Five things you should know before becoming a consultant

Five things you should know before becoming a consultant

If you’ve been toying with the idea of throwing in your 9-5 (or 8-6!) day job to become a consultant or contractor, you’ve probably been angsting about whether or not it’s the right thing to do.

And you’d have every right to feel anxious. After all, there is a lot at stake – the guaranteed pay check, the holiday pay and sick leave, the professional development and other perks of the job... And then there are all the very practical, tactical things you need to know about business and being self-employed.

It might seem just too difficult. But the world of work is changing rapidly, with less job security in traditional career paths – half the jobs in New Zealand are expected to be automated within 20 years – so it makes good sense to consider taking responsibility for designing your own income and employment options.

As mentioned above, there are some practical skills and knowledge you will need, but these can be learned. The bigger challenge is mastering the unhelpful mindsets that might stop you in your tracks. And for that, you need to have good self awareness.

Having made the transition myself more than six years ago and coached countless clients and friends through the decision over the years, here are five things that I recommend you know about yourself before making the move into self employment.

1. Know your strengths and weaknesses

A wise person once said that entrepreneurs should charge the most for doing what they find easiest, because that tends to be what they are extremely good at. 

Knowing what you are good at makes it easier to play to your strengths and either outsource (or have a strategy to manage) those aspects that you are not so good at. It’s easy to feel like a failure if you are not 100% good at everything you have to do when self-employed. But none of us are 100% good at everything. If sales and marketing doesn’t come naturally, you’ll need to get help with your marketing plan rather than struggle through on your own. If you are great at public speaking, play to that strength and speak at conferences to get yourself known. But if not, don’t set yourself up to fail. Start a blog instead… You get the idea.

2. Know your preferences  

If you prefer routine, security, control over your work life and predictability day to day, you may be better to be an employee than to be self employed. However, be careful of making assumptions about yourself and your preferences. Are you assuming you need routine because that is all you have ever known? Could you actually be okay with uncertainty, if you knew you could afford the downtime financially? It may be that you just need to build confidence, or have support whilst making the transition.

3. Know your values

What do you value in your life and work? What kind of life do you want to be living? Values are a pretty crucial part of the puzzle when contemplating career changes. As I said in a recent blog, the risk, if you are not clear about these things, is that you will move from one dissatisfying situation to another. Knowing what you value is even more important if you are considering self employment or consulting because, in that case, you are the business and the brand. Everything hinges on you. And if you are not clear about what’s important to you, you could end up attracting clients you don’t care about, and putting in long hours doing work you don’t want to do. Which sort of defeats the purpose of being your own boss!

4. Know your financial situation  

Really. Do the maths. Often people assume they couldn’t go even a week without a pay check, but once they do the sums, realise they could potentially survive six months or so. Know how much you need to live on, and how much you have. A good rule of thumb, if you want to be a contractor or consultant, is to have either the savings or the credit facility to support yourself financially for three months so that you don’t spend your downtime between jobs being anxious about money. Which again would defeat the purpose of setting up a flexible work life.

5. Know your Archilles' heel

I know a very experienced and capable consultant who has been successfully serving clients for more than 10 years. Yet, without fail, every time the gap between clients lasts more than a few weeks, she has a complete meltdown and thinks she will never work again. Rationally she knows this isn’t true, but the mindset trips her up time and again. Often it’s at times like these that people panic and take the first fixed term or full time job that comes along, when really there was no need. You’ll need to know when you might be most vulnerable, and have someone to call. A strong support network or, at the very least, a competent coach will be crucial.

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About the author: Lucy Sanderson-Gammon, MBA, is a Wellington-based career coach helping mid-career professionals who have fallen out of love with their jobs to find meaningful work. Find out more about Lucy's coaching services here.