(This is part one of a multi-part series.)
As your government/military career nears the finish line, it’s natural to ask yourself what you want out of the next phase of life. Perhaps leisurely golf sessions and beach combing aren’t exactly what you want out of retirement, and many of us wish to continue to serve in some capacity. If the idea of a second career is appealing to you, consulting may have crossed your mind at some point. But… how do you know if becoming a consultant is the right choice for you? If you’re on the fence (or just looking for career ideas), then you’re in the right place.
In this series, we’ll address the following questions:
What are the pros and cons to a career in consulting?
What are the personality traits of a good consultant?
Can an introvert be a successful consultant?
What does the day-to-day life of a consultant look like?
What kind of training or knowledge do I need before I can start consulting?
How do I start and structure my consulting business?
What if I still need some help figuring it all out?
* This article will primarily address the first question. Subscribe to our newsletter so you don’t miss the rest of this series! *
What are the pros and cons to a consulting career?
1. Embrace freedom and flexibility.
As self-employed consultant, you control over pretty much everything about your business: how much (or how little) you work, which clients and projects you engage with, your area of specialization, your service fees, daily schedule…and on and on. Want to block off an entire month for a family vacation to Europe? You can do that! More importantly, you (and only you) get to craft your company brand by choosing work that speaks to your core values interests, and goals.
2. You’re the captain of this ship.
Owning your business means that, whether you choose to partner up with a larger company (like us!) or not, you’re still your own boss. And while being in charge is admittedly awesome, consider too that your business is an asset that belongs to you. It has the potential and freedom to evolve and level up over the years. Your company can become whatever you want it to be.
3. Get paid to learn.
If this career appeals to you, it’s safe to assume that you’re a naturally curious and analytical person who won’t feel truly fulfilled without regular opportunities to flex those brain muscles. Lucky for you, every new project will present you with fresh information about your industry, offer you lessons in leadership and project management, and push you to solve complex, multi-layered problems. Furthermore, through networking, speaking, writing, and conferencing with other experts in your specialized field, you’ll get the chance to gain even deeper and more expansive knowledge about the areas you care about most.
4. See immediate, tangible results.
I’ve heard from many excellent consultants that they find great satisfaction in serving others and in seeing the fruits of these efforts in their clients’ lives. The desire to serve is almost a prerequisite for this line of work. Without it, neither you nor your client will thrive. During your career as a consultant, you’ll be able to see concrete, measurable results when your clients implement the tools you gave them. Whether you taught them how to land elusive government funding for their research, helped them make sense of their finances and accounting, or tackled another seemingly unsolvable problem, you will get to see how your work directly impacts your client (and our country) for the better.
Just imagine… it’s entirely conceivable that your work could help a commercial business (let’s say a tech company) get their product/idea to the government agency who needs exactly what your client has to offer. This new technology could turn out to be one of the biggest advancements in federal cybersecurity, redefine the landscape of healthcare, play a critical role in military defense strategies, or be a part of one of the other incalculable advances just waiting to be born.
5. You’re already qualified.
In your government/military career, you became a true expert in your field, and that’s exactly what companies want from a consultant. You don’t need to be a Jack-of-all-trades in this business; in fact, the best consultants are highly specialized in one area. You have knowledge and expertise that most people know absolutely nothing about, and companies want to work with people like you. In fact, you probably take for granted how much you already have to offer.
1. It’s all on your shoulders.
The flip side of freedom is the full mantle of responsibility. When you’re a solo entrepreneur, nobody else makes the big decisions for you: how to schedule your days, which clients to work with, how to structure your business services (or remind you to pay your taxes!). You don’t get to pass a tough client up the managerial ranks. In short, the success of your business will be a direct outcome of the efforts you put into it.
Now that I’ve properly spooked you, let me add a caveat: I’m not saying that you can or should do all this alone. In fact, it would be highly inadvisable to try. A huge portion of your success will be attributable to the vast network of industry experts, companies, and fellow consultants that you build along the way. No one expects you to reinvent the wheel, so don’t ask that of yourself. The key is to invest in relationships with the people who are doing what you want to do. Listen. Observe. Be a continual student of the consultants you admire.
2. Never just a consultant.
Being a 1-person business means doing all the tasks it takes to keep a business afloat. In addition to your actual consulting work, you’ll be responsible for creating a pipeline of client leads, attending networking events in person and online, contributing to your industry by writing or speaking, managing your finances (you’ll be paying yourself, after all), scheduling meetings with clients, writing contracts, managing your website and social media platforms, and so much more. This highly variable work environment appeals to some people. Others find it overwhelming. Both are fine, but it’s vital to identify which type of person you are and figure out how to make the career work for you. There’s no shame in getting advice or hiring additional help. Be honest about your limitations so you can get ahead of potential problems.
3. Consistency? Never met her.
No two days or weeks will ever look the same, and opportunities to work, speak, network, etc. will be ever-present. However, in addition to being able to prioritize your time, you should prepare for your workload and income to vary greatly over time. Some months may be extremely lucrative while others might be so slow you can’t afford to pay yourself. If you thrive on constant change, this might actually go in the Pros column for you; but if you’re a person who highly favors structure and predictability, this aspect of the job could present as a challenge.
Still considering a second career in consulting?
Stay tuned for Part 2: What are the personality traits of a successful consultant?
Til then, be well, and please share this with someone who'd also benefit from it.