I’m in the business of helping professionals to become independent consultants, but only if it is the right choice. In this post, I stress the importance of self-appraisal and being sure that before you decide to be a consultant, the rose-tinted spectacles are off and your eyes are fully open.

The Independent Consulting Game: Are You Sure It’s for You?

This blog post won’t be the first I have written advocating caution in choosing an independent consulting career, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Perhaps you find it odd that I should do so, given that this site is all about helping you break into the profession.

I urge caution only because so many professionals decide to go into business as freelance consultants without fully understanding what is involved—a decision that can quickly lead to failure.

If you wish to be a consultant, I want you to be one too, and I want it to be a choice you make with your eyes open—because that’s the very first step to success in consulting.

What Do You Need to Assess?

I’m sure you’re wondering how you can know in advance if an independent consulting career is for you, but it is actually not that hard to make a self-assessment. The hard part is being honest in doing so, and avoiding the temptation to diminish the negatives and accentuate the positives.

I can’t give you any tangible solution to resist that temptation, but I can guide you in the two main aspects you need to assess, and the realities you will need to consider.

The first thing to evaluate is your own set of abilities relating to the core skills and attributes that an independent consultant needs. The second is your understanding of the pros and cons of your career choice—and for the cons, your ability to endure them without becoming dispirited.

The Qualities Required For Consulting

Try to think about your skills and qualities from two separate perspectives, one being the requirements for a consultant, and the other relating to running your own business. There are overlaps between the two, but there are some distinct differences too.

For example, the qualities of a consultant apply whether you work for yourself, or a consulting firm, while those required for managing a business are necessary to thrive as an independent consultant. Of course, the latter may also prove useful for the technical side of consulting too, depending on your niche or specialisation.

Essentially then, the core skills and attributes you will need to be successful as an independent consultant include:

  • An affinity for travel, as you will probably be away from home a lot
  • Adaptability and flexibility
  • Strong (as in exemplary) communication skills
  • Problem-solving abilities: This is the skill you will use the most in consulting
  • A genuine desire to help other people succeed
  • A passion for logic and critical thinking
  • Analytical skills and the ability to work with data
  • Teamwork and leadership skills
  • Marketing and sales abilities
  • Basic accounting skills
  • Strong organisational skills
  • The ability to prioritise tasks and manage your own time effectively

In addition to the above competencies, all of which are necessary for any branch of consulting, you will of course need the technical skills appropriate to your chosen specialisation.

Preparedness for the Pros and Cons

If you are comfortable that you possess the qualities and competencies as described above, you know that you have what it takes to be an independent consultant, but are you 100 percent certain that it’s what you want?

Like any career choice, there are benefits and drawbacks to the consulting profession, and from experience, I can tell you that broadly speaking, they are as follows:

Independent Consulting Pros:

  • You will be continually challenged in a way that engenders knowledge and professional growth.
  • You will develop an extensive and powerful network of business contacts.
  • You will experience great satisfaction after each successful project.
  • You can work according to your own chosen schedule.
  • Once you establish a good track record, your income can be much higher than you would be likely to achieve in salaried employment.
  • You can be choosy about whom you work with and whom you don’t (once you have your business established and plenty of possible clients).

Independent Consulting Cons:

  • You have two careers: one career is consulting, and the second is running a business operation.
  • There is no paid holiday or sick time. If you are not working, you are not earning.
  • Deadlines will rule your working life.
  • You will sometimes have to work very long hours for extended periods, perhaps for weeks at a time.
  • You will probably be away from home a lot (although if you love to travel and don’t have too many domestic ties, you might consider this a pro).
  • You might go through periods of famine and feast, depending upon your ability to attract clients and secure engagements.

The above disadvantages, if you like to call them that, are by no means unique to running an independent consulting business, and nor are they especially terrible—unless you consider them to be.

As long as none of these cons are anathema to you, and you feel the pros more than compensate for any disadvantages, I would say go ahead and plan your new career as a consultant.

So… Are You Suited to Being an Independent Consultant?

It shouldn’t have taken you long to run through the list of skills and qualities, along with the consulting pros and cons in this post. How did you fare?

Are you confident that you have most, if not all of the right skills and qualities?

Are you comfortable living with the cons of consulting?

Above all, have you been honest in your self-appraisal?

If so, and you are sure as ever that you want to set up shop as an independent consultant, you can find plenty of tips and guidance here at Consulting Business School, and on our companion site Be a Consultant Secrets. Why not start by browsing through the blog archives, and see what hints you can pick up?

Best Regards,
Rob O’Byrne
Email or +61 417 417 307