Is Consulting For You?

Consulting is nothing new to business.  It’s been happening since the first caveman asked a buddy to figure out how they could get more speed on their spear-throws.  They had different words for “spear” and “buddy,” of course, which we now call “product” and “peer.”  So the path has been well-worn for at least 50 years.  Are you thinking about walking it?

I first left a major company after realizing there was literally nowhere for my career to go.  That was after seven years of skill development, great benefits, moderate pay increases, and being taken-over by a competitor.  I had some skills that might keep me working there, for a bit more money, but it was up to me to get out and look for something better.  Why?  Because I had debt, of course!  But honestly, hey, we’re working people.  We are hunters, hence the “job hunt.”  Hey, that’s why I’m here.  Let me show you how to get more distance on that resumé, buddy.

But first, I will tell you this:  It’s okay to be freaked out by looking for a new job.  Instability happens, especially in competitive industries such as Mobile Telecom and Pretty Much Every Business.  You don’t own your job, your desk, or your “space” until you do something that is so incredibly invaluable for the company that they wouldn’t think of letting you go.  Don’t worry, it’s just The Truth of the workplace these days.  Own your career, if not your desk-space.  Here are a few reasons to go into Consulting and Contract work.

Playing The Odds:
Not too long ago I was in a panel interview at a wireless telecom giant, and the manager mentioned that his department (IT Planning) was around 60-70% contracted workers.  You have a better chance getting placed via contract/consulting work than going through the normal methods of applying to a job via the company website.  Eventually I got past my emotional attachment to the color of my badge and designation as either Full Time or Contract.  I quit hinging the worth of my employment on whether or not I got to attend off-site rallies with full-timers.  I got to the point where finishing work well and on-time was more important than sitting in on a 90minute catered lunch with a guest speaker.  WORK TO DO.  DO WORK.  Get working, serve your project, deliver with style, get paid.  You’re among friends.

Attitude Count$:
“Serve the Project.”  I have worked with a lot of Full-Timers (FT’ers) who stand on either side of the “Innovation” fence.  That is, one particular program manager I worked for was so sharp, affable, personable, and driven that we both knew his position was a step towards a much larger body of work outside the company.  Also, I have sat in meetings where work is piling up and instead of assessing the approach and handling of the pile, the FT’ers leaned back and said “Oh well, I’m on vacation in 2 weeks anyway.”  As a consultant my main task is doing a good job for the client; meeting and exceeding their expectations.  I’m still competitive enough and have enough pride to wanna kick ass.  Even if I’m not leaping out of bed every day to gather requirements like so many daffodils, flitting about the office to facilitate Change Management, and cheering up every soul regardless of their badge color, I’m there to serve the project’s needs and be paid well for it.  So I do that, happily.

The Wide Walk Of Work:
So you have Analyst and Project Leadership experience?  Great.  In Healthcare?  Awesome.  And you think the only positions you can handle are in Healthcare?  Not necessarily.  First, embrace your niche.  Healthcare is going to be HUUUUUUUUUGE in the next 20 years.  Bet on it.  If you can see trends in technology and how they’ll mesh with your industry’s growth you are well-ahead of most folks.  Second, can you see how your experience would feed other industries?  Fresh minds are needed for any industry’s growth, or at least, stability.  Your transition from Healthcare experience to Mobile Computing may take a while, but really it breaks down to X’s and O’s; your skill + new terminology + credibility building = HIRED!  Don’t limit yourself to only your industry of experience.  I found myself in a food service company after years in wireless technology, and loved it!

Duration Variance:
You may be on a project for 2 years.  More than likely it will be less than 12 months.  I had a 5 month contract shortened to 2 because the department’s delivery strategy shifted.  It happens.  This is where being a full-timer to your company counts, and having saved that money beforehand comes in handy.  Hopefully you have a bench to work from and get paid while honing a few skills before the next job.  But if you’re somebody who likes to see things come together, launch, and repeat a few times… then you get a little antsy… this is a good road to walk.

You often are making a greater hourly rate in contracting than you were as a FT’er.  Why?  Because you, or your firm, is charging more and it filters out a few more things like taxes.  Oh, and the company you’re at isn’t investing in your 401k or Stock Options, so you make it up in cash.  Never sell yourself short, and if you’re not ready to negotiate, go buy a book on negotiating.  Money is a trade for your service.  Try paying your mortgage with beers your pals owe you.

If you’re Independent, always get the contract in writing, and have an “early end” clause.  For example, if you sign on for 8 months at $7K/month, include a clause that says “For every week less than 32 weeks the Consultant’s services are not needed, client will be paid ½ a standard week’s pay in a single payment.”  This keeps you working at your full rate for the agreed-upon time, and if not, at least you’re not totally out the pay you could have been getting from the client or elsewhere.  If they balk, offer to lower it to 1/3rd, but don’t empty your pockets for the sake of courtesy.  You’d rather be getting paid and helping out than pounding the keyboard and interviewing for work.

And save, save, save all you can, enough for about 3 months of expenses in case you find yourself on an unexpected vacation.

Social interwebbing is vital to your job search.  From LinkedIn to FaceBook to Twitter, everything you put out there represents you, either as a person or a potential candidate.  What does your online presence say about you?  Are your strengths and experiences evident?  If you aren’t savvy in it yet, well, I just Googled “job search and social media” and got over 200,000,000 results.  I’ll let you know what I find in there.  Get using technology as a means to an end; it’s not just what you’re working on, it’s working on you, too.

Consulting work and Contract work are going to be prevalent for quite a while.  I doubt the forming of a Union to protect our interests, but if you are wondering who those people are that show up one day and start ruffling feathers, arranging work schedules, and presenting project plans… then are out before the holidays… that’s us.  That’s me.  We’re here to help that spear bring down bigger game.  Good hunting.

About Geoff Lott

Geoff Lott is a "thinking person's comedian" as much as a "drinking person's comedian." Born and raised near Seattle, his writing and comedy is Cloudy with a Chance of Hope. Less offensive than your average nightly news program, Geoff is opinionated with intent, and a rebel without a clause. A comedian, actor, dad, husband, co-worker, weirdo, and great friend, Geoff Lott has a sense of humor like a sommelier's sense of smell; aged well, with a hint of dark chocolate, Irish whiskey, and leather. Credits and press kit available upon request!
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