Ironic? Indeed, but true.
The prospective clients you must solicit to establish a consulting practice, are some of the same people you'd reach through job-hunting involvement with your personal contacts and networking among strangers.
Moreover, these influential people are likely to react far more favorably when called about a meeting to discuss an intriguing consulting proposal, than when hit for the 500th time with the dreary "I'm in the process of making a career change and would like to have the benefit of your thoughts and advice."
As a consultant, you meet and interact with people who have an ideal opportunity to evaluate you, your thinking, and your work. Eventually there's a good chance that one of your clients will decide that he or she would rather "own the cow than keep on buying the milk." You'll be offered an on-payroll position.
However, by the time that happens you may be doing so well that you value your independence far too much to give it up.
Who knows which option-in the end-you'll prefer? Fortunately, it's "heads you win...tails you win."
Consider these advantages:
High level contact. Your consulting targets will be CEO, Division President, Group Officer, or VP-Chief-of-Function. Networking, unfortunately, takes you randomly to whomever your preceding contacts happen to know...maybe the ideal people to evaluate and "sponsor" you, and maybe far from ideal.
Something meaningful to talk about. The most pathetic aspect of a networking appointment from the job-seeker's point of view... and the most irritating from his host's...is the flimsiness of purpose:
"a chance to get your insights and suggestions." People worth seeing are busy. Probably your half-hour no-agenda meeting-if you can get it-will cause your host an extra half-hour of homework.
How much better to discuss a consulting proposal geared to his needs. He'll feel more interested and receptive...less manipulated and imposed upon.
You MUST show your credentials. When offering to do consulting, you have to hand out and discuss something on paper that states your services and qualifications. Your expertise is what's being sold. And after presenting your consultant's "puff" piece, you can also provide your chronological "sales representative" resume, as a more forthright disclosure than most consultants are willing to make. But be sure there's no "Position Desired" or "Descriptive Summary" that implies ordinary job hunting.
You operate in a "selling" format. Moreover, on a sales call you're much more in charge of your presentation than you are in the "social conversation" of an interview, and the "brain picking" of a networking call.
You have greater opportunity to "sample" yourself. Provide a specific proposal that's written as well as oral. If well done, it's a persuasive free sample of your work. You submit it as a consultant. But it also demonstrates what a good conceptualist you'd be as an employee.
You don't have to be said "no" to. "Personal contact" and "networking" visits cry out for a disclaimer from your host:
"I wish, Sandra, that we had a position for you here. Unfortunately, there isn't anything right now."
On the other hand, your consulting presentation tends to get the standard reaction we always give to salespeople...a courteous hearing and a noncommittal answer:
"Well, I don't know. Let me think about it"
The psychology is just like asking a personal contact for a reference instead of a job. He's left with a matter that's still somewhat open in his mind. And you have an opportunity to come back with another proposal, based on what you learned at your meeting.
You're easy to say "yes" to. Hiring you as a consultant is low- risk, compared with putting you on payroll. Your assignment is like a "budget-priced trial size" of a consumer product. There's enough to measure performance, but no big investment to lose if the product is disappointing.
Without disrupting his current organization, your client can evaluate your performance, and how he enjoys working with you.
He may "make you an offer you can't refuse." Or he may pay for your project-which has probably been worthwhile in any event-and say goodbye.