Transitioning Into Consulting | Challenges You May Face Along the Way
If you've been exploring the idea of swapping your full-time job to become a consultant, you're not alone. After years of building a niche area of expertise, you're well-positioned to do it.
In short, a consultant is someone who advises businesses or individuals using their specific area(s) of expertise. You may choose to work for a major management consulting firm (Deloitte, Accenture, KPMG, to name a few) or become a freelance independent consultant specializing in project management, growth strategy, business strategy, product development, market strategy, or any number of skills in demand among consultants for modern businesses.
Freelance often appeals to aspiring consultants because it grants them freedom and flexibility to work for themselves, control work-life balance, and choose clients and projects they find most interesting. The problem is, many professionals don't quite know how to navigate the challenging transition from full-time enterprise employee to full-time freelance consultant.
Two of the ways to go about this depends on whether you want to jump in with both feet, or slowly ease into your new gig. You could quit your current role and dedicate all your time, energy, and resources to your new independent consultancy – or you could keep your job and develop your new business on the side, taking on a project or two at a time. It's not a question of right-vs.-wrong; a major factor is whether you can afford to sacrifice steady income and extra free time to fully immerse yourself into building a consultancy solo.
Do You Have What It Takes?
If you're going to build a business around your expertise in a specific skill, make sure you're fully prepared to give your clients the insight they need. It helps to choose a niche where you have a wealth of experience, so the expertise you use in your current job is a good place to start. Popular areas of consulting include advertising, accounting, computers, and career counseling.
Research the necessary qualifications for the type of consulting you plan to do, and make sure you have obtained the proper licensing required for the job. Beyond a certification, you'll need to stay current on all the news and trends in your chosen industry and skillset in order to best help clients. If your goal is to be a marketing consultant, be sure you're up-to-date on all latest marketing trends.
You'll also want to set up your new business on a personal website or freelance marketplace (Sologig or Upwork, for example) so people will know you're available for work. As you'll find, your future as a consultant will depend on your ability to connect with, and retain clients.
Consulting is About Connections
Your consulting business will rely on your network. It's crucial you don't burn any bridges, as any past or current connections could lead to a new project or client. If you're worried about leaving your job on good terms, consider offering to work as a consultant for the organization as you transition out of a full-time role. Explain to your manager how you'd like to pivot into consulting and start your own firm, and emphasize how you valued working with the company.
If they agree, this puts you in a win-win situation: the business doesn't lose your capabilities, and you benefit from having a first consulting client off the bat. But, of course, this won't be your last client – and this is where the benefit of a strong professional network comes into play. You will succeed as a consultant when people know you can be trusted to deliver, you charge them fairly, and they can effectively share their needs with you.
The biggest challenge in consulting will be finding clients. You'll have to invest time into marketing yourself to find initial projects.
Once you do get those first projects rolling, you want to aim to excel. Clients who are happy with a first project may want to work with you again – which is exactly what you want. Consistency is key in freelance consulting and repeat clients are invaluable to your business.