Those of you who have spent years in a knowledge-based profession, may find that your best option to transition from full-time employment to a part-time scenario is to become a consultant. There are many flavors of consultants including: management consultants, technical consultants, HR consultants, marketing consultants, legal consultants, financial consultants, and many others. Consultants are hired at hourly rates, on a retainer basis, and sometimes for a fixed fee or value-based fee. An example of the latter is when a business broker earns a commission for helping sell a business.When you ask the question: should consulting be your next phase career, there are several considerations to keep in mind.
Kathy Robinson, founder of Turning Point, talks about the concept of being a “lighthouse” and not the boat. A lighthouse is the beacon, the direction, the established authority. Instead of chasing prospects, ideally they come to you as the thought leader on a particular subject. Thought leaders are the highest paid of all consulting types and the more specialized and strategic the input you provide, the move value your clients will place on your services.
Benefits of Consulting
Here are some reasons you might want to consider offering yourself as a consultant as your next phase career:
Age can be an asset. Although few companies will acknowledge this, discrimination against those with a few decades of work under their belt is widely prevalent. A common practice is to tell you that you are overqualified – another way to say “We want a younger person in your position”. Yet, when it comes to hiring a consultant, gray hair can be an advantage.
Lots of flexibility. Depending on the specifics of your consulting gig(s), you may be in position where the work schedule is yours, with perhaps the need to attend an occasional meeting. You do the work on your schedule as long as the end product is on time and of good quality.
Strategic focus. In some, but not all, consulting engagements, you will be hired on the basis of your expertise in a particular area, not for tactical deliverables.
Opportunity to learn and pivot. One of the great things about being a consultant is the ability to learn new stuff on the client’s dime. This is great if you want to know a little to fair amount about a number of things instead of acquiring deep expertise in a specific domain.
Can be lucrative. If you pick the right niche market, and are able (and willing) to put yourself out there to sell your expertise – you can make as much money as a part-time consultant as you did as a full-time employee. Your client companies can afford to be a bit more generous because they don’t have to pay any benefits and the funds often come out of departmental and/or project budgets and not payroll.
Now that I’ve shared the upside, let’s talk about some of the potential negative aspects of consulting.
No benefits. In the consulting game, there is usually no benefits package, no vacation time, no 401-K plan or the myriad of other benefits offered to paid workers.
No job security. Don’t plan on staying with a company in a consulting capacity long enough to get a gold watch for the length of your service. It could happen, but likely not. This is why you need to be looking out for the next client and not totally depending on the current client.
No guaranteed income. As indicated in the previous point, your income flow is only guaranteed to the length of your existing consulting agreements, and only to the extent you perform up to expectations.
Have to sell yourself. Occasionally, someone is so well known in their industry that they can attract plenty of business just be updating their LinkedIn profile, but this is not the norm. You will probably have to do some outreach and ask potential clients for the business. It’s just the nature of the game.
Can be all consuming. During his career, my friend Alan was a Fortune 500 CIO. When he officially retired, Alan thought he would take consulting projects. However, his personality is such that he couldn’t turn off when his agreed upon hours were up. He ended up working 50-plus hours per week, way beyond what he and his clients intended. You see, Alan is an all-in type of person – a great asset in some scenarios but not in the part-time consulting world.
My own experience as a consultant has been quite positive. After working on the client side for 25 years, I opened up a marketing services practice and ran that for over 10 years, along with two smart partners. I then transitioned to my next phase and am now serving as a part-time fractional executive for two companies. This gives me a good combination of income, flexibility and work fulfillment. Read here for more retirement work and volunteer options.