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Tips for Transitioning from Employee to Consultant

Tips for Transitioning from Employee to Consultant

Let’s face it: When starting any new business, there are things you learn as you go. When I decided to leave the corporate world, I was so focused on the logistics that it didn’t occur to me that being a consultant would be any different than being an employee. I would treat my clients the same way I treated internal customers and co-workers – with professionalism and respect.

But there’s more to it than that.

Moving from employee to consultant requires a shift in mindset. As an employee, you enjoy much less risk and greater predictability than a consultant. You work with the same people, are assigned working space and equipment to do your job, are prescribed days off (paid, no less!), and generally know what to expect from day to day.

A consultant, however, has none of that predictability, especially at the beginning. If you are a creature of habit or a social animal, making a shift in behavior that comes naturally to you will be a challenge to overcome.

Here are some examples of what to expect (and what not to expect) when making the move from employee to a consultant.

[Related: What You Really Need to Know About Remote Work]

Accepting and managing risk.

When you decide to become a consultant, what you’ve really decided is that you’ll accept diving into the ocean without knowing how deep it is or what you’ll find under water. You’ve accepted that the risks and rewards are much greater than the predictability and stability. You’ve decided that you’ll be okay, no matter what happens, so long as you work to overcome challenges and give it your all.

Getting comfortable with risk is a big part of becoming a consultant, and the sooner you make friends with it, the more successful you’ll be.

Being a company outsider.

As a consultant, you are also an outsider, so don’t take it personally if you are not included in any lunch plans or company events. You cannot expect your client to provide tools or equipment that you may need to do your job. If you are accustomed to having an office, you’ll need to get comfortable working remotely, in conference rooms, or wherever the client has space—even a closet!

Of course, being an outsider has its advantages. You can provide an unbiased perspective of their environment, projects, or process—guidance that’s appreciated, even if it’s not part of the original scope of work.

Bringing potential areas for improvement to their attention shows that you’re invested in their success. If your client is successful, YOU are successful.

[Related: How to Work From Home: Three Keys to Home-Based Success]

Getting used to unpredictable hours and time off.

Depending on the industry and consulting work you do, you could be in for some long hours—including evenings and weekends—to get the job done. And having any time off will become contingent upon your project being completed. Just be prepared financially in case you have a few months off between projects.

Having an extended amount of time off between projects can be really unnerving, especially if you are used to having the standard 2-3 weeks off a year. Instead of focusing on the stress of the situation, take advantage of the time by meeting new folks in your industry, taking a vacation, or volunteering.

Think of it as a way to build your business, your reward after months of hard work, or an opportunity to give back. Downtime allows you to recharge so that you can give your next client your full, undivided attention.

Being comfortable with change and the unknown.

Successful consultants are frequently thrust into the unknown. You never know who your next client will be or when you’ll have a signed contract. You are constantly meeting with potential clients (refining your interviewing skills!) and must be able to get up-to-speed in a new environment as quickly as possible when starting a new project.

While being a consultant may sound daunting, it’s all a matter of perspective. Look at it as a means to always learning something new, building your professional network, and, most importantly, helping companies successfully reach their business goals by exceeding expectations. There’s nothing more rewarding than gaining repeat clients and becoming their “go-to” consultant for your particular expertise. It’s a win for you and a win for your clients.

Consulting is an exciting career if you are willing to accept and manage risks, navigate constant change, take on challenging projects, and step outside your comfort zone. Effectively transitioning from the employee mindset to consulting mindset will only be a minor speed bump on the road to your dream of becoming a consultant.

Enjoy the ride!

[Related: Four Signs You’re Not Cut Out For Freelance Work, and What to Do About It]

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Veronica Thraen is the owner and principal consultant at Maven Project Management, a technology project management consulting firm in Phoenix, Arizona that helps growing organizations put processes and tools in place to keep projects on track for long-term growth and success.


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