Friday, January 19, 2007

Does Anybody Make a Living as a Consultant?

Last week I had a conversation with a gentleman who called asking about the TVCNet meeting on Tuesday the 23rd. We talked about the meeting, consulting in general and his experiences with the profession. He then asked me if anybody ever makes a living as a consultant.

This gentleman, let's call him "Mike", is employed by a company here in Boise. He described to me the things he's been doing inside the walls of his employer's company. Sounded a lot like consulting to me. By that standard he would be an internal consultant, and if he's drawing a paycheck with some benefits then I'd say he's probably making a decent living.

Mike also shared with me his plans outside of his current work that involves publishing a book. Once he does that, he's on the road to becoming an external consultant armed with a book to help establish him as an authority in his field. However, Mike's concern was that he noticed many consultants pull double duty. They have their business, but they do work for somebody else and the two often seem unrelated. I could tell in his mind he had a question of credibility when it comes to most consultants.

To answer Mike's question, I told him most consultants don't make a living when they start out. It takes time to build a network, keep the pipeline filled with qualified prospects and gain clients that come to you on a regular basis for your services because you demonstrate that you provide overall good value with your work. Once they get foothold, most consultants are able to do well for themselves.

Quite honestly, I don't know too many consultants personally who became financially independent in the first two to three years of their business. Most who are in the beginning stages of their business fall into one or more of these categories as they are building their consulting business:

  • They saved up or have investments elsewhere that allow them to have some income (not a lot, but some) while they concentrate on their business.
  • They have a spouse who is willing to shoulder some of the financial burden while they build their business (thank God for them!).
  • They have full-time or part-time jobs that earn an income and they work on their consulting in their spare time.
  • They teach at the local colleges, universities or trade schools.
In my opinion, there is absolutely nothing wrong with pulling double duty when you are starting out as a consultant. Many times our clients are unaware we are pulling double duty. Doing extra work or side jobs keep you sharp by practicing your skills and helps you stay motivated. After all, we're consultants because we have an independent spirit. We don't want to work for someone, we want to work with them. Until we reach the point where our businesses become stable, we do what it takes to keep the dream alive!

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