I have been working for the same employer for years but have really good transferable skills and am told by friends that I should try consulting. I would love to have my own business but would it be a good career move?
Juliet Carp, an employment partner at Speechly Bircham LLP, says:
Friends and family have a tendency to suggest action-oriented solutions. After all, suggesting that life stays the same does not make good conversation.
Before making a decision that could have a significant impact on your finances, lifestyle and long-term security, it is worth doing some homework.
Start by looking at what you have. You may be surprised by the value of your current package, including, for example, paid holiday, pension, severance promises etc. Also, don't forget softer benefits such as your colleagues – and look to the future: is promotion likely? Could changing employer or internal role fix things you don't like?
Take account of different ways you could structure your consultancy – for example, self employment; engagement through a third-party agency; and/or your own company to employ you and provide your services.
Different tax, social security and expenses treatment would apply, most likely with a positive effect on cash flow, but you would lose employment-related security. Think about additional personal insurance costs, particularly if you or your family have medical conditions.
On the other hand, what you have to offer will weigh heavily in the balance. How big will fees be? How frequent and long will "gaps" in work be? Will there be additional costs for office, tax advice, business insurances, running a limited company? How good is your network and would you find looking for work stressful?
Talk to consultants, agencies and potential "buyers," but probe for differences in their situation and take care not to breach your employment contract in doing so.
As with any change, think about what might happen if things don't work out. How easy would it be to get your old job, or a similar job, again? What if you could not work? Do you have savings to help meet your commitments or a working partner or pension to help cushion blows? Only you can decide whether potential freedom, challenge and financial rewards are "worth it."
Kate Franklin, director of people development company Oak Tree Coaching, says:
When you are at a career crossroads you need to be crystal clear both on what you want, and on what you have to offer. To define what you want, think about the times when you were most satisfied at work, and identify the critical ingredients that created that satisfaction.
Our flagging economy needs bold operators, and being your own boss can be immensely rewarding, but you also need to consider how deeply autonomy and entrepreneurial spirit run in you. Startups require huge reserves of emotional resilience; you must be ready for constant knock-backs, isolation, and financial uncertainty.
On what you have to offer, it's great that you recognise your transferable skills. Write them down and talk about them. Ask trusted colleagues for their views on your strengths, and how potential clients would view them.
Selling yourself effectively and repetitively is a critical part of consulting. To do this you must first be very familiar with your potential clients. Many might be in your existing network, so start networking.
Don't be shy to ask for help – you will be amazed how generous people can be with their advice (especially in exchange for a good lunch). Find out what they look for when hiring consultants, and who are the respected consultants in your field. Then talk to those who are already successful – some will be prepared to share their experiences. You might even want to consider subcontracting for them initially.
The easiest transitions into consulting are for those who already have projects in the bag before they leap, perhaps with their most recent employer. Even with that luxury, you need a plan B: either the knowledge that you can slip back easily into employment if you need to, or savings to cover your living expenses for at least six months.