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So You Want To Be A Consultant? Five Signs Consulting Is Right for You

By Jennifer Laible

Flexible hours, new projects and clients every few months, autonomy, variety and freedom: Consulting comes with all of these perks. And if you’re sitting in a full-time job at a big company, consulting might sound like a dream. But before you quit your job and jump into consulting, there are a few things you should know.

I’ve counseled hundreds of people considering a move from full-time employee to consultant. From those conversations, I’ve learned to watch for a few key signals that consulting is the right fit for someone. Here are five signs that consulting is the right path for you:

You want to focus on the work instead of everything else that comes with a job.

If you like rolling up your sleeves, working hard, and driving outcomes, consulting could be a great fit. What you leave behind is everything else that surrounds being an employee. You aren’t managing other people. You aren’t doing others’ performance reviews. You’re not worried about the all-company meeting or the latest company reorg. You aren’t thinking about where you’re going to go next in the organization.

Some people love managing others, being involved in an organization’s long-term strategy and thinking about where they fit in a team. But consultants are largely detached from all of those things. If you’d prefer to focus just on the work, you’ll like working as a consultant.

You want more control over your schedule and workload.

Consultants don’t necessarily work less than employees do, but they do have more control over what they work on and when they work. If a new project comes up that you’re not interested in, as a consultant, you can say no. Employees usually don’t have that luxury.

Plus, the time you do spend working is all about the deliverable. When all the extra parts of employee life are stripped away, many consultants find they’re able to work fewer hours but show more results for their time.

You have specific expertise.

If you love working in one specific field, like email marketing or social media, consulting could be perfect for you. When a company hires a consultant, they expect specific expertise on a key project or initiative, not general advice on a broad range of projects.

On the other hand, I often hear from people who are interested in using consulting as a way to make a career pivot, and I always tell them the same thing: Consulting is not the best way to change your expertise. If you’ve been a brand marketer your whole life and now you want to get into digital analytics, consulting is not the best way to do that. You might be better served as an employee in an organization where you can learn from the teams around you and get some hands-on experience before moving into consulting.

You can make an impact quickly.

Consultants have to be ready to hit the ground running. Clients want to see an impact from day one, and they watch consultants closely to see what they deliver in the first 30 days. You won’t have a long period of time to get up to speed or to pore over background information. You won’t be spoon-fed anything. Even if the client hasn’t done their homework in preparing for you, you have to find what you need and start making an impact. The best consultants are excited by the task of taking in a lot of information and acting on it quickly.

You’re prepared for the variability that comes with consulting.

The biggest shock for new consultants? Changing the way they think about pay and benefits. When you’re a consultant, you don’t have a paycheck coming into your direct deposit account every Friday without fail. You don’t have a shiny booklet of benefits options from HR. You have to put more work into managing your own pay and benefits and spend more time keeping your pipeline full.

Consultants learn to plan their income differently than full-time employees to account for the ebb and flow of work. If you have a break in work, either by choice or by circumstance, you need to make sure you still have the cash flow you need. In my experience, it usually takes people about 18 months to get used to the new mindset about money and benefits. Once they do, they’re generally comfortable with the change.

Working as a consultant and working as an employee both have their perks. Before you embark on a new career as a consultant, take a hard look at what you’d be leaving behind — and what you stand to gain.

An earlier edition of this post was published by Forbes.

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