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WORKING STRATEGIES A COLUMN BY AMY LINDGREN

Is independent consulting right move for you?

Friday, December 6, 2013 - 7:02 am

December is a good time to sift through dreams and goals we’ve carried over the past 12 months, the better to turn some into actual plans for 2014.

One goal I encounter frequently in my conversations with job seekers involves turning away from the world of employment to become an independent consultant.

If you’ve been nurturing an independent streak, now is as good a time as any to examine your options and set your course. In today’s column I’ll provide a primer to help you frame the “go / no-go” decision, and next week I’ll finish up with steps for marketing and building your consulting business.

About consulting

If you’re going to consider this track, it helps to know what to call it. Regardless of how it might be described on a resume, you’ll notice that independent work goes by different names according to your market. Artistic fields might use the term “freelancer,” while technical fields favor “contractor” and business strategists most often call themselves “consultants.”

Whatever vocabulary you settle on, just don’t mistake this concept for temporary work or day labor. In those worlds, you’re being hired to perform a specific task rather than for your expertise, and you’re most definitely not independent.

While almost any service-based work could fit the consultant category, the creation of products usually wouldn’t. That is, you might consult to a manufacturer but if you’re actually creating a physical item with your own hands, you’ve slipped out of the consultant category into something closer to a craftsperson.

As you approach the decision about working independently, consider how the business would fit into your career path overall. Is this an interim gig between jobs? Or do you intend to make consulting your primary and possibly permanent income source?

Maybe your plan is to split those two options by working as an employee somewhere while consulting on the side.

Your decision will also be influenced by the advantages and disadvantages inherent in independent work. On the plus side: schedule flexibility, opportunities to cherry-pick the most interesting projects and the potential for a high income. Often counted as minuses are the erratic cash flow and necessity to drum up business.

About you

Have you thought about why consulting appeals to you? Identifying your motivation is a key step in deciding whether to take this path and how to structure it.

Identifying your concerns is also critical. If this is a long-held dream, why haven’t you done it before? Common answers include a fear of sales, uncertainty about being skilled enough and worries about cash flow. By noting each concern, you give yourself the tools to problem-solve the situation on paper.

Making the decision leaning toward yes

If you’re favoring a “yes” for this decision, then choose a target date in the new year for the launch of your consulting business. You’ll need this date to keep you on pace as you conduct your startup steps.

Then determine the services you’ll offer, as well as how much money you need to make and how many or which hours you’re able to commit to the business. Finally, build a short list of potential clients for your services. Be specific enough to name five or 10 organizations and the relevant department.

Making the decision leaning toward no

If the “no” comes from not being able to answer the questions above, that means you need more information. Before you let the idea go, do a little research by talking with one or two potential clients – would they be interested in your services? Conversations with your accountant or attorney might also be beneficial, as would research into competitive services.

But in the end, if your answer is no, or not now, count yourself lucky to have had the opportunity to consider the option fully.

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at alindgren@prototypecareerservice.com or at 626 Armstrong Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102.