If you browse through the consulting section at your local bookstore or search on Amazon, you’d think that #1 among the reasons people start consulting businesses is to “make millions.”
First off, I have absolutely nothing against making a good living. And, depending on your target clients, services, and appetite for business growth, consulting can be a financially rewarding career path. Plus, depending on your business savvy, it’s possible to build your business into an asset that can be sold one day.
But there are multiple good reasons people create a consulting business. I know and have worked with plenty of very successful consultants. Those I respect most have sustainable practices because they have a balance of motivations that keep them in this field. They seem to agree that consulting feeds the soul, the bank account, and the need for independence.
Feed Your Desire for Independence
Freedom just might be the reason to consider consulting. You have surely heard tales of self-employed folks who spontaneously hike on a sunny day or rebrand themselves for no other reason than, well, they feel like it. If you are ready to abandon the 9-to-5 routine, free yourself of a boss, or escape office politics forever—or maybe all three—consulting may well be the career of your dreams.
The freedom to run your own show. There is no denying that it can feel great to run your own show. If you want to work in an urban office because you like that prestige and the distinction from home life, then great. If you are at your best with your cat on your lap at your home desk, that might be your A-plus plan. Maybe the best part is that you can experiment and switch gears if your original plan doesn’t suit you after all.
The freedom to control your schedule. No doubt you can capitalize on your most productive hours of the day by working at 5 a.m. with the other early birds, or by continuing late into the night if that’s when you shine. So long as your clients can generally reach you when they need to, and you establish suitable boundaries, you can create your dream workday. And of course, there will certainly be those days when you decide to take a spontaneous self-proclaimed holiday.
The freedom to create success on your own terms. Not only is a consultant’s schedule flexible, but so is your choice of clients, the rate at which you choose to grow your business, your niche, your professional development, and everything else related to your career. So long as you ensure that these preferences result in a sustainable business, it’s your show to run. It’s that balance between tapping your curiosities and understanding how to build a business that allows you to create success on your own terms.
The freedom to choose your priorities. Those terms can vary drastically. I know consultants who aspire to work part-time while their children are young. Their priorities are flexibility and a chance to keep their toes in the work world. Others labor tirelessly to make a name for themselves. They seek to secure prominent clients, generate ideas, and influence their industries. Both are respectable paths.
The freedom to let your business evolve. Maybe the best thing about consulting is that the freedoms it enables can evolve. That same caregiver who works part-time while her children are young can transform into a media-savvy consultant who finds a following for her podcasts and makes a national name for herself.
The freedom to learn and grow. Given the abundant information available to all of us these days, above all consultants have the freedom to learn and grow. There is no need to be pigeonholed, no need to be confined to a role, to an office, to a single job. Unlike traditional career ladders where promotions dictate your path, consulting offers endless roads—all dictated by your personal ambitions.
Feed Your Soul
Consulting also gives you the freedom to pursue work that makes a difference in the areas that intersect with your personal passions and professional ambitions. Moving into consulting doesn’t mean that you have to give up your sense of mission. In fact, many consultants report that their sense of mission impact is even greater than when they were on staff at an organization.
The opportunity to make a difference for multiple organizations. Most people hope that their life’s work contributes to society. Consulting gives you the opportunity to literally change the fortunes of organizations, professional fields, and perhaps even an entire industry—and to feel the satisfaction of watching your impact grow over the years as you hone your skills and extend the reach of your practice.
The opportunity to advance your professional field. With curiosity and determination, you can make significant contributions to your field. Sure, that is the case with many jobs, but few give you the leeway to decide to spend time on an issue that will add value to a client’s or an issue’s betterment. For example, one of my colleagues is a voracious consumer of research articles in a wide variety of fields, which adds layers of depth to the insights he provides to his clients, as well as books and articles that have had a defining influence on his profession. As with most things consulting, the information you glean on nearly any topic results in more robust insights, deeper contributions, and, depending on your appetite, the possibility of becoming a thought leader in your profession.
The soul-satisfying feeling of self-expression. One of the most satisfying aspects of consulting is the freedom of self-expression: the opportunity to express your full capacity. Veteran consultants report they continue to be astonished, gratified, and a bit humbled by those moments when they help a client come up with a breakthrough idea or turn an organization toward new heights. All this can happen while they build deeply trusting client relationships that endure for decades. They are clearly bringing their full selves to their work.
