Contrary to popular belief, if you want to become a consultant, you’re going to have to work hard for it. Here’s how to decide if it’s right for you.
You ever see someone doing something that looks ridiculously easy? Your mouth decides to say something crazy like, “I can do that!”
Then you try it, and you find out you weren’t even close to being able to do that.
For me, that something is juggling, even though I’ve tried unsuccessfully many times. For a lot of other people, that something is thinking they can become a professional consultant on a whim.
Unfortunately, these would-be consultants who up and quit their job don’t realize customers won’t flock to them to suddenly hand over their hard-earned money. Like juggling, consulting requires a refined skillset that many people don’t have. Learning this often hurts the ego and wastes a ton of time.
I know you don’t want either of those things, though. First, take a step back and consider whether you’re truly suited to become a consultant.
Consulting isn’t right for everyone
I can’t even count the number of times people have reached out to me with some variation of “I don’t like my job. I think I’m going to be a consultant.” I’m sorry, but the game of consulting doesn’t work like that. And the truth is, not everyone is built for it. (Click here to tweet this harsh truth.)
In the words of the great Kenny Rogers says, “You gotta know when to hold ‘em. Know when to fold ‘em.” So before you go risking everything for a career change, answer these five questions to know if you should consider sticking with your day job.
1. Can you thrive in a work environment with constant change?
Maybe your analysis uncovers something you didn’t previously plan for when you plotted a project timeline. Or you realize the assumptions you made about client scope are no longer valid.
You may also have a client whose needs change quickly (e.g.: additional analysis on an entire region instead of a single business unit you originally agreed to research) once the company has a chance to review a “real” deliverable and see how helpful it can be for them.
Whatever it is, you can bank on frequent change as a consultant. Do you have the grace under pressure to pivot without snapping at a client?
2. Are you comfortable holding your client’s hand?
One of the keys to success in consulting is to make sure your client is committed to every step of the project.
The most effective way to do that is to have the client review deliverables at multiple key points throughout the project. This gives you time to correct course when needed without scrapping all of the work you already completed. This strategy also helps you, because it positions someone at the client’s office as the project owner instead of you. Why does this matter? Because nobody likes an outsider (that’s you, consultant!) trying to tell them how to do their job.
3. Do you like going to and/or hosting networking events?
If you don’t schmooze, you lose. Plain and simple.
Relationships make the business world go around, and that’s doubly true when you want to make a living as a consultant. That means you have to spend time investing in relationships.
Your networking events can take many forms, but treating the (prospective) client to dinners and drinks or attending professional conferences associated with your target customers are common practice.
4. Do you have “professional ADD”?
Do you learn your job quickly and often find yourself wondering what you will tackle next? Some people like knowing exactly what they need to do every day of every month (TPS reports, anyone?). The predictable nature of that type of job certainly lends itself you being able to better plan other aspects in your life.
If that’s a top priority for you, becoming a consultant can be a challenge.
On the other hand, if you’re like I was during my industry days, the challenge that comes with ramping up the variety in your work can be exciting. As a consultant, you’ll never feel like a robot going through your daily motions.
5. Do you gravitate toward problems nobody else wants to tackle?
Someone I used to work with described the job we do as “professional toilet bowl cleaners.” Part of this related to the client and project we were working on, but the truth is some of that is just the nature of the business. Consultants come with a premium price tag, so if companies could do the job themselves, from a bandwidth and/or an expertise standpoint, they definitely would.
Did you make the grade?
If you answered yes to each of these questions, then congratulations, you’re a natural consultant! If not, that doesn’t mean you can’t excel in consulting. But at least you know exactly what you’re getting into and can decide if the benefit makes the career worth the discomfort you might experience when you first start.
Eric Butts is a Management Consultant, MBA and CPA who teaches others how to carve out successful careers in the business world. Grab his FREE email course on how to make better consulting deliverables.