Corporate boom times are long gone—I can’t remember for how long that “downsizing” has been so prevalent but people have been laid off in droves for more than a decade, I’m certain.Being without a job is frightening—there are bills to pay, responsibilities and retirement looming in the distance, and the chances of finding a new corporate gig are slim to none.
That’s how many of us end up on the consulting side of things. We’ve got great skills and decades of experience, but corporations would rather pay less for younger employees who have most of what they’re looking for, although they’re not as seasoned.
I made the transition from corporate to consulting almost 20 years ago. I wasn’t laid off, I was burned out.In my corporate life I’d always thought that the consultants I’d hired had an easier job than mine. This should be fairly simple, I thought.
It has been more than five years since I left consulting, and looking back over my 12 years in that gig, a few things have become crystal clear. If you’re starting a new business of your own, my experience might be helpful.
- I was wrong about consultants having an easier job. A consultant can have simultaneous clients in multiple industries, sometimes even a half a dozen. That means multiple industries and markets to become familiar—and conversant—in. On the corporate side, I had my company’s product line, and that’s it.
- As a corporate executive working with consultants, I held all the power and authority. Decisions were mine and mine alone and it was up to the consultant to satisfy my requirements. Not so in consulting. I had no experience at influencing without authority and at first I found it difficult. Clients didn’t automatically accept my solutions. I had to make a good business case to convince them. I have to admit this was a surprise—I’d just never thought about it. Fortunately, it didn’t take me too long to adjust.
- If you don’t like putting yourself out there and pressing the flesh, you may find it hard to develop new business. Whether you work for a consulting firm, as I did, or yourself, you usually eat what you kill. Sales are key. I never liked the rubber chicken circuit and it took a few years for me to discover a way to leverage my strength at one-on-one interactions into contracts. Because I worked hard and partnered with my clients, I got very good at retaining them. When I retired from consulting I still had many of the clients I began with. But my firm didn’t financially reward client maintenance. It was considered standard. New business was still the benchmark by which I was judged and additionally compensated.
Now that I’ve taught sales at the undergrad and graduate school levels, I see how much some training would’ve benefited me and allowed me to fast track my success at consulting. I’m a big believer in preparation. I think it enhances your chances of success and helps you get there faster.
If you’re making a transition of your own, I suggest talking to some people who have done a similar transition in a different market. Then, make an honest and even brutal assessment of your skills against requirements for your own business. I’m pretty sure you’ll find some skill deficiencies.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go into business for yourself, it means you need skill building. Today, online courses and certificate programs make it faster, easier and more convenient to get the skills you need to maximize success of your transition. If you’re choosing this kind of transition, it’s worth the investment. Oh–and best of luck!
Whether you’re seeking further success in your current role or a new opportunity, Kaplan University can help you prepare for the exciting possibilities ahead.*
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