Why you should become a consultant
I speak to a lot of people who think about becoming a consultant. For some they’ve reached a point in their career where they’re looking for a new challenge; others are facing another unsettling restructure and think about getting out; and some have been offered voluntary redundancy but are not ready to retire – they still have a lot to offer and see consultancy as a way to continue to make a contribution.
So a lot of people think about it, but not many take the plunge. Because making that leap from public sector to private sector can be hard. There’s a lot to consider; a lot to give up; and for every person cheering you on there are three telling you how hard it’s going to be. No wonder people waver and question themselves.
But there are some very, very good reasons to become a consultant, and in developing the Solo Consultant Masterclass over the last two years, I’ve spoken to many people who’ve taken the leap, and there are a few key themes in the stories they tell about that move.
- You get to choose projects that interest you
As an employee you really have very little say in what you work on and you can’t say no to work that comes your way. And especially in the public sector environment, a lot of the work is reactive – responding to the seemingly endless issues that need to be managed on a day-to-day basis. But as a consultant you can shape the kind of work you do. Once you’ve decided the kind of projects you want to take on, you can seek out and bid for exactly those kinds of projects. Over time you’ll become known as an expert in those kinds of projects and they will start to come to you. In my own case, I love working on evaluation and review projects, so it’s what I sought out at the start and now it’s what I’m known for, so clients approach me when they have that kind of project. These days the only projects I work on are projects that I’m interested in; and this is what can happen for you too once you make the move to consultancy.
Almost everyone I talk to who is thinking about making the move to consultancy is looking for more flexibility. And without question, everyone I talk to who has made the leap, loves this aspect of the role. Of course, you will still work hard, but as a consultant you can generally fit your work around the other commitments in your life. And of course, 90% of the time you can work from wherever you want to.
If you want to miss the rush hour at the gym and start work at 10am every day, you can. If you want to go to your child’s sport carnival on a Tuesday afternoon, you can. If you need to take your mother to a medical appointment, you can.
Just having choice around time and commitments makes a huge difference. I still remember a conversation I had with a few other consultants in my early days. We were talking about what we each loved about the flexibility of working for ourselves. My response? Being able to watch EastEnders at lunch time. I know, frivolous, but at the time it was definitely one of the secret pleasures of being in charge of my own time.
So I still remember the difficulties [and the guilt] of juggling life and work, but I no longer experience it.
These days I can’t even imagine going back to working in an organisation, because consultancy gives me the kind of flexibility that just makes my life so much better.
- You’ll add value
As a consultant you’re brought into an organisation to work on a specific client problem. They need expert advice, and someone to get the job done quickly and effectively. It’s time limited and outcome focused. As an employee, it’s impossible to focus on just one project or problem, and your efforts to complete a piece of work are often stymied by the myriad of other inevitable distractions. But as a consultant you can put all your energy and focus into a client’s project. And you finish it. On time. Clients will value your expertise and welcome your input.
- You’ll feel great
There’s no doubt about it, when you win a project bid, it feels great. When you deliver an excellent report, you feel great. When your clients give you excellent feedback, you feel great. For me, finishing a project is always a great feeling. I love the sense of a job well done, a satisfied client and yes, the great pleasure that comes with being able to cull those files, shred the documentation and clear my desk ready for the next challenge. I also feel a great sense of pride in running my own successful small business.
In my experience, people who choose to spend their working life in the public or community services sector genuinely want to make a difference. I want to make a difference to the quality and safety of our public health services, but feel like I can make a much greater difference from the outside, as a solo consultant.
There are so many good reasons you should become a solo consultant. If you’ve been thinking about making the move, don’t let the naysayers stop you.
Jacq Hackett provides expert consulting services to public health agencies. And as a veteran of over two decades of consulting, she now provides coaching and development for other consultants. She is passionate about supporting the next generation of public sector consultants to become very good at what they do.
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