Welcome to the 4th episode of Smart Brand Marketing with Tom Libelt.
My guest this week is Tim Conley. He is a successful consultant and the host of The Foolish Adventure Show. We chat about the reality of being a consultant and what it takes to create a successful podcast.
The Realities of being a Consultant: Should You Become One?
Quick, think of a job right now that is seemingly easy to do and will yield you a lot of money relative to the amount of effort you have put in it. If the answer to that is not New Flavor Tester at an ice cream company (admit it, that job kind of rocks), then the next best answer would be telling people what to do with their lives or business ventures.
The latter is the core concept behind the work of a consultant and being a consultant can make for a rather lucrative career move. But the question is if consultancy is the best career option for you? Before answering that question, there are a few truths about being a consultant that you should definitely be aware of.
Reality # 1: You are Going to Deal with a Lot of Unhappy People
This is probably apparent if you are already in the corporate world but you’d be surprised that a lot of people are not just hardwired for optimism. You might encounter people who will tell you that your work is not acceptable even if you have put in a lot of effort in making things work. There’s always a glitch, a potential problem, or a relatively petty issue that these kinds of people would see and it can weigh you down if you get such criticisms one after another.
Here’s the thing, though. Such kind of clients will never be satisfied regardless of who does the job and how they do it. You can avoid having to deal with these people by having them sign up a contract that explains the terms of your work and how you conduct it.
Reality # 2: Just Because You’re Good at Something Doesn’t Mean that You Should Consult
Some people have this idea that becoming an authority in something does not mean that they are fit to tell other people how to do it. Knowing things is just half of the requirement to qualify as consultant. The ability to turn apply that knowledge in meaningful ways is where the bulk of your work is at.
First of all, consultancy is a fairly unpredictable field which can mean that most of your work will involve pushing beyond the boundaries of what you know and into relatively uncharted territory. IT Consultants, for example, don’t just have to know the newest Information Technologies out there. It’s their job to find out which combinations of software, networks, hardware, and even professionals will result in the best possible outcomes for their clients.
Next, there is the notion that problems can pop up even with the best laid of solutions. Such unexpected circumstances can test your skills even further and this is where a lot of consultants either fail or succeed. If you’re content on teaching people the theoretical aspects of your discipline, then becoming an instructor might be a better career path for you.
Reality # 3: It’s Not as Glamorous a Job as You Think It is
Admit it, you might have been drawn to becoming a consultant because of the life they live. Having to fly for thousands of miles to meet a client at fancy restaurant, all at the agency’s expense too boot, might be what you call an ideal career and this might be true in some cases. However, there are certain realities of becoming a consultant that is not as talked about.
There are moments when you are called late at night to travel the next day to a small town you have never heard of. There are some instances when you will go without food and water, leaving you exhausted by the end of the meeting. There are also the countless hours you have to spend on actually developing a network for the client, going through pages of worksheets, and filing paperwork just to meet deadlines.
The point is there is some truths to consultants enjoying some great perks but all of these come at a price. And that price involves putting in more effort than a standard 9-to-5 worker is expected to give out.
Truth # 4: The Field is Extremely Competitive
There is a certain policy that consultants follow and it’s called Up or Out. How it works is simple: You either go up as a consultant or go out of the business. There is this constant push to improve yourself inherent in consultancy that, at times, you can question whether or not this path is the right one for you.
On the flip side, this competitiveness has given rise to the misconception that consultants are these ruthless cutthroats that tear each other apart the sooner an opportunity to advance oneself in the field appears. The truth, however, is that the up or out policy is put in place so that people don’t stagnate in this kind of work. If you have the ability to produce high-quality work and are known to work well with others, then you should do well as a consultant.
Truth # 5: You Rarely Get to Work with CEOs
A lot of people believe that consultants have a direct line to company executives since their line of work directly connects with initiatives coming from the higher ups. While some consultants do work with executive officers, and good for them because that means they get paid a huge amount regularly, most consultants work with people located at the lower tiers of an organizational chart.
More often than not, you will find yourself directly working with managers, vice-managers, and even department heads which means that the scope of your work is not as big as other consultants. However, connections with these kinds of people are not to be scoffed at. The perks of having a good relationship with lower level folk is that if they do get promoted, and much of the reason for that promotion can be traced back to you, you can also be indirectly moved up the organization’s ranking. It simply means being a consultant allows you to have friends in slightly higher places that can help you advance your own career later on.
