How to become a consultant or get an independent consultant job is super confusing. There’s not a clear path at all, but it’s something that’s very desirable to do if you are looking for flexibility, autonomy, high pay, and have a desire to add immense value to organizations.
Lisa Schulter had been interested in becoming a consultant for several years but never really understood how to make that happen.
She had been in Non-Profit Healthcare Management for many years and was really, really good at it. She even enjoyed the work quite a bit, at first, but as her values changed, and what she wanted from her career changed along with it she realized that after working in 3 other employee roles in the space, she really didn’t want to add a 4th to her resume.
When we met her and started working with her to identify her ideal career, she had been a listener to the podcast and she knew that she was an introvert looking for a role that allowed her to use her knowledge and experience from the non-profit healthcare space, but also to have more reflective time and thinking time (even recharge time) that many introverts also need.
She hadn’t really considered consulting as a “real option” until it was right in front of her staring her in the face.
Although there are many ways to get a consulting job or to become an independent consultant with your own business, I want to help break down for you the most common way that we see it happen with our students and clients.
How to get an independent consultant job in the company you already work for
This is truly, by far, the most common way we’ve seen people make the leap from diligent burnt out employee (that’s where Lisa was) to a first time consulting gig that allows them the autonomy and flexibility while being paid at a premium for their knowledge, experience and the value that they deliver.
This is also where we’ll focus this post, showing you how to go from an employee to a business consultant job in the same company.
At this point, people usually throw up their hands and say. “Oh I couldn’t do this at my company” then they list a thousand reasons that their company hires a consultant for help and support (and surprise surprise it’s not Mr. “Not-at-my-company” they’ve hired).
Somebody is going to be hired by your company to help them with what they need, it might as well be you!
Step 1: How to create the right time and place to become a consultant
Unless your boss thinks you are a high performing, high value employee, they are not going to seriously consider you as a high value consultant.
In Lisa’s case her boss already considered her to be a huge asset to the organization. If this wasn’t the case she wouldn’t have been able to make the shift at all. Because all of the people who had influence in making that decision felt great about her contribution and had seen what she could really do for the organization it allowed the conversation to be possible later on.
I’ve observed something over the years. It’s easy to have a disconnect in how your boss (and boss’s boss) thinks about you and your performance and how you think about your own performance on the job. For a lot of people it’s not a favorable disparity.
Here is how to ensure you always know where you stand and your boss knows how you are contributing.
It’s easy but very few people do it.
- Meet with your boss weekly for 15 minutes
- Discuss your top 3 priorities: make sure your 3 are the same as your boss’s
- Over-deliver on those expectations!
It is highly likely that if you are reading this, you are not doing all of these 3 steps all the time.
If you do these 3 steps every week you will have the inside scoop to your boss’s expectations. This is an easy way to move yourself into a position where you are kicking tail in your boss’s eyes !
If you absolutely can’t do this weekly try every other week or even once a month. This is better than nothing and lessens the chance of a big surprise when you go to try to make the shift to becoming a consultant.
Before you are in a position to have a serious conversation you must be providing much more usefulness and worth than what is expected of you.
Simply put you must understand the expectations and then you must exceed them.
The most important expectations you must exceed are in the eyes of those who have the ability to say “YES” to changing your status from “employee” to “consultant.”
Step 2: Having the conversation as a partner (not as an employee)
After you’ve created the right time and place by having stellar performance over time, your almost in a position to broach the conversation about consulting.
This is the uncomfortable part for most people, because we live in a society where most of us feel like we must act like we’re going to stay with the company forever. This obviously isn’t how it really works and there are a few bosses and companies that wouldn’t appreciate knowing that you really would like to be doing something different than your current role at the moment.
This conversation will require that you share your intentions to make a move to a consulting position and why you want to do that as well express how you can actually help the company.
On either side of the consulting conversation spectrum there are two extreme paths.
I’m leaving the organization ←——-> I’m thinking about becoming a consultant someday.
I’m leaving: Lisa Schulter had already made her decision, she was letting them know that she was done and moving back to her hometown. This changed the dynamic and if it was off the table to have her in an employee position. They wanted to consider a consulting role. This lead to several conversations and a signed consulting contract for her.
I’m thinking about consulting someday: This other conversational extreme might sound like this:
“I’m considering becoming a consultant down the road to have more flexibility for my career. This isn’t something that is right now, but I think it would be really great to do this with this company since I’ve enjoyed working here and really wanted to get your advice on how you think this could happen down the road or even who to talk to.”
This “future” placed emphasis in the conversation helps to take the pressure off if it’s possible right now (which it usually always feels like it’s not). It also opens up the key questions of “how could this happen” and who are the right players.
Transparent conversations like this can be a little bit of a risk, but doing things that have a small risk and big potential for reward are how you can get where you want to go. I would always suggest discussing your full situation with a coach that has done this many times themselves and who can understand the dynamics and inner workings of your exact situation before having the conversation.
Step 3: Negotiating what you want in the consulting role
It may take a while of back and forth conversations to get to a consultancy. But when you do, make sure you’re negotiating for much more than just your conventional wage and salary that you were making prior.
If you’re an independent consultant, you’re now paying for your own benefits, your own unemployment insurance (that part is a joke, you’re now self insured).
This means that you likely want to be making 20%-30% more than what you did previously at a minimum.
Also this also means that you want to be setting aside your own taxes and savings from every single check. In fact stick it in an account that you can’t easily get to. That way you avoid any temptation.
Once you have these differences in place you can now benefit from the massive differences in being a consultant instead of an employee, just like Lisa.
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