So you think you want to be a consultant – Part 1

I was recently approached by a college student who was taking a course in consulting. She wanted to interview me about my journey into the world of consulting. She posed some interesting questions and I thought I’d share them along with the responses.

Question: How did you become interested in consulting?
Answer: My last internal position was primarily a consulting role. I provided advice and guidance and policy interpretation from my corporate headquarters role to field HR colleagues and their business leaders. I didn't realize that I during this time I preparing for my next job and perfecting my consulting skills. In fact, when I left the organization, one of my colleagues, who had once had his own consulting practice, commented to me that “you don’t realize it, but you are already a great consultant.” That was the type of encouragement I needed as I prepared to make the transition. Jumping off the cliff without a safety net of a guaranteed income is both scary and exhilarating.

Question: How did you get started in consulting?
Answer: I knew that I was ready for the next challenge, and talked with a number of external consultants that I knew from my professional connections. Leveraging that network, I acted on the advice they gave me. Start to build your infrastructure, such as preparing office space and setting up your office. Think about the type of work you want to focus on and how you’ll go about marketing yourself. One of them even invited me to do some subcontracting with his firm until I got my own clients. On day one, I entered my home office and started a new routine. It was just like starting another job.

Question: How does external consulting compare to the role you had in HR?
Answer: In many respects it’s the same. My internal role was project-oriented and I continue to do a great deal of project and strategic work rather than the day-to-day tactical work. Being independent allows me the chance to pick the types of projects and work that I enjoy.

Question: What are some of the hardest parts of consulting?
Answer: Working alone can be a big challenge. You have to be self motivated and have good time management skills. You also have to be confident in your knowledge and ability, since you can’t walk down the hall and brainstorm with a colleague. You must have a network of other consultants and HR Professionals with whom you can confer.

Question: What are some of the easiest parts?
Answer: The flexibility to pick what you want to work on and when and how to get the work done. Even though I keep somewhat normal business hours so I’m accessible to my clients, I can work early or late in the day and block time out during the normal business day to attend to personal business. The clients want to see results, not when you’re working.

Question: Does it ever become difficult to maintain a regular lifestyle when you are consulting for clients?
Answer: It depends on how you describe “regular lifestyle”. With so much focus on workplace flexibility for employees, most consultants have mastered “work/life” balance. My consulting colleagues agree that we get much more accomplished in shorter periods of time because we don’t have to deal with daily commuting times, interruptions, or continual meetings. We can schedule personal business around our schedules, rather than having to take time off.

Question: Do you feel a consultant needs to have tough skin?
Answer: Absolutely, for example, you'll get requests for proposals that are not accepted and you have to learn not to interpret this as personal rejections. You'll get requests for proposals and take precious time to prepare them only to never hear back from the requestor (prospective client). When this happens, I think it's the client who doesn't have skin tough enough to deliver bad news. You spend a great deal of time cultivating your business, and a lot of seeds have to be planted before you see results.

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