Are you currently considering making a career transition from full-time employee to independent consultant? If so, you’re not alone.
MBO Partners’ 2022 State of Independence report found that the total number of independent professionals in the U.S. grew to 64.6 million independent workers in 2022—a 69% increase from 2020 levels—and the number of full-time independents grew an equally impressive 59%, from 13.6 million in 2020 to 21.6 million in 2022. As the demand for independent talent rises, an increasing number of full-time workers have reported feeling more secure with the idea of working independently, citing flexibility, the pursuit of a better work/life balance, and the opportunity for increased earning potential as reasons to make the transition.
As an experienced professional with skills that are in demand for both traditional roles and independent projects, how do you decide which arrangement is better for you?
Traditional employment offers a steady source of reliable income, on-the-job networking and training, and employer-provided benefits. On the other hand, independent consultants are awarded the freedom to choose the types of projects they take on, flexibility to set their own schedules, and opportunities to increase their income.
Before we dive into the career questions to ask yourself when considering this transition, it’s important to get clarity on what an independent consultant is and how it differs from the role of an independent contractor.
What is consulting?
By definition, independent consulting work is work executed by an individual or team that holds extensive experience or subject matter expertise. Businesses contract with this individual or team to help identify what the business is doing well and identify any areas for improvement in order to help solve their biggest business problems. Independent consultants may work in advisory capacity or operate more hands-on to support shaping and executing a business’s strategies, processes, and decisions—whether they were the ones who originally developed them or are just acting in a post-strategy support role to add experience and capacity.
If the independent route sounds intriguing, here are a few career path questions to ask yourself before you make the transition from employee to consultant:
1. What is my goal or motivation for becoming an independent consultant?
Before you send in your resignation and make the switch to become a consultant, it’s important to identify your key motivation and consider how this transition can support your long-term career goals. Is there something specific you are hoping to achieve as an independent consultant that you cannot achieve within your current role? Are you looking to gain more control over your work schedule? Is earning more money a driving factor for considering this career pivot or are you more interested in looking for opportunities to vary your client projects and industry experience?
Taking time to identify your goals will help you make better informed decisions about your career path and help you later identify the types of projects you take on and clients you work with. Reading about the experiences of other professionals who have made the professional plunge to go independent can also be a great source of inspiration.
2. What types of skills and areas of expertise can I offer?
Consulting requires a high level of expertise in a specific area. For you and your clients to be successful, it’s critical to assess whether you have the necessary skills and experience you need right now to provide value to clients. Make a list of your current skills and qualifications and consider your professional experience. Determine your value proposition as a consultant to help specify the type of services you can offer. Consider what you’re passionate about and where you want to focus your energy.
It’s also important to be honest with yourself. If you find that you’re lacking knowledge or skills in certain areas that you feel would be important to being successful, you may need to focus on gaining additional experience or education before making a full career transition.
3. What is the demand for my skills in the consulting market?
Consulting is a highly competitive industry that spans a wide variety of industries and sectors. It’s important to research the demand for your skills in the consulting market. Take the time to do your research. Are there a lot of consultants with similar skills? Is there a high demand for your specific expertise?
It’s important to note that as you start off in consulting, it can be more difficult to choose one particular niche, but over time, honing in on your specialization will help you identify yourself more distinctly as a thought leader and allow you to consider the best potential target clients for your services. As you look to determine your specialty area, consider the geography, industry type, and nature of the services you can offer and how your expertise could stand out against the competition.
4. Do I have a strong personal and professional network?
Having a strong network of mentors, friends, former colleagues, and family members can help make a career transition smoother and offer a sounding board for future guidance and support when you need it most. Consider your current network and how you can strengthen or build upon your existing connections or create new ones.
5. How will I market myself as a consultant?
Growth is often the primary challenge for new consultants, with consulting often reliant upon word-of-mouth referrals. This makes having a strong professional network even more vital to helping you secure new projects and clients.
In order to market yourself, it is essential to have a clear value proposition and a marketing plan for your consultancy. This can include activities like developing a dedicated website, establishing a LinkedIn presence, attending networking events, participating in speaking engagement, and dedicating time to build relationships with potential clients. As you consider the channels to promote your services, consider what resources you have available to you now and where you are willing to invest your time to help your business grow.
If you’re not sure where to start, Business Talent Group offers resources, with suggestions on marketing tactics that can help you grow your business as an independent consultant by engaging your audience, increasing your online presence, building your network, becoming a thought leader, and building your brand.
6. Am I prepared to handle the uncertainty and financial implications that come with independent consultancy?
One of the benefits of becoming an independent consultant is the potential to earn a higher, but less predictable, compensation. As you’re weighing out the financial implications of making the switch from full time employment, you’ll need to factor in what the costs are to manage your healthcare, retirement savings, and taxes—as well as your marketing and other business expenses.
There is a level of uncertainty that comes with the territory of being an independent consultant and the reality is that you may not always have a steady stream of projects. Evaluate if you’re in a position to weather financial downturns. Are there steps you can take now to get your financial structure in a better place to manage the ebb and flows of being an independent consultant? Be strategic in your pricing to consider how hourly, results- or value-based pricing, retainer, or transactional pricing could work best for your business.
7. Does my current work style align with my personal values and what is required of me to be successful as an independent consultant?
Consulting can have a unique culture and way of working and transitioning can feel like a major adjustment for people who have spent their careers in a traditional working environment. As a consultant, you’ll need strong communications and problem-solving skills. The ability to manage your time and work independently and deliver results on deadline will be critical to your business. Unlike traditional employment, this may mean moving at a fast and unpredictable pace to meet your client’s needs. Before you make the leap, consider how the requirements for the working environment align with your current values and work style.
The Bottom Line:
Traditional employment may be the best fit for you if you are someone who requires a steady source of income, set hours, employer-provided benefits, or access to mentorship or training opportunities.
Becoming an independent consultant may be a better fit for you if you’re more interested in taking control of your professional destiny—from the types of projects and creative challenges you take on to establishing a more flexible work environment to suit your lifestyle needs.
If you’re interested in making a change, Business Talent Group offers a wide array of resources to help you kickstart your career transition to consultancy. Learn more about the BTG talent network and join here.
About the AuthorMore Content by Candace Corner