to be employed got me to take the risk and apply.
I got the gig, which was a yearlong consulting role on a big data project at Best Buy (Thank you Scott and Cathie for believing in me!). It stretched me into taking on more--leading the training and using PROSCI tools.
I loved it! It was challenging and important work. It expanded my skillset. I gained confidence as I realized that my success didn't need to be tied to climbing a corporate ladder.
Learning the value of being quiet
As an employee, I was a deep expert/specialist in communications and stakeholder management. Consulting broadened my skills and exposed me to new industries. It fed my curiosity about human behavior because each year brought me a new project and a new chance to learn.
While an employee, I'd received coaching that I needed to speak up more. To establish a stronger leadership presence. Changing my quiet demeanor would be necessary if I wanted to take on bigger roles. I was passed over for promotions because of it.
The script flipped when I became a consultant. My natural observer style became an advantage. It allowed me to listen and gather information from my clients and then thoughtfully present a plan of action back. I wasn't supposed to be the center of attention--my role is to help my CLIENTS be front and center as they lead through change.
Becoming a consultant showed me the value of quiet.
High risk. High reward.
Since that first project more than 10 years ago, I have taken on broader roles and more risk by becoming fully independent. I find my own work, I do my own billing and books (with the help of a great accountant!) and I do my own marketing (also with help). I have been fortunate to build great relationships with many fantastic companies who rehire me and also refer me to others.
It's high risk, but high reward. The reward for me in independent consulting is in time freedom. I choose the projects. I structure the work. It is anything but a 9-5 job.
When consultants working through staffing firms or those who are in-house and considering a career change ask me about independent consulting, here's what I share about what I've learned:
- Be a self-starter. Go after what you want. Figure out who is already doing it and what you can learn from them (ask! You will continually be amazed by how generous others are at sharing their wisdom.) Don't wait to be told what to do, clients appreciate that.
- Be willing to say No. As important as knowing what you want, is knowing what will take you further from it. If you prefer healthcare, don't take something in financial services (duh). The rubber meets the road on this decision when a contract is finishing and the next one isn't lined up yet. This lesson is about learning to believe in yourself.
- Trust the universe. Things will work out. Be patient for the right work to come along and of course seek it out. This was harder during the early years until I'd transitioned through several gigs. I learned the cycle time of how long it takes to find the right work and how to do it (a strong referral network). I believe in abundance.
- Have a slush fund. It's important as an independent consultant to have at least a couple of months in the bank. Gaps between projects and payment terms sometimes result in lag time of months without income. (BTW, negotiate terms to no longer than net-60 days.) A slush fund gives me peace of mind so that I don't feel the need to take on work that doesn't fit my goals or strengths. It's also important to plan financially for recharge and recovery times--you determine your vacation schedule. I didn't take enough early on.
- Experiment. The best part of time freedom for me is using it to pursue related creative avenues. I've taken several roads that didn't pan out. But each experiment helped me learn more about what I want.
I am grateful every day for this business that I've built and the opportunities I've had to partner with amazing people doing challenging things in their organizations. It is not "easy" by any stretch and it's not for everyone. But it works for me.
If the path of independent consulting sounds interesting to you, I'm always willing to share my learnings in more detail. Shoot me an email [email protected]
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