The opportunity to double down on a particular industry or mission area. It’s no secret that those who consult often feel strongly about the contributions they make to a specific mission area or industry that ignites their interest. You might choose to influence health-related fields. Or you might begin in one specialized field and later expand to a range of interest areas. With an early specialty in something like higher education, it can be especially fulfilling to make an impact in your own evolving interest areas.
Like all things when you are self-employed, the rules are up to you.
The beauty of this career path is that decisions in both the areas of freedom and contribution are yours to make. There is little right and wrong, so long as your business is creating the impact—and income—you desire. Speaking of income…
Feed Your Bank Account
This is one area that many consultants discuss too little, even though nearly all novices are excited about its potential. Let’s face it, income is important to all of us and a prime motivating factor for many.
You are in control of your financial destiny. It’s possible that this just might be the first time in your professional life that you can envision a salary commensurate with your value. As the owner of a for-profit consulting firm—that’s right, you are now “on the other side”—you have every right to secure the fees you need or want to achieve your financial goals.
One myth about this field is that you can sit back, dispense advice, and watch the fat checks come rolling in. Your success will surely come easier as you gain experience, but be prepared to spend significant time understanding what you want to make and using that as a benchmark that helps you design and run your business.
It’s up to you to determine the value of your work. My colleague, Don Tebbe and I conduct workshops and online training on the business and craft of consulting. And we’ve walked hundreds of novices through a process of determining their hourly rates and how to set fees that work (for you and your business first!).
That part of our “Launching Your Consulting Practice” course is perhaps the most eagerly anticipated segment of the 27 lessons. Why? Because setting your fees is probably the first time in your professional life that you have had to put a monetary value on what you do, what you provide. When you’re on staff at an organization, it’s largely someone else who is determining the value of your work, your contributions. In consulting, it’s up to you to set your own terms—to set fees that work for both you and your client. And that takes research. It takes negotiation. And sometimes it takes plain old intestinal fortitude to declare your worth.
You’re in control of your fortunes now. If your in-house salary has you living from one paycheck to the next, panicking about health care costs or making only small dents in your student loans, this is your chance to change your fortunes. Depending on your consulting field and services, you may or may not necessarily make a fortune, but you can certainly build a business that allows you to achieve your financial goals.
But, it might be an emotional transition. Determining the value of your contributions and putting finances at the top of the list is a difficult and emotional transition for some new consultants, especially those coming out of the nonprofit and government sectors. Not only is it okay to put your own finances first—it’s imperative. You can and should get comfortable with the idea that you must structure your business model so that it is profitable. Profit is not a dirty word. It’s the fuel that sustains your business and fulfills your dreams.
Once you embrace the idea that your income is paramount, your budding for-profit company will enable you to meet specific targets:
- A salary sufficient to fuel your dreams
- Building a solid retirement fund
- A date certain to erase those student loans or other debts
- Building your children’s college funds
- Travel and other indulgences
Your wishlist can and should be entirely tailored to your unique needs and the drive you have to meet each goal.
It’s a powerful mindset shift when you morph from organizational executive to the small business owner you have become. In simple terms, you can begin to level up your income to match your own value. You can pursue both mission and money.
Income is a measure of both the freedom and contribution you experience through this career path. Not only do you stand to increase your income, but you can build something of value on the terms that suit you best. With some hard work, you can build a business that suits both your needs and those of your clients, possibly in ways you might never have imagined.
But, the Best Reason to Start a Consulting Practice Is…
Ultimately, there’s only one good reason for starting a consulting business: yours.
While it might go unnamed in surveys and even in the workshops that Don and I offer, the very best rationale is going to differ for everyone. If you have an independent streak, a strong desire to make an impact, and you wouldn’t mind a little financial control in the process, starting a consulting business might be the best decision you’ll ever make.
Want to learn more about what it takes to launch a successful consulting business and keep it flying high? Check out our online course, Going Solo, Going Big: Launching Your Consulting Practice. Click here or on the “launch” tab in the navigation bar for more information. A new class will be lifting off soon!