New York Times "Career Couch"
article appeared in the October 5, 2008 issue of The
New York Times -- in the "Career Couch" column.
Risk, Yes. Structure, No.
By EILENE ZIMMERMAN
Published: October 4, 2008
You’ve always worked for others but now feel ready
to strike out on your own as an independent consultant. Are
cut out for it?
A. Compared with corporate workers who take direction from
a boss and receive regular paychecks, consultants lead lives
much less structure and much more risk. You need to know
whether you can handle a new level of uncertainty and self-direction.
Before you decide to take the plunge, understand that consulting
doesn’t always provide consistent income.
may have the best-laid plans, but you still don’t know
when you will land that first client, or when your income will
become regular,” said Edith Onderick-Harvey,
president of Change Dynamics Consulting, a leadership
firm in Andover, Mass. Also realize that you will
need to spend
a significant amount of time marketing your skills.
“Sometimes 75 percent of your time will be spent selling yourself
and often that’s just networking, not even real job opportunities,” Ms.
Successful consultants are very self-motivated and
nimble, said Bradford Agry, founding partner
of CareerTeam Partners,
management consulting firm in New York.
“Most people are used to working in a job that has a specific
description,” he said. “But your
consultancy is going to unfold and change,
so you need to be
Q. How far in advance of leaving your job should
you begin planning your move, and what should
you do during
A. Plan on six months to a year to lay the
groundwork for your consulting business.
Building a network
during this time, said Linda Stewart, the
chief executive of Epoch, which helps find
consultants in financial services. That network
includes friends, colleagues,
business associates, vendors and clients.
business plan that establishes how revenue will be generated
and how you will
expenses and fees, Ms. Stewart said.
an accountant and a lawyer, who can advise you about what kind
to form — like a limited liability
company or a corporation — and
about the tax implications of each. Legal
advice will also help ensure that the
do as an independent contractor doesn’t
subject you to any personal liability,
said Jay A. Zweig,
in employment law with the Bryan Cave
firm in Phoenix.
thing that is absolutely critical is to develop a standard
engagement letter stating that a particular company is hiring
you as an independent contractor
and this is how and when you
will be compensated,” Mr. Zweig
kind of financial cushion should you have before leaving your
become a consultant?
on whether you have a partner or spouse helping to pay
the bills, you should
6 to 12 months
expenses in the bank. Make sure
you have a clear understanding of both
your personal and business-related
financial obligations, Ms. Onderick-Harvey
“Working out of your home may mean low overhead costs,” she
said, “but you need things
like office equipment, phone lines,
and professional malpractice insurance.”
Q. Is it
advisable to become a consultant during an economic
A. A downturn
necessarily a bad time
to be working on your
of your market. But your
financial cushion is even
because it could
take longer to
establish a steady
been laid off, is that a good time to become a
A. If your
severance package allows you the
make the transition
type, income requirements and
Ms. Stewart said.
The decision to become
a consultant should
reaction, said Ms.
if you have
a small severance package.
you are starting out, how do you obtain
with your network. Systematically
send e-mail — then
follow up with phone calls — to
everyone you know
who might need
your services or
be able to refer
Approach larger consulting
firms in your industry
and let them
as a subcontractor
need extra help,
Ms. Stewart said.
with contract staffing
can act as a broker
and connect you with
Q. It’s troubling that the term “consultant” often
has a negative connotation.
Why is that?
A. Consulting gets
a bad rap because
there is no
entry, said Alan Weiss,
Group, a management
in East Greenwich,
is a lot of schlock in the field,” he said, “but
companies in the world use consultants because they know they
A version of this article appeared in print on October 5, 2008,
on page BU15 of the New York edition.