Are you dreaming of quitting your job to become a consultant? Or have you lost work, and are considering independent consulting until the job market improves? In her book Consulting Start-up and Management, Calgary-based research consultant Gail Barrington sets out five characteristics that can help you to succeed in this tough field:
You have to be smart, well-trained and experienced – and have the educational credentials to back you up, be it an MBA or specialized training in your specific field of focus. "Competition for management consultants is likely to remain keen, and those with the most education and experience will have the best prospects," she writes. Maturity and lots of contacts from a long career can be helpful; younger individuals have youth on their side but should expand their portfolio through as many varied experiences as possible.
You must be strong and confident about your abilities, but also low maintenance, ego in check. Although a hired hand for the organizations you work with, you must be a leader, motivating others and working in a collaborative way to nudge clients to solutions they might not have reached on their own.
You need courage, energy, vision – and spunk. "It is the capacity to go against the common view, to walk into a room of fractious stakeholders who don't support the evaluation and don't want to hear about the findings. It is the ability to land in a strange town at midnight, scrape the snow and ice off your rental car, and locate your motel without the benefit of a map. It is being able to get up the day after you have lost the best proposal you have ever written and start all over again," she notes.
Your work is defined by the rigid parameters set out by proposals and contracts, but you must still be light on your feet as you operate with the whole world in a state of flux. Try to keep your proposals more open-ended to handle unexpected issues that will inevitably crop up as you progress with your work.
Some people enter the field viewing it as a stopgap between paid employment, while others view consulting as offering independence that will be a welcome relief to the stultifying atmosphere in the organizations where they have worked. Whatever your reasons, you need the financial sustainability to allow you to survive for a period of time – say six months – while you search for contracts. It is possible, of course, to ease into consulting while working part-time in a paying job, but she suggests that because you are not so hungry for work you may not try as hard to find it. You may also get stuck, perhaps permanently, in what she calls "the great divide" between the employed and self-employed, preventing you from self-actualizing in either role.