Many people dream of a career in consulting; working the hours they want, with only the people they like, and being in charge of how much money they earn, as opposed to being at the mercy of some rigid salary scale.
It almost sounds too good to be true, and in many ways it really is very, very good.
But what you might not realise is what consulting demands from you. It’s a hungry beast — one that needs you to be constantly feeding it — with knowledge, and time and attention. You can’t depend on a corporate system to provide you with data, to track trends and to dig into the latest research in your field. You have to do all that work yourself.
If you are a solopreneur, you will find this especially demanding. Despite the fact that you may be an expert in your field, you can never stop learning as a consultant, because your clients depend on you to know more than they do about your area of expertise.
Consulting demands that you be very disciplined with you time and your knowledge; understanding that your time is valuable, and your knowledge is your biggest asset. Luckily, knowledge doesn’t disappear when you give it to others — and, as long as you keep generating more of it, you’ll be fine.
Time, on the other hand is a resource that you can never get back once it’s gone. So, without the corporate calendar and working hours to keep you in check, you have to guard it very jealously.
Another thing I have learnt since I started a consulting business is the importance of developing a niche. I know this is terrifying for most entrepreneurs when they are starting out.
It seems foolhardy to leave out anyone who could possibly pay us money for our services — after all money is money is money, right? Well, not quite. The thing is, if you want to build a lasting brand, and to develop mastery in your field, you are going to have to choose who you are for — and by default, that means choosing who you are not for.
Once you are able to clearly articulate who you serve, you will find that the right people are drawn to you because they recognised themselves in your marketing communication and they see how you can solve their problems.
Marketing communication that sets out to reach “everyone” or worse still “anyone” don’t create resonance, and so audiences don’t have that “Hey, this is for me!” Reaction to it. By trying to talk to everyone, you end up talking to no one.
In a consulting business this also means that by trying to help everybody you’re not helping the people who need your help the most. And if you keep doing this, your career as a consultant is going to be a bumpy road to nowhere.
One of the things that you need to treasure as you make the transition from corporate life to consulting is your network.
When you are new in the game, and you don’t have the strength of a major corporate brand to validate yours and to give you credibility, you need a strong network of supporters and respected professionals who are ready to give a referral or testimonial about the quality of your offering, your work ethic and your character.
It takes time to build a track record as a consultant, but when you have a good network, you can slash the time to a fraction of what it might have been.
The life of a consultant can deliver wonderful results.
I feel happy and relaxed most days and I absolutely love being accessible to my children and working from the happy environment of my home. But like all good things, it also comes with a price tag, and if you don’t put in the work to stay on top of your game, you can easily find yourself wondering why you chose this path.
This article first appeared in the Lionesses of Africa (Online).