Should You Become a Consultant?
Without a doubt, consultancy has its own set of challenges and rewards. Because of this, it would be better if you consider a few things first before you decided whether or not becoming a consultant is good for you.
- 1. Your Strengths and Weaknesses
It’s often said that you should be paid for doing what you find to be the easiest because those tend to be the things that you are extremely proficient at doing. Before deciding to become a consultant, you must identify first what areas you are most proficient at and where you suck at.
This is so that you know which areas you should market as your expertise and which ones you’d better outsource to somebody else. After all, nobody is 100% proficient at everything. This will also help you identify the kinds of people you should establish a connection with. You’d be surprised to find out that your chances of surviving as a consultant are higher if you are part of a community/network.
- 2. What Do You Like?
Once you found out where you’re good at, the next thing to identify your preferences for working. For instance, if you are most comfortable with routine, security, and control over your work, you might be a good fit for a consultant/employee However, if you like a bit of uncertainty with your work life, then you are most fitted for going fully independent as a consultant.
However, you should take extra care in identifying your work preferences as there are instances where consultants feel comfortable with routine work because that’s all they’ve ever known. There might be a chance that you would actually do well going fully independent. Either way, you have to make sure that all of your bases are covered before you choose one career path over the other.
- 3. Finding Value
Making a major career change can be a harrowing experience which is why you should determine what things you find value in. As a matter of fact, values will play a crucial role in determine which direction you will take on that new career path.
What do you value most in life and work? What kind of lifestyle do you want to live with your chosen career path? How you answer these questions will determine the kind of projects you will take up as a consultant. If you are not clear with your values, in fact, you might end up taking projects you don’t care about or clients you would rather not meet on a regular basis. That’s sort of defeating the purpose why you went into consultancy in the first place.
- 4. Your Breaking Point
Let’s get this out of the way, everyone has a breaking point or, at least, a triggering point. What that means is that there is always those kind of aspects in any kind of work that will expose you for who you are especially the less than desirable parts of your personality. For instance, you as a consultant might be extremely good at predicting unwanted outcomes and preparing for them adequately but get flustered every time a project gets delayed.
These vulnerable points are something that you should identify quickly because they can make or break your career as a consultant. In fact, there are several consultants out there that have quitted because they feel that this job is not for them when, in truth, it was just a temporary setback. At best, you can address the flaws in your work as time goes by which is something that a lot of consultants tend to do. For example, temperamental consultants learn how to control their emotions in dealing with stress while reckless ones learn the value of preparation with every failed project. Of course, how you take in setbacks and criticisms will also be important here.
This is where your support network will also play an important role as other experts can cover you at your weakest and vice versa. If you can’t find a way to address your deficiencies as a professional, it’s best that you don’t yet venture into the world of consultancies.
- 5. Your Financial Situation
An unspoken truth in consultancy is that although you are paid generously for your work, there is a chance here that you won’t get paid as much as you want. This is not exactly true for all consultants depending on the way the make their contracts but there is a difference between being able to demand to be paid on time and actually being paid on time.
Since it takes time to actually see returns from your efforts as a consultant, it is recommended that you establish your financial security first before venturing into this kind of career. As a rule of thumb, you should be able to support yourself financially for a period in between three to six months when you start out as a consultant. This would reduce your downtime worrying about how you are going to eat for the next few months. And nothing could tempt you to going back to a 9 to 5 job than being strapped for cash while you wait for your clients to pay up.
To Wrap Things Up
Granted, there are certain drawbacks to becoming a consultant that can scare a lot of people. The price might be even too high for some people which would lead them to choosing a lesser-paying but more secured job.
However, if you do plan for every setback and cover the basics, you might just find out that you are fit for the path of a consultant. Once you think you are ready to venture into this kind of world, the next thing to do is to, well, keep up with the rest of the competition. And make no mistake about it, the competition here is quite fierce.
Have you thought about becoming a consultant? What other concerns do you have that you want to address before you decide to become one? Let us know in the comments below.
- Twitter: @TimConley
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