Making it as an Independent Consultant

HBR calls it “The Rise of The Supertemp” for the trend we are seeing where experienced executives and management consultants are choosing to work on their own terms. In many cases, these highly accomplished executives could work full time in permanent positions if they chose to but they are finding that they can make close to their old comp and maintain a flexible, balanced lifestyle. For years I’ve envied a friend who consistently worked 9 months a year, traveled for the balance and has a fabulous lifestyle.

On the flip side, companies through necessity are coming to terms with this new reality of how people want to work. They are becoming more willing to source talent this way, realizing that they can get talent with experience to address their specific issue.

The challenge is finding enough work on a consistent basis to maintain your lifestyle and give you the flexibility that attracted you to Independent Consulting in the first place. A friend recently said to me that he was finding enough work through his contacts initially but was worried what would happen when projects through his network dried up. The good news is that there are options here so you’re not completely on your own.

The business is out there, but before jumping in with both feet here you need to think about what whether this is lifestyle and career that’s right for you. Be honest and think about:

  • Are you comfortable selling? Are you the kind of person who is willing to make a cold call or network? Are you comfortable with marketing yourself?
  • Are you comfortable with the uncertainty and ambiguity of life as an Independent Consultant?
  • Do you have the discipline and focus to keep at it? The longer you do it, the easier it gets to bring in the business and work on your terms.

When it comes to bringing in business, you will have to work a number of different angles, including:

  • Change your LinkedIn profile and make it clear in your title and summary description that you are an independent consultant and your areas of focus. Key words matter;
  • Leverage your network. They will be your first source of work and possible referrals;
  • Join groups on LinkedIn, including, independent consulting, industry and strategy groups;
  • Start blogging and posting on LinkedIn, especially in groups. Visibility is critical.
  • Connect with other independent consultants and small consulting firms. You can refer leads to each other and bring each other in on projects if need be. You can negotiate referral fees which can become an additional source of income, particularly if you are busy engaged in other work;
  • Join forums and groups that are aligned with your focus. Even alumni groups. Getting out there and meeting people will help you build your network;

A more recent development has been the growth of intermediary firms, like IQ Strategy Associates who match companies with Independent Consultants. They do all the upfront work to generate the projects, negotiate with companies and then reach out to their network to staff these projects. None of these networks are exclusive and you can choose whether you want to take on a proposed project. Essentially this gives you credibility and a business development arm to supplement your own efforts


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