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The Very Real Advantages to Being a Self-Employed Consultant

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True, you don't have a scheduled paycheck. But then you can't be fired. You can lose clients and you can go broke. But through lush and lean, you have a job. There's some security and self-confidence in having even that much control over your life.

And when you make money, only you and the IRS decide what to do with it. Moreover, since you and your accountant will set up an advantageous corporate vehicle and tax-deferral programs, you'll build net worth faster on your own than on a corporate payroll, if your gross profit matches your former salary.

You will, of course, be wallowing in trivia as you set up your office and begin to generate paperwork. On the other hand, your contacts as a consultant will tend to be at very high levels, probably CEOs and heads of divisions and functions. And you'll mainly be dealing with major issues.

Also, for some unfathomable reason, outside consultants seem to be treated with more courtesy and respect than subordinates and peers on the corporate payroll. If you're successful and can revel in prestige-without-power, you won't feel you've gone down in the world.

The freedom and flexibility of a consulting lifestyle is another "plus." You can probably do much of your work at home, or at your place in the country or at the shore. And working hours are entirely up to you.

Moreover, consulting is the one form of self-employment that won't risk your life savings. Your first office will probably be at home, and you can equip it with a first-class computer, word-processing and other software, a printer, copy/fax equipment, a simple brochure, elegant stationery, and cards, for $12,000...maybe less.

If you've ever wanted to be a consultant, the time to "go for it" is immediately after you become unemployed.

To the $100,000+ or $500,000+ executive, loss of job-regardless of reason- is a crushing blow. He feels worse if his boss simply wants to replace him, than if his company is acquired and there's no need for two Chief Financial Officers. But not much worse. Either way he's devastated.

Even if he's protected by a generous severance, the worst of the situation is the uncertainty. What next? He does everything possible as fast as possible. Yet he still worries, "How long until my next job?"

But suppose that our former CFO has thought about services he might offer as an independent consultant, if he ever gets an opportunity to become one. He has some intriguing ideas that should appeal to CEOs and CFOs of mega companies at the top of Fortune's list. And he also has some concepts that might interest the CEOs of relatively unsophisticated companies in the $20 to $50 million range...maybe even the entrepreneurs of promising pre-IPO "early stage companies."

In walks the grim reaper, just as before. But this time our hero is ready. Even before negotiating his final severance arrangement, he visits the printer to order stationery, cards, and a simple but elegant, triple-folded 81/2" x 11" brochure. Day one of his "unemployment" becomes the first day of his consulting practice.

"Death, where is thy sting? Grave, where is thy victory?" Far from being traumatized and immobilized, our new consultant is busy. He may still be receiving money from various sources as a result of his "unemployment." But he's also developing a new income stream. Today he's his own boss... hard at work for a sensible, pragmatic taskmaster. Yes, he feels pain, disappointment, and self-doubt. But far less of it than most other people in his circumstances, because he hasn't taken time out to be unemployed!

If you're going to try consulting, don't waste your "personal contact" and "networking" opportunities on ordinary job-hunting.

Some people solicit consulting assignments only as a desperate "stop gap" measure after they've tried several weeks of personal contact and networking in an effort to get another job. This is entirely the wrong sequence for two reasons:
  1. Their approach has been unnecessarily weak and vague.

  2. Having labeled themselves job-seekers, they have destroyed their credibility as consultants.
Let's look at the "job-applicant-first" scenario. Here's what's said to the personal contact by the applicant who isn't sure of himself or herself:

"Have you got a job for me, Barbara? I'm leaving X Corp."

If the applicant is sure of himself or herself:

"Barbara, I'm leaving X Corp., and I wonder if you might be a reference for me on our years together at Y Corp."

And to the networking contact, following the classic script:

"Mr. Kindly, I'm in the process of considering a career move, and I wonder if I might have just a few minutes of your time to get the benefit of your thoughts and suggestions."

Now imagine going back to these same people weeks or months later and professing to be a consultant. Whether they'll bluntly state it or not, people you've previously contacted as a job-seeker will think:

"So nobody would hire you. And now you're down to seeking part-time work!"

Failure to find full-time employment doesn't enhance anyone's credentials. Why even consider someone who's a consultant only because she couldn't get a regular job?

A timely consulting proposal shows you off as a potential employee.

Generally speaking, a sales call as a consultant is a much better "show-case" for your abilities, experience, and achievements than an ordinary "personal contact" or "networking" call as a job-seeker.